Aesthetic:Tommy Cash

Words: Douglas Greenwood
Photography: Charlotte Rutherford
Styling: Jack Collins
Make-up: Paige Whiting
Hair: Mark Francome Painter

Tommy Cash’s reputation as a provocateur precedes him: pretty much all of the visuals for his music come armed with a warning. “This video may be inappropriate for some users” the disclaimer will read, before permitting you to click your way through a warped and beguiling collection of high art. Champagne ejaculations and oversized testicles (in his video for Surf); a man’s face superimposed onto a woman’s vagina (from the infamous visuals for Winaloto). These are all things you’ll encounter in the hyperreal world of the 26-year-old Estonian rapper.

Seeing him out of that mad hatter setting is a bizarre, perhaps intimidating experience, but you soon realise that Tommy isn’t one to waste the energy of his art when he doesn't have to. As he sits across from us in a boujie east London restaurant, the only things that are carried over from his stage act are the parts of himself he can’t suppress or change: that long, slicked back hair, thick Eastern European accent, his expressive personality and a single front tooth, cracked perfectly in half like a triangular M&S sandwich.

“What makes others uncomfortable makes me comfortable, actually. I don’t see anything gross in the things that I do.” Tommy scoops ketchup on to his onion rings as we discuss the work that has left music fans and YouTube deep divers with their mouths agape. “Maybe it’s because I’m so forward? I don’t know. It’s all so normal to me.”

Leotard: Milano Pro Sport
Cycling shorts: Maxine Beiny

Born Tomas Tammemets in the suburbs of Tallinn, Tommy Cash doesn’t have much to say about his upbringing, one which you might assume played a big part in shaping the kind of batshit crazy creator he is today. “Nothing happened,” he shrugs. “That’s why I’m special! I was trained to be individual. I never had a gang of friends and I was never allowed to have anyone back home.”

Instead, Cash found solace in the discovery of two things. First came internet porn (“It was amazing, yooo! At first? Oh my gaawd!” he recalls, drawing out his vowels like a boob-obsessed kid who just turned off the safe search function) and then came art, particularly the films of arthouse provocateurs like Gaspar Noé and Lars von Trier.

 

All clothing and accessories: Rick Owens

With his mouthy, heavily-accented cadence and love for 90s sportswear (another carryover from childhood), Tommy Cash has become the ultimate posterboy for the well-trodden post-Soviet aesthetic, rejecting the well-tread route to hip-hop notoriety. Four years into his career, he’s happy taking the backseat when it comes to gunning for formulaic success. He still lives in Tallinn, hasn’t linked up with any major label pop acts (Charli XCX, the genre’s trailblazing talent, aside) and has refused to emulate the cash-flashing tropes of his genre. “I wasn’t born into a culture where I should rent a car, show jewellery and say that I’m rich if I’m not,” he says.

And yet, there’s part of us that assumes Tommy Cash’s provocative demeanour is the very definition of pop culture in 2018. By turns hideous and hilarious, he’s a musical maximalist who fits perfectly with a contemporary creative scene (particularly fashion) that’s veering towards the ridiculous too, causing swathes of young people to fall at its feet. On the set of his Crack Magazine shoot, he spins this sports-luxe aesthetic on its head. Here, he’s the devil and angel perched on his shoulders, a leather-clad kid at the Eurodisco club, and a wrestler-cum-figure skater with a penchant for sparkles and glitter. Wherever Tommy’s line is, you get the impression that he’s prodding it at all times.

It’s something he recognises outside of his own work, claiming that Vetements founder Demna Gvasalia has essentially killed satire with his work. But Tommy is too loyal to his own vision to ever slip into the mainstream. “I don’t want to be part of pop culture, I want to be a ‘cult’ artist,” he argues.

 

Coat: Maison Margiela
Vest: American Apparel
Trousers: Maison Margiela
Bonnet and gloves: Stylist’s own
Bag and boots: Maison Margiela

Coat: Maison Margiela
Vest: American Apparel
Trousers: Maison Margiela
Bonnet and gloves: Stylist’s own
Bag and boots: Maison Margiela

Coat: Maison Margiela
Vest: American Apparel
Trousers: Maison Margiela
Bonnet and gloves: Stylist’s own
Bag and boots: Maison Margiela

There’s a strange kind of perfectionism to Tommy’s vision. 2016’s Winaloto, arguably his biggest record accompanied by an award-winning video, took two years to reach his fans. Pussy, Money, Weed, its more downtempo, freak-sex sister, spent seven months gestating before it got released.

There’s a reason for that though. One false step or accusation of being a ‘sell out’ at this stage and his career, still fledgling, could come crashing down. Earlier this year, he wrote and recorded his most accessible song to date, spent €17,000 on a video, only to scrap it barely weeks later. “It was a huge team and I wasn’t happy with the song,” he confesses of his costly move. “I was told it was ‘the radio thing’, but it felt like a slippery slope down the wrong path, so I woke up and pulled myself back.”

That whole radio, mainstream gig really isn’t Tommy Cash’s shtick anyway. “I’m the guy who rides horses who loves to be from nowhere!” he admits, mid-chew of his final onion ring now. “I don’t want to move to a big city and socialise with everybody! Rick Owens told me, ‘Tommy, you don’t have to go everywhere’. That put me back into where my mind was before.” He looks over my shoulder to his manager in the midst of his mini outburst, checking to see if his tone was too loud, and then turns his piercing gaze back to me.

“What do you want to be: a donkey or a unicorn?” I ponder the rhetorical question for a second, already knowing Tommy Cash’s answer. His pencil-thin Galliano moustache arches, bearing that broken tooth again. “Donkeys are guided everywhere, but unicorns? Unicorns are rare!”

@tommycashworld

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