Story by Lee Phillips
Photo by Dana Nguyen
It’s nearing midnight, and as “Good Will Hunting” plays on the TV screen in front of us, I turn to musician Tabby Wakes with a tear rolling down my cheek. It’s the scene where Robin Williams opens up about his dead wife. She’s handing me yet another blunt.
“How the fuck did we get so far uptown?”
She shakes her head.
Cut to seven hours earlier. I walk into Tabby’s PR’s office, a room where she and a friend sit sipping tequila. The scene is straight out of “Madmen” and I’m digging it. Glass windows, glass door, a long hardwood table and yes, a cart of liquor and a coffee pot. Irish Coffee? Yes please.
As we exchange our hellos, one thing is instantly clear: Tabby and I are vibing. This will not be a boring interview, but rather a conversation where we not only discover we have an insane amount of mutual friends but also share a proclivity for positivity and love for Japanese BBQ.
We’re already smiling by the time I hit the record button to talk to the New York native about her new single, “Tabby Night,” her process and signing with A-Trak’s legendary label, FoolsGold. The rest is history.
If someone was said “have you heard Tabby’s music?” and someone was like “no, who is that?,” How would you answer them?
[Tabby laughs] Tabby is Tabby. I’m 22. I’m from New York. I like to have fun and make music and create things.
My first impression of you was that you are a very positive person.
What’s a really good day for you?
Today was a good day. Everyday is a good day. Wake up, meet some friends, ice cream. Go get some dank Japanese BBQ, pregame, get a drink, go to the studio and make some beats. Even if I have to work in the studio, like for a session, that’s still a good day because I get to make stuff.
You have your own studio right? Block Work?
It started small, and recently we finally found a space and locked it in. It was a garage and we just gutted it out. It was hard to get the space, cause we’re young and people don’t trust us. It’s just a bunch of friends working together. Block means friend, and work means work.
What’s your first memory of music? Do you have one?
I would always remember songs like this [snaps] after I hear them. I was just always into music. My first memory was writing my own song, like age six. I was into poetry and I would write raps with my aunt and cousin to Patty Cake rhymes.
Do you remember when you realized it was a career?
It was when I had my first studio. I didn’t know what kind of music I was making but I put out this freestyle – back when you could just post stuff on SoundCloud – and it was funny. It was kind of a joke but then people listened to it, and I realized if people listened to that I could probably be making better music. So I did.
You didn’t know what kind of music you were making? Do you know now?
Now I’m making Tabby. I’m creating a genre. It’s a lifestyle. It’s a vibe. It’s not hip hop it’s not pop, it’s a fusion. It’s experimental.
What’s your writing process? Do you start with a beat or with the words?
If a producer is showing me beats the melody will just come out of nowhere, it will all just come out. Sometimes when I’m on the train, zoning out, something will just come out of nowhere and I’ll write it down. A lot of the stuff I’ve written I haven’t even recorded.
Does it feel good to keep your work hoarded away? I used to just post every picture I’ve ever taken. And I haven’t done that in years. Now instead of a blog I have content for a book.
I’ve learned to make it feel good. I mean I’ve only put out one song really, “Tabby Night.” It’s my first single. I’m excited. The song is the lifestyle, it’s the vibe.
You also did a music video for that right?
Yeah, with my friend David Wept. We just put our heads together and created an idea. It was my first time shooting a music video for myself. It was so awkward. I was on a green screen with clocks behind me because I used to throw events called Tabby Time. It was a story with so many pieces, so it’s gonna take a while to figure out fully. But it’s gonna be dope.
In an interview, you said that your authenticity and happiness was your greatest achievement.
Yes, everyone needs to take time and be with themselves. If that’s you going out and surrounded by people or just home playing video games. Listen to what you need and take it. Like an Advil.
How does it feel to know you’re coming up?
I have no freaking clue.
How do you stay grounded?
[She laughs and we click drinks] FFF, family friends and fun.
Who are some other rappers you look up to?
Right now I’m in heavy rotation. Future, A-Boogie, Meek Mill. P&B Rock and Tory Lanez are both sick but underrated. Honestly Tory has dope features. Fuckin’ Mariah Cary, Mary J. Blige, Fantasia. I just listen to whatever I like.
Who or what raised you?
New York fully raised me, thats mad funny. But it’s true. That’s what I know. Also independence. Being able to do what I wanted. I was going out and chilling when I was 12. I was out here sneaking into Fools Gold shows.
What did it feel like to be signed to Fools Gold?
It was dope. A-Trak answers his text in like 5 minutes.
Beach. Mountain or city?
Those were two separate things! You have to choose one!
I made “Tabby Night” in Miami. I love Miami. I wake up and go to the beach and I’m just there for hours by myself. Or if I’m with someone, I’ll be there mentally by myself. Then I go to the studio and process.
What headspace do you have to be in to create?
Every headspace. There are times when I’m making songs and I’m in an argument with someone, like someone is blowing up my phone saying crazy shit that I don’t need. I was in an interview for FT TV that just dropped and I was in a full argument. It got cut out but like… That was the interview where A-Trak was interviewing me, even though you can’t see him.
What’s your sign? Cancer?
Do you ever feel like you’re writing a version of yourself, that you want people to see, but that may not be the real version?
No. I’m writing the realest version of myself.
Want interview question would you want me to ask you?
I don’t know. There are questions that don’t need to be answered now. There’s so much to know about me, to be found out. Why give it all away? I’m not the type of person to be telling all my shit.
I think that there are unphysical organs in your body that are processing life and existence. What are you working on now?
I’m making music, working on my small business, the studio, and trying to figure out what I want to do overall. I have a vault of classics just waiting to be dropped. I just gotta play the right moves. I could drop 50,000 songs a day. But why?
Do you think social media plays a part in making artists feel like they need to produce and share?
I can’t have an outside force making me do things. The internet can’t force me to do anything. There’s no way. Besides promoting myself I’m not on the internet like that.
If the internet is about instant gratification, what is the key to longevity in an artistic field?
Don’t pick one career. You can just be you and have fifteen careers. Right now I’m in like four different fields–business, entrepreneurship, music, art, different arts. And I also worked at a coffee shop for a little bit. There’s no shame in that.
How do you feel about plan B’s? Not the birth control. Like a back up plan.
They make sense. I want to finish college. Shit was wack but I’m going to finish. You can take a step to another step, to another step and that tenth step could be the beginning of your dream career. You never know. Why say no to another plan? That’s not even a plan B, just a lot of plan A’s.
I’m definitely not against going to school, I guess what I was getting at, is that for me plan B’s allow for a space in your mind for failure. And you need all of your own support to succeed. You have to be in it 100%.
Somethings don’t work out. My first studio didn’t work out. Two years later I have another studio with the same people and it’s working out. So it makes me ask: was that first failure even a failure? Back then I might have been mad, but look where I am now!