Toro y Moi has sped through the Atlantic on Diddy's speedboat, produced for Travis Scott and performed for sold-out crowds around the world. But his day-to-day life in the Bay Area isn't nearly as glamorous. Most of the time, in fact, he can be found collaborating with local artists at his warehouse on a graffiti-covered street in North Oakland—the home base of his design studio and record label, Company.
But glamor isn't what the artist—real name Chaz Bear—looks for in a city. "If you look at Oakland and where it's going, I feel like it's a city for subcultural artists of color. It's open-minded," he tells me on a rainy afternoon at KQED's San Francisco office, where he arrives wearing a neon-green, reflective worker's jacket screenprinted with the Company Records logo.
Company's headquarters isn't far from the final freeway exit Bear takes in his 2017 one-take visual album, Boo Boo, which follows his car from San Francisco and over the Bay Bridge into Oakland. Released after Bear reached a new pinnacle of mainstream success (the Travis Scott collaboration came in 2015 for the rapper's chart-topping debut, Rodeo; the Diddy connection took root that same year, backstage at Coachella), the Boo Boo video served as metaphor, reaffirming his commitment to his adopted East Bay home while the music industry's eyes were on him.
During the year and a half between the heartbreak themes of Boo Boo and his funkier, more danceable new Toro y Moi album, Outer Peace (released Jan. 18 on Carpark Records), Bear established himself as a passionate supporter of the Bay Area's creative community through collaborations with local artists. Those include diverse, interdisciplinary collectives Wine & Bowties, Shade Zine and Club Chai, all of whom have significantly shaped Oakland's visual art and nightlife scenes in the past several years.
"The first show I played here was at Bottom of the Hill, and the first thing I noticed was how diverse the crowd was. The first two rows were Filipino teens," says Bear, who is Filipino and African American, with a slight build, bleached hair and a soft-spoken demeanor. "This was my first show out of South Carolina, and I was blown away. It was cool to see a city that had a diverse subculture."