Filed under: Freestyles,Interviews,Steady Bootleggin'
Written by: Robbie Ettelson
“…three drinks later she was damn near Pam Grier maybe my imagination or the black and tan beer.” – Tony Bones on “Splashin Over Monica”
Hailing from Edmonton, North London, but calling New York home since before he was a teenager, Tony Bones has made noise in the rap game both as an underground vocalist and as graphic designer, and for those of you who don’t know much about this guy, here’s your chance to catch-up. I actually spoke with him late last year after I mistakenly referred to him as a white guy, and more recently Keir built with Tony about his exploits, so I’ve combined the best parts of both interviews into some kind of super-mega-Q&A-type extravaganza and all that good stuff. Bones is also responsible for the dope new Unkut Dot Com logo that we’re currently sporting.
Keir: What is your earliest recollection of hip hop out there?
My first encounter with hip hop was seeing Sugarhill Gang perform on Top of the Pops and I hated it. That may have been because I heard ‘Ant Rap’ by Adam & The Ants first which was horrid. I was more into what my older brother was into like The Jam, Elvis Costello, Madness, The Clash, The Specials, The Beat. That and what my dad played like Roy Ayres, Heatwave, Bob James, Lee Morgan, WAR, Cymande, all that stuff.
When did you come to the US?
We first came in October of ’83. I was about to turn 12. My family basically moved here to the US for a change of scenery. My parents are pretty outgoing like that. I absolutely hated it at first, it was like a different planet…
What was it like fitting into American culture at that age?
I remember being asked to say this or that. At a certain point I decided to disguise the way I spoke to avoid the hassle. Eventually I got used to the change and settled in. Having an older brother who was a nutter and nice with his hands didn’t hurt either.
After moving to New York, did you experience a re-acquaintance with hip hop?
One thing sparked my interest in hip hop was “Sucker MC’s”. I had never heard anything like it. That made me go back and explore exactly what this hip hop thing was. Shortly after that Just Ice (Sir Vicious) came around. He was the illest ever to me “…your tense and dense and trying to convince me to believe your stupid non-SENSE”. That made me start writing and of course I went by Sir Tone. I beat-boxed too. I met DMX in Yonkers up around PS 23 when I was about 14 or 15. Earl was a really cool cat. He rhymed and beat-boxed too.
When did you develop it into more than a mere interest?
I didn’t record anything until about ’86 or ’87 with this cat named Jake who swore he was Mantronik. After that, myself, this guy Russell and Jamel formed T.U.F. (The Unstoppable Force) in the Bronx. Two MC’s and the ambidextrous DJ Russ One.
Robbie: I remember reading a lot about you in Represent magazine from England. Did you have a major label deal at one stage?
I did. The story from the beginning is that I got signed to MCA in late ’93, and at that time I’d been at Arista for a year, working as as Art Director. I got signed to that major deal and I was like “Alright, well I’m just gonna keep my job while I record my album”, because you never know where those things go, and I’d been on the underground circuit for quite a bit just doing shows and that sort of thing, and that’s how I got noticed. So in the midst of making the album, with the usual major label rigamorole – I had a pretty cool A&R, but it’s amazing what they try and do – as soon as they sign you, they want you to do whatever is happening in the moment.
[laughing] So they just forget about whatever reason they signed you in the first place?
Exactly. The first reason that they liked your demo tape – they forget it. The thing is, the A&R liked what I did, which is just everyday, average guy stories and wordplay. What was happening at the time when the album would have been coming out, which was late ’95-’96, was calculated, marketed hip-hop…
The Bad Boy era?
There ya go! But it was actually slightly before that – was more of the Tupac and Naughty By Nature and all that shit, and I was just like “Ehh, I don’t do that! It’s not what I do” and they were like “Oh well, but you need to be hard. We need to make you hard!” And I was just like “Nah!” What ended-up happening was I had a pretty good atourney, so I was able to bargain my way out of the deal with MCA, and I was about to sign with East/West, but when I went over there and I spoke with them they were just about to drop The Juggaknots – cause they were label-mates of mine, so I know those guys – so we were about to be on the same label and I saw what they were doing and I just like “Ehh”, so I spoke to the coolest person on earth, this girl named Sheena Lester. She worked for RapPages magazine and they wrote a few things about me, and we got in contact through mutual friends and she gave me the best advice ever. She said “Look, you work for a record label – you know how it works. You could sell 100,000 records in your neighborhood or wherever, and make as much money as you would if you sell a million records on a major label. That’s just the way the money breaks down. Just do what’s personal” And that was it. From then I just went a completely different route. That’s when I met Jay [Mr. Live] – cause I actually met Jay when I was signed, and I invited him to do a song.
Keir: So as things with MCA went sour, where did you go next?
Jay and I formed 88 Whatsanames and started really working on our stage show and putting out vinyl with Bobbito‘s label. I had some unreleased tracks on the side like that “Pure Marrow” track and “Come Upstairs” produced by Prince Po, also “Wide Open” by my man Ge-Ology and one from Buckwild and EZ Elpee too. In 96/97 I saw the big switch in music. Not so much with the industry as much as with the audience. Hearing dudes in the street talk about sound scan and budgets, sounding like the empty suits I had to sit in meetings with, it was a sign to get out…
Robbie: So you felt like it was getting too corny?
Hip-Hop here in New York just split right down the middle in ’97. A huge section of everybody just went the straight Puffy, jiggy, Bad Boy, pop music shit route, and everyone else just wen the other way. It was actually a fun time, man, cause you got to just run through the underground and do shows for people who loved hearing it. They didn’t give a shit about your video or whatever – they just wanted to hear you and see you perform. What me and Jay used to like to do – our show would be so tight, it would just be back and forth, and we would change it everytime. We would never do the same show twice. We’d just incorporate things that were happening in the news and different pop-culture references – we’d base the show around it. We’d just really entertain, man. We’d love to go on first and just ruin it for everyone else [laughs]. Actually it’s not ruining it, it’s just inspiring them to do more. That’s basically the deal from back then – while all that was going on, I stayed with design.
Keir: Ultimately leading you into an impressive career, can you talk about what you’ve done?
Design has been great for me. I love it like nothing else. Arista was the perfect training ground because when you work for Clive Davis, you have to know everything. After being at Arista for 7 years, I moved into more of a fashion design thing. I have worked as an art director mainly, but the more you know the better. So I’ve ended up doing everything from the apparel to packaging to advertising. I’ve designed logos and company brand image for Steve Stoute, Sean ‘Diddy’ Combs, Know1edge, Fiberops, Akademiks, PRPS and others.
Robbie: There was a rumor that you’d done a song with Rakim while you were signed with MCA.
You know what? It was – it was just a rumor. We were supposed to, cause we were signed at the same time, and I remember my A&R being like “Yeah, I’ve gotta put you guys together, cause that’d be pretty funny since you guys are really different” But you know what’s really funny? My A&R had this weird idea of what he wanted to do with me. He wanted me to feign wealth – have me in a video, jumping out of a Delorean with a Prada suit on! Basically he was like “When you feign the wealth, you get sponsors, and the wealth comes”, and I was like “Yeah, whatever” A couple of years later, I saw Biggie and was like “Holy shit!”, to the point where my A&R said “For your first single, I want you to kick one of your verses off of ‘Rise’. Sample that song ‘Rise’ by Herb Albert” and I was like “Holy shit, that’s what Biggie used for ‘Hypnotize'” I was like “It’s a bit boring man, there’s not much you can do with it”
“Here’s a rolex we rented for the shoot – make sure you don’t lose it!”
[laughs] “When we get the new one, you can give it back!” It’s really strange, man. My time in music definitely informed what I’m doing now.
Mr. Live had a bit of a conflict with J-Live over the name, didn’t he?
He was Jay Live from way-back! He was the first Jay Live. I’ll tell you how we met – there were these open mics at this place called the Village Gate. It’s not there anymore, but it used to be an old-style New York jazz club. They had this open-mic night, and it was the first one I’d ever gone to, and I go “I’m confident about what I write, so I’ll just get up there and do whatever I’ll do”, so I got up there and I rocked it with my man Carl. And I saw J, he got up there with some other guys. The following time, there was this place across the street called Kenny’s Castaways where I got up the second time, and after that show J approached me and said “I like what you do, man. But you’re boys suck!” Cause I was on stage with two other people. Right then we just hit it off, I was like “This is a real dude here” and we started making songs together. We clicked from there and soon after recorded “Rhythm & Ism”, produced by Prince Po, at Chung King Studios. After that we did “Hunger Strike” and it would be up on the Bobbito show a lot. It was a lotta fun being live on the radio.
So that’s how the Fondle ‘Em thing came about?
Exactly. That was really through J, I was just a guest on it, because at the time I was really working on album packaging stuff [for Arista]. I did a Monty Python box-set, Monica, Brand Nubian, Bad Boy stuff, a lotta advertising stuff. Towards the end, I got disillusioned, and there were creative differences so I went and put all my energy into design.
Do you remember anything about Mr Live and J-Live confronting each other over the phone?
I don’t, actually. But I think Jay is still pretty miffed by the whole thing, but that was his name when I met him, way back then – Jay Live. He had a group named E&J. It was him and this cat named Equality. I listened to their demo tapes and they were good – they were really, really good. Our shows were as good as they were thanks to Jay. He was relentless. He really pushed us to be as good as we could.
Keir: How did you meet OK?
I actually met Organized Konfusion through my manager at the time. It was a mutual respect thing really. The word ‘artist’ is used far too liberally in hip hop. Those cats were straight up artists. Monch had this beat that I recorded “Pure Marrow” to and he sang the chorus, those were fun times.
What’s going on these days?
Last year I founded Double Helix Design. I have an apparel line called Local Strangler which I do with my wife Asia who is also an apparel designer, it launches Fall 2007. I’m looking to design some books and open a shop this year as well.
I heard you’ve been recording new songs as well, who are you working with right now?
In a few weeks I will be recording a few songs with my man from Ocean Aquanaut, from Baltimore. I’ve also been talking with Breeze from the Juggaknots about creating some new stuff…
Tony Bones – ‘Current Events’
Ge-Ology featuring Tony Bones & Ocean Aquanaut – ‘Tetsuo’s Revenge’
Mr. Live & Tony Bones – ‘Splashin’ Ova Monica’
Mr. Live & Tony Bones – ‘Hunger Strike’
Mr. Live & Tony Bones – ‘Noise (Unreleased)’
Tony Bones – ‘Deep In Ya Bones (Demo)’
Mr. Live & Tony Bones – ‘Freestyle’
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