Meet Elton Tumbay (aka Planb3e) and Eric Howl, Philly musicians who sing songs to strangers to see if they’ll finish the lyrics and sing back. More than 3.7 million people follow their musical adventures on TikTok under the hashtag #yellingatstrangers.
• Come Together: “I think what we do really helps break that fear of strangers. It unites us and shows us we’re all the same and that most people are just good people,” Tumbay said.
• Joy to the World: “I spent much of my life arguing with people about the way the world should be. Instead of arguing now, I’m being the world I want to live in,” Howl said. “I want to live in a world where everybody sings to each other. Now, I do.”
As rappers Elton Tumbay and Eric Howl sat on the beach in Ocean City, N.J., in 2019 — disheartened by restrictions placed by the city on a performance they wanted to do on the boardwalk and by their recent failed tour to Florida (OK, it was one show but they drove so they called it a tour) — they decided to seek help from a higher power.
“We’re really spiritual, so we asked God to show us a way to reach a large amount of people really fast,” said Tumbay, who performs under the name Planb3e.
When they went back to the boardwalk 10 minutes later, they saw a guy with a ring light and a tripod set up and a long line of teens waiting to perform in front of his camera.
Curious, they asked the man, Dominic DiTanna, what he was doing, and he told them he was making TikTok videos. DiTanna, who would later become their “TikTok Godfather,” showed them the ropes and offered some tips.
Howl and Tumbay tried a few different TikTok gimmicks to see if they’d take off, from challenging strangers to dance offs to trying to get girls’ numbers while dressed in a Mario Kart suit. Then one day, it hit them: What if we try singing to strangers to see if they’ll sing back?
Today, more than 3.7 million people combined follow their #yellingatstrangers videos on TikTok, where Tumbay (who has more than 929,000 followers), goes by @Planb3e and Howl (who has more than 2.8 million followers), goes by @erichowl.
“My personal belief is God called us to do this,” Howl said. “I believe it was divine.”
From the city to the Shore, the men sing songs like Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin’,” Lizzo’s “Truth Hurts,” and DMX’s “Ruff Ryders Anthem” to strangers to see if they’ll finish the lyrics, often with hilarious and heartwarming results.
They could come at you in a Wawa, while you’re riding on SEPTA, or even from their car window while you’re walking down the street to make you a guest star in their living musical.
“Not everybody is an entertainer but me and Planb make sure everybody has a stage,” Howl said.
Sometimes, Tumbay will even throw a jingle in to mix it up, like Red Robin (”Yum!”); JG Wentworth (”Call 877-CASH-NOW!”); and the 6ABC Action News theme song (”dun-dun dun-dun dun da-da dun!”).
Last Friday at Logan Square, the men sang “I Wanna Dance With Somebody” to four tourists from Baltimore who responded with a rousing “I wanna feel the heat with somebody!”
And when a group of teen basketball players visiting from Texas walked by, they jumped in front of them and sang “Reese’s Puffs! Reese’s Puffs!”
“Eat ‘em up, eat ‘em up, eat ‘em up!” the group yelled back. (It’s a TikTok thing, I’m told.)
Tumbay, 24, of Northeast Philly, and Howl, who lives in Doylestown, said his age is “infinite,” and prefers to keep his given name private, met four years ago when Tumbay was supposed to dance in Howl’s music video but broke his ankle the night before the shoot.
They stayed in touch and when Tumbay’s ankle healed, the two began preforming hip-hop and rap together around the Philadelphia area. Their performance background — and their wide range of musical knowledge — makes them particularly suited to their latest venture, they said.
» MORE WE THE PEOPLE: ‘World’s Youngest Barber’ is an 8-year-old West Philly girl with major moxie
“Me and Planb are wonderful complements for each other. We’re both fearless in different ways, and we’re both loving and trusting in different ways,” Howl said. “Whenever there is a semblance of doubt of interacting with people, our basic credo is ‘Fortune favors the bold.’ ”
The men keep a curated list of songs to sing at people on their phones, which Tumbay said is categorized by “older songs adults will know, new songs trending on TikTok teens will know, and universal songs most people will know.”
“When we’re riding down the street in a car, you have hundreds of people going by you, so you have three seconds to decide what age, gender, and race someone is and what song they would know,” Tumbay said. “We’re right most of the time, but sometimes we’re wrong.”
They don’t usually get a negative reaction, but sometimes people don’t understand what they’re doing or just straight up ignore them.
“People are very rarely rude to us,” Howl said. “Even if I annoyed them, it’s like parrot squawking or like the growl of a tiger: It’s wild and exciting but it’s not hurting you.”
One song Tumbay has been trying to yell at people for two years now, but nobody knows is Luther Vandross’ “I’d Rather” (C’mon, Philly, how you going to do Luther like that?!?).
Howl said he once tried singing “When the moon hits your eye like a big pizza pie” to several different groups of people at the Shore, only to be ignored.
“But the last group was a big family on a porch of a house and 17 people, from the kids to the grandma, all sang back ‘That’s Amore!’” he said. “That meant a lot.”
Soon Howl and Tumbay, who now make a profit on their TikTok accounts and recently signed with a manager, will embark on a TikTok karaoke tour across the United States to sing with even more strangers.
“I think music is almost always a uniting language,” Howl said. “This person who’s supposedly a stranger to me knows that same song as me and suddenly we’re good friends because we both know the words.”