“Soyez vous-même et suivez vos rêves” is the French translation of Washington D.C. based-rapper Tabi Bonney’s life motto, which is “Be yourself and follow your dreams.” Born in the small African nation of Togo where his father Itadi was a famous musician, and having lived in France before settling in the ethnic melting-pot capitol of the U.S.A., Washington D.C., Bonney is able to see and hear the world differently.
While his peers in high school were calling people “jerks”, Tabi was calling people “bamma’s” a term that is now a staple in the “D.C.” section of the urban dictionary, and creating other terms that the whole school would emulate. While in college pursuing a degree in pre-med/biology, Tabi had his mind on becoming a pro basketball player, even though he excelled in the classroom despite his late night urges to write music instead of go to sleep. By the time he was teaching high school science and earning his Masters degree from George Washington University, Tabi’s dream of becoming a rapper had become his passion, as he continued to rap with Organized Rhyme, a loose-knit collective formed in D.C. with close friend and mentor Haziq Ali.
In 2006, after his second year of teaching, and armed with the discipline and work ethic that his previous endeavors provided him, Tabi Bonney followed his dreams by releasing his debut album A Fly Guy's Theme. Staying true to his motto, Tabi expressed himself the way he wanted to. Bonney’s colorful use of D.C. slang and unique delivery radiated with people, just as it had in high school and college when he had 2 songs reach #1 on local radio stations. His first single off A Fly Guy’s Theme, “The Pocket” became the first song from a local artist to break through the glass ceiling formed by D.C.’s dominant Go-go music scene. Tabi’s self directed music videos were getting regular air time on national video channels like MTV Jams and VH1 Soul, but not because of big budgets or high profile features and co-signs. The videos were getting played because as Tabi explains, they’re “original and cool to them. As opposed to the same ‘you’re in the club poppin bottles.”
Like several other hip hop artists, Tabi has other business ventures including Bonney Runway, a boutique clothing line, as well as his own film production company called Cool Kids Forever. Bonney has directed and produced videos for Raheem Devaughn, Wale and Go-go band Mambo Sauce along with the videos he’s directed for his own music. Tabi’s creative, international flair has seen him run ("Beat Rock"), rollerskate ("Syce It") and bike ("Nuthin' But A Hero") his way through D.C., while the clip for “Cool and Fly” found him riding horseback in his birthplace of Lome, Togo.
"D.C. is a multi-layered city, and has so many cultures and nationalities that live here, that there are multiple ways to maneuver through it," Tabi says. "So having these videos where I'm traveling through the city in different ways is a metaphor for that."
Building on the initial success of A Fly Guy's Theme, Bonney released his sophomore LP, Dope, in 2009. The album, which featured singles “Cool and Fly,” "Duhh” and "Jet Setter," is the first in a planned trilogy called Dope Meet Fresh...Fresh Meet Superstar. On 2010’s Fresh, the second installment of the series, Tabi evolved in a more musically sophisticated direction inspired by European pop acts like Lykke Li and Little Dragon, and the global accessibility of the Black Eyed Peas. The album came as Tabi’s career was taking off on a number of fronts. He had recently formed the CryBabies, a co-ed pop group with Grammy-winning Black Eyed Peas songwriter/producer Poet Name Life and singer Niki Jean, and joined up with Damon Dash’s rising Creative Control collective on projects like Ski Beatz’s much hyped 24-Hour Karate School.
Tabi is currently working on his next album titled The Summer Years, which is due out this August. Referring to his next project, Bonney says, “It’s about 95% produced by Ski. Dame is putting it out, I’m just happy man.” Though he never asked for a co-sign, or big name producers, Tabi is getting both now.
“My mentor Haziq Ali, who I used to rap with, was working with Ski for years but we never actually did anything together. It wasn’t until someone hit me up on Facebook saying that they’re up here in New York working with Dame. They let him hear my stuff and Dame asked could I come up so I literally came up the very next day. I met Dame, saw Ski; we had known of each other and then from that day we just started working immediately.”
Now that Tabi has bigger names behind him, he’s still not veering from being himself. He already has one video out for his dreamy, uplifting, first single “Sunlight”, and is already thinking of ideas for videos as he and Ski build tracks from scratch for The Summer Years. As expected, Bonney’s music will have a new sound from his previous releases as he continues to develop and work with new producers. “This one is Hip Hop. It’s more lyrical and the beats are a little harder. I can go in either direction, but messing with someone like Ski, even though he has range too, we just got into that zone.”
A sample from one of his father’s song will be featured on the song (song name), and he draws on both his past and time abroad in other ways as well. Tabi expands on his development explaining, “I know how to recall memories more maturely now. So even with a more hip hop sound working with Ski, I can reflect on, and bring out the influences I’ve experienced.” For Bonney, it’s all about “letting all of the different things I’ve done and seen in life come naturally; not forcing anything.” By sticking with this belief, he’s been able to follow his dreams and be himself.