These days, Tommy Cash is hiding himself from the world. The 25-year-old Estonian artist, responsible for coining his own microgenre of “post-Soviet rap,” believes these periods of isolation are key to delving into his own creativity. A glimpse outside his apartment window in Tallinn reveals the severe, fortress-like shell of a former Soviet toy factory. These bleak environs gave rise to his irreverent persona, and this contrast is precisely why his surreal and colorful inclinations prove to be so fascinating.
Tommy Cash turned heads directing the orgiastic, viral music video “Winaloto,” followed by the equally anatomical “Surf.” His imagery—ranging from towers built from conjoined twins to condoms rolled into skyscrapers—awakens your deepest Freudian impulses, but the shock value doesn’t overshadow his music. It grabs your attention before his raps lure you further into his Dali-esquepsyche.
As a rule, Tommy Cash’s sound includes an unfurling bass reverb matched by a voice sharp enough forthe frigid rhythm, beat for beat. He just as easily switches to the guttural sexuality of Nirvana-era grunge rock, as evident in “Surf.” “I wanna leave marks on your knees, on your knees,” the rapper growls. His persona spasms from sinister cult leader to petulant infant. Simultaneously aggressive, yet narcotized.
Through the Skype screen, he appears subdued. His army green, mesh long-sleeve and khaki Echo cargos blend into the slate backdrop. “Tommy Cash is evolving,” he says, “But I’m not playing anyone. It’s very me, very true.” For the time being, he’s steeping in his creative fluids. Yes, Tommy Cash is a freak of nature “found somewhere between nature and lab,” but he’s already on his way to becoming, as he calls it, your next “ProRapSuperstar.”
WW: What kind of toys did they make in the old Soviet-era factory?
TC: I don’t know really, but they had really funny toys during the Soviet times. Maybe they made things like Cheburashkas. Do you know Cheburashka? It’s this Russian mascot with very big ears and very big eyes. Or maybe they made sex toys? I don’t know [laughs].
WW: How would you describe your hometown and how has your relationship with it changed now that you’ve been performing?
TC: Well, my hometown is very small and it’s very far away from everything. And it’s been very… isolated, I would call it like that. Mmm, what has changed is that I can’t really buy groceries peacefully. Well, our people are very calm. Most of the time they won’t come to you and say, hey hey, I know you. A lot of the time, they stare, so I just hide out more. Here, I just create and hide myself from the world, I guess.
WW: Do you think it’s essential to be in a place where you are isolated to get the your most pure musical or artistic product?
TC: Yeah, I think so. I think artists should be—he should be with himself in order to make his art. I grew up here, but still some artists who have grown up in big cities, they still are in their own gang or own hood. I think artists should be isolated.
WW: When did you start creating art? What mediums did you first experiment with?
TC: I was so into painting. I still have sketchbooks full of stuff… painting, stencils, and graffiti. It started there. InAt art school, I kind of hated the art classes because we had do natural art and I was always doing something else. My teacher was ok though, because he was a weirdo too, so he felt me. He let me do my own stuff. While everyone was trying to do the identical fruit, which was on the table, and I was trying to figure out a new fruit at the same time.
WW: I’m interested in your personal style, too.
TC: It’s a lot of things that I find, and whatever sometimes from thrift stores. In Russia, a lot of fans give me cool stuff. Shout out to them, too. Adidas kind of supports me. I always get the freshest football gear from them. It’s a mix of everything. Sometimes I don’t give a fuck about wearing anything. Sometimes I want to have a fucking bag over my head [laughs]. In that moment, I won’t go out anyway. I’ll stay naked at home. Right now I’m rocking—do you remember Echo? Echo Red. We started rocking Echo shit and Karl Kani again, like all the G-Unit stuff. Bringing back that shit. Today, I wrote old school rappers in Estonia, if do they have G-Unit, Echo left over. They were like, “Yeah man, take it all!” You know, that moment when everyone just threw their Echo shit in the back of their closet and decided to get skinny jeans.
WW: What’s your creative process like with the videos?
TC: With all the videos, it’s always difficult. At first you fucking hate it, like fuck, it won’t work, it won’t work, it’s awful. I’m really critical about my work, especially with videos. So I’m always thinking, fuck it’s not good enough. It doesn’t make sense for me right? But at the end, when it’s done shooting, it’s kind of—if you work enough for it, it’s kind of like making your own Frankenstein. No one was thinking he was going to fucking wake up. So every video, it’s like a dead man and I’m this mad professor trying to make Frankenstein alive again, but I’m not alone. I have a lab full of people helping me.
WW: Are there specific people orand aesthetic influences you look up to?
TC: Definitely Jodorowsky’s Holy Mountain is one of my biggest inspirations. Very surreal. But also like, maybe Kubrick because he’s so fucking clean, so crazy clean. It’s amazing. His shots are the cleanest shots of them all and the suspense he has in his shots. The last movie he made, Eyes Wide Shut, leaves so many questions. I love how he questions everything. And of course, Dali.
WW: You talk about Kubrick leaving viewers with questions. Do you try to impart the same effect on your audience?
TC: I think it’s a big statement and I always want to make people think, right? Take them out of their box, right? “‘This touched me.” I know when I’m touched, I want to people to feel the same way I felt:. That I would look at something and be like, “Fuck.” That’s what I want!” and, “I can’t tell you the point” or the big idea behind my work. It’s different for everyone.
WW: Are your videos as ironic as they appear to other people?
TC: Ironic? What is irony? It goes back to the question, what is funny to you? What is your humor? I wouldn’t say, but I try to make fun of something. I stand behind my work. The only thing I don’t like about artists is when they take themselves too damn seriously. Even Dali had exhibitions where he only drew penises and like, genitalia and stuff like that. It was goddamn fucking Dali, right? It should be a balance. I’m very serious about it, but if we look around, being alive is very ironic for me. Some things aren’t real right now… like Neo-nazis in the year 2017 and fucking shit with Trump. What the fuck right? What is going on here? I don’t want to even be mad. It makes me laugh. How did we end up here? It’s so weird.
WW: What direction does Tommy Cash ultimately want to move towards?
TC: I want to get into the art world more. I would love to start doing performance art or definitely get involved with the gallery life and I would love to be this new, at first, gallery rapper, or artist-rapper or painter-rapper… the guy who truly does all this shit and also makes music. I would also love to direct for someone else.
WW: You’ve been on tour recently. How’s that been?
TC: I have three dates left and it’s been amazing. Then I have two or -three months off just doing videos and music, so I can re-up myself. It’s crazy, I had two tours and this whole summer I was doing festivals, and I love it. I’m a very live performer, but I feel when I perform it takes a lot of my energy and I can’t put it into my art. Performing is all giving. I give everything. I played Roskilde in front of twenty-five thousand people. I had this mosh pit of thousands of people and there were three or four mosh pits at the same time. It was such energy. You just can’t see the end of people. It was fucking nuts, and I love everywhere I go.
WW: Despite heavily identifying with Tallinn, your ambitions to become involved in the art and film worlds almost require you to be in a more international city. Do you see yourself moving to a place like New York to pursue this?
TC: Of course, my dream is number one. I think New York is still real. In New York, I could still be myself and I feel like some cities take your soul away. I won’t say which ones, but there are big cities out there that when people go to, they lose their originality. I don’t know why, but I’m afraid of that. New York, I would love to come through and I’d do anything for it. I have this myth for myself that when I have my long hair back, I’ll be ready. So it’s kind of long right now, so it’s good. I made the myth for myself. I guess we have a little bit of time left.
WW: Why did you cut it off if you have this myth that it makes you stronger?
TC: I had this moment. You know those moments, when you’re like, fuck I want to cut it off right now. You know? Right now! Right now! Cut this shit off, and this idea gets bigger and bigger and you’re like, it’s hard to carry on. Fuck I just need to cut it off. That’s how it went, you know?
WW: How long ago was that?
TC: I think that was maybe two years ago, but I was still cutting and making different haircuts, but now I felt lazy. Now, it’s time to get back to my roots.