I make so many confessions and full disclosures at the beginning of these interviews that I am coming to think of them as a key literary device; little slices of humanity that provide a connection on a deeper level before delving into a transcript of my conversations. That is to say, I do not feel terribly bad about beginning this massive 2 Dash Tone piece with another one.
I first saw Tone perform live in a dusty bar on Main Street in Western New York when we were both students at Fredonia State; he was an aspiring musician, I was the scene’s music critic. And despite the fact that he had to spit his rhymes over beats that were pumped through the karaoke speaker system, it was obvious to me even then–and not exactly sober–that he had the talent to succeed if given a fair shake. I saw Tone a few more times, most notably in a basement show where he kicked a long ode to an adorably hip redhead off the top, before I graduated and he went to finish his last year of school in Paris.
That is why the interview below reads more like a conversation between friends then a scripted, sociological exploration: because it was. But the measure of a man is what he is like without the cameras and lights, and like Tone said during one of his many rambling responses, “There’s an answer in there somewhere.”
Parlé: Obviously, you’re in Paris right now–and we’ll get to that at some point–but I want to go back first, to New York City. Tell us a little bit about New York City.
2 Dash Tone: At like what point? Growing up there? Talking about when I was in college?
Parlé: Uh, anything man. Like how did that influence making 2 Dash Tone happen?
Tone: Oh, ok. Alright, I see what you mean. Basically, my story is like an amalgam of locations. The three most important locations in my life are New York City, Memphis, Tennessee and now Paris, France. I mean, like, I grew up in New York. I moved there when I was 7 or 8, in the second grade, and I pretty much lived there ever since. I mean, just being in the culture, being exposed to so many different people; like the school I went to was called Manhattan New School, and it was like an alternative school. So they focused on not like memorization and shit, they focused on like creative writing and creative thinking. So I feel like that’s where the seeds of my creativity kind of like sprouted from, because we would just have to write entries, you know? And I didn’t start rapping until 16, and that was when I moved to Memphis for two years. 16 to 18 is when I really started rapping. Really got in the studio for the first time, started writing to beats and things like that. But truthfully, I can’t separate the two, because New York obviously had an influence just because of the place it was in opening my world view, but then you can’t take away from Memphis, Tennessee also, because that’s the actual ground zero of where I literally started rapping. Just throw Paris into the mix, I’ve been rapping since I was 16–since 2005 actually–but Paris, Paris has just like refined my skills and taken it to another level. So, those three cities are pretty important for me.
Parlé: Why the quick sojourn there to Memphis? Did your family have to move? Where did that come from?
Tone: My father is from up north, and my mom, her side of the family is from the south, mostly in Memphis. So basically I went to live with my mom for two years. There was some static between me and my dad at the time, so he shipped me out to Memphis.
Parlé: Alright. Ok, so, we’re coming from Memphis. How did you end up at Fredonia (the State University of New York at Fredonia, to be specific)?
Tone: Memphis was great. A lot of experiences, a lot of opportunities, but I really wasn’t focused on school. So as far as the academic side, I was slipping. I failed my first senior year when I was down in Memphis, and it just wasn’t looking good academically. And basically, my dad was like, New York state has great public colleges, and things like that. Why don’t you come up here, do your senior year over correctly, and then you can apply to a college and go to a four year college instead of going to community college. I was with it, so that’s what I did. Came back to New York at 18, and then redid my senior year. Got a 90 average. I got into all the schools I applied to except for like one. I got into Morehouse, I got into Howard. I didn’t have enough money to go, and like a bunch of public colleges also, a bunch of SUNY colleges, and fast forward a little bit and by process of elimination I settled on Fredonia. It was for two reasons, basically. One, because this woman at the college fair was so passionate about her experience there. And then also because I knew that it was a big school for the arts. Those were my two main reasons for going to Fredonia.
Parlé: So like the academic needs, would you say that sort of smoothed things out with you and your dad a little bit? To like get your academics back together?
Tone: Yeah. That was … the academics was very two fold when I came back for my second senior year, when I returned to New York. Because that was as much about me getting into a four year college and like changing the trajectory of my future as it was about me repairing the relationship with my dad. That was like a really big moment. And then you know, you work so hard for a big moment, and then you don’t think you can do it, and you just kind of grind down and focus on it. And then the big moment happens, and you look back on it and you’re like oh yeah, that happened, but like it’s not a big deal anymore, you know? But at the time, it was a really, really big moment.
Parlé: Alright. Now, uh when you were in New York city you were from Harlem, right?
Parlé: Alright. Now, I already tried to bait you into saying Harlem was better than Brooklyn (in a Facebook post preceding the interview) and you weren’t going to do it, but …
Tone: [Laughs] You’re not going to bait me into that …
Parlé: But what do you think about, um, I wouldn’t call it another Harlem wave right this second, but I know that there’s a couple cats–A$AP Rocky is the one that definitely comes to mind–that are sort of bringing Harlem back out. But they’re doing it in that weird, kind of … I don’t know. I feel like Harlem’s always had a different style then the rest of New York City.
Tone: Yeah, that’s true.
Parlé: So obviously, you know, we have a couple greats from there. So who’s your favorite rapper out of Harlem all time?
Tone: That’s a good question. All time, I don’t want to answer all time, but for the moment I can definitely say A$AP Rocky. I just really like what he’s doing as far as his whole movement with the whole A$AP team, and even the music he’s putting down, like him and Spaceghostpurpp and all those people, I think that’s like really cool.
Parlé: Yeah, they got a different kind of sound.
Tone: I just really respect the fact that they’re creating their own sound. You can tell it’s a unique sound. They’ve taken and blended different styles and different influences. I think that what they’re doing is very characteristic of Harlem. Kind of a free form type of thing, and just being free to express yourself and kind of experiment.
Parlé: If we stick to the theme of Harlem–last thing on Harlem, I promise you–what about like my boy Big L? That’s who I would say would be my favorite guy. Did you listen to a lot of Big L?
Tone: Oh yeah, I did. I really am so bad at those questions, as far as greatest artist all time or greatest album, because I never, I don’t know, my mind doesn’t think like that. But yeah Big L. Big L was before I started rapping. I learned about him when I was like 15. A friend put me on to him (put it on Big L, put it on -Zarley) and this was maybe like a year before I started rapping. I’m not going to call him the catalyst for me to start rapping, but listening to him definitely made me like break down rap. I was just so in awe of how he put lyrics together. His punchlines, and then the way he kind of … his delivery. He was definitely one of the people that stands out right before I started rapping. It’s like wait a minute, I want to be able to do what he does. How can I try to emulate that, you know? Once you put on The Danger Zone you can’t mention all time Harlem artists without Big L.
Parlé: Alright, so if we leave New York City and head down to Memphis, now this is when you’re saying you really started rapping. Obviously, that’s a big time music city. Does Memphis just sort of have like a buzz to it? Is that what sort of pushed you into taking it seriously, or why did it happen when it happened?
Tone: That’s a good question, man. Timing is just one of those immaculate things, and you really can’t describe timing or try to put a pin on it. It could have very well happened in New York. But as far as a buzz to the city, yeah. Memphis definitely has an energy, but it’s not an energy like New York City. Because New York City is like, you feel it. It’s like amphetamines, it’s like cocaine, almost, especially if you’re not from the city. But Memphis is more laid back and relaxed. It’s more like that down home feeling … it’s like trying to describe what soul food is like. I can describe it, but it’s just a feeling for it.
Anyway, a lot of my friends who I was hanging out with, they rapped. And like, the real catalyst to get me to start rapping was we’d be at the lunch table and a bunch of people just rap. At this time, it was very basic, very beginner. Not nursery rhymes, but still basic. I just wanted to rap, so I could participate. I didn’t know how to rap, but I knew I could be better then them. Also, my cousin rapped … so he had like some beats, and I started freestyling, like ok, I’m going to teach myself how to rap. And then I made it definite in January 2005, when I was like ok, for my New Year’s Resolution, I’m going to learn how to rap. That was the actual point. I don’t know man, you could say it was in the air a little bit, because I was around so many people who rapped right there, and also you could just say maybe I had been wanting to for so long, because I always listened to rap. I can remember like my uncle playing Tupac for me when I was like 6. So I’ve been listening to rap for forever. I think it was just timing.
Parlé: So do you think maybe heading over to Paris might help put you on a different kind of curve?
Tone: [Laughs] Yeah, that was part of my plan. That was definitely a part of my plan. Like, if everybody else is in one place, then go somewhere else. If everybody else is going right, go left and vice versa. I knew before I got over here that France was the second biggest market in Hip-Hop, so I was like if I’m going to go somewhere … oh, and by the way, because I think education is really important, and that’s like how I got to do all this recording and all this shit, I’m actually finishing out my last year in Fredonia. I’m doing a study abroad program. So when I was planning this like two years ago, I knew I would finish in May so I kind of wanted to be somewhere I could live for a bit. But I also knew it was so big in Hip-Hop in France. So I was like, you know what, it might not be a bad idea for me to go over there. There’s such a huge appreciation for American film, basically American culture. It’s everywhere. So that was a huge decision, and a huge factor in me coming over here.
Now, I’m over here and I’ve gotten to do a lot of things. Don’t forget to let me plug these projects I have coming up, because that’s pretty important. [Laughs] I’ve gotten to do the EP, which should be out within the next two to three weeks and I would love to talk about that later–wink wink. I’ve gotten to do the album over here, and now I have, knock on wood, two music videos on the table and I have a show coming up. It’s just life. You don’t really have a plan for it. Just like you’re doing your thing with journalism, it’s not like you have a plan like “ok, I’m going to go to Chicago, do x, y, and z, and this is gonna happen.” (I actually have a piece of paper on my wall that is titled”The Chicago Plan.” It is a three step process: 1. find apartment 2. find job 3. find writing job. But I know what he means-Zarley) You just kind of go with your gut and as the opportunities come up, you kind of say “this is better than this opportunity, so let me go with this” and this was the best thing for me. Like, theres a million rappers in America from Harlem, but I don’t know how many rappers there are in Harlem from Paris. So I was like hey, that seems like a good advantage. Let me hop on that. And now I’m over here, and I’m feeling out what I can do and seeing what’s what. I would say it’s working. I’ve gotten to do a lot of things based on the strength of my music. And it’s not like I’m with anybody … I don’t have a major label backing me, or any label backing me. I don’t have a PR team. I don’t have a production team … we don’t have shit … I do have people with me, I just mean there’s not like an official. Everything that I have now is because I got out there, I talked to people. I investigated things and I built my own network. It’s not like there’s a machine behind me, you know? I’m just taking the experiences as they come, and I’m getting the opportunity to do more and more stuff. Like I have a show at Le CinQ, which is right off the Champs-Elysées. If you’ve ever been to Paris, you know what the Champs-Elysées is, and if you’ve never heard of it … it’s the equivalent of 5th Avenue in the US, if not bigger. But yeah, fuck, I got a show off the Champs-Elysées! And that was just because I was just looking for different places and I followed up on the emails. The guy, I sent him a music video and he liked my video, and I sent him a single and he was like “oh this is dope, do you want to play a show?” So most of my experiences have been like that. It’s just like try. Just take the chance. I feel like the biggest chance was me getting on a plane to go over an ocean and to live in a country that I didn’t know the language for a year. And really just being adamant about it. This is what I want to do. I’m really going to give it a shot, let’s see what happens. And I feel like I’m doing that, and I feel like I’m doing it pretty well. I’m not in my environment. I’m on different terrain. I’m not from here; I’m a foreigner. So, I feel like I’m navigating pretty well and I’m finding that all the same skills that made me successful in the states and in Fredonia
Parlé: What did you get from Fredonia?
Tone: I got so many skills from Fredonia. Like, all the fucking skills from those house parties … I treat every opportunity like something that will lead to a bigger opportunity. When I played those shows in those house parties at Fredonia, I wasn’t just like ok, whatever it’s just some house party. Naw, I was like, you know what? There’s people here to see me. I’m gonna put on a fucking show. I was able to refine my skills as a performer. I performed more at house parties in Fredonia then at any other time. So that’s the same attitude I have going into this show on Friday. It’s like now I know what I can do … shit, if I was playing house parties in Fredonia and now I’m playing a club-slash-lounge that’s like off the Champs-Elysées–that’s like world wide renowned in Paris, France–goddamit, I feel just positive. Like, that’s something. I’m not saying I’m the best thing since sliced bread, but what I am saying –and shout out to Audio Games for this, cause he really put it in perspective …–but if there’s stairs, then I’m definitely climbing up the stairs. It might not be as big of an impact as I want, but I am fucking climbing up the stairs. It’s the right direction, so it’s a good way to go. And I fucks with Action Bronson! I got to rap with him, and he said my rap was hot! And he was like “ooing” and “awing” at a couple of lines, so like fuck man. I’m doing something right!
Parlé: I was about to ask you about that, with Action.
Tone: [Laughs] He was so cool. Shout out to Action Bronson, man. He puts on an amazing show. For one, I was just blown away because anybody who listens to him knows that he just packs his raps, like just fucking packed with lines and it’s just really like rapid fire, nonstop like an M16 or some shit. And he doesn’t forget a word. He’s high on stage, and I think he might be a little bit drunk too, and he doesn’t forget a word. And he doesn’t rap to the backing; he just raps to instrumentals. That’s hard to do. So I tip my hat for that. And then he’s just himself, man. He was smoking a joint, then he passed the joint around at one point. Then, he was drinking like a mixed drink, and then he switched and he was drinking like a carton of apple juice, and then he stopped in the middle and he was like “fuck this man, I’m going back in the crowd” and he just walked through the crowd like a wrestling champ. Let’s people pat him on the back and take pictures with him. It was mad fun. He’s going places man.
Parlé: I can picture Action Bronson drinking like a gallon of apple juice.
Tone: [Laughs] It was like a liter carton of apple juice! He was just like chilling with it, and he said it himself. He was like “fuck man, I’m tired. This takes a lot.” He’s just mad cool.
Parlé: That’s coming in a rap next, too. Cause no one raps about food like that dude. He’s going to be rapping about drinking apple juice in Paris or some shit. There’s no way that doesn’t work its way into a song at some point.
Tone: I’m sure it will, because his raps basically touch on everything. He’s just so cool.
Parlé: That’s too good. Alright, well now’s your chance to plug. Let’s fucking plug man.
Tone: Alright, this is the plug? You gotta put this shit in the article.
Parle: Oh yeah, definitely. It’s going right in there. . Everything goes in. (Well, almost everything.)
Tone: Cool, cool. So this is my plug, my shout out game. Alright, so I’ve been working really hard since I got out here, and the first thing that’s on the table is an EP that I have, inspired by the Roots which is inspired by Dilla. Basically, the Roots did an instrumental beat tape to–either they were covers of Dilla’s beats or like their own interpretation or whatever, but anyway, I loved the EP and so I did my own thing to it. That should be coming out within the next two to three weeks. But, there will be a single dropping within the next 7 days … so I’m gearing up to do that. It doesn’t have a name or anything yet, but just be looking out for that. The new album with me and Audio Games is called Thick as Thieves. And that is like the culmination of us reaching the next level. Cause I mean, he’s been producing for years, I’ve been rapping for years, but we really started out fully into this rap game together because that was the first time we sat down and did a project that intense and just made an album. Because before I did mixtapes, shit like that. And that was good … but as an artist trying to get better, I hear the old in it. And that’s been patched up and taken to another level on Thick as Thieves.
Thick as thieves is a term that means like two friends, two close friends who don’t have any secrets between each other. And we just say we’re thick as thieves in that sense and also because we don’t care who’s in the way. We have skills and we got something to say so we just want to take the rap game over and have people tune in to us. That’s gonna be crazy when it drops … then there are two music videos on the table. Two music videos on the table, so be on the lookout for that. Visuals coming from the projects. And then there is a mixtape that’s in the pipeline … there’s no date for that.
So, EP. New album. I feel like I forgot something, but those are like the two big things to check for. And Zarley you got to put in my Band Camp. You can reach my music and listen to it for free at:
AND you can follow me @2dashtone
AND you can search for me on Facebook with 2 Dash Tone.
If you Google me, a bunch of stuff comes up. Check it out. Me and Audio Games’ music video, it’s called “When I Was Gone,” it’s on Youtube. Just Google it, you’ll find it …
I’m just trying to tell my story. I’m a regular person, living his life, chasing the dream. Just taking chances. Basically, I just want to be heard … and I feel like people can relate to me. The underdog, in some situations. Oh shit, can he make it? Can he not make it? And I don’t know; that’s the cool part. It’s like, fuck, can I make it? Can I not make it? There’s a good chance I can and a good chance I can’t.
So I would like to invite you, the person reading this article, if you’ve never heard of me, just take the time to listen to a song. You ain’t got to listen to an album or a whole project. Sit with it, vibe to it. Basically, join me for this ride that is my life and this goal.
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