Tona talks Black Mirror album, new Naturally Born Strangers project & more
Just under a month ago, JUNO Award-winning rapper Tona released a highly anticipated 12-track album in collaboration with Toronto producer Memorecks.
Black Mirror, released through District Entertainment, found inspiration from the British TV series by the same name and is based on revealing the side of ourselves that we’re least comfortable with.
“The part we often hide that makes us vulnerable. The black when all the televisions, computers, and cellphones are turned off,” says Tona.
The critically acclaimed addition to Tona’s already impressive catalogue features just a small handful of guest appearances including Toronto phenom Savannah Ré, St. Lucian-Canadian talent Kayo Guevarra, and UK-based rapper/producer Skripture.
“The overall project is what happens when you merge a Scarborough man with an abstract Akai-Pro scientist.”
If you’ve been following the Scarborough-native as long as I have (the “Circulate” days – I ask him about it), then you know how far he’s come as both an artist and individual. His talent level continues to rise as his lyrics become more thought provoking and introspective. Generally speaking, when someone mentions Toronto hip-hop, Tona is one of the first names that come to mind and it’s been that way for years.
It’s not by chance that he’s won Canada’s top hip-hop award, and the seasoned lyricist has revealed that he’ll be releasing another project with his award-winning group, Naturally Born Strangers.
If you still haven’t gotten on the Black Mirror train, make sure you check out the project below along with my exclusive interview (where he happens to reveal a follow-up to Black Mirror already being complete).
“With his syllable-cramming delivery and gritty beats – this time entirely provided by established producer Memorecks – Tona is a decided outlier against the melodic vocal delivery and smoothed out ambient soundscapes that some would immediately associate with a Toronto hip-hop sound in 2018, and he seems to defiantly revel in the differences.” – NOW Toronto
HipHopCanada: A few background questions first for those that have been criminally sleeping on your impressive career. What’s your earliest memory of wanting to be a rapper?
Tona: My earliest memory of rapping was sitting around the kitchen after dinners with my older brother who was a lyricist himself, writing raps for me and my twin brother to rap. He used to have us saying some wild and crazy shit to come out of the mouth of a 8-year-old just for amusement.
HipHopCanada: Which rappers or producers did you look up to when you were growing up?
Tona: As a young rapper, we just used to look at rappers our age in rap groups and study them. Chi-Ali, Da Youngstas, Illegal, only because our mind set at the time was it’s time for us to hold those positions, Take their spot. It’s funny how that transitioned into us as teenagers because I still adapted that same mentality. Like you doing your thing, but the conjunction is you just in my way. Eventually I’m coming for your spot. That ignorance stunted the growth, I can’t lie, because when I started to study the tapes I used to collect; The Roots, Wu-Tang, Common, Nas, JAY-Z, you just sit back, watch, learn and observe shit you never knew.
HipHopCanada: “Circulate” is what made me a fan of yours. You went by Daetona back then. When was the last time you heard the song and how does it make you feel after all this time?
Tona: Taking me back now… The last time I played that song, I posted the first mixtape I ever did which “Circulate” was on my Instagram few months back. The people that remember the tape had the exact same sentiment as you. They instantly became a fan and most likely was the first time hearing about me. I just went back to listen to it around that same time I posted it just to see if I even remember the lyrics. To this day, I still feel that song is still relevant. The real life situations and gems are priceless I was speaking to on it. Proud of that one.
HipHopCanada: What’s your favourite episode of Black Mirror?
Tona: My favorite episode was “Shut Up and Dance” until Season 4 came out and instantly it was “Black Museum” now for sure fom.
HipHopCanada: What was it about the TV series that inspired a project?
Tona: What’s crazy about that show to me is, I used to talk about the parallels between the internet, social media, and people’s mentality to overly indulge while losing they sense of reality. Until The Matrix came out, Black Mirror in my opinion is the only series on screen that captured all those references. People loose they fuckin’ mind not only making themselves as vulnerable as possible when you see them pouring they heart out on there and I once I started to see all the connections between the story-lines in many of the episodes, there was the upside and downside (the dark side) of growing up in this era where this is normal. Having a device, phone or some shit is normal; it’s almost abnormal to some not to be connected somehow. I can talk for days on this but it definitely inspired the project, I spoke to a lot of it on the album.
HipHopCanada: What’s the difference between Tona the solo artist, and Tona a member of Freedom Writers/Naturally Born Strangers? How do you approach music differently when you’re collaborating with others?
Tona: Me as a solo artist, especially where I am at now, I have achieved what I wanted to making the purest traditional hip-hop albums possible. With the Freedom Writers, we packed out Mod Club on our own and put on one of the best shows period in the city. With Naturally Born Strangers, we sold out Mod Club to the point we had to turn away people due to fire regulations, plus won some awards (JUNO Award – Best Rap Recording, Sirius XM Independent Group of the Year) Working alone gives me the opportunity to challenge myself outside of what I do with my collectives. Experiment with new sounds, and expand the journey just beyond being able to rap good. Make albums that are more innovative because I have been of the mindset that usually if nobody is doing it, it’s a great idea. Means it has the potential to become its own entity.
HipHopCanada: Will Black Mirror be receiving any new visual support in the coming weeks?
Tona: Most definitely, we’ll have a lot more visuals up and coming as I start to roll out the singles.
HipHopCanada: What track on the project has gotten you the most love?
Tona: I would probably have to say a tie so far between “War Child” and “Gold.” Funny thing is both those songs are next to each other on the album and were created with the same sample. Memorecks just flipped it so abstract, most people would not have caught that.
HipHopCanada: Which song was the most memorable to put together? Why?
Tona: “War Child” was probably the most memorable because that is the song we started the whole project off of in the first place. I remember my hommie Yogi Da Producer went live on Instagram with that session we recorded “War Child” in and the people that were in that chat at the time stayed for the whole session. We cut down 6 songs that day. All of those songs did not even make the project but the fact that “War Child” was the one we started with and ended up being the first single was some memorable session points for me.
HipHopCanada: Ok, stepping away from Black Mirror… it’s a bit dead in the water, but I wanted to ask you. Pusha T vs. Drake? Does Drake get an automatic L for not responding to The Story of Adidon?
Tona: Pusha just took one of Drake’s infinity stones, he has many more.
HipHopCanada: LeBron vs. Toronto? Are you expecting the Raptors to enter a rebuild mode? Or can they push past LeBron somehow next season?
Tona: I don’t think them rebuilding is the answer, like to dismantle the team with the most franchise winning history season and that clear domination of the conference in the regular season made it a historic season. Firing the coach was the bitch move in my eyes as well. You think if the series was closer and went to a 7 game series he would have still got fired? That’s a rhetorical question by the way cause the answer is no. He over achieved so much already and they can never fire the roster and players the franchise has invested in long term with so the coach goes. Bottom line is they lost to the best player in the world, bring in any coach against LeBron it’s the same result.
HipHopCanada: When can we expect another Naturally Born Strangers album?
Tona: Real soon, honestly… like sometime this Fall of 2018. We are done the new album and it’s incredible.
HipHopCanada: How about Freedom Writers?
Tona: That one is over, we still work together always cause we family but the Freedom Writers making another album won’t happen.
HipHopCanada: Do you have any other projects or initiatives in the works that you care to discuss?
Tona: Besides Naturally Born Strangers coming this year, I am already almost done the follow up to Black Mirror and am going to drop that this year for sure. BigTona.com will be the update hub for all of it coming real soon.
Interview conducted by Jesse Plunkett for HipHopCanada