Tonedeff breaks barriers with Polymer, and he’s just getting started
In the days leading up to the release of his latest album, Tonedeff admitted that he wasn’t exactly as cool and in control as he sounds on the Polymer tracks.
“It’s a combination of fear, excitement, dread and general relief,” he laughed. “I’m pretty sure I’m gonna get rid of the boulder-sized butterfly wings that are flapping around in my stomach.”
Those are the emotions of any artist about to put his work out to the world, but in Tone’s case, there was the added angst brought on by the reality that Polymer is far from a typical hip hop album. And whenever someone breaks the mold, well, that opens the door for the critics to come flying in.
“It’s been a very difficult birth,” said Tone, who described Polymer as a “three and a half year labor of love.” “These are the most personal songs I’ve ever written, the most sonically adventurous and challenging songs I’ve ever done, and when you write and produce your own stuff, there’s an ownership there that you don’t get otherwise. I approach my music like a singer-songwriter. I want it to be a hundred percent from me and unique to me. I’m the only person that could ever make this record.”
Listeners should be happy he did, and he’s right when it comes to being the only one to make it because few would take the chances he did, not just lyrically, but sonically. Yet at this point in his life and career, there’s no other record he could make.
“I’ve noticed that a lot of artists don’t really make the music that they like,” Tone said. “They make music that they think other people will like, but when you hear their playlist, their music sounds nothing like what they listen to. I decided that I listen to a lot of shoegaze and dream pop and heavy electronic music; so why can’t hip hop have these epic emotional landscapes embedded in these songs the same way a Sigur Ros song would or a M83 song would? And so that was kind of my goal — hit the wall of sound, and I feel like I achieved that on this record. I’ve never heard anybody do that on a rap record before, so I’m happy about it.”
This ability to write the album he wanted to, and not just one that tasted like the flavor of the month, didn’t come overnight. A veteran of the industry both on the stage and behind the scenes, Tone has seen it all over the years, and it wasn’t until he stopped listening to everyone else did he start making the music he truly wanted to.
“I’ve toured, I’ve gone all over the place, I’ve put out records, I ran an indie label for a very long time — 17, 18 years — put out a lot of records for other people, and there’s this whole underground hip hop community, and a lot of people want me to be a certain guy,” he explains. “They want me to be some punchline rapper guy who just battle raps and raps fast, and that’s supposed to be my lane. But once I broke out of that and started playing the things in my head and started writing stuff that was more cathartic for me in writing about my life and the pain and the depression and things like that, people started getting tattoos of my lyrics.”
It was then that Tone realized that he had something to say that hit home outside of his own home.
“With any of my funny, hilarious punchlines or ill bars about battling and all that stuff, nobody ever got a tattoo of that s**t,” he said. “But the second I started writing about real life things, that’s when people started getting tattoos. At that point I realized I just need to own this. I’ve never been an insider, ever. I’ve never been accepted into the cool kids’ club, and if you’re not down with whoever’s cool that month, or you’re not friends with whoever’s cool that month, you will never be cool, and that’s it. And I got really sick and tired of trying to get to some party that I wasn’t invited to. Why not start my own party, and if anybody likes the music, they can come here and chill and be themselves.”
If listeners are open to something new and familiar at the same time, then that party should fill up pretty fast. If not, Tone isn’t about to change. He’s found his lane, it’s all his, and it’s full speed ahead from here on out.
“I think early on in your career, you’re really worried about connecting with people, which is why artists cater too much to what they think people will want,” he said. “And that’s problematic and leads to the homogeny. But when you figure out that once you start doing your music and performing as much as possible, the only thing you can do as an artist is make your art to the best of your ability and say the things that you want to say and hope it connects with the right people. Everything else is out of your hands. I’ve seen major label artists with million dollar promotional budgets completely flop because their music didn’t connect. And whether that’s luck or timing or just bad breaks, you can’t call it. So, at the end of the day, that’s not something you can really worry about. I needed to trust my gut and, hell or high water, do what’s in my head and don’t worry about the consequences. And at this point of my career, it’s more about challenging myself and how badly I can break genre. That’s my goal now, just to f**k s**t up as much as possible for my own enjoyment.”