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​Photo courtesy of tg.blk. Styled by Angel Munoko. Photo illustration by Srikar Poruri for Okayplayer.
Photo courtesy of tg.blk. Styled by Angel Munoko. Photo illustration by Srikar Poruri for Okayplayer.

First Look Friday: tg.blk

From Kenya to the world, tg.blk is ready to share her distinct, global sound.

Music reverberates everywhere, as it is a medium for conveying emotion. Much has been made about rap’s recent decline in popularity, but it’s as global as ever, with each region having its own version of the art form. Out in Kenya, tg.blk’s stream-of-consciousness rap, with the emotion of a lovelorn R&B song, has made it stateside. Originally picking up rap as a joke in high school that turned into a passion, tg.blk has been picking up fans from Kenya and beyond since the 2021 breakthrough “Love Being Used.” This year, her song “NYDFRYSTYL,” released last December, is picking up steam and landing on playlists all across Spotify.

tg.blk - Love being used (prod. baileydaniel)

tg.blk’s journey as a rapper began in her teen years. She started listening to hip-hop in high school, no longer content with feeling left out when her friends flexed their knowledge of it. Growing up in Mombasa, a city on the southeastern coast of Kenya, tg.blk’s exposure to music came from her mother. The music of Madonna, Whitney Houston, The Gap Band, Earth Wind & Fire were constants in tg.blk’s childhood, which led to the young woman to find music of her own. “I didn't know who Destiny's Child was like I couldn't pick them out of a lineup until after they broke up,” tg.blk admits.

tg.blk’s exploration of modern music, led to her turning her Macbook on, opening GarageBand, and crafting songs in her room. Eventually, she came up with her rap name tg.blk as a play on her real name (Thigi) and a reference to the unusual names of the lo-fi producers she was into, like MNDSGN, SwuM, and eevee. tg.blk is all lowercase as a nod to MF DOOM, the always capitalized legend whose classic 2004 album Madvillainy made her want to rap. She started to upload her music to SoundCloud in 2016 and continued to hone her craft from there. Years later, tg.blk fashioned herself into the free-flowing musical talent she is today.

gin and wine (ginuwine)

As she experiences rapidly increasing press coverage and a building buzz, tg.blk hopped on the phone to discuss learning from hip-hop’s past, building confidence in her skills, and Kenya’s love for hip-hop. Welcome to First Look Friday.

Okayplayer: How did you create "NYDFRYSTYL"?

tg.blk: The beginning of last year, after I came back from doing New Year's, I was like "I want to rap." It's technically a freestyle in the sense that I just freestyle different takes and then push them together, but it's not a one-take freestyle. I didn't think it was gonna come out but, happy that it's out.

Why didn't you think it would be released?

I do a lot of songs that just never end up coming out and I'm just like “Okay, this is good, I don't know if anybody wants to listen to me rap with no Chorus for this long.” So I was just like “It's a cool song. Maybe I'll put it on Soundcloud.” But this is too good to just sit on my SoundCloud.

When did you realize "NYDFRYSTYL" was making noise?

When I had people coming up to me, especially because I'm in Kenya and being like “I'm only 5 foot 5” (a bar from the song) and now a bunch of people just keep height checking me. I'm like yeah, I'm compact. Or people DMing like, “Are you actually five foot five?”

How did you develop your current sound?

I started listening to music with the intention of getting better at making music. You know that old screenshot from Tumblr of classic rap albums and it's a wallpaper? I forced myself to run through that. I want to get good at this, so I'm gonna listen to everything everybody considers good and really listen until I feel like I get what makes these people good. And I'm going to try and do that in my own way. It's a skill thing, rapping is a skill thing. It's not just charisma, rhyme schemes, it's keeping it simple sometimes, keeping it complex, sometimes. There's leaving space. I listened to a lot of music that I wanted to emulate.

What were some of the most personally impactful albums for you?

Madvillainy for me, like especially the production. I want to be able to rap exactly like this. I want to be able to do exactly what he's doing. It also just turned me into like an obsessive Madlib listener. I feel like that's how I learned how to rap in a sense. I was like if you sound shitty on a good beat, it's not because the beat is shitty, it’s cause you’re shitty. The two Slum Village [albums]. Fantastic, Vol. 1 and Vol. 2. Illmatic, of course, because it's a classic. I actually became obsessed with that album for a period of time. [Jay-Z’s] The Blueprint, [Lupe Fiasco’s] Tetsuo and The Youth. [Earl Sweatshirt’s] Some Rap Songs, that one that album came out like that completely changed my whole style of making music.

Photo courtesy of tg.blk.Photo courtesy of tg.blk.

When did you begin to feel confident in your ability to make music?

I didn't feel confident until 2021 when I made "Love Being Used," when I finally decided to put that on my Spotify and it started to do traction. Up until that point, I was still convinced that I was kind of trash. I was like, “I can definitely flow and rap, but that doesn't mean I can make a good song.” In the same way that you could be a battle rapper and you can be a good rapper, but you can't make a good song. It was kind of like a turning point where I kept putting my music on SoundCloud and I was like, there's no point of putting it on DSPs and shit. Nobody's going to listen, this is just for me and my friends to listen to, and randomly, let me try it. I had that song on my SoundCloud and it had maybe 3,000 plays and people just kept asking me to please put this on Spotify. Then things just picked up and I started to gain a bit of confidence.

“Gin and wine (Ginuwine),” your latest song, is totally different from "NYDFRYSTYL" and shows off your versatility. How do you start with an idea and turn it into something, as you did here?

So, funny enough the same guy who produced "NYDFRYSTYL" actually produced “gin and wine” as well. Yeah, his name is Isaac. So I still prefer going to YouTube for beats, because there's just so many and it's so hard for me to connect with people. You could send me a folder with 50 beats and I'll go through all of them and be like “Nah.” I found the beat on Isaac’s page. I only made that first half of the song like last year and I just had it sitting in my folder. After we finally connected, after I made New Year's Day freestyle, I sent it to him and he was like "Yo, this is dope. Why don't you go longer?" and I was like "The beat got kind of boring to me after a certain point." He's like "Hold on, I'll do something” and then he just sent it back to me with the beat switch and I was like, oh shit you completely revamped the song.

You're off to a really good start, how do you feel you got here?

I really think it's also my beat selection, which is something I'm very particular about. I've been a Lucki fan since like 2016, and there isn't a single Lucki song with him on a bad beat. That's why I love his music. So just being very selective in that sense, is what really helps me. I just know what fits me.

What do you have coming up next?

I have another song coming out at the end of April. It's kind of like Isaiah Rashad-ish in a way, like if Isaiah Rashad and maybe Fergie had a song together. That's how I think about it. And then I have another song coming out the month after and then one more and then a tape hopefully, just six songs. Honestly, I feel kind of bad to call it a mixtape because it isn't technically a mixtape, but it's not even planned out enough to call [it] anything else. It's just an introduction, a taste of tg.

You're culturally aware of the weird nuances of American rap and American rap fans. How did you pick up on all of that?

First of all, Kenyans love music in general. I wish more rappers would come to Kenya, they'd go crazy for the amount of love they'd get here. A lot of Kenyans listen to rap music and just being genuinely obsessed with it. I would say there was a period of time for maybe, three, or four years. I was listening to rap only. I started with pop and I was like, this is boring and I became obsessed with rap. I'd go back and like just watch videos of people talking about how things got started reading articles listening to music, Googling people. Also, I'm on Reddit a bunch because people on Reddit are super rigid. Reddit is for the old heads, I tell you. That's where old heads go to discuss rap music and the state of rap music.

Where do you want your musical career to go?

When people talk about women in rap, I want to come up in the conversation. If there's a group of like five people, I want at least one of the five to be like, “Nah, you guys are sleeping on tg.blk." Like that one person who brings up underground artists when you're arguing "Who's the best at this?" I want people to argue about me on Reddit and I want a bunch of type beats on YouTube. Those are my two goals. I have one thing to say that I guess I should include; if anybody's looking for me for like a cipher, I'm waiting. I want to rap somebody, just invite me to the cypher so I can just rap for like two minutes and leave.