Category Archives: Interviews

What Is An Auralarian? Only Tonedeff Can Explain That

You know I have to ask about the two LP deal with Yosumi. Do you feel that “it’s about damn time” or have you really not been busting ass for major indie labels to sign you?

It’s actually a little bit of both. As you may or may not know, I’ve been trying to get my music career fully rolling for more than a decade. And I’ve had many oppportunities over the years to release material, but it was always by someone else’s rules. Record labels believe that since they control the money gates, that they have the power to tell you what to do in order to play their game. It’s sort of like artistic blackmail and it’s pretty fucked up. But when things don’t come to me in a way that I feel is beneficial for me, or if I have to compromise my taste in order to satisfy someone else’s taste, I don’t believe its worth it. Yosumi grants me total creative freedom, and supports it fully. And that’s why I wanted to continue with them. It’s going to be a building process, but I know that the work I’m putting in is going to be worth it all in the long run. So, I think now is the time.

Game Over II was a huge deal, especially for hip-hop heads on the Net since they know you from various websites. At the same time, “Round ‘Em Up” might have disappointed a few cats because of how “non-Tonedeff” it sounded. Why that new, almost alienated, style for a compilation that will get some serious attention by kids off and online? Do you feel that “Round ‘Em Up” did justice in representing your style and originality in the underground?

Funny thing about life is that nothing ever goes accroding to plan. There are two versions of that song in existence. The version on [Game Over II] didn’t come out quite as well as the original version that I recorded on my own, available at [mp3.com/tonedeff] Regardless, I knew that this record was going to get heard by more people than have heard me before, especially offline, so I wanted to outdo myself with a new style. I like to try new styles, so that I know I can do them, and that bounce style was a challenge that I think I rose to extremely well. So, real fans of mine that know the kinda music I make weren’t necessarily supirsed by “Round Em Up” as much as they were blown away at the rhyme schemes and delivery.

The inherent problem with alot of passive fans online, is that they haven’t heard the full range of styles I bring to the table, because they’ve only heard one or two punchliney-songs that I’ve leaked online. I mean, I sing on songs, I yell, I whisper, I laugh on songs…it’s all part of my expression. But, to those that know and follow my work they always expect me to bring it to the next level on shit. Period. So, I was just following my heart.

And honestly, in most cases, the cats that weren’t feeling that track probably didn’t have alot of knowledge of what I do, or where I was coming from because they’re passive fans. Everyone has their right to an opinion, but my opinion is that it’s a wickedly complex lyrical treat and I’m proud of it, and I think true Auralarians [read: tonedeff fans] felt it as well.

Also, how did it feel to have Game Over II mentioned in the Independents Day column of The Source for the June 2001 issue, and your name wasn’t mentioned? Did you expect it to be mentioned?

Oh! Hahaha. That didn’t bug me at all. I was just happy to be on the record, period. There are alot of hip-hop vets on that record, and of course, any sort of journalistic approach to a review is going to latch onto the bigger names, otherwise, the reader’s interest wouldn’t be there. So, I accept that. But, I do hope that in the future, that my name will be mentioned.

Let me ask about this “Auralaria” theme: For myself, and other curious heads, what is the origin of the word?

Haha! I actually made it up! The funny thing is…with all the heads at my message board, I don’t remember anyone ever asking me what it meant. So, it’s kinda cool that you’ve asked.

Well, the word has a comopound meaning. IT basically means “A Place To hear and feel and be Heard and felt. The words I combined were: Aura, Aural, and Aria, All have their distinct meanings, peep your dictionary, and they all seemed to work together.

So, I named my fans Auralarians, because they hear and feel me, as I do with them, cause I touch base with them alot online. The next step was to name my website and forum that. Auralaria.com works just like Tonedeff.com. I like to keep things that involve my work very individual, cause I see myself as an artist 1st, and an MC 2nd. It’s always been like that with me.

Phew. Now, just don’t ask me about QN5…that’s another story in itself. Hahaha.

How did it feel being on the same album with such icons like KRS-One and Big Daddy Kane? Intimidating? Blessed? How do you feel that you compared to them? Better? Worse?

It was a cool experience. I put my all into my track, even though it was a different style than what most heads are used to from me…it was my choice to do. It was a total challenge to myself, and I think I ripped that beat a new asshole. Albeit, the song didn’t quite fit with the rest of the “thuggy” record, but hey, it was a chance to shine.

I have the utmost respect for all those cats on the record, and it was definitely an achievement for me to be on the same record as them. Now I can look back at my life and say, ‘HEY!! I was on an LP with KRS & KANE!!’ That in itself is bananas.

What is the theme of Archetype and what can we expect to hear from it? And more importantly, when is it hitting the streets?

Archetype is really turning out beautiful. The theme is basically all in the title. The new prototype for hip-hop music — the mold by which everything new will be cast from. Sure, it’s a little pretentious sounding, but it really works.

I’m doing alot of crazy shit on this record, and I think it’s gonna open up alot of doors for artists that have been confined to the ‘this is my rap album’ formula. I hit lots of topics and exorcise plenty of old demons on this one though. You really get into my head on this LP.

As far as it hitting the streets…I’m still working on it..so a hard date is impossible to give right now. I definitely will have it done by the end of the summer. I created the Hyphen EP as a holdover plate for the hungry heads that want something now. But Archetype will prolly be out around Late Fall, Early Winter. Yosumi is doing Masta Ace’s LP now in the meantime. Look for Deacon The Villain’s debut, too!

Will we see much of eF@mm as a group on the new LP? Also, is there a more specific date as to when the first 12″ is supposed to drop?

Oh, boy! eF@mm has alot of shit coming to you this year. Pack & Substantial are on a joint on Archetype called “Quotables”, along with Wordsworth and Pumpkinhead.

We have a track on JS-1’s LP called “Booo!”, our track “Line Drop” is being released on a compilation this summer, And we will finally be releasing “The Evil That Pens Do” 12″ mid summer. We’re finally starting up the QN5 Music label this summer..so you will get product one way or the other! Keep a lookout though, cause after I finish my LP, I start work on the eF@mm LP. Lots more to come, y’all!

Is Yosumi allowing you to do Archetype anyway you want? Do you just finish the album, and they willingly ship it, like total creative freedom? It’s hard to imagine someone so artistic to even think about putting up with limitations.

I have absolutely, 100% creative freedom with Yosumi. I’m an extremely self-sufficent artist, whereas I produce, rhyme, arrange, sing, do mixdowns, and even design the packaging for my shit and do the websites.

So, it’s kinda almost too much too handle alot of times. I spend so much time on each thing, that sometimes, I wish I could focus on just one thing, soley. But that’s what I’m doing now. I produced 3/4 of the new LP’s beats, and I reached out to Domingo and this cat named Versifier. So, all the beats are essentially done for the record, and I’m now in the process of focusing on the writing.

But once that’s done, I’ll be scrambling to create the CD booklets, the enhanced portions of the disc, etc. It’s like a true piece of art to me. From the music, to the cover, to the colors I pick. It all culminates in this one huge presentation, which is the LP, Archetype..

When I did Hyphen, the new EP, I basically put the whole thing together from scratch, and Yosumi took that pressed it up. No questions, just good faith. This kind of freedom and support is really what made me sign with them. The really believe in me, and I take that as fuel to create something extra-special. It’s truly an honor.

Isn’t it all worth it, though? As much hard work as you put into it, especially Hyphen and later, Archetype, you have to be like, “Damn, that was crazy work, but look at it now.” Especially with you handling things like cover art and Enhanced CD features — and multiple websites, it shows artistic creativity beyond a few punchlines and beats. It illustrates what you said earlier, that you’re an artist first, an emcee second.

It’s definitely worth it in the end. To know that no cornball A&R told me what to do or how to do it. I’m secure enough in my talents that I can trust myself to do good work on my own. I make music for myself first. I’ve been lucky that others have liked it, thus far, and I hope that continues. But, being free to express myself personally first is key to me doing anything at all. I’ll make a joke record if Im feeling funny one day. If I’m depressed, I’ll sing, play piano. If I’m feeling angry I’ll write some battle rhymes. It’s all in the life experience. Being multi-faceted is important to me, and I’m glad I have the control. But it is alot of fucking work for one person to do.

The irony of it all is that there are MCs on major labels that dont have to do anything but focus on their music, and they’re still wack. Hahahaha…

Archetype will be even more enhanced than Hyphen is. So, I have plenty of work ahead of me.

How far, artistically, are you going to stretch out on Archetype? Will you be behind the board making beats as well as rhyming? Also, can we expect guest producers, like Domingo who brilliantly laid down the beat for “Spanish Song”?

Ive debated about that in my head for the past 3 years. Like, whether I could really take it over the edge or not. I’ve decided that a gradual approach will work best for what I’m trying to do. I have odd musical tastes, and I can’t expect to force that down people’s throats without warning and for them to accept it. It’s still very different off the bat. Lots of odd arangements for hip-hop, tons of melody, and LOTS more. But it’s not as far as I think I can go in the future.

I’ve already found myself as artist, stylewise, sound, etc. So, now I ca expand on that. There’s still plenty of room to grow as a producer, and I think you’ll be able to watch me experiment over the next couple years. And that’s what makes being an artist so much fun.

I made about 3/4 of all the music on Archetype, Domingo has contributed 3 tracks to the cause and a cat named Versifier has lent 2 tracks as well. It all kinda interconnects on the record. The standard with the progressive, the forwardthinking and the traditionalism. It’s going to be real fresh. Not too many cameos either. Only 3 tracks with others on them. So, it’s definitely more Tonedeff than anything I’ve done to this point.

How widely available will the LP be?

Archetype will be available everywhere. Same as you saw Game Over II and will see Masta Ace’s Disposable Arts in all retail chains…you’ll be able to find my LP. So, the playing field has gotten bigger.

Before we move on, what are your goals, you know, what are you trying to tell hip-hoppers through your music, especially on Archetype?

Big question. I think everyone’s entitled to their own interpretation of what I do. But for the most part, I want to change music.

I want to bring good songwriting and lyricism to the masses and a progressive sound to the underground aesthetic. I think that if we can bring competent lyricism to the mainstream, then that will open up the doors to everyone that is lyrically nice. Cause, once the public hears it, they cant front. At the same time, if we can get stagnant-ass underground purists to broaden their tastes and experiment with the music a little more…then that will be a progressive thing for hip-hop in general.

Our music has become very stagnant, because now, it’s either you’re arty or hardcore. Everyone in the middle gets lost. And I think that’s a total waste of our energy as a culture. Stupidity and ignorance fuels alot of that, so you get kids that start making what I call “overdone” shit, because they want to stick out somehow and be different. I think that’s counterproductive. You don’t abandon a plant that’s feed you for decades when you see that it’s growing crooked. You get a stick and tie it to the fucking thing so that it grows straight.

I’m really not about going overboard with shit. I feel that if you havent mastered the basics, you have no right to deem yourself an ‘artist’. People are afraid of change, and if you don’t feed it to them gradually, they’ll reject change altogether.

So, with that in mind, I’ve been creating “Archetype” as this new blueprint for where we need to go musically, lyrically, and topically. The vibe is still fun. It’s not about killing. It’s not about flossing or battling, or even critiquing everything. It’s about being competant all around the board creatively. A call to arms to create with your heart instead of your fear. I’m really excited about it.

Actually, now that you’ve mentioned Hyphen, how widely available will that be?

That will only be available online, and at shows and certain specialty shops. Hyphen is mainly a fun, battle rhyme compilation record I threw together to sell at shows and as a ‘tide me over’ the Auralarians [read: Tonedeff fans] till the LP comes out.

I don’t want underexposed people to get the wrong idea about me off hearing Hyphen, and not buy Archetype because they think I’m just a punchline/battle rapper. So, people that would prolly get both anyway will know where to get it.

We’re starting to see a lot of underground influence in our mainstream music, especially with artists like Talib Kweli, Mos Def getting radio and TV spots–even the late and “beloved” Lyricist Lounge Show, which displayed the art of freesyling on national television. The same goes for Blaze Battle on HBO–and now we have BET’s 106th & Park’s Freestyle Fridays and MTV’s Direct Effect battles. Basically, what are your thoughts on is sudden thrust of true, yet incredibly diluted, hip-hop we see in mainstream media? And where do you see hip-hop, as a culture, going in the next few years, or even the next decade, if you have any predictions?

Like I said before, when you allow competant music and good lyricism to be heard by the masses, they want more. I think they’re beginning to open up the doors for the underground aesthetic. The people that call them sellouts are either 14 years old, or just don’t realize the beauty in all this. This can all be beneficial for us, but as a culture we need to gain more control of the presentation of everything.

Case in point: The Lyricist Lounge show was a great concept, and it would have worked if MTV hadn’t tried to turn it into In Living Color. This is a good example of how MTV bastardizes hip-hop, because their only concern is that it’s digestible to Joe Blow in Idaho. They’re are certain people that are just never going to get it. I fault MTV Networks for allowing that to happen, not Lyricist Lounge. [106th & Park] is a joke. Direct FX was actually better. But that got cancelled cause MTV really hates hip-hop.

HBO got it all right, but the only problem with Blaze Battle came from Blaze itself. They allowed [money] and politics to water down that event. Some spots in the competition were bought by labels and sponsors, but not earned. Luckily, the rightful MC won the thing. I mean, come on, do you really think Riece earned her spot in the world championships? I think not. I came to find later, that Motown, her label, was one of the show’s sponsors. Go figure.

It’s things like this that we need to regulate a little better. Because if we let money and politics ruin the proper presentation of our art…shit is gonna get ugly. But if we present what we want, from our heart, without adulteration, then that’s when nothing’s wrong with selling a record, or being broadcast. Nuff respect to cats that put their soul on a recording and reach people. At the same time, I say burn the fucking rappers with ghostwriters and make them eat cowshit for eternity.

But unfortunately, I’m seeing the music going in a negative direction. The people that helped to craft it originally are no longer relevant to the kids anymore. The kids that listen to the music now are too young or too few to understand the rules, the ethics and the boundaries of this music. So, those that know are responsible for teaching these new people what the drill is. Otherwise it’s all gonna go to shit. I’m trying to teach by example. Hopefully, more people will do the same.

But think about it, IS there any teaching–ever? Don’t most of these “stagnant-ass underground purists” parade around with a “backpacker” attitude, instead of a knowledgeable attitude? You don’t hear, “Man, you really listen to that Snoop Dogg shit? That’s cool, but let me show you some real lyricism, the real art.” Instead, you hear AND see, especially on the Net now, “You like Snoop!? What!? Are you fucking retarded? You don’t know what hip-hop is, get the fuck outta here!” Do you think this kind of…stubborness will make heads wake up, or will they just listen to underground to fit in and to avoid other cats’ disses–and never really know the art behind the music?

The funny thing about music is that everyone thinks they’re right, and that their taste is the best. Underground kids want to feel like they own artists. Like they’re the only people allowed to listen to an artist. That’s totally ridiculous and unfair. They’ll always be protective about what they like, cause they want to feel included.

The same people that go online and post Snoop Dogg disses are the same kids that make posts asking everyone else what they think about an artist. Why even bother? It’s almost like they’re looking for a popular concensus as to who they should like and not like. I’ve heard metaphors about hip-hop correlating it to high school..and it’s unnervingly true.

Until someone walks the line the right way, there’ll always be two sides of people that hate the other off principle. But, when the line is walked correctly, people are brought together in agreement. It’s all about fusion.

An example: as commercial as Pun’s “Still not a Player” joint was… he was killin’ that shit lyrically. Rhyme schemes galore. And the less inclined people felt it because of the beat.

Close minded people never succeed at anything. And some people will just never change. But I know that people that really love music, artists and fans alike…don’t only listen to one type of music. I can’t listen to hip-hop all day. I’ll go nuts. Same goes for alot of people. I may be diluted about changing hip-hop in general, but at least my quest to do so will rattle some chains.

I was just watching the Braggin Rites video at your website not too long ago. Now, you won this battle in March last year in 2000, AND won the semi-finals at Hookt.com’s Cyber-Clash Battle last summer in August. What’s it like for you to get on stage and battle? Aside from your next few lines, what’s going on in your head especially in the final round, how do you take in this whole experience of battling?

Well, I really only started battling to get my name out. I had always crafted battle-oriented stuff, ever since I was a kid, so being mean lyrically kinda comes easy. But once I got to NYC, I needed to let people know I was there. This is where the hunger factor kicks in.

I really wanted the Braggin Rites title, because I knew it was a big event at the time, and some great MCs have won it in the past. So, I went at it full steam. You can kind of see the hunger in the video. I wasn’t even really supposed to be in the Hookt battle that night, but I just went for it. Turned out in my favor.

As far as what’s going on in my mind, I’m just trying to not fuck up and to say something the crowd will respond to. The final round is the toughest…cause you’ve gotten that far…and you see yourself winning in your head like, ‘I may win this!’…but battles can go either way on any given night. Battles aren’t really a gauge for who’s better than who. Its just entertaining to watch who comes up with what and at what time. It’s all for show, you know? But, of course, nerves kick in and all that, and when you lose you just beat yourself up for like a week straight. So it can become stressful when you take it seriously.

In the end, it’s more sport to me, and a quick way to make a name for yourself.

We’ve talked before and I remember you telling me, I think, “this rhyme shit does not pay the bills!” So, to prevent getting an eviction notice, what’s your “9-5”? I hear you work in design/web publishing?

I’m a graphic designer/animator for an ad agency in NYC. I got a degree from Full Sail (fullsail.com) in Orlando, Florida for Digital Media in ’97, and I’ve been working up here since. That’s how I know how to make Enhanced CD’s and websites and all that stuff.

I want to thank you, Mr. Tonedeff, for your time. Remind everyone of the release dates you have coming up, as well as any other events people should know about. I know the “Ridiculous / Heads Up” 12″ is out, let them know where they can pick it up, as well as the Hyphen EP, and of course, Archetype. Again, thank you, and I wish you luck on your quest to put the art back into the music.

They can get Ridiculous on 12″ Vinyl at HipHopSite.com & SandboxAutomatic.com, and most hip-hop shops around the country.

Hyphen is due around the first week of August online.

Archetype is still in the lab, but there’ll be some eF@mm joints and mixtape exclusives to hold everyone down till then. The LP will be available everywhere.

Thank you for your great questions and your time! Peace out y’all!!

Interview by RhymeLife.Com

interviewed by Jeff