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Interview With the Moroccan Rapper


ElGrandeToto wasn’t meant to be a rapper. He always knew he’d be famous, he says, but figured he’d be a dancer, maybe an actor. 

“If I wanted to be in the fucking NBA, I could have been in the NBA,” he says with certainty. “I’m too ambitious. I love dreaming, and I love achieving dreams.”

But fate had other plans for the now 27-year-old Moroccan MC. Bursting onto the scene in 2016, he quickly snatched the respected title of Best Hip-Hop/Rap Artist at the 2020 African Entertainment Awards USA. The following year saw him reigning supreme as the most streamed artist in the SWANA region on Spotify. In 2022, he earned a diamond certification in France for his collaboration with Nigerian artist Ckay on a remix of “Love Nwantiti.” And if that wasn’t enough to cement his worldwide presence, Toto’s latest album, 27, soared to Number Three on Spotify’s Top Album Debut Global Chart. Most recently, it was announced that Toto will be one of the judges on national channel 2M’s upcoming “Jam Show,” Morocco‘s first-ever rap-only program.

Toto, born Taha Fahssi, began his journey to becoming one of the region’s most celebrated and controversial rappers in Benjdia, a small and bustling neighborhood in Casablanca, where he grew up and met his first love: krumping. Introduced to the dance style and culture by his older brother, who would take him to cyphers and street battles, Toto found his voice in hip-hop, a medium where he’s the one calling the shots. In his words, “Nobody can control my music, I’m my own boss.”

Chatting over Zoom from his Casablanca home, Toto reclines back in his gaming chair with a stack of his favorite records and a hash joint dangling from his lips. The room is lit by purple LEDs, and despite the open window, the space remains cloaked in a haze of smoke. From his seat, he tests my vinyl expertise, reminiscing on the releases that have shaped his music: Drake and Future’s mixtape What a Time To Be Alive; Eminem’s Curtain Call: The Hits; Nirvana’s Unplugged in New York; The Godfather soundtrack; B.B. King’s Three O’clock Blues; 50 Cent’s Get Rich or Die Tryin’; Dr. Dre’s The Chronic and 2001; Kendrick Lamar’s Mr. Morale & the Big Steppers; and J. Cole’s The Off-Season. 

Today Toto is a favorite among Moroccan youth, and it’s easy to see why. Before he was ElGrandeToto, he was “little Toto,” shadowing the OG Toto, an older neighborhood drug dealer. His mother produced his first music video. He speaks and raps in Darija, French, and English, sometimes all at once. He’s a devoted Wydad Athletic Club fan. He embodies the story of his generation in his country.

That said, his ascent to fame wasn’t without obstacles. In 2016, his house burned down. “I lost everything,” he says, lamenting the loss of his childhood photos. But it was this tragedy that spurred him to enter his emcee era. 

“Give me one year, if I’m not bringing bread, I’ll do whatever the fuck you want me to do,” he says, recalling how he negotiated with his parents, who wanted him to go to college — probably not in those exact words. “My father stood up and left the room.”

True to his word, Toto shot to fame within a year with his breakout 2017 single “Pablo,” which racked up 35 million views on YouTube. “I wasn’t prepared for being famous,” he admits. “I can’t just go to any festival or random cyphers or listen to rap music in the streets. I’m not mine anymore. It’s hard.”

The year 2020 marked the heartbreaking passing of his mother. A year later, he channeled his grief into “Mghayer,” a tribute to the matriarch of his family. Toto is known for his guarded demeanor, and he often deflects my questions about his emotions with a phrase like ”It’s all in my music.” But “Mghayer” revealed a deeply vulnerable side that resonated with fans, emerging as his most-watched video on YouTube with 105 million views. “Gelbi mennek ma sakhich yamma/weldek ma nassikch” (“Mom I still need you/Your son won’t forget you”) was a refreshing departure in a catalog that’s usually heavier on lines like “¡Hola hola señorita! ¿Qué pasa? Me llamo Rita/Bien sapée, bien coiffée, bien parfumée, bayna chica bonita.

In August 2022, Toto’s European tour was abruptly canceled when France refused him entry due to Schengen visa restrictions. Adding to the turmoil, two months later, Moroccan authorities detained him over public remarks he made about hashish use. With the looming threat of an eight-month jail sentence, Toto initially chose to stay silent, breaking it only with the release of “Silhouette.”

In the track, Toto delves into his adolescent stint as a drug dealer, grappling with the allure of wealth and confronting societal hypocrisy within Moroccan culture. “Tal daba baqi ka2ib, 3etqouni stilouwat/La Piza, la ja2iza, 3tiwni kilouwat,” he raps, openly discussing how music saved his life and how cannabis remains a constant companion for him.

ElGrandeToto in Casablanca in April.

Frankie Allio

“I saw who was there for fame, who was there for money, who was there for the Instagram tags, and who was really there for me,” he says now.

On our Zoom, Toto sounds attuned to his image and the messages he projects. “I was gonna spend eight months in jail because of my mouth, so I’m thinking about my response,” he says, alluding to the 2022 cannabis controversy. The Toto recognized worldwide is the unfiltered, tough “I say whatever the fuck I want to say” rapper. But on Zoom, he holds a genuine smile.

“Sometimes, I’ll see an older couple, and they just come to me, and they’re like, ‘we love you like a son’ or ‘I just see a young kid,’ and they’ll hug me,” he says. “That’s the craziest thing I’ve ever lived.” 

Toto possesses a knack for turning adversity into something positive (or melodic), but certain controversies are bigger than music. A couple of weeks after our Zoom, Toto filed a defamation complaint in response to sexual assault allegations that emerged on X. Since then, the two accounts responsible for posting these claims have been deleted, and no additional information has come up. Despite Rolling Stone’s efforts to follow up on the matter, Toto and his team have chosen not to comment, and it remains unclear if any further action will be taken. 

In the meantime, Toto will keep telling his story. “I got a story to defend,” he says, picking at his untamed beard. “It’s a story about a young kid growing up in Casablanca and going worldwide with only music, from Morocco to the world.”


Despite the pushback he’s faced, Toto plans to stick around, for a while at least. “I still didn’t do all the things I want to do,” he says. “Like the Grammys, the Rolling Stone cover, I still got the BET awards, the Billboard Awards.”

How does he plan to accomplish all of that? “Don’t listen to people who don’t know what they’re talking about,” he advises. “Family comes first, and never forget where you come from.”


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