Hear It: Toussaint Lorenz Is Shaking Up Colorado Hip-Hop

Hear It: Toussaint Lorenz Is Shaking Up Colorado Hip-Hop
Shaun Asakura

The last time that Denver rapper Toussaint Lorenz counted, he had moved around the Denver area 47 times. Born at Saint Joseph Hospital in 1992, he'd spent much of his childhood fighting off bullies who picked on him because of his weight and ethnicity.

“Needless to say, all this caused me to be very angry in my teens,” he says. “When I turned fourteen, I started rapping as an outlet. I felt like if other people could do it, I could, too.”

He'd play songs on his iPod and freestyle over them for hours at a time, pacing his house. Three months in, he started confessing to others that he was making music. He and his best friend began to hang out on the front porch of his home, where they'd smoke and freestyle. Soon, more teens joined in.

At eighteen, Lorenz started working with a handful of other artists through the management company 12 Bloxx High Ent; he opened for acts like Rittz, Krizz Kaliko, Top Flite Empire, Snow Tha Product, Futuristic and others, and released seven albums. After the company fizzled out, he teamed up with his friend and hypeman aQuop Stokes.

“I felt as though I needed to rebrand, as I didn’t really feel like I’d focused on what I wanted to do necessarily in the years prior,” Lorenz recalls. “I just felt like I was trying to fit a mold.”

So three years ago he started an entertainment company, IBOH, which stands for I’ll Be Over Here. He wanted to embrace his authentic voice — to quit mimicking other rappers and instead explore his own sound.

“I was constantly told I was different, both growing up and in music, and I’ve always disliked the ‘crabs in a bucket’ mentality, so I adopted the philosophy that I was going to do my thing outside of what was considered cool or the in thing to do and be good with that,” he explains. “It was a big, self-reflective moment where I decided to own the attributes I’d considered to be weaknesses before, and do what I enjoyed and what came natural.”

Since rebranding, he has released multiple EPs, videos and singles, some during mostly local performances, others to fans over the email list that he’s constantly scheming to build up.

Last August, he started engineering his own songs. His first project was “Venetian Sweater Weather,” which opens with a borrowed track he found on YouTube from producer Cloud Lounger; the music comprises a stoned bass line, undulating electronic buzzes and a haunting whistle.

In the song, Lorenz slurs his bars with a sluggish conversational tone — taking on the voices of two people on a date, mumbling their way through a pointless conversation about trivial matters. His cadence is stumbling and disconnected, aping the detachment of the people he's rapping about. Whatever drama there is lurks beneath the surface.

“Engineering myself has allowed me to get as creatively weird as I want to and have as much time to do as many takes as needed,” he says. “Studio time was my biggest expense, so I was always under pressure to try to get as much done in the time allotted, whereas now I get that time to be creatively free and uninhibited by anything but the limits of my own imagination.”
In a Wes Anderson-inspired video for “Venetian Sweater Weather,” produced by his friend Shaun Asakura, Lorenz sits at a table in a diner with a woman wearing a pink ski mask — the sort of thing a bank robber might have donned in the ’80s. The couple bickers, and Lorenz ultimately leaves, unable to express his feelings.

That version of the video ends abruptly — which, it turns out, was part of a marketing ploy. If you ordered a hoodie or T-shirt from Lorenz, he’d email you the full music video. He’s currently out of those designs, though.

Finding clever ways to make money is something of an obsession for Lorenz. He’s teamed up with tattoo artists who give discounts to customers if they sign up for his mailing list. He’s partnered with Hippo’s Mexican Hamburgers and More for discounts for his fans. He sends out secret tracks. And he has an Etsy store for IBOH. He’s even bootlegging homemade hand sanitizer during the COVID-19 pandemic.

While Lorenz is squarely rooted in the alternative hip-hop scene associated with Strange Music, the Kansas City record label run by Tech N9ne, the Denver rapper is also capable of radio bangers.
For example, there's his cranked-up song “Fast Car,” which still has minimalist production with a club-friendly sound. The song wallows in phalluses: fast cars and 45s. There’s a lot of whipping things out.

Asakura’s video for "Fast Car," on the other hand, is constantly interrupting the song with cell-phone footage. In it, he and Lorenz debate the logic of the video itself, brainstorm ideas over text messages, and add Bentleys, car chases and special effects to the storyline — noting throughout that the project makes no sense. The video parodies the illogical hyper-masculinity of the song, and smartly deflates all the high-key energy that the rapper is raising.

It’s a funny, self-aware music video — as much a criticism of hip-hop machismo as it is plain fun.

“Really, I'm just here for whoever will listen,” Lorenz concludes. “Ultimately, I just like making music that I genuinely enjoy and feel like others will, too.”
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Kyle Harris has been Westword’s Culture Editor since 2016, writing about the arts, music and film.
Contact: Kyle Harris