STORIES

Meet Tabby Wakes, the 22-Year-Old Brooklyn Rapper and Skater

By Alex Strausman on May 27, 2019

Tabby Wakes is a 22-year-old native New Yorker who walks into her shows carrying her own backpack. Finding her first beat as a six-year-old, Wakes recounts writing raps with “patty cake kind of vibes,” slowly coming to realize the greater impact music had on her life.

“I feel like I have something important to say,” Wakes shares from an almost vulnerable place. Raised in Crown Heights, the young entrepreneur and self-proclaimed Jane-of-all-trades creative grew up fighting to do whatever sustained her happiness. Her dad passed away, and her mom wasn’t involved, leaving her uncle with the responsibility of raising her. However, here we credit music for taking a role in shaping the budding individual.

Wakes, who is also part of the feminist skate collective and streetwear brand Brujas, now owns her own recording studio, Blahkwork, and will soon drop her debut Brenmar-produced EP via Fool’s Gold Records, the independent label that launched Danny Brown, Kid Cudi and countless other household names. Overnight gained its title by Wakes wanting to point out that years of hard work are often overlooked by moments that skyrocket one’s career, dubbing those now-famous individuals as overnight successes.

After much banter, and even with an EP on the horizon, Wakes assures me that “if you want to hear Tabby” and breathe in her new stuff, “you gotta go live.” And the conversation didn’t stop there...

So tell me, who is Tabby Wakes?

Tabby Wakes is 22, born and raised in New York, entrepreneur, artist, creative, and you know, Jane of all trades.

You were born and raised in New York. Can you tell me about your childhood and growing up here?

I was born in Brooklyn, raised in Crown Heights, and then I moved to Hell's Kitchen when I was 12 and started going to school in the city and throwing events in Manhattan and Brooklyn. When I was around 14, 15, I just got into music and kept going. I started opening music studios, and right now I have my first professional small business: I finally own a music studio out in Ridgewood, Queens.

Want to tell me a little bit more about that? That's super awesome.

Blahkwork—well, at first it was called The Studio. We had one studio in Westchester like two years ago called @trekords, and then we wanted to come to the city with it. We're all from the city so we're like, "No one's going to come to Westchester, really." We searched for spaces for a whole year and just couldn't find anything. No one really wants to rent to kids. We're not kids, but we're not like thirtysomething either, and then we finally found a spot, and it's home. It's great.

Who records there? Just you, or others too?

The business is a professional recording studio, so we have clients all the time, not just me.

What led you to start making music so young.

When I was around six or so, me, my aunt and my cousin wrote raps in notebooks, just little elementary raps, like patty cake kind of vibes. As I got older, I just loved music. I memorize songs so easily, and I just wanted to express myself differently and have that voice. I feel like I have something important to say.

What is that important thing you want to say?

I just want to share my story and my energy and my lifestyle, and maybe my story can help someone else. Who knows? It just trickles down, and it's all very interesting to see the influence, or even just people saying, "Yo, I really love this song, I've been playing it over and over again,” and I think, "Wow, this is crazy," you know?

I'm pretty much just dropping music now. I just dropped my first single so even the reaction from that was so genuine and beautiful. It's doing really well, and we're not even using press. It's not like I have Fader write-ups or anything like that. It's organic. People are actually listening to the music, so it's good.

You keep mentioning your story. What is your story?

It's in the music! Nah, I'm just kidding, but I'm pretty cryptic, like I'll explain something, but it can apply in so many different ways. I'm an independent person. I just grew up—my father passed away, my mom wasn't really involved, I lived with my uncle. I've been sticking out and doing what I can do to be me and be happy.

So music is the thing that you think really got you through all of those hard times?

Of course, definitely. Just keep working, yeah.

Do you remember the first song you wrote?

Honestly, I've probably never even recorded the first songs I've written. Most of the songs that are coming out have been made in the studio, in the moment, versus just free writing, so it's pretty cool.

How would you describe your writing style? It sounds like you write a lot, but then once you get to the studio, you kind of just scrap that to the side.

Yeah, I start something new, and I'm just vibey. Let’s say someone's making a beat and I hear even just the first little part. If I feel it, I feel it and then I'll just make something there in that moment. I'll go in the booth or write and keep writing until I find what I really like and the core that I'm trying to give out.

I listened to the EP, and it's really cool. The sound is a bit different for each song.  

Awesome! I thought that, too. You know how a lot of artists make the same song over and over again? It's not the same exact song obviously, but a similar sound they just keep hitting, you know?

I totally agree, and I appreciated that it wasn't like that.

Yeah, I haven't been able to even really do that, so I wonder how they can do it, and what the hell that is about. I don't know.

So if you had explain the overarching sound of the album, what would you describe it as?

Oh, literally, Tabby.

Tabby?

Yeah. (Laughs.) It's what I feel. I'm like, oh, this is me.

Is there anyone that you idolize in the music world, that you think you have a similar sound to?

I don't even know if it's a similar sound. I love all types of artists, I listen to just about everything, so I don't really know who. I wouldn't even say I sound like anyone necessarily, but I definitely love R&B and rap and pop music, so everything I've listened to and experienced just fused and created what I make.

Tell me a bit about your performing style.

Sometimes I'll do performances where I DJ for myself, which are more intimate and the smaller shows where I'll have my laptop and I turn around and take in the songs. Other times I'll have a friend DJ for me, or I'll have my real DJ, depending on the level of the show. Some shows I'm just there and it’s just me and I'm just pulling up like, oh, I got this show to do, and it's me with my book bag, and I'm just like, "Hey guys," and I go. It's all about pushing yourself. A lot of my music is unreleased, so if you go to my show, you hear music that's not even on the EP.

So it's like Where's Waldo. It's all live. If you want to hear Tabby, you gotta go live, and you're going to hear new stuff or things you've heard at old shows, and now you can hear the song that's on Spotify and Apple Music. It's cool. I'm putting the pieces together.

When you show up with a backpack, are you like, "Oh shit, I'm 22 years old?" Do you have that realization?

Yeah, I'm like, "Ah, I'm 22, and I have this book bag on." I probably should have somebody else carry my book bag. That's my thought. Sooner or later I won't have to carry this book bag with all my stuff. I’ll make someone else be responsible.

You seem like a super outgoing person. Are you that outgoing, or do you kind of curl up inside a little bit?

Both. There are days when I want to just be by myself or just with a few friends or my business partners, and then there are days when I'm going out and turn up and party or whatever. So it's a balance, I'm there, you know. I like to have fun, so that's a main thing.

What do you do to have fun?

I just like chilling with my friends, honestly, and traveling. Traveling is definitely when I'm at my peak. I have so much fun, and I could just be sitting on a beach, you know?

Where's the best place you've traveled to recently?

So far the best place I've been is Cuba. I went a while ago, in 2015, right as they let people go back, but I went a little bit before. It was clear they were allowing U.S. citizens to travel into Cuba without having a family member there. That trip just changed my life because life out there is so different, like a doctor makes like $60 a month, and we spent $60 on drinks and food, you know? So it put things into perspective, for sure.

You're in college, so I imagine it's definitely fun to get out and party after the shows.

Yeah, yeah. (Laughs.)

At PRØHBTD we touch on cannabis a lot. Tell me about your relationship with the plant.

I smoke weed, yeah. (Laughs.) And I definitely make music, even just working in the studio, hearing everyone else, doing audio engineering. It's not like everyone who comes in is like Beyoncé, you know what I mean? You have to kind of block it all out, relax and smoke real quick while they're recording. It's a chill thing for me. It definitely keeps me calm and patient.

Does it help you get creative at all?

Oh yeah, of course. I smoke all the time. I smoke too much weed I think.

I feel like it's fine for you. Weed isn’t a big deal.

No, it's not. I'm trying to figure it out. I guess I live in New York so you can't really get a sponsor, but it'd be really cool if I just got pens and cartridges sent to me. That'd be fine.

Tell me something exciting. It doesn't have to be music related, it could be anything.

Something exciting... well, I mean, I'm awake. I woke up today, it was awesome, I had a great day, good energy. I would just say keep going and listen to "Tabby Night" and get excited for more, you know?

Photo credit: Aidan Bradley.

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