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Tonedeff and Hip Hop's History
7/23/05 - exclusive interview - words by Archrival

rapper Tonedeff picture For the people that might be unaware, tell them who you are and what you do.

My name is Tonedeff, with no space in the middle. No capital D, two f's, just one word, Tonedeff. I'm an emcee, producer, singer/songwriter, piano-playing graphic artist and an all around nice guy.

Why the name Tonedeff? After listening to you, one can tell you're not tone deaf.

That was very clever. (laughs) Basically the name is a play on words and it's always embodied my style cause I'm a fan of wordplay, good wit and lyrics. Also I've had the name since I was 12 years old.

I know it sounds mad ol' school, you know "Tonedeff", but I just kept it since I was 12 because I made the conscious decision that this is the name I started with and this is the name I'm going to finish with. I know a lot of cats change their names like 85 f**kin' times in their career.

How many years have you been making music?

I've been writing since I was 9 years old and I've been recording professionally and doing shows since I was 12.

What artists and crews are you affiliated with?

I'm down with The Plague, the all-around collective in New York City, which is 12 of the nastiest emcees you're ever going to hear in your life. QN5 Music is the label which is made up of myself, CunninLynguists, PackFM, Mr. Mecca, Session & Kynfolk. Extended F@mm is the group I represent along with PackFM, Session & Substantial.

What does QN5 stand for?

I dont have a funny answer for this. QN5 stands for Quintic Nickelism to the 5th power. Now, the short definition is: we're 5 steps ahead of the game. The long definition sounds way too f**kin' ridiculous for me to explain.

Could You Define 'The New' Hip-Hop?

Oh! Yeah, that's my favorite subject. As a matter of fact, ArchRival, The New Hip-Hop is basically this - it's music without genre. It's music that is simultaneously mainstream, underground, middle of the road, below the road, above the road, artistic, catchy, danceable and melancholy, it's everything. The New Hip-Hop is a quick way to say "I don't give a f**k about if it's underground or if it's mainstream - f**k the categorization!Ē The New Hip-Hop means "It's good and it's versatile", it's versatile music.

It's that simple and it's a proper distinction I think that needs to be made in music because I feel, personally, that Hip-Hop music over the past 10 years or so has really, really shot itself in the ass because we've divided ourselves into so many sub-genres that we've lost all semblance of balance in the music. This has caused a complete paradigm shift to the point where right now all we have is what the media wants, and that's, you know, the stereotypical image of black and latino people. Just f**kin' dumb, ignorant people talking about money, f**kin' or selling drugs and White kids eat that sh*t up because that's interesting to them, it's a different world to them. That's some sh*t that "looks cool", so they want to do that.

That's what we're being shown in the media because there's no proper representation of the other styles of Hip-Hop. There's all different types of Hip-Hop music, why are we only seeing 2 types on television? If it's not straight up street sh*t - sellin' rocks, then it's Southern cats sellin' rocks. You know what I'm sayin'? It's pretty f**kin' basic and it's all the same sh*t.

I hate to ask "what happened to back in the day?" but there was a point in Hip-Hop history which everybody refers to as "The Golden Era" when everything was "good". There was a point where you could watch De La Soul, Onyx, A Tribe Called Quest, Public Enemy & X-Clan in the same Rap City hour. Now we don't get any sort of balance whatsoever. The New Hip-Hop is essentially our way of saying "you know what? All you little underground f**kheads that think your mad cool and you know everything and all you mainstream assholes that don't want to listen to anything underground - YOUíRE BOTH WRONG!" We just need to make good music that appeals to everybody cause good music

As an artist, what do you feel you bring into Hip-Hop that's not already there?

Personally I think I bring a sense of self-sufficiency and a sense of integrity back to the solo emcee. I'm not afraid to do anything musically. I'll do whatever the f**k I want to do and I'll do it to the best of my ability so that I feel my music is a proper reflection of me and it's not an assembly line product like what's going on now in music.

I work with producers and I've heard that nowadays, in order to sell your beats you have to put the hooks on the beats when you sell them. To me that's f**kin' ridiculous...cats are that lazy that they can't even come up with their own hooks anymore. Now you basically make the beat, you gotta get a songwriter, somebody to come in, do the hook, lay it down and then basically give it to a rapper. Then the label says "just put 16 on that and we'll pay for a big cameo artist, put it out and we'll blow it up with the video". That's what Hip-Hop has become and that's really sad.

So I restore a sense of "you gotta' do that sh*t yourself". I make my own beats, I mix my own sh*t, I design my own cover art, I write my own lyrics, I do my own flows, I do my own shows, I do everything myself. I think that's important because this music was founded on individuality. The very sense of the music, the principles of it - being yourself - being fresh. If you can't create something that's from you, what's the point? You're basically just in there to milk it, make your money and be the f**k out. That's not how it should be 100% of the time.

What are you working on presently?

Right now I am working on Asterisk:Four which is the QN5 annual compilation. I just finished up the Archetype album that came out in April so ĎCOP THAT!í. I'm working on the PackFM whutduzFMstand4? album. It's gonna be real crazy, It's gonna surprise alot of people. I got Sessions Spicasso album which should be done in the next few months and I'm working on the next Tonedeff project which is going to be a joint collaboration project with DJ KNO from CunninLynguists and it's going to be called Chico & The Man. He's holding down all the beats and I'm doing all the rhymes. So it's going to be one of those "matches made in heaven" homo. (laughs)

Who would you like to work with?

I'd like to work with people I can't afford... Personally I'd like to work with a little bit less traditional folks. I'd really like to work with someone like Bjork or Thom Yorke from Radiohead. I'd like to work with DJ Shadow, Pharaoh Monch, Common, Mos Def. Mos Def and I could do a collaboration project called "Tonedeff & Mos Def are The Deffersons", drop it on Def Jam and have the Deftones play some live instrumentation and put the single out through So So Def. (laughs).

What were your thoughts during the making of Archetype?

With Archetype, it really ties in to the whole New Hip-Hop ethic. I really wanted to make an album that was a complete representation of where I was in my life creatively. I wanted to make an album that was different than what was out there and I'm pretty sure I succeeded in the sense that I still haven't heard stuff like what I did on the album. I wanted to challenge emcees musically. When you listen to Archetype you gotta listen to it and be like "what other artist is capable of doing so many different things on the span of one album".

I take you from an introspective joint to a f**kin' Rage Against The Machine mash out break in the middle of the next song and still manage to keep it Hip-Hop. The point of Archetype was to basically take the limitations and the restrictions off. Like I say in the first song "this is The New Hip-Hop, devoid of boundaries, gimmicks, rigid genres, no apologies given." I really feel that musically it allows emcees to be almost singer/songwriters in a way - to be really confessional. You can make real confessional music, you can make music from the heart and not be afraid. On "Gathered," the very last song, the whole theme of that song is to not be afraid. Gather all your sh*t and take that first step onto that tightrope because if you can make it to the other side, it's worth it. It takes talent and balance to get to the other side and thatís something that everybody should empower themselves with. Make music that you wanna make, not music that you "think" other people are gonna want or like.

What is your favorite song on Archetype and why?

It's a really tough call because every other month its a different song. The record is essentially the worst years of my life I went through making this album and I don't mean that just as in it was hard work to make the record. No, it was like the sh*t I was going through in my life was just the hardest sh*t I've gone through yet. Every single song represents a different facet, a different chapter in all the sh*t that was going on. So when I hear a song like "Masochist" it takes me back to a year after 9/11 and then also a year before 9/11. It's like there's this essence of Ying-Yang on that song. I like "Porcelain" which is a song that literally spanned about 5 years in the making. I had that beat in '97 and didn't record any singing on it until '99 and then I didn't put the words on it until 2002. It was just there and kind of evolved. So in terms of what my favorite is, I don't know. Honestly, it'd probably be between "Porcelain" and maybe "Gathered" because "Gathered" was a dream of mine. It was a realization for me to be able to work with a live string section and actually score a song. I don't know too many rappers that can do that.

What made you want to breakdown the whole Archetype album step by step on DVD?

Aaaaah, thatís a two prong answer. Basically A. the record really took a long time to come out because of different distribution problems, money issues and being able to promote it properly. There was never an avenue for the album to come out right, so it took years for this album to drop. Iím lucky to have probably one of the most loyal fanbases in underground Hip-Hop. Shoutout to all the Auralarians and all the Blue-Schoolers out there! So I wanted to give them something special for waiting. I didn't wanna give them just another album like "yo...check it out". I wanted to give them an extra gift and I purposely didn't announce the DVD until I knew the record was gonna' drop. So, it was a complete surprise to everybody.

The second part of the answer is, B. these days I don't feel that people have a proper respect and understanding of albums. It's a singles driven market and people for the most part just like the song they like, download it and that's it. People don't listen to albums in the sense of "I'm gonna play it from the beginning, listen to it all the way through to the end and I'm going to get something from the whole experience". People just listen to that one song and that's it. So we have a youth that is raised this way, on a singles driven market so they don't appreciate that.

In order for me to get my point across and making an album that had a musical theme/concept to it, it was important for me to explain this to them so they would understand what I did because music is so disposable nowadays. People hear it on their Winamp, skip through a whole album in two minutes and then be like "I heard that sh*'s cool...that albums cool" and that's it. It sits in a folder on their desktop for 30 years. I didn't want the album to go out like that so I made a conscious effort to breakdown every track. Show you sh*t that you were not gonna notice otherwise and teach these kids HOW to appreciate an album again. Now, when they listen to another album they'll be listening for all that background sh*t like "whoa...okay this cat put some work into it". I think it's to the betterment of the Hip-Hop community that we start putting more effort into albums and showing the people work involved so that people have an appreciation and it's not just "yo, I spit a hot 16 over that new beat". That's why I did it. Rival's like "f**k, I gotta type all this bullsh*t up?". (laughs)

The answers are well worth it. What do you think of Rap today and it's direction?

I think for the most part Hip-Hop today has alot of potential. The kids that come into the game now are TECHNICALLY better than rappers from like 15 years ago because of the emulation. When you learn how to rhyme, it's different, now.

When I came up, when I was learning how to rhyme I was listening to Biz Markie, Beastie Boys, Run DMC and LL Cool J - early Def Jam sh*t and Sugar Hill Gang. In the spectrum of emceeing as an artform THAT lyricism wasn't exactly all that but the feel and the soul was there. Nowadays everybody's doing multi's, different patterns and all types of crazy flows. So the average kid that comes into the game now is automatically better than emcees 20 years ago, he's "technically" better, not sayin that he's all-around BETTER, but TECHNICALLY better because of the sh*t that they're learning from now.

So that's why I say the game has a lot of potential because the kids are skilled but they're also at the same time raised with no principles in the music. We lost our culture, the culture of Hip-Hop in itself doesn't exist anymore. Right now it's fashion - we have b-boys out doing their thing over here, emcees doing it over there, DJs hate emcees, emcees just tryin' to get on a mixtape, Graf artists are out gettin arrested and it's a mess because there's no unity to the scene anymore. The CULTURE is essentially dead right now. It's turned into a trend for White America and that's what it is. Unfortunately it has gone the way of Jazz and Rock 'N' Roll before it.

With that said, where Hip-Hop is now and where it could go, I feel like the school that I'm from is the last generation of cats that were able to experience Golden Era stuff and really valued the culture. We've been alive and appreciative of all the former eras of Hip-Hop. We understand the principles of the music and we're still trying to uphold these traditions. So, it's up to us to teach this youth with so much potential how to make good music and how to maintain the principles of real Hip-Hop music and the artistry. Otherwise we're gonna' end up with a bunch of NYU d*ckface kids with trust funds tryin to do art poetry as Rap to act out their rapper fantasies.

I'm sure that's not what the people that started the music envisioned it turning into. We have to carry the torch somehow and give the new generation a better base for what this music is going to become. Otherwise, we are all f**ked.

So what kind of music does Tonedeff listen to?

Tonedeff listens to a bunch of weird sh*t that I wont even mention because mothaf**kers are gonna' be reading this interview like "who's that?! Sounds like some corny sh*t!". (laughs)

They could also end up checking for it thoughÖ

This is true, this is true. Like the artists I'd like to work with, I'm a huge Tori Amos fan. I'm a huge Bjork fan, I listen to Radiohead. I like different forms of electronic music, I dig Ferry Corsten, he's a Trance artist, he's real dope. I like Drum & Bass music as well. I like DJ Shadow, I think he's real sick. Brian Wilson, singer/songwriter from the Beach Boys, ridiculous. I still listen to Beatles records like they're brand new, Ben Folds and The Shins. I really like singer/songwriter music, I like people that put their heart into their music and just lay it all out for everybody to see and hear. I think that makes for much stronger music in general - when it's coming from one source as opposed to the f**kin' machinery.

So what can me look forward to from you?

I think what I'm going to try to do is really try to push the seeds of the sound that I pushed on Archetype. I wanna' try to water them and grow them into new things and let the flowers bloom into different sh*t. To see how many colors I can get out of these plants. You can't just do one thing and expect everybody to get it. Sometimes you have to water it, let it grow and let it marinate and then people can sit back and marvel at it when it's grown and blossomed. So they can pick it and give it to their girlfriends as Valentine gifts.

I think what I'm gonna try to do now is push the sound of the music - push Hip-Hopís envelope further, try to do new concepts and new sounds. Hip-Hopís a music of adaptation and it's a shame if we don't try to blend it, mince it, puree it and do weird sh*t with it. Otherwise, there's no growth. I may eventually do a Drum & Bass album with Substantial. I may do something more aggressive. Who knows, I may do a straight up street record with Domingo. All these things are very possible but I like to keep myself open to new ideas. We'll see where it goes from here.

You produce, emcee, sing, run your own label, produce for your artists, feature on a variety of projects, perform a great live show, back your artists up on stage, how do you have the time and energy for all that?

I don't have any time, basically my life is a series of chores, tasks, favors, deadlines and money stress, that's my life. Ever since I was a kid I just always wanted to make records and put things together. I really enjoy being a collaborative person, working with other people and helping their sh*t look better and sound better via my talent. Anyway that I can help, because I like to see people succeed and I'm a real team player. In fact I tend to help other people more than I help myself. It's kind of a drawback, but I guess the drive to make things better, more interesting, more entertaining, that drive is what keeps me doing all this kinda' sh*t. I'll be sitting here and I'll be like "this albums hot, it needs a hot video or this should come with a DVD". I never made a DVD before I made the "Archetexture" DVD, I learned how to do it as I made it. I apply whatever I have mentally to whatever I'm working on at the time. Everything I do, I do out of necessity. Simple as that.

Archetype is in stores, what other albums have you released that our readers can check for?

You can check out "Hyphen" which is the initial EP. That is no longer available but if you can find it on ebay I saw it going for $140, it's somewhat of a collectors item. There were only 2,000 of them made and have been out of print for the last 3 and a half years so find it if you can. Archetype has a side accompaniment CD which is the b-sides and outtakes from Archetype. Still a really dope record, a lot of enhanced video, lyrics on it, it's called "Underscore", check it out if you can. There's the Extended F@mm "Happy f**k You Songs" album which is in my opinion probably the best example of what the posse cut is capable of. We definitely did some wild sh*t with it so if you could find that, "Line Drop" "f**k You I Rhyme Better", them kinda' joints. And for the reeeeeal ol' school mothaf**kers, "The Monotone EP" from '97. You could find that at my website

Any Last Words?

I think that everybody is cool. I think that ArchRival is cool. I think that Clinton is cool. (laughter)  Nah ummm...Shout out to the whole QN5 and The Plague. Big up to ArchRival, Red Army In the house, Pumpkinhead. Props to for lettin' the kid get a lil' shine.


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