The first time I had heard of Big Tone, I actually didn’t even know it was him. Under the alias Hodge Podge, Tone appeared on J Dilla’s classic solo record, Welcome 2 Detroit. It wasn’t until a few years later that I began to discover Big Tone’s music and how much of it he had put out. Both an emcee and a producer, he has worked with some of hip-hop’s finest. His name has been on records with people like Phat Kat, Ta’Raach, J Dilla, Shawn Jackson, Blu, and more, but the name Big Tone still remains a bit of a mystery to many. Today we will try and solve some of those issues as I sit down with Big Tone to discuss his upcoming LP, the Detroit music scene, and a much more!
Reyn: Thanks Tone for coming out, how are things?
Tone: Life’s good. Thanks for having me for the interview.
Reyn: The new album The Art of Ink drops shortly; how did the recording process go?
Tone: Sporadic, to say the least. I recorded for about a year, on again, off again type of thing. One of the engineer’s I work with here in Detroit, named IV Duncan, let me lock down the studio for about a month. That’s when things kinda began to take shape. Late night sessions…Taraach was the only cat around for the recording sessions for the most part. I don’t record with a lot of people in the lab anymore. Makes it hard to focus. So I’d be in the booth, and Raach would be in the next room working on his stuff. I cut my own vocals, which was kinda tough. It’s hard to keep momentum when you have to step out of the booth to erase a take, or open a new track. But I love the lab, so it’s all good by me.
Reyn: After listening to the album several times, I have noticed one of the major themes is growth. How have you grown as an artist and as a person since prior releases? How did you apply this to your rhymes and production?
Tone: I’ve grown a lot since ’05, which was when the last LP came out. That’s natural though. Four years? Things are definitely different for me these days. I think maturity and a stronger spiritual base is the biggest difference these days. Being more committed to the vision for my life, and as an artist. I’m way more experienced in the life department now, and in the world of music as well. There’s still so much more to learn, but being in a good place helps. I was a tad jaded during The Drought LP. I love that album because of the emotion that’s in it, though. I feel like the new album feels lighter…but more purpose driven and more focussed. I’m learning to open up a lot more as well. God is good.
Reyn: The album title and cover art is very interesting to me; what is the meaning behind the tattoo concept?
Tone: I’m getting a tattoo right now. Actually, I’m on Tom Renshaw’s waiting list, which I’m really excited about. Dude is incredible so it’s definitely worth the wait. The LP and the tattoo share so many similarities as far as what they represent. That same growth we spoke about earlier is what the tattoo symbolizes for me as well. It’s actually the logo of the artwork, an Angel, splashed with all these symbols; symbols for Peace, Balance, Music, and Love. That’s where I’m at right now. There’ll be another one later, which I’ll probably do a Volume 2 for as well. It all just goes hand in hand.
Reyn: What are some of the advantages of being the sole producer on your own album? Would you consider getting some outside production on there?
Tone: Advantage one, I never have to worry about getting somebody’s throwaway batch. Been there, done that. That’s what really started me off. Getting a beat from someone, and then hearing someone else spitting on it. Just got fed up and started renting Houseshoes’ MPC 3000 periodically. Plus, as an artist, no one knows what I like more than me. I hear the song as soon as I hear the sample. I’d love to co-produce with Milk, Waajeed, Mr. Porter, 9th Wonder, Dabrye, Madlib, Sa-Ra, Dwele, anybody that’s pushing the envelope.
Reyn: The guest spots on the album are top notch; talk about working with cats like Blu, Guilty Simpson, Ta’Raach and more. Why did you choose them to be featured on the album?
Tone: I just wanted to work with cats that have heavy perspective. Guilty, Blu, Breeze Brewin, and Ta’Raach, they all go deeper than just flow, you know? It’s a combination of that and content. These are my favorite guys, right now, all for various reasons. They’re also fam, so it’s a blessing to have them on my record because of that alone.
Reyn: What’s on Big Tone’s plate after The Art of Ink? Any more work we can look forward to you putting out? Future collaborations?
Tone: I decided I want to push myself to see how much music I can put out. I have my producer’s record entitled Audio Playground that I’m trying to finish up and hopefully release before the end of the year. The Breakfast Club record is starting to take shape, which I’m really looking forward to diving into, getting everybody on the same page is still challenging. But trust, shit is gonna be heavy! I’m biting Blu’s style this year, too, I’ll be leaking a couple of mini EP style projects online. Doing a Thank U’s EP for my album, leaking that on the 21st. I’m just staying in the lab, and whatever happens, happens.
Reyn: Tres Records has some big things popping; how did you link up and decide to release the album with them?
Tone: I had been kicking it with Raach and Blu around the time Raach released The Fevers. I was in Cali, performing and just building with them for a few weeks. They were planning on releasing the C.R.A.C. album, and it just kinda naturally happened. I met Jon Kim while I was there, so it just started to make sense. He introduced me to Chikara, and we got it done immediately.
Reyn: Can we expect Big Tone to hit the road to promote the album?
Tone: Man! I’m looking forward to hitting the road. I’ll be heading out west at some point, hollering at some fam out east also. But truth be told, I’m a straight new jack as far as booking is concerned. I’ve been talking to Phat Kat and T3 about some things, but nothing’s solidified yet. I’m looking to get out as much as possible this summer, though. I just want to make contact with those who’ve supported my music for so long. I get emails and comments from people in various areas of the world that just stop by to show appreciation for the music. I’d like to return the favor soon.
Reyn: Now something that stuck out to me was your work with Jay Dee; how did he affect you as a musician and person?
Tone: Jay has been a major influence for so long, it’s hard to break down how much. I hold his shit as the standard. Not that I feel I can stand next to his catalogue, but his nod of approval is on my mind when I work. Jay put me a platform to show cats what I can do. Personally, I looked up to him for being the person that he was. His door was always open. He taught me a few things in the lab, but he taught a lot by just being him. I don’t know if that makes sense, but that’s what it is.
Reyn: Detroit has become a hip-hop goldmine as of late; how does that scene help, or possibly hurt your ability to be heard?
Tone: It helps because everyone out here is ill. We rock the same uniform. When I’m being heard, Detroit’s being heard. When Guilty, Milk, Slum, Waajeed, Royce or Taraach’s being heard, Detroit’s being heard. Plus, it’s hard to earn in The D. If there’s an artist that’s making some noise from Detroit, just know that they’ve been getting it in for some time. I feel like we have richest music scene of modern times. Not just hip-hop either. I’m proud of the voice the City has, whether I’m the voice on the record or not.
Reyn: What are you listening to right now beside your own work? Any artists we should be on the lookout for?
Tone: Look out for Crown Nation, definitely some of Detroit’s dopest hip-hop getting ready to surface. Look out for my dude Woodz as well. Rio Data. Marv Won. It’s funny, I mostly listen to cats I know. Outside of that, Common. Madvillain. Georgia Anne Muldrow. Ghostface. Just good music, man.
Reyn: Thanks again Tone, closing words…
Tone: Good looking out for letting me run my mouth a bit. Keep supporting good music everybody, keep pushing the envelope, and Detroit, LET’S GET IT!!!!