Tommy Cash once went to a Snoop Dogg show in Estonia. Halfway through the performance Snoop threw a blunt into the crowd, and Cash caught it. As he inhaled - the legend goes - Snoop’s magical rap powers were transferred to Cash. “I was already stoned,” he laughs, recalling the event. “The excitement was higher than the weed itself.”
A performer like Snoop was a rarity in Tallinn, Estonia, where Tomas Tammemets grew up. Google Images offers postcard-worthy scenes of the Eastern European capital, but he assures me it’s only beautiful “for the 35 minutes you walk through the Old Town”, before you reach the crop of imposing Stalin-era buildings. The country became independent from Soviet rule in the year of Cash’s birth, and he grew up in the poor district of Kopli, a Russian thug-run place with rotting wooden huts and junkies rather than fairytale Gothic architecture. In his hood, he was the weird kid - and that part of his story hasn’t really changed.
If you haven’t heard Cash’s ‘post-Soviet’ brand of rap - a narcotic, balls-to-the-wall sound that taps into hazy hip-hop, European hardstyle and even grunge rock, perhaps you’ve seen his face superimposed between a woman’s legs, in the ‘Winaloto’ video that went viral instantly.
Unsurprisingly, these surreal, can’t-look-away videos have spawned a near-constant stream of ‘what the fuck?’ comments on YouTube. The latest sees Cash body-popping in a wheelchair, surrounded by amputees twerking on blades and breakdancing with crutches. To explain it, he offers an X-Men analogy: “I was trying to make a Xavier School of people with superpowers - all people, however they look, they’re amazing.” His team were concerned about a backlash from the video - but it never came, instead “there were comments like, ‘I’m in a wheelchair and I feel represented.’ That’s what I was going for.”
- - -
- - -
Cash waxes lyrical about filmmakers like Alejandro Jodorowsky, Tim Burton, Kubrick and Dalí, and his social media presence is equally as hallucinatory as his videos. He might post a heap of potato salad dumped on a computer keyboard, or his feet encased in loaves of bread. The night before our shoot, he covers his entire body in shaving foam for the ‘gram, captioning the picture ‘I shaved my balls for u’.
Today he’s sipping tea in a café in Hackney - the type that seems to serve only variations of lentils - and he’s hard to miss. He’s wearing lilac and buttercup yellow motorcycle leathers and a Vetements ‘POLIZEI’ baseball cap. “It's my Batman outfit,” he says brightly, explaining how he’s only brought one change of clothes on his whistle-stop tour of London, Madrid, Barcelona and Berlin. “You know, Batman had one costume.”
Whenever he’s in London, he says, he goes for a fry-up at a greasy spoon with A.G. Cook, the man whose strobing synths are stamped all over latest single ‘Pussy Money Weed’, and the PC Music founder is responsible for production on Cash’s forthcoming album. “Me and him have this chemistry…,” he says.
A.G. introduced Cash to the individual currently spearheading British pop - Charli XCX, and soon he would appear in her video for ‘Boys’, eating a rose like a cupcake, before guesting on her ‘Pop 2’ mixtape.
When I ask for more details on his record, he grins cryptically, his pencil-thin moustache swivelling upwards: “It’s like travelling the world, you know?” Later, his publicist plays me ‘Yo-yo’, a neon-coloured trap beat with Travis Scott-esque adlibs, East Asian tropes and the kind of rudimentary, playful lyricism that Cash’s drawl can get away with.
- - -
- - -
Though Cash embraces many musical styles, his first love was hip-hop. He signed up for freestyle dancing classes aged 15 - primarily as a way to meet girls, but it kickstarted his passion for G-Unit and Kanye. “He’s the Warhol or Bowie of our times,” he says of Yeezy. “He’s tried so many styles and keeps evolving. He inspired me to follow my dreams.”
A highly accomplished dancer, Cash can contort his body into all manner of shapes, but this has made it hard for him to attend clubs as a regular person. “You start to dance not for fun, but to nail it,” he explains. “Like, I was purposely trying to teach myself to dance like normal people so I could blend in. When you’re throwing around abnormal moves, Estonian people are like, ‘Woah!’”
After getting expelled for smoking weed, Tommy enrolled at art school, but found it too stale - opting instead to decorate Tallinn with his spray can. He wanted to “fuck the world up” with his stencils. “I want that time back,” he reflects on the pre-digital era. “The first humans used to live in caves; they say we used to live under the water in Atlantis, but now we live in the Internet. It’s our new home.”
Cash now lives in an old Soviet toy factory in the city, and has become something of a celebrity there, even getting to rub shoulders with the Estonian ruling class. A photo surfaced on Reddit of Tommy squatting with then-president Toomas Hendrik Ilves, and - bizarrely - American billionaire Ben Horowitz. “I was asked to perform in the presidential castle,” he explains, “they were all watching as I played gabber and all this Slavic hardcore shit!” The pose was the president’s choice, he stresses (“I’m ballsy but not with the president!”), and it’s a reference to the meme of Gopniks; lower-class Slavic males who are often depicted wearing fake adidas.
It’s part of the inspiration for his merch line, too - he loves sportswear, and has released socks stamped with ‘adimas’ and ‘abibas’, as well as bootleg Kanye tees which instead of ‘Pablo’ say ‘Pavel’ - a common Slavic name. “It’s a good time in fashion,” he nods, “there’s a lot of irony, you can have fun…”
That’s the thing about Tommy Cash - as much as he loves to take the piss, the art he’s creating is as inspired and as reverential as the greats before him. The forthcoming album, he promises, will be a progression of his sound - and Cash’s rampant unpredictability makes this an exciting prospect. “Eighty per cent of artists try to repeat their success by trying the same techniques or same sounds.” But as he sees it, evolve or be extinct. “That’s kinda what artists should do, you know?!”
- - -
- - -
Words: Felicity Martin
Photography: Elliot Kennedy
Styling: Vincent Levy
Hair: Anna Chapman
Makeup: Crystabel Riley
Join us on Vero, as we get under the skin of global cultural happenings. Follow Clash Magazine as we skip merrily between clubs, concerts, interviews and photo shoots. Get backstage sneak peeks and a true view into our world as the fun and games unfold.