Victory Lap
Slow and steady wins the race for Toosii, who's having the biggest moment of his career so far. With a Billboard Hot 100 hit leading the way, the doting dad and bowling ace is in prime position for more success.
Interview: William E. Ketchum III
Editor’s Note: This story appears in the Summer 2023 issue of XXL Magazine, on stands now.

Many rappers and singers test out their new records at the strip club or on tour, but Toosii knew that “Favorite Song” was a hit after playing it for an opponent in his bowling league: an elder named Ms. Brenda, who came back singing it the next day. That’s when Toosii knew he had a smash that would translate for all ages. He was right: the tender, catchy love song is inescapable. Since its release this past February, the track earned TikTok virality, a pair of remixes with Future and singer Khalid and skyrocketed to the top five of the Billboard Hot 100 chart, building him a fan base of children and adults alike. And instead of seeing Toosii, 23, posting Instagram Lives that show him enjoying the spoils of his popularity, fans are more likely to see him sharing videos and photos with his infant son, Ezrah.

But Toosii’s route to success was never conventional. His own childhood was riddled with obstacles: moving around, weathering homelessness and helping his mother raise his nephew and two nieces for a few years while his sister was serving a federal prison sentence. He persevered a lot on his way to musical stardom, so he appreciates the work it takes to get there. Since 2017, the rap-crooner, who reps both Syracuse, N.Y. and Raleigh, N.C., has dropped about a dozen projects including EPs, mixtapes and studio albums that showcase his ambidextrous approach of rapping and Auto-Tuned singing.

His snarling street credos, affectionate love songs and introspective recollections earned him a deal with indie label South Coast Music Group in 2019, and Capitol Records at the top of 2020. His latest album, the autobiographical Naujour (titled after his birth name, Nau’Jour Grainger), which arrived in June, showcases all his scars. He somberly recounts heartbreak, familial feuds, contemplating self-harm and surviving sexual abuse. Toosii vulnerably displays the trauma that has informed the man he’s become.

While speaking with XXL via Zoom from Raleigh, N.C., Toosii is a few days removed from embarking on his first European tour. He’s enjoying some downtime before beginning another headlining trek around the U.S. As the entertainer sits in the driver’s seat of his car while his son sleeps peacefully in the backseat, Toosii discusses why everyone was against his decision to release “Favorite Song,” being comfortable in the journey of fatherhood, how bowling with Young Thug inspired his favorite new pastime and why he’s convinced there’s a Grammy Award in his near future.

XXL: You’ve had successful records before, but “Favorite Song” is a brand-new level of popularity for you. When did you realize how big that song had gotten?

Toosii: Honestly, I’m kind of just now realizing it. When you’ve got the kids, you won. Every time I go into my [Instagram] Stories and my mentions, I see different middle schools and high schools singing the song, people doing promposals to the song.

It isn’t even the big moments like The Voice or Jimmy Fallon; it’s the smaller things. This young girl had just gotten adopted and she made this video singing the song. She was like, “I want you to come to my adoption party.” Little moments like that touch my heart. I promised her that I’d be at her adoption party.

You weren’t just an artist who blew up with a viral song on YouTube. Your career has really been a slow burn: you’ve got five fans today and 10 fans tomorrow, building it up brick by brick. Was that slow build-up ever motivation?

Even from my XXL Freshman class, I was probably one of the most slept on. No offense to none of those, but a lot of them not around no more. That’s not to say that they can’t come back. But the clock is always gonna turn. When it’s your time, it’s your time. I looked at it as I’m gonna just continue to put the work in, and when it’s my time, I’m gonna be prepared. Preparation is everything.

What do you think is your category? What’s your lane?

I think that’s the special thing about me. I don’t have a lane. I’m on a six-lane highway and I can get into whatever lane I want to get in. I feel like not a lot of people are able to do that. You would think the love songs would be my sound, then I do a song like “Rip 2.0” and people are gonna be like, “I never knew this was Toosii.” But that’s how I actually started. I wasn’t making love songs. I wasn’t rapping about heartbreaks. So, I don’t have a lane. Whatever I intake, that’s what I embody in the moment.

You shared something on your Twitter where you journaled about how you haven’t been hands-on in your career recently, and that you wanted to change that. What made you say that?

Every artist goes through the phase when they first get into the industry, sign to these labels, and they got a lot of creative thoughts on what you should and shouldn’t do. They throw a lot at you. I feel like last year, I fell into the world of allowing people to have too much of a say-so.

I always tell people, “You got label reps, and then you got people who rep you for the label.” I want people who rep me for the label. I don’t want label reps, because label reps is only worried about going in to get a paycheck. I got people who are depending on me, so every day I’m putting my best foot forward. So, I ask that the people who are doing things for me are doing the same. If you ain’t willing to get fired about what I got going on, you ain’t the one for me, because you ain’t got my best interest [at heart].

When I wanted to drop “Favorite Song,” almost my whole label was against me. I was supposed to drop a project with DJ Drama. They wanted me to tap more into a rap base. I got the women, but they wanted me to grab the males. I’m like, “What y’all don’t understand is the males are gonna go wherever the females go.” So, I dropped “Favorite Song.” I came to them last minute and I told them, “This is what we are doing,” and everybody was against me. But as long as we win, I don’t care who claims the success.

You get into some really personal stuff on your latest album, Naujour. You talk about helping to raise your nephew and nieces as a teenager when your sister was incarcerated, contemplating self-harm and sexual assault. How long have you been planning to make an album that dives into so many of these topics?

Over the course of time. I’ve been working on this album, I’d say, for like a year or two. Some of the songs are new work, but some of the songs [are older]. Certain things are kind of hard to speak on. Some of the things that I’ve been through are hard to speak on, but I feel like sooner or later people gotta get the story.

When it’s like that, I gotta be in the studio at home by myself. I record at home by myself. I gotta be at home by myself because I’m in a vulnerable space. So, it is kind of hard. You got to be alone for things like that. It’s therapeutic. It’s how I cope with the things that I go through in life. Everybody got a coping mechanism. So, I feel like music is mine.

"Everybody got a coping mechanism. So, I feel like music is mine."

You’re open about being a father and you seem to really enjoy it. You’ve posted photos and videos of yourself with your son’s mother on the yoga ball, massaging her when she was almost due to give birth. Was there ever any doubt about letting people into such an intimate space?

I put God first, family second and work third. So, whatever I got to do to make them comfortable and feel like they’re in a better space, and feel like they could be vulnerable around me, that’s what it is. Pregnancy ain’t easy, it’s a journey. I feel like a man should be there every step of the way.

I love my son. My dad was my best friend. I love my dad to death. My dad was around ’til I was about 12 years old. Then my mom and my dad separated and I’ve been with my mom ever since. But whenever I need my dad, he’s always there for me. I want my son to have that same relationship with me, but even better.

I trust my dad with my life, man. We’re from the bottom of the bottom. He was there for me, no matter what happened. I want my son to know that whatever he goes through in life, I’m here. You got a conversation you want to have with me and you don’t want me to tell mom? Let’s have this conversation. Got some stuff you’re going through and you don’t know what to do? I’ve been through that, I’ve been there.

I was 13, raising three kids while my sister was locked up in the feds. It ain’t really much you’re gonna go through that I haven’t seen at age 23 already. By the time [my son] turns 18, there will probably gonna be more stuff I go through. I want him to know I’m here for him no matter what.

You have one of the biggest songs in the world right now, and you’re 23 years old. A lot of people that age aren’t trying to be at the house with a baby and their child’s mother. They’d rather be out and about.

I’ve done seen it all, man. I had a moment in my life where we weren’t together. I was able to be with any girl I want, and I was living life. But it don’t do nothing for you. It don’t feed the soul. I need something that’s gonna feed my soul. I feel like being with family always does that.

Black artists have a complex relationship with the Grammys. There are those who don’t want to depend on the awards to feel validated, but when they win one, they love it. You’ve been upfront about that being something you want for “Favorite Song.”

A lot of people don’t know that 2023 is what they consider to be a magnetic year. It’s every seven years. This is a year that whatever you manifest, a lot of those things begin to come true if you continue to put them into the atmosphere. I can open my journal and show you where I wrote, “I’ma go platinum in three months.” I can show you where I wrote, “I’ma generate this amount of money from my label every month.”

Everything that’s happening with “Favorite Song,” I literally wrote in this notebook. Some of the stuff that I wrote had never happened, but I pushed for it. And honestly, I truly believe that there’s not a more powerful record out there at the moment than “Favorite Song.” The way that it’s touching these different generations. The way that the world is singing it. If this song don’t deserve the Grammy, I don’t know what song do. Do I believe I’m gonna get a Grammy? I truly, honestly do. So we’re going to pray for it. Usually, I’d be like, I hope so. But I honestly think I’m gonna get one.

toosii photo
Gunner Stahl

You’re a bowling fan. How long have you been bowling? What’s your high score?

A 289. I was one strike away from a perfect game. I’ve been bowling for about a year.

Wait. You have only been bowling for a year and you were that good already?

I was in Atlanta working on my album. We used to go to the studio with Young Thug and them, and outside of going into the studio with them, they used to have times when they’d rent out the bowling alley. Everybody there was good. I was gambling with some of them, losing my money. I’m like, I gotta get better.

Over the course of time, I just started bowling more. Bro, I’ve got like 40 bowling balls. It’s bad. When I fall in love with something, I gotta do it. I fell in love with it, and I just dove into it.

The Freshman issue of XXL magazine is on stands now. See Finesse2tymesRob49FridayyGloRilla2RareSleazyWorld GoLola Brooke, Central CeeReal Boston RicheyLuh TylerTiaCorine and DC The Don's official Freshman pages. In addition to interviews with all 12 artists in the 2023 Class and Freshman cyphers producer Pi'erre Bourne, it includes interviews with Lil Baby, NLE Choppa, Boosie BadAzz, Toosii, DDG, Saba, producer Go Grizzly, engineer Jaycen Joshua, singer Coco Jones, SinceThe80s' President Barry "Hefner" Johnson and AEW wrestler Swerve Strickland, plus a look back at what the 2022 XXL Freshman Class is doing, hip-hop's love for golfing featuring Scarface, OMB Peezy and pro golfer Harold Varner III, conversations with 10 new artists making noise and a deep dive into A.I. hip-hop songs. You can also buy the 2023 XXL Freshman Class issue here.

2023 XXL Freshman
Travis Shinn for XXL

See the 2023 XXL Freshman Class