With their EP “Veteran” releasing on November 18th through Seven 13 Music & Entertainment, Tone Chop & Frost Gamble share some of their time with REUPSPOT for an insightful interview.
Hey guys, OK, let’s rewind it back to the beginning. You started out as rap battle rivals in Binghamton during the 90’s. What was the scene like there at that time and where were the spots that hosted these battles?
Chop: There wasn’t actual spots really. Mostly on the spot cyphers. I was just ready at all times with rhymes. The very few events they did have got ruined by violence and just didn’t happen again. Only one battle event called “Who’s The Illest” is the only successful one at the time. I came in second to a now good friend and crew member Weegee. This took place at a club called “Amnesia” now closed down some time later due to unnecessary violence. A friend of mine and another M.C. named Dan-O was shot and killed there. R.I.P. Dan-O.
Frost: At that time, battling wasn’t ‘an event’, it was a requirement of being an MC! By that I mean you had to be ready to battle at any time – at the barbershop, the corner, the mall, wherever. If word got out that you rapped, someone else was going to approach you and test you. So you had to have some rhymes ready, stuff that nobody had ever heard, with some insults, punchlines and all that. Plus, we used to freestyle all the time, so being able to come off the top was a big asset. After a few battles and cyphers your name would get out there, and that’s how people would start out – rappers all knew each other, it wasn’t like today where everybody was trying to rap. Binghamton is just a couple hours from NYC, so the scene developed pretty early on… but it’s a small city with a lot of problems, there wasn’t money, venues and support for it to grow to a major level.
So how did you two go from being rivals to then rhyming together, and how did this take effect – was it live or in the studio?
Chop: Me and Frost decided to partner up after he realized I was the better M.C. and chose to stick to production and making beats. We started doing demo tapes and continued working together over the years. I went on to making a bunch of mix tapes and always featured tracks produced by Frost. Which now resulted in bringing y’all “Veteran” the EP
Frost: We partnered up first as MCs, and started working on demo tapes together. That’s where my production chops first started out, working with tape loops, cassette dubs, rented drum machines, whatever we could get our hands on.
You were also tagging in the area. How often were you out “on manoeuvres” and any memorable stories from the time?
Frost: We kept fat markers on us at all times, to tag our names around the city. I never got that nice with the Krylon, but Chop had put up a couple of big burners in the train yard that lasted for years. We also used to take trips down to the city and appreciate the real masters, it was just a real exciting time and things were evolving quickly.
Chop: I used to tag a lot with a couple buddies of mine and got my name up pretty good. Did a few burners and even got in trouble a couple times too. One time we painted a piece on the soide of our middle school and got caught. Got suspended and fined big time. The school and my parents were not happy. Nowadays I just tag on paper lol
Where in your local areas would you recommend people go to check out some of the best street art?
Chop: Cheri Lyndsey Park in Binghamton has some real nice pieces in and out of the skate park. They repaint them fresh every so often on mural day. That’s a small event they have at the park where artists come from all over to repaint the murals there and throw up new pieces. Also the trains passing thru have some nice work as well.
Frost: In Winnipeg, where I live now, there’s the Graffiti Art Gallery, which is terrific resource for at-risk kids that actually teaches kids about graff and Hip Hop and provides a positive, creative outlet. There’s lots of great burners all around the building and neighboring walls – definitely worth a visit. There’s also a lot of work that been commissioned around the city by businesses, beautifying their shops – I feel like it’s appreciated more widely than before.
During the 90’s, hip hop was still in its infancy by comparison to today, with more emphasis on the different elements and the overall culture. We’ve heard it was the wider culture that first made you pick up the mic. Tell us more about how it influenced you in your youth?
Chop: It influenced me in everything I was doing at the time and still is a big influence today. I did it all Emceeing, breakdancing, graffiti, even tried to DJ anytime I got the chance. I always been a fan first. One of the first albums I ever heard was Boogie Down Productions “Criminal Minded” which is a classic to this day. I was hooked. Still a fan of course. No I don’t breakdance anymore but my kids do. I still emcee of course and still write graffiti on paper but still do it. I still like to DJ too. I got a couple friends who DJ and they let me do my thing time and time again. I remember writing rhymes in school when I was supposed to be paying attention in class. Rhymin’ has been a part of me for a long, long time. I can’t remember too many times in my life where I wasn’t writing rhymes. I miss the 90’s.
Frost: It affected everything, my worldview, my politics, and my approach to life. I read the Autobiography of Malcolm X at 15 because of BDP and PE – I never would have gained that consciousness so early otherwise. I started out breakdancing, I beatboxed, I just couldn’t get enough – it was so much more a sense of community and collective understanding at that time. This was during Apartheid in South Africa and Reagan’s war on drugs – the Hip Hop community was unified against oppression and ignorance in a really impactful way. I still hear certain lines in my head, like MC Shan saying “go for yours, Imma get mine” – that was like my rallying cry, we studied lyrics for life lessons. Another one is KRS with “if you don’t know the history of the author, you don’t know what you’re reading”… these voices had a major impact on me.
The music, street art and fashions were all part of an underground movement at the time which has subsequently influenced and infiltrated most walks of life worldwide. This has gone a long way in making hip hop the phenomenon it is today. Having witnessed its origins, do you feel its portrayal today still retains a spirit while commercialised?
Frost: No. Commercialized Hip Hop today bares very little resemblance to what we grew up on. Now, there’s plenty of authentic music and culture out there – but it’s not presented by major labels and corporations very often, you have to search for it. The lowest common denominator seems to be the path to easy bucks, and we don’t support that.
Chop: No absolutely not. Commercialized Hip Hop is nothing like what I grew up on. Lyrics used to matter. Lyrics matter to me and nowadays rappers concentrate on everything else more than lyrics. It’s a shame the way they exploit Hip Hop today.
Evolution is necessary to avoid stagnation, and hip hop music is no different. So while various sounds have developed over time to produce sub genres, do you feel they are still being used to try and promote education and a positive message? If not, is it even relevant whether they do, and if so, why?
Frost: Positive messages are the exception today. I’m very proud of the fact that on this EP, Chop talks about the consequences of street life from a first person perspective, and warns kids to go another path. As fathers, that’s a very important theme in our music. For example – every time I hear ‘bad bitch’ used as term of endearment, in my head I hear Queen Latifah saying “who you calling a bitch?!?!!” There’s no comparison now in terms of positive messages.
Chop: The message is missing today which is crazy cause a lot of rappers have children but they aren’t try to send a message to the youth through their music. I think not every song needs a message but the lack of these type of songs which do have a message is sad to me. I came up in the streets but I try to talk about the consequences to living that lifestyle too. So yes I think messages are important and should be relevant in Hip Hop today.
Frost, your production style utilises the traditional method of crate digging, sampling and turntablism. Which stores whether in NY State or now in Canada were the ones you regularly visited to source material?
Frost: Man, I get mad now when I think about this! I was really struggling to hold things together at the time, so a lot of it was dollar bins at the Salvation Army, but I would save up to buy rare break records – and there was only one spot in Binghamton like that at the time to find heat. I remember paying $60 for a copy of Lee Dorsey’s Get Out My Life Woman, I searched for that for two years, it was a lot of money to me. Now kids can download EVERY break I ever dug for off torrent sites and not invest a penny – if they even care about breaks. People seem perfectly happy to hear the same 808s on every song now anyway… ugh.
Around a decade ago there was a major switch by DJs using vinyl to Serato. Clearly more convenient, but how do you compare the sound from wax to mp3 or WAV, and on a similar theme, analogue productions compared to digital?
Chop: I’m a fan of Deejaying period no matter analog or digital. Either way It still takes skill especially if you blend and scratch. Salute to all the DJ’s all over the world.
Frost: I embrace technology, I use the MPC Renaissance today, it’s really about what you do with it. But production is just like DJing – if you put in your time with real records and learn the traditions – you’ll be that much stronger in using the new technologies. Struggle has always been the driving force behind Hip Hop creativity. Today, when I hear a record I want to sample, I hear the finished product in my head before I even start – so the choice of tool is only meant to achieve that vision.
We understand you produced a record for Canadian gospel artist I.E. which won an award. Tell us more about it and how does your approach to writing for a gospel record differ from that of a hip hop release?
Frost: That was huge for me. Fresh I.E is Grammy nominated and very accomplished, so that gave me the confidence I needed at the time to start making bigger moves. The approach was NO different. Fresh wanted that classic sound I could provide – soulful chops and hard drums. The only difference is that he was speaking about God on it – but dude can really write and ride a beat so it’s just good Hip Hop to me, he’s dope.
Tone, you’ve released multiple mixtapes over the past decade and more. We understand this is both in the capacity as a rapper and producer, in one case providing a beat for Tom Gist. As an indie artist, how would you say the release of such a number of mixtapes have helped you progress?
Chop: It helped me get more exposure and allowed me to network with other M.C.’s and producers like myself. I used my mix tapes as a platform to showcase my crew Binghamton’s Most Wanted and other talented cats in my area and upstate N.Y. in general. I’ve worked with a lot of talented artists as an M.C. and a producer. I made all of my mixtapes for the love. It was never about money to me only the love and still is. Whatever I gain from music I embrace good and bad.
Are you still a member of the group Binghamton’s Most Wanted? How do you compare the dynamic of operating in a group set up to working solo?
Chop: The answer is yes and to me it’s easier working in the studio as a group because we vibe off each other and it’s more fun to it. Working solo I find myself being more serious and critical so it’s less fun but I still get the job done either way.Shout out to my crew, my fam, Bings Most Wanted.
So after years of you guys operating solo in the main, you have come together to collaborate on the “Veteran EP”. Why is the timing right now for you? Frost: It’s been a long journey, building up our respective followings and platforms. This is the first time we’ve had the support of a professional team, including business and publicity support. Our partnership with Seven13 Entrainment is making a huge difference, and I’m thankful for it.
Chop: Due to trials and tribulations in our lives and certain circumstances beyond our control it justdidn’t happen ’til now. They say timing is everything. Right now is our time. We got the right team behind us and we are grateful to have that. Better late than never.
We could be forgiven for thinking this is a one off project as the subject matter is quite reflective, whether speaking on your own life or paying tribute to various artists. However we understand you plan releasing a new album next year, so what will be the approach with that and the subjects you look to address?
Chop: This is EP is just a warm up the album will be much deeper and touch on more topics and will have more messages. One things for sure though there will still be more hard beats and lyrics. I always try to outdo myself with every project so that will not change on the album.
Frost: This EP is just an introduction. The next project will address more topics and be less nostalgic, although I think you’re always going to hear a little bit of old school in our music and style. Back to quoting rappers… ‘You can’t change a player’s game in the 9th inning”. On Veteran, I WANT you to recognize the samples I used, but that won’t always be the case. But some things will always stay the same.., like our love for hard beats and vicious bars.
What’s been the impact of working with the label Seven13?
Chop: It’s fantastic. I feel better about my career than I ever had. I feel like we are in good hands with Seven13 and appreciate the opportunity.
Frost: It’s incredible. We have major opportunities but enjoy the freedom of being independent. Seven13 works hard AND smart to support the project, without asking for any sort of artistic compromise. And we don’t have to deal with a bunch of middle men either. I feel very fortunate.
Looking at “all things hiphop” as a comparison to when you started, what do you feel is now missing that would genuinely enhance the scene today?
Chop: The lack of appreciation for those who paved the way. Cats nowadays need to do their history and pay homage. A message cause the youth need to know more than how to “turn up”. Lyrics matter. Cats nowadays should concentrate more on what they say and not just how they say it.
Frost: Two things. One, more appreciation for the founders and OGs. I’m so tired of people saying so-and-so is the greatest of all time, when they can’t name a single Kool G Rap or Rakim song! They don’t even know the contestants. In rock music, the kids all know about the Beatles and Led Zepplin. Hip Hop heads should know Kool Moe Dee and Ultramagnetic in the same way. Second, the culture has to take ownership. We’ve let corporations and record labels tell the general public a story about Hip Hop that isn’t true. We need to be our own gatekeepers.
Adidas or Nike?
Frost: Adidas! Preferably shell toes. Run-DMC said so.
Chop: Nike cause I’ve always rocked more Nike’s than Adidas
And finally, Tone, which artist delivered the most memorable lyric and what was it, and Frost, which beat is the one that killed it for you?
Chop: – “No frame of mind no heart I’m relentless/Step to me I’m knocking you senseless” MC Shan ‘I Pioneered This‘. One of my favorite songs of all time and those lyrics always stuck in my head. Still listen to this song on a regular basis.
Frost: ODB’s Brooklyn Zoo, produced by True Master. I’m a very peaceful dude, but I want to start punching people every time that record comes on. Never gets old, the energy is just incredible – I bought the 12’’ just to listen to the instrumental. And shout to Diamond D- he’s really the one that inspired me to get serious about crate digging.
Thanks for speaking with us at The Re-Up Spot
Frost: thank you! We really appreciate the opportunity.
Chop: No Thank you for reaching out