Inside a sweaty basement in San Francisco’s Castro District lives a home for independent touring artists. Everyone from Yeek to Elujay has graced the stage of Cafe Du Nord. Most recently, the San Deigo artist Phabo stopped by on an unusually clear October day on one of the last stops of his How’s My Driving? Tour.
Inside the underground venue were couples of all sorts, from best friends having a few drinks, young couples hugged up and in love, and even a few lonely stragglers made an appearance to get in the figurative car with Phabo and see how his driving was.
It was Phabo’s first time headlining a solo tour. When he got on the Cafe Du Nord stage, an orange and pink patchwork paisley stuffed bear accompanied the set, making the setting feel like home. He came out in a full mechanics dickey suit, a black t-shirt covering his growing twists and Prada shades.
“It’s surreal,” Phabo said when I asked him about his touring experience so far. “I feel like every performance is a little bit more real than the last one, but all of them are surreal at the end of the day because I wasn’t doing this two years ago.”
2020 was the year that everyone’s lives collectively changed. Before Phabo took the journey to go on an independent tour around the country and in London with the support of his team and other independent artists like LAYA and Dixson, he was working at a school with children on the autism spectrum two years ago. Then, in light of the looming pandemic, Phabo took it upon himself to go after something he’s always wanted, having a successful career in music.
“It took some drastic changes in my life,” he began. “It took forceful changes in my life for me to get here.” One of the main changes that led him to go his own way was his reaction to his father’s passing. From this loss, he found a big message in his music and persona as an artist, following his Polaris star.
The Polaris star is the North Star. For many Black Americans, we hear for our ancestors to get to lives of freedom throughout our lives. They followed the brightest shining star in the sky, and Phabo has done just that in his career. He gained a lot of his spiritual insight from his relationship with his dad and his relationship with God.
“It was more about relinquishing that power to my north star for me to be able to get here right now,” he said.
He has let go of that power for the greater good of his career. In the music industry, it is hard to keep a level head, but in everything he’s seen as a writer, he applies it to his career as an artist. As an independent artist, the road to success can be treacherous. “I’ve learned a lot being a writer for as long as I was,” Phabo explained.
Outside of being an independent artist, Phabo is a personal artist. Although all of his life is in his music, “my personal growth is my career,” he said. When it comes to music, he presents himself as the name given to him by his parents, Prince.
With his life influencing so much of his music, as he has grown personally, his music has changed too. In the summer of 2021, Phabo released his debut album Soulquarius, and with his most recent release, the Before I Let Her Go EP, he filled them up with leftover songs to see if he still had it. As a result, his upcoming release and follow-up to Soulquarius, Don’t Get Too Cozy, were recorded simultaneously.
A common theme seen in his music is driving. It’s not only seen in the determination of his career, but he also loves cars and late-night drives. He was wearing a mechanic’s jumpsuit and called the tour How’s My Driving for a reason. Throughout his career, his car has turned into his safe space. “I get to think clearly,” he said. “I can play my songs. If i just left the studio, I could play those a thousand times over, no question.”
As his career continues to grow, he measured growth in terms of monetary gains. “There are lessons I’ve learned during quarantine that I apply to my music right now,” he said. But, through quarantine, he learned to be self-accepting, contributing to his artistry.
Phabo has continued following his Polaris star, leading him to take his music overseas. However, he has realized that growth is a shedding and death experience in his career. With his dad’s passing, Phabo had to come to terms with his dad not being here and the aftereffects of losing a vital force in his life. “Could I have these eyes peering over me and still feel comfortable having these eyes have to wait for ten years for me to make it?” Phabo asked.
The How’s My Driving tour has since ended, taking 13 American cities by storm with LAYA and hitting London by himself. But Phabo’s career continues to go on an upward trajectory, “as long as we have vertical integration, I’m good. I don’t really give a fuck about shit else,” he said. Following his own path has worked thus far, and staying on the course of his Polaris star, his music career will continue to do so.