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Posted Apr 28 2015
What’s good people!
We’re near the end here and my heartfelt thanks go out to everyone who has been following the Polymer project so far. As promised, here’s my third entry into the POLYBLOG SERIES [PART 1] [PART 2] for y’all who crave the inside scoop. Due to the nature of this segment of the project, this one is more of a manifesto than a blog, so it’s a long read (written over 3 months). So, without further ado, here you go:
SUMMON THE HUNGER TO KILL
I want to win at all costs. So, when I was writing the songs that would become Hunter, I flip-flopped back and forth about how to approach it. Should I continue to work towards uncovering new truths about myself through these songs? Or should I just “SPIT THAT SHIT, SON!” and call it a day?
Here I was, 2 EPs deep into this multi-release experiment that would become my second album and I had charged myself with the task of making a “boom-bap” record…but with synths – no easy task. Beyond the sonic obstacles – the more pressing matter remained: how could I possibly motivate myself to write a bunch of “my _____ is bigger than yours” raps in 2014? More importantly WHY would I even bother to? What did I have left to prove? And if I DID have something to prove, then WHO was I supposed to be proving this to? Why the fuck wasn’t there a fourth season of Deadwood? What was I doing with my life? You know, the pressing issues.
I have a theory that everything a battle rapper uses as a diss, is directly correlated is some way to what they fear most within themselves. Seems obvious enough, right? So, what shortcomings of my own personality was I compensating for with this rap shit? Was I seeking validation from strangers because I suffered from low self esteem and depression as a teen? Was I trying to fulfill some harebrained childhood fantasy and just being stubborn to reality’s repeated roadblocks (hint: I’ve been rapping since I was 9)? Why was [INSERT ARTIST NAME HERE> able to make a living off their work and not me? Was I brainwashed? Was I driven? Was I delusional? Answering these questions became the foundation of this project – the essence of being an emcee and what that represented in my life. Can a hunter ever stop hunting?
A CRACKED FOUNDATION
“A Poor boy – just 5 years old, Enchanted with the noise that chimed in his soul He lined up every goal, as a child he was certain And everyone he told, asked him not to disturb them”
I decided to plunge head first into the rabbit hole of self-examination to uncover the roots of my competitive nature. I started at the logical entry point – the beginning. The real beginning. It started super early. Being born as the youngest of 7, I was instantly thrust into a lifelong competition for attention. My sisters were my first sounding board and jury. I taught myself how to draw and eventually write songs early on, in an attempt to hold their attention for a few minutes at a time. Holding up my drawings in front of a squawking troop of girls, seeking validation in the form of “Oh my god, that’s so nice, Tony!” – only to lose their attention a moment later and literally have go back to the drawing board to conjure something up that would allow me to attain that feeling again. It’s pretty easy to draw a few parallels from this to my life today – continually drumming up ways to grab the fleeting attention of a chattering public. Instead of five sisters, it’s 7 billion people. Still, I’m fairly certain only 1 of my family members could identify any of my songs by title. Not the best odds to start with, eh?
h3.AND THEY WATCHED HIM
It’s with every modicum of humility and pride that I proclaim I’ve pushed myself to the bleeding edge of Hip Hop aesthetics for longer than I care to admit. More times than I can remember, I have factually been first to market with many ideas and sounds that were initially scoffed at and ignored by insiders, only to be adopted years later – sans the credit. All you need to do is take a look at the landscape of rap music to find the proof.
Independent “Grind”? CHECK.
Online marketing? CHECK.
Community Building? CHECK.
Rapping “Fast”? CHECK.
Rappers who sing & vice versa? CHECK.
I have been singing/rapping in tandem since the very beginning of my musical career – even during the times when singing on a rap song got you punked, dissed and dismissed with a quickness. Battle rappers are not allowed to sing. Period. The legend of KRS-ONE tossing Prince Be of PM Dawn off the stage were allegories that warned of the consequences. Songs like “Homecoming King” were amongst my first forays into new singer-songwriter territory that I would mine on The Monotone EP (1996) and later develop on Archetype (2005) and now with Polymer. Before that it was songs like “Falling Sky” (1994) with my childhood group, The RBM Crew. This wasn’t like the aforementioned PM Dawn, the “R&B Hook Girl” bullshit that came later or the gimmicky sung songs about bitches and weed; this was reflective, poetic and cathartic songwriting delivered on the same tracklist as the hyper-lyrical, ultra-macho braggadocio that was the defacto standard of the genre. I’m proud of this because I stood against the proverbial brick wall, blindfolded with my heart of my sleeve, puffing my chest out to the world, daring them to defy what I was doing – and they did. And they watched me. And they laughed. I’ve literally been told my music was “that gay R&B shit” by a dude whose life goal appeared to be a hype-man for M.O.P. according to his wardrobe. That’s pretty disheartening to hear as a developing artist with a deep hatred for 90’s R&B.
Adding insult to injury, folks used to castrate QN5 for being “internet rappers”, going so far as to repeatedly point out we made it off “the internet” in feature articles written about us – as though that was the only thing worth noting. “Oh, those guys from the internet? That’s not the real shit”. See this CunninLynguists feature in The Source Magazine for proof. Sure, we capitalized on it first and paid the penalty of novelty. As of this writing, who ISN’T an internet rapper these days? Anyone without an ISP ceases to exist in our realm of reality. QN5 has always been ahead of the curve in terms of ECDs, interactive multimedia, skits, video content, etc – most of which was created by yours truly – only done about 7 years too early, but there are no mulligans in life.
The true indie-grind. Circa 2002. We actually ended up buying more banners.
As for the most deflating thing? Well, the press loves to run with the David & Goliath narrative whenever the opportunity presents itself, so there’s been quite a bit of hub-bub being made about “independent artists” breaking through to the mainstream. I’ve seen firsthand how major labels back an artist on the low and present them as “indie” to feign a grass-roots following. Then everyone falls over themselves with wonder and adulation when said “indie” artist makes it to radio and television. Can you believe it? They booked themselves at every major venue, spent $250k on a radio campaign and landed themselves in every mainstream news outlet – all by themselves! This sort of PR spin is such a huge slap in the face to true DIYers, who know every employee by name at their local post office branch after hours spent in line. DIYers that pay for everything out of pocket and drown in debt to gamble on their dream. DIYers who actually do it their goddamn selves and wear it as a badge of authenticity. Judging by the press, the real thing isn’t as interesting as the put-on, since those stories don’t actually make it to radio. The masses have shown that they’re far too enamored with the idea of success to check references.
And They Watched Him” is essentially history lesson on my music career for the unitiated, so the more minimalistic the soundbed, the better I could convey the points of the story. The pattern in both the words and the drums are intertwined. Production wise, I wanted something that sounded absolutely foreign to the rest of the project. Trudging and repetitious, like an army chant in slow motion. The droning of the melody and the whispered chorus conveys a sense of helplessness in the face of the events mentioned in the lyrics.
NOTHING’S MORE EXPENSIVE THAN EXPERIENCE
If Glutton addressed my addictions and Demon wrestled with my anxieties, Hunter had it’s work cut out for it in wrapping its burly arms around all of the seemingly inexplicable mysteries of my lofty ambitions- ie. the WHY. For those who’ve been paying attention all this time, “Hunter” is the spiritual successor to 2005’s “Politics” and I pointed this out as plainly as I could:
“When I wrote Politics I was a kid acknowledging all of the shit Now I’m an adult and I feel like a prophet, Like how many shots did I call? Should I call my accountant? Since Hip Hop – the counter culture – became the culture of counting.”
Lyrically, I wanted to give you a RIGHT NOW stream of consciousness. Touching on everything that had happened between 2004 & 2014 – filtering a decade’s worth of experience into one concentrated verse was a challenge, but I feel like I got what I needed to say off of my chest. This isn’t a “complaint” or “struggle” rap – this is a statement of intent and a recap of what actually happened post-Archetype: the distributors who stole my money, the reactions from the press, the fickle fair-weather friends and fans who disappeared when the initial buzz died down, the entire counter-culture flipped on its head and becoming a culture of counting and all the hypocrisy that came with that. Here I was – a devout Hip Hop head following a set of outdated rules I was taught as law, allowing myself to get caught up in the anger of being the only one following them. I felt like Serpico in a dirty precinct. Everyone was on the take and it grated on me too much. It just gets to a point where your integrity forces you to address the issues and disappear for good under witness protection.
No-wait! Don’t call it! Don’t hate, Tone! Play the game, don’t knock it! But that is a lot like forcing me to swallow your snot, then being like “Hey! don’t vomit!” Y’all way too soft on these a-holes, dog, I’m saying this shit from a place so honest there ain’t no wrong in it – FUCK EVERYTHING.
You get to a point where, you need to say real things. Everything I write is a real thing. The last thing I ever want to do is rap just to rap. You may not hear me touch on “rap shit” very often going forward, because, I’ve already said what I had to say and nothing’s changed – so why be redundant?
Production wise, with all anti-synth sentiment from the “I liked Archetype better” camp, I made it a point to rock over a beat that would have made them cream their pants in 2005. DJ Static’s west-coast slump and Dr. Dre allusions are not unintentional. Some have noted this track sticks out like a sore thumb in context with the rest of the record – and that was exactly my point. Oh how times have changed, when people who bitched about the production 10 years ago are clamoring for production that sounds 10 years old. I wonder if I should look forward to the “I liked Polymer better” crowd shitting on my work a decade from now.
THE END OF THE FAMEBOW
Extended Famm has always been about rowing the idea of the posse cut into uncharted waters, so when I approached PackFM and Substantial about “Lucky”, it was decided that we would try analyzing the concept of LUCK and how it’s viewed by people in different situations. I approached it as someone who’s underprivileged being constantly one-upped by someone in a position of privilege, and the spoiled acceptance of credit by the winners. I applied the lotto theme to the song, because it’s the closest approximation to the entertainment industry there is. Consider how ridiculous it would seem if someone who won the mega-millions jackpot ran around in the press bragging about how they deserved it and were fully responsible for winning. Money talks, bullshit walks – so after a while, people would start to believe it. This is exactly how I see celebrities of a certain status – endlessly bragging and taking credit for things that could’ve bounced the other way. What if they were born in another town? What if they were facially scarred? What if this? What if that? Luck is nothing to take credit for.
Meanwhile, Substantial took a more measured approach, where he valued the positives in his life, where luck has worked in his favor while systematically discounting my arguments. Pack brought in the closer, with a fully independent approach of “you make your own luck”. If you break down each vere’s lyrics line by line, there are a ton of solid points being made from each perspectives.
The closing portion is a shout to the television series LOST, with the numbers 4, 8, 15, 16, 23, 42 being used to tie the arbitrary nature of good & bad luck back to the song.
Oh did you master your flaws? Did you just slant the results? Can you win a pageant if unattractive and you’ve been ravaged with scars? Is there a pattern to solve? Or is it just gambling evolved? And are you insured? Because everything in this life is an accident y’all. Right? You’re Lucky.
Production-wise, three of the beats on Hunter were from the first batch of tracks I created when tinkering with the idea for my next solo album. Of the 4 EPs, Hunter this was the most “traditional” (for whatever that’s worth) in it’s boom-bap roots, so it’s where I started when planning the entire Polymer album. “Lucky” is definitely the most neck-friendly beat I’ve done for this project, with a similar vibe to the stuff I was producing for Session’s unreleased Spicasso album. You simply can’t deny that bassline. And course, DJ JS-1 came through to lace me with sick cuts to bring out the hip hop flavor even more.
I’M A SYMBOL OF MY STATUS
We are in the midst of the “viral-gold rush” – anyone can literally become famous overnight and advertising dollars are sure to follow. This has set into motion, the greatest plague of unbridled narcissism this planet has ever seen. Ethics, integrity and merit are meaningless in a society where someone can generate income from a vertical video of themselves getting kicked in the taint by a kangaroo. People would rather record you being stabbed to death with their phone, then step in to stop it from happening. We’re caught in an ethical free-fall. The ends justify the means. We worship success and idolize those who belittle and betray us. We’re bought and sold daily by mega-corporations. That’s ok, so long as we can keep our raffle ticket in the pop culture lottery.
On “Narcissus”, I equated everyone to being their own god, each with a profile that serves as their chapel – complete with devout followers and a delusional sense of autonomous control and power over them. An all powerful being able to control how they’re being worshiped. You’re “hating”? BLOCKED! You don’t agree? BANISHED!
If you got a comment, then all of it better be positive – Act up and you will be barred – I am God and this pixel facade is my chapel The rapture within an app, I read your responses and laugh, Please throw your hearts in the basket, scream to all that you tapped it then pass it along Authors of captions craft me a psalm – like I am an icon.
This delusional sense of self becomes even more warped as unrealistic expectations of perfection are to be met on a daily basis to compete. In turn, everyone begins to check off the boxes on this perfection list, projecting an unattainable image of “success” in order to convince others they have attained it. Eventually, this competition leads to everyone doing the same things, wearing the same clothes, saying the same words and thinking the same thoughts. The homogeneous hive-mind you’re not agreed to disagree with is here – or risk being excommunicated from the church of the self.
Your thumbprint is a drug to our numbed senses/ In love with our reflection – it’s us! It’s an obsession – We’re stuck – in the sum of our ourselves, Publish the self as something to sell, an addiction to wishing that we were somebody else.
As artists, we’re all out there showing our ass, doing anything and everything for attention on the internet the same way insta-hoes and thirst-traps do. We’re no better and no different. When everyone wishes they were someone else, will we ever see anything real again?
Production-wise, this was one of the first 3 beats I created for Polymer back in 2008. I had planned to have a live-drummer recreate the drum rolls, but decided to keep it machine-based when I settled on the synthetic concept of Polymer. I threw in multiple time signature changes and a strong lead synth melody that would differ drastically from the main verse portions. This is easily one of my favorite hooks on the album. It just stays with you. I tested this one out live recently, and I can’t wait for folks to rock it with me on the upcoming Polymer tour.
WHO’S WINNING AND WHAT’S THE PRIZE?
“I am the best!” TODAY.
“I’m so rich!” TODAY.
“I will kill you!” TODAY.
“I will fuck your girl!” TODAY.
As the music of the HERE and the NOW, Hip Hop suffers from a kind of Groundhog Day syndrome. There’s an expectancy to address these things – all the time. All day. Every day. You can’t stop, because tomorrow, someone else may say the same thing and everyone will believe them instead. So you need to keep reminding people or risk being forgotten overnight.
In some ways, the Hip Hop audience is that annoying friend who is habitually late to the movie and forces you to explain the entire film to them when they decide to show up. Clearly, it’s not that important to them, though for some reason, you keep buying them an extra ticket and inviting them out, because you want to share the experience with someone. Once you figure out that they prefer Tyler Perry to Paul Thomas Anderson, at what point do you decide to invite someone else or just go by yourself? After you realize the judgement of those giving you the awkward-eye carries the value of petrified dog shit, it’s quite liberating. You can go alone now. No one asks you stupid questions and you get to eat all of the popcorn by yourself.
I continually ask myself, how on God’s green earth are we to ever evolve as artists, if we’re perpetually stuck in the reiteration phase? I’m still hearing and seeing the same old same old. Don’t people ever get sick of this stuff? As Einstein famously said, “Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”. Welp, I’m over it. I’ve done it. I did it. I’m opting to spare you the repetition and work towards something new. I’m opting to keep my sanity.
To do that, I’ll need to let go of my competitive nature. I’m working towards abandoning the tropes of the “super-emcee” in search of something more rooted in truth. No more bullshit – here are the cards I’m holding. Let the dealer do what he must. All I can do is play my hand to the best of my ability. I’ve literally executed every style of rhyme, killed every beat that’s crossed my path, performed my heart out on stages across the world, built a global community with my label and have had experiences that are unique to me only. Aren’t those wins? And if not, how many more radio freestyles is it supposed to take? How many more shows must I steal? How much faster do I need to rap? How many more lines must I write in order to change the tide before you consider them wins in your book? Well, “I can’t make you love me. Noooo.”. Acceptance is no longer my concern and I wish I had saved myself the stress and aggravation by realizing that sooner.
I used to watch these awards shows with tears in my eyes Cause I was supposed to be there in my mind And here were these guys who’d appear overnight, that’d be stealing my shine
The beginning of the third verse on “Competitive Nature” is a true story, even if it’s a bit embarrassing to admit. Every time the Grammys were on – I couldn’t fight back the tears. With every atom of my being, I felt that I was supposed to be on that stage – I wasn’t and it killed me more and more every year. It got to the point where my ex would have to drag me out of the apartment on Grammy night so I wouldn’t watch. Bemoaning the opportunities I never had, watching the parade of the lucky accept recognition for things I felt I could do too.
Fortunately for me, I’ve let go of that pre-occupation with acceptance. It no longer burns. I realize now that everything that’s ever happened in my career has led me to make what I consider the best music of my life and I take a fuckton of joy in that alone. I’m now more concerned with what I can push myself to do as a writer, how deeply I can explore my heart and getting closer to achieving the sounds in my head – I’m still growing. Competitive nature feeds off of fear and jealousy of others – and frankly, I don’t want to harbor either of those emotions in my psyche anymore.
Production-wise, this was the second beat I created for Polymer. My aim was to forge a new hybrid of boom-bap hip-hop and trance builds – on a non-traditional 12-bar loop (word to “Electric Relaxation”). I’m really excited to see how producers tackle this remix, because of the unorthodox loop – (As a matter of fact, I’ve excited for ALL the remixes that will result from the Open5ource disc included in the Polymorph editions). This is absolutely my favorite song on this EP.
DRIVEN OR DELUSIONAL?
The short interlude I call “Broken Arrow” which proceeds “Competitive Nature” sums up the album in a bit of prose I conjured up at the end of the recording process. I needed something to drive home the point that in the end, the work needs to speak for itself.
“Broken arrow good for nothing when there’s nothing left to slay. Let these torn and tattered clothes impose their stories on the stains. Oh, they’re aiming for me now. They want proof I know my way around a bow & arrow. Let these torn and tattered clothes impose their stories on the stains.”
With 3/4 themes and styles already explored, the Polymer series has already displayed a full spectrum of sounds and emotions – I’m extremely proud of the work thus far and the epic conclusion is still in the wings. In the end, success determines if I’m considered driven or delusional and the definition of success varies from person to person. I know now, that I’ll never win if I allow others to define my success for me, so I will continue to define my own. I hope I can inspire you to do the same.
I will be announcing the release date for the entire Polymer experience (which includes EP #4) shortly. In the meantime, let’s chat about Hunter via Livestream on May 5, 2015 (8 PM EST). I hope you’ve been enjoying the pre-flight so far. The real trip (ie. videos/promo) begins shortly.
See ya then. – Tonedeff
Posted Feb 26 2015
The exclusive pre-order packages are now closed, but (at the behest of podcast pal PackFM), standard CD/DVD editions of Tonedeff’s second album, Polymer, are still available for pre-order. Don’t miss out on the chance to receive an autographed copy and an exclusive sticker from the man himself.
Posted Jan 21 2015
Pre-orders are in. Now back to work finishing this monster. See you soon.
Posted Dec 1 2014
TODAY IS THE LAST DAY TO PRE-ORDER THE ULTRA-LIMITED COLECTOR’S EDITIONS OF TONEDEFF’S FORTHCOMING POLYMER PROJECT!
Since the project’s announcement back in February 2013, with the release of Glutton, and the subsequent reveals of each following EP (ie. Demon & Hunter) anticipation has been building as fans have tracked the progress of the album throughout it’s creation. Now with the last EP on the horizon and the release of the collected version of the album slated for Q1 of 2015, Polymer is finally forming into it’s final form shape.
With 3 pre-order only editions available today, this is your last chance to get one of these ultra-rare pressings. Each edition contains the final Polymer album, a DVD documentary, and a sticker, yet each contains something unique & special – these aren’t trinkets or dollar-store swag. The fan-demanded POLYDISC editions contain singular pressings of each individual EP INCLUDING a self-contained version of the secret final EP which will not be made available anywhere else. The POLYMORPH edition perks include 2X VINYL, an Art book and for the first time ever – instrumentals & acapellas of the album. QN5 is only pressing what is pre-ordered – after that, all Polydisc/Polymorph collector’s editions will be discontinued. This is NOT to be missed.
Putting a new thematic slant on the format, Tonedeff’s Polymer consists of 4 separate EPs – each stylistically different from the next and focused on a different facet of his personality. Each EP represents a different “molecule” of Tonedeff, which when collected, form a larger more cohesive unit. EP’s 1 through 3 will be released digitally, with the fourth exclusively available on the final assembled version of Polymer. All music on the project has been produced synthetically to mimic an actual polymer’s synthetic structure.
Posted Nov 17 2014
This past week, Tonedeff was featured in NYC’s prestigious culture newspaper, The Village Voice. Those in and around the New York area know the cache the Voice has and this marks the first time Tone’s been featured for his work on the upcoming Polymer release. Some interesting tidbits were uncovered in the interview by writer, Chaz Kangas, such as:
“Tone tells us the plan to release the album EP by EP had been planned for a while, and that the final album version of Polymer may feature the songs tweaked and reorganized for a proper album experience. “Polymer will be a best-part composite of the EPs. My plan was always to have the songs I knew 100 percent be the album, and the songs that were thematic addendums be on the EP.”
#bombshell – Which tracks do you think will make it onto the final cut of Polymer? Join the discussion on the forums and be sure to comment on the article over at the Village Voice to let them know you support their coverage of Tonedeff.