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November 30, 2018Feature

Earlier this year we met avant-garde Estonian artist Tommy Cash in London for a shoot and interview for Issue 004. With his new album '¥€$’ dropping today, get to know the enigma.

“A lot of people haven’t been to America but they’ve been fed so much of it in fashion and everything. So people are trying to find new ways to express themselves. ”

 

In every interview I’ve read with Tommy Cash the writer uses the word ‘strange’ in their intro, (fuck, I’ve become homogenous), but only because hip hop has a tendency to be quite linear.

Meeting Tommy breaks up the monotony of life. The 6am Ryanair flight from Dublin to London, on which I was charged €55 for not booking online beforehand, trudging through rush hour at Liverpool Street station, the stench of coffee breath on the packed overground — all of these things are far removed from the Estonian rapper walking into the Hackney photo studio. There’s nothing mundane about what he does.

Tommy Cash’s constant desire to explore new ideas, fashion and concepts meant one of his more recent videos nearly didn’t make it over the line. ‘PUSSY MONEY WEED’, a title indicative of his meta approach to hip hop, features amputee ballet dancers and wheelchair-bound body-poppers.

“I’m glad I did it. We were pushed back for a month. Some people were paranoid that we would get a backlash. It’s amazing to see how some people comment like, ‘I’m in a wheelchair and I feel so represented’ and that’s so beautiful. That’s what I was going for, to show that all the people are fucking talented and fucking amazing.

“I feel like these days with art everyone is so sensitive about everything and it’s kind of pressuring art in a way that people are afraid to express themselves freely or do what they would really like to do. I feel like it would be easier to do it years before, not now. Today is like a different time.”

Tommy puts a magnifying glass onto the archetypical tropes of hip hop, like the objectification of women, in his videos and lyrics. He admits that when he chose his name it was to make fun of the genre. He loves “to play with stereotypes and twist it up”.

“From the beginning, Young Thug has been kind of like a role model, is he gay or not? But I’m already tired of that part too and when I see the super masculine hip hop guy I’m very like, ‘Yeah man, yes it’s so fresh’. For a normal person this anti-masculinity is like, ‘Woah, that’s fresh in hip hop’ but for me I’m already tired of it, you know? For me it’s come full circle like, where’s the next 50 Cent [laughs]?

“It’s like Instagram. Everything moves so fast. Because of the internet we’re in this very fast era so I feel kind of the same, it’s like an Insta- gram feed in my head saying, ‘Ok what’s next?’.”

Two of Tommy’s most-viewed videos are ‘Winaloto’ and ‘Surf’, both of which were self-directed with creative partner Anna-Lisa Himma and both further established Tommy as the rule-breaker he’s come to be known as.

Putting the music aside, he takes art direction seriously and immerses himself totally in the concepts he devises. ‘Surf’ is a particularly good example.

A condom being pulled over a skyscraper, a woman fellating a rocket and a nuclear power plant being digitally penetrated might all be explained by the fact Tommy abstained from sex for an extended period of time before creating the visuals.

“The shot where I put the condom on the building… It was meant to be Big Ben at first, but when I went back home I decided against it. The whole video was shot back home.”

Shoe Bodice by Paolina Russo, Shirt by Pussys Club

This led me on to my next question. Eastern European landscapes have become somewhat fetishised in recent years. Artists like Tommy and designers like Gosha Rubchinskiy have brought a new culture to the western mainstream, with Primark even ripping off the latter’s style. I was curious to find out what Tommy’s attitude towards the appropriation of working-class or post-Soviet culture was.

“For me, the hottest year for Eastern European art or fashion was 2016 when Gosha was a very big thing and A$AP Rocky was wearing it and it was like, ‘Why are those black rappers wearing those things with Russian text?’ So it was the boom time when Kim K had the hoodie by Vetements, the red one. Everyone was like, ‘Is she a communist?’. It’s fashion.

“Of course it’s cool… It’s kind of pushing it. I feel like east is the new west. A lot of people are tired of the same old American concept. A lot of people haven’t been to America but they’ve been fed so much of it in fashion and everything. So people are trying to find new ways to express themselves. Fashion and everything is like water. If it goes that way I think everyone is going that way.

“I feel like the culture has always been there, there’s a lot of culture we’re not talking about. I mean the best culture is under the table. The culture we don’t know about. There are so many talented rappers who just jam and get high at home, you know? They have their like six friends. For me this is culture. For me it was culture when we were doing graffiti and we were not giving a fuck about what was going on in the city. Nobody wanted to chip in the money for the taxi and drive from the ghetto to the city to spend money. Nobody wanted that. We just stayed in our area and did our thing. For me this is culture.”

Glasses by Lotta Qianhan Liu

Estonia isn’t a country known for hip hop and the small town outside of Tallinn where Tommy Cash grew up is especially barren for not only rap, but culture as a whole. I wonder if he feels a pressure to carry the country and the culture on his shoulders.

“No, I don’t feel the burden. I think it’s so cool and I just like repping the place where I come from. Basically for me I feel like the flag is bigger. The Estonian flag — it’s more of a European flag because underneath I have a lot of fans from previous Soviet countries. I have a super massive following in Poland, Czech and in Russia and so on. All those kids that feel that they grew up like me. They feel connected to me. In time I want to become the biggest European artist.”

Tommy has no plans on leaving his motherland behind though. The draw of big creative capitals like New York or Berlin are shadowed by his desire to make the country where he cut his teeth that much better and there are some obstacles he feels need to be addressed.

“People are drinking a lot in Estonia. We’re one of the top drinkers in the world. We have this fucked up prices thing too. We got into the European Union and our prices have gone up. I was so amazed. Last time I worked there was about three or four years ago. Let’s say you’re in a cafeteria or in a restaurant you get €2.70 an hour. Four years later I talked to a girl and the amount they pay is the same.

“This will be our birthday this year, 100 years of Estonia, but I feel this pain and sadness in my heart that my friends and my brothers and sisters have to be like this, you know? Or if I go visit my Grandma she’s like, ‘Yeah I got €400 for my pension’ and shit like this and it fucks me up. I don’t know what to do. I don’t want to speak on politics and shit, but… People are getting angrier and angrier because of the system failing the people. Nobody is doing anything to help us out.”

Tommy Cash’s new album ‘¥€$’ is out now with Production by Amnesia Scanner, Danny L Harle, Boys Noize, and features from Rick Owens and MC Bin Laden.

Words: Eric Davidson / Photography: Ellius Grace / Styling: Anja Maye / Assistant Styling: Cloda Farrelly / Hair: Jamie Devenish 
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