Joy to the world: Local musician uses music to bring happiness to himself, others

Ryan Tobbe, aka TobyRaps, never wanted to have a normal 9-to-5 job. Instead, he chooses to make his living making other people happy with his acoustic guitar, on-the-spot song creations, and helping people of the streets of downtown Cleveland as a Clean and Safe Ambassador for the Downtown Cleveland Alliance (DCA).

After graduating from Cleveland State University in 2015, Tobbe became a street musician around Cleveland. To him, performing music for tips was better than anything a normal job could provide.

Ryan Tobbe, aka TobyRapsWherever Tobbe went, he was sure to bring his guitar—performing impromptu songs for passersby, often evoking emotional experiences for the listener.

“I went to Washington, D.C. a few years ago with some friends and brought my guitar,” Tobbe recalls. “I was street performing and I ended up making up a song for a recently-widowed woman who had lost her husband of 50 years. We both cried and hugged at the end and she told me that it was like her husband was back.”

Tobbe has come a long way from performing on street corners. The rapper has now performed in venues all over Cleveland and across the country. Locally, he’s been known to perform at Mahall’s 20 Lanes in Lakewood or the House of Blues—playing as the opening act for local band Tropidelic on New Year’s Eve 2019.

He has two full-length albums under his belt with a third album, “Make Yourself Happy” due in April.

When he’s not entertaining people with music, Tobbe works as a Clean and Safe Ambassador with the Downtown Cleveland Alliance (DCA). But whether it’s through his music or as an ambassador, he always tries to motivate people.

“Happiness is a work ethic—we want to be happy but it’s not something that’s just going to happen,” Tobbe says. “If you want to be happy, then you need to do things every day—basic things that are scientifically proven to benefit your mood.”

Tobbe grew up surrounded by music. The Chagrin Falls native first began rapping in high school, recording some songs with his brother, and his father, Jim Tobbe, is an acoustic singer-songwriter of some local renown.

Surrounded by the art, Tobbe solidified music as his passion and became enamored with the recording process. Rapping took a strong hold in his life, having been inspired by such artists as J. Cole, Kendrick Lamar, and Drake.

“I just really got addicted to hearing my voice on a CD,” Tobbe says. “When I heard myself after that first recording, something clicked, and I haven’t stopped since.”

While at CSU Tobbe met friend and future collaborator Chris DiCola.

“I grabbed a guitar and one of my buddies and I decided to go to this open mic,” DiCola recalls. “On stage there’s this tall dude with red hair and a patchy beard and he’s wearing a blue blazer and pajama pants—we knew we needed this guy on our team who was so ridiculously unafraid, and we went up to him and hit it off right away.”

Tobbe, DiCola, and other friends eventually began travelling through CSU’s dorms, playing requests, and mastering techniques that Tobbe would later use as a street performer.

After graduating with a bachelor’s degree in communications, Tobbe spent three years as a street performer in downtown Cleveland. Eventually, he began to tire of his daily grind and yearned to spend time in the studio working on new music.

“I wanted to make something of some substance,” Tobbe recalls. “Making songs up on the spot wasn’t very satisfying after a while.”

These studio sessions led to the creation of his first album in June 2018, “Make People Smile.” Tobbe wrote this album detailing his time as a street performer and the trials and tribulations that come with being a musician. One of the songs, “Make My Rent,” features a video depicting a day in the life of Tobbe as he traverses downtown trying to make enough money performing to pay the bills.

Ryan Tobbe, aka TobyRapsAfter establishing some local buzz, Tobbe moved to Los Angeles in February 2019 to gain a wider fanbase. He released his second album, “Make More Friends” in February 2020, which detailed his experience trying to survive in Los Angeles.

“I have a passion for making new friends and meeting new people and diversifying my world view,” says Tobbe. “I wanted to describe every aspect that you would come across if you were a transplant to Los Angeles for ‘Make More Friends’—including making new friendships and the pain that comes from leaving old ones behind.”

Following the album’s release, Tobbe embarked on a two-week tour across the Midwest and Northeast—eventually finding himself back in Cleveland right around the time of coronavirus quarantine. He has decided to stay in Cleveland, rather than return to LA.

“Expenses are so low in Cleveland that you can afford to really invest in yourself,” Tobbe says. “I’ve been doing this investment by paying for studio time, my publicist, and vocal lessons.”

Tobbe became an ambassador last year during the shutdown. He walks the streets of downtown and provides assistance to the homeless population, making sure they are aware of the available resources for food and shelter. The outlet of helping people, being social, and making a positive impact on people’s lives is what Tobbe loves most about this position.

Tobbe has also weathered COVID-19 by reading self-help books and meditating. The experience served as the basis for his third album, “Make Yourself Happy,” which was produced by DiCola and details 10 different themes about leading a healthier lifestyle—exploring meditation, hydration, and self-forgiveness.

Ryan Tobbe, aka TobyRapsHe says this album is a true representation of who he is. “I’m not trying to fool anyone, I’m not trying to say I’m the best rapper,” Tobbe says. “But I will say that I’m the most honest version of me. You will not find another rapper that is a version of me.”

It is this description that resonates with those who work with Tobbe, who believe his artistry and personality will enable him to achieve success and longevity in the music industry.

“Ryan is an incredible motivator, musician, and just overall human being,” Maria Herrera, Tobbe’s public relations campaign manager at Pressed PR, says. “He truly lives to make other people happy, and that’s not a common quality. He’s found a way to make music that’s true to who he is at the core, while still allowing an open door for fans to feel empowered by it.”

Tobbe’s work as a motivator, rapper, and ambassador has grounded him and impressed upon him the true meaning of success and living a happy life.

“Success comes from not living day to day—it doesn’t come when you are older and when you feel that you have arrived at some goal,” he explains. “Success can be found in the actual journey towards accomplishing something.”

Tobbe’s music can be found on Spotify, Apple Music, YouTube, and other streaming services. His new single “Get to Sleep” dropped in February.

Read more articles by Anthony Thompson.

Anthony Thompson is a journalist originally from Chicago. After moving to Cleveland in June 2016, he eventually became a student at Cleveland State University, majoring in communications. He plans to graduate with his bachelor’s degree in communications in May 2021. Anthony loves reading historical narratives, hiking, and spending time with his fiancé. He currently lives in Cleveland Heights.