Indie Music's Renaissance Man: Toro Y Moi

Toro Y Moi’s Clout Builds with Contemporary Visuals, Gangster-ish Mixtapes, and Another Classic Album.

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The Toro Y Moi legacy begins with his seminal debut, Causers Of This, a defining album for the infamous Chillwave genre. Characterized by faded dreamy psych vibes, Toro, a.k.a. Chaz Bear, brought an R&B and Hip-Hop influenced touch to the budding genre. And while his work on Causers Of This feels lo-fi, Chaz had already proved he could master more streamlined electronic music (see “Eden”), a demo he released prior to his 2010 debut. Back then, Chaz was nowhere near the cultural force he is today, and what’s helped him reach his current status probably has just as much to do with his talent, as it does with his ethnicity and social media presence.

Chaz fills a cultural void for people. For music fans who want soft-core rap and trap beats without drug-toting rhymes, Chaz stands ready to deliver a multi-racial, suburbanite perspective on the the most dominant force in music today. And if that doesn’t make him accessible enough, he’s an actual designer too, sporting some of the most hipster art and clothing ideas you’ll find on social media. He’s kind of everything cool rolled into one adorable package–an Indie kid’s dream. Yes, the Chaz Bear brand is strong, and Chaz is taking advantage of his influence more than ever.

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But you never know when that cool factor can really go to an artist’s head. Take Drake for example, and this amazing quote about him from prolific outsider artist Dean Blunt, “Craig David is the original Drake, everything about him. The mixed-race thing; he’s not sure if he can be gangsta enough, he’s quite a nice boy, but then he gets popular and he gets really arrogant, and starts to believe he’s this thing that he’s not. It’s amazing.”

I don’t believe Chaz will ever fully fit that description, but I definitely see some similarities between him and the actor turned rapper, Drake. From adopting a Travis Scott like flow on Boo Boo after featuring on Scott’s debut album to dropping the ambient trap rap mixtape, Samantha, and now the Soul Trash mixtape, Toro has become the style imitating, taste-making Drake, or (considering his constant artistic evolution) the A$AP Rocky, of Indie music.

With lines like “wasn’t wishing to be known world-wide, figured it was better than the southern life,” from Boo Boo or “I’m done with the bridges, I made enough to live with,” from Outer Peace or even “got the fans, I don’t need reviews/got the bands, get my momma food” from Soul Trash, it’s quite entertaining to watch Chaz dip his toes into the waters of self-realized internet rappers. And while his lyrical skills don’t quite knock you over, his beat-making certainly can.

Take “Windows” from Boo Boo for example. Its wandering intro comes to a bridge at the 1:30 mark as subtle arpeggio synths pulse to a crescendo. The last phrase spoken, “out my window”, fades into an echo chamber and crisp auto-tune vocals join in, “this is not fantasy, this is as real as me”. It’s an understated moment of pure euphoria. And almost reminiscent of the effect Kanye’s epic bridges provide on “New Slaves” and “Bound 2”. There’s an abrupt shift in emotion that’s instantly palpable but also beautiful. And more recently, the outro on Soul Trash samples a soul cut paired with boom bap drums to a level of precision that you might expect from renowned hip-hop producer, Knxwledge. Whether it’s a mixtape or an official release, Chaz is showing us he has the skills to hang with the best of ‘em.

And all this leads us to Chaz’s most recent album, Outer Peace, which will easily be one of the most intriguing releases of 2019 and a classic in his canon. Outer Peace is a lot of things, but it’s definitely Chaz at the peak of his game. From his ode to aging millenials (“New House”), one of his best ambient-trap productions, to his nuanced take on dance music with “Freelance” and “Who I Am”, Outer Peace shows Chaz flexing all of his creative muscles to make his most tantalizing record to date.

OP also gives us his most brash or sarcastic flash of confidence thus far in his career with the meta reference on “Laws of the Universe”. After the first verse ends, Chaz says, in a deadpan, very James Murphy tone, “James Murphy is playing at my house, I met him at Coachella, spinning all rare shit from Flying Dutchman”. It’s a twist on a classic LCD Soundsystem (Murphy’s band) song, “Daft Punk Is Playing At My House”. As an LCD Soundsystem fan, my mind was blown when I first heard Chaz flip the reference. It’s such an insider quip, and done so tastefully, that it’s almost too cool to be true. Chaz Bear pretty much solidified his iconic status in the Indie music world with that one line.

Now with six official albums under his belt, Chaz has displayed a diversity in his musical catalogue that’s truly unique and frankly astonishing (from chillwave and hypnagogic pop to power pop, dance music, and psychedelic jazz). Like someone as talented, withdrawn, and influenced by hip-hop culture as Post Malone, Toro Y Moi is one of the finer musical products of growing up in the internet age. Just a kid willing to blend any genre he finds interesting to his own will, whether he "belongs there or not”, and somehow make it catchy enough for us all to enjoy. And wherever he goes from here is fine, because he’s already built a lauded musical legacy strong enough to withstand the test of time.