Above: “Don’t get me wrong, I have my insecure moments, but it’s just a moment. It’s part of being human. But it’s all about how real you are. How far are you willing to go for anyone else?”
Hailing from the north side of Beaumont—known to locals as Big Money Texas—26-year-old Tobias Traylor wants to make sure the world knows him as someone “real,” authentic. But in the Magnolia neighborhood, the Army veteran is still known as the tattooed dread-head who lives with his grandmother.
In his music, TTBBY (pronounced “tee-tee baby”) gushes odes to his hometown that ride over a mixture of heavy trap bass pulses, inflected with both the old-school sticky syrup sound of Houston rap and an East Texas drawl.
Last month, TTBBY dropped “Shannon Sharpe,” a hollow trap beat paired with references to Hurricane Rita, Kool Aid, and trapping (slang for dealing drugs). TTBBY promised fans via Twitter that he’ll be dropping a song every month throughout the year.
Last week, he was supposed to perform under his stage name, TTBBY, as part of the South by Southwest music festival. But, with the spread of COVID-19, that dream deflated. The Texas Observer spoke with TTBBY about music, natural disasters, and his experience growing up in southeast Texas.
Texas Observer: Can you tell me a little about growing in Beaumont?
I had what I needed for the most part and more. I wanted to go to the NBA before I did anything. Tried to go to school and I tried the college thing and dropped out like twice. Growing up was a normal childhood.
I stayed with my grandmother on the Magnolia side [of town]. That was rough. [But] all my cousins were there. It was like 20 of us in there deep having fun. This was an everyday thing. They’re all from Beaumont.
Most of your music reflects your experience growing up in Beaumont. For example, your song “Hop Out” (2019) is about trapping. You even have a video of your feet hanging out the window while you’re holding a gun.
Everyone really reacted to the gun aesthetic.
Did you grow up around guns?
Yes, my dad was a Marine. My dad taught me how to shoot when I was little, taught me how to aim. I was suicidal when I was little, and I would ask him to take his guns with him. He didn’t know why I would be like, ‘Take your gun.’
Oh, wow. I imagine that’s scary as a child.
Real life, I was like 7 when I started thinking about suicidal shit. I don’t know, it just came in my head one day. It made no sense.
Christmas gave me horrible anxiety because that’s when it started, but I had lit Christmases. Didn’t know I had anxiety growing up until I was in the Army.
Once I went off to college, I was able to get access to mental health care for the trauma I experienced growing up. I also didn’t realize it was a problem until I moved away. For me, I witnessed a lot of domestic abuse and violence. Was that something you experienced in Beaumont?
Hell yes, Beaumont been violent forever. I ain’t never see nobody get killed or anything like that, but hell yeah, domestic violence or any type of violence you can think of. I didn’t feel like it affected me because it was super normal. When I went to the Army, I realized that a lot of shit wasn’t normal.
Beaumont has seen its share of environmental disasters like Hurricanes Harvey and Rita. Did that affect you growing up?
Rita fucked up a lot. I was in middle school and going through a lot at that time. A flood came, and we ended up in Austin and ended up homeless for a little and stuff.
I was in the Army during Harvey, and I couldn’t get back [to see my family]. My people were good but a rental house got messed up. We stayed with one of my cousins.
It’s mother nature. Anything like that can happen. I don’t really think too deep about that because you grow up in it. It’s kind of normal. When storms get bad in Houston I get kind of scared because I don’t know nobody, versus if I was in Beaumont I can call someone up.
Coming from East Texas, working hard and grinding is something that is ingrained in you from the start. But what is it that really keeps you going in a craft that is hip hop, especially in a region that isn’t really known for hard trap music?
My pops was a hustler. He works in a plant with his hands and he could come wire your house up in a whole day. My mom would work 40 hours a week and up to 60, because she has two jobs.
So, I take rap more seriously because I didn’t really understand the struggle until I struggled myself, and I put myself in my [parents’] shoes.
SXSW was canceled due to the COVID-19 virus. You mentioned that this wouldn’t have been your first performance in Austin, though. How is it performing in a major live music city like this one compared to performing back home?
[The audience] used to just look at me. A lot of artists don’t understand that it’s people’s first time seeing you. They don’t know my music yet, but it’s not a popularity contest to me. If your music is hard then it’s hard. The internet ruins everything. Everything is for clout and it’s hard to meet real people. With upcoming artists that I meet, if I can help, I’m going to help.
I feel like people are competitive and are too insecure sometimes to pull each other up. Where do you get this mentality of helping artists from?
Because no one did it for me. Don’t get me wrong, I have my insecure moments, but it’s just a moment. It’s part of being human. But it’s all about how real you are. How far are you willing to go for anyone else?
What have you been working on lately?
I’ve been putting out a lot of singles lately. Everything I say is pretty real so at the end of the day if you listen to my music and talk to me it’s pretty much the same.
[For example] “Shannon Sharpe” and “Hop Out” … When I started working with a new producer I knew what sound I wanted. [Both songs] are a more professional sound.
I’m from a rural area of East Texas, and it’s not a place where saying what you want is welcomed. What has been the reaction to your music and the lyrics?
It’s fun to say what you want. I’m not talking mumbo jumbo. I’m not speaking lies. In Magnolia Gardens you get neighborhood love. I don’t care what I’m saying because you must be wearing the shoe and you shouldn’t have done what you done.
I don’t have the time to worry about what people think of what I say. It’s all facts.
Who are your favorite Texas artists?
Older rap? I like the original niggas. It’s Houston rap. I don’t like dropping new names because I know that I’ma forget a lot of names. Slim Thug, Chamillionaire, Big Poke, Lil Keke.
My momma used to pull up on me all the time jamming that old school screw up shit. That’s what I grew up on. I like Travis Scott, because he’s bringing back that old Houston shit.
Is it harder trying to come up in a smaller city like Beaumont, compared to a hip-hop dynasty like Houston?
It doesn’t matter as long as you have supporters around Texas. It’s like a big ass hug. I won’t say it’s any harder, but I will say it’s easier being from a city like Houston because they have legends. In Beaumont you don’t see Lamborghinis.
The music industry is not an easy landscape to navigate. What keeps you going at the end of the day?
It’s a lot of self-motivation because no one is making me go to the studio and do it. Seeing my friends and favorite artists go up. I know I have to do this. It’s like your last year in college. You want to drop out so bad but I’m here to get my damn degree.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
If you or someone you know needs help, call 1-800-273-8255 for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.