At times Texas and California really seem like nations unto themselves rather than member states OF a sovereign nation. It’s possible to rise to stardom and fashion a successful career as a musician solely off being known in your own state if you come from either of these two geographies, and it’s not at all surprising with a population of 35 million+ in Cali and 21 million+ in the Lone Star State. That ranks them #1 and #2 respectively out of all 50 states, which means that a lot of actual countries around the world have less population, wealth and gross domestic product (GDP) than these non-landlocked territories – one from the West Coast and the other on what’s unscientifically called the Third Coast. There’s long been a saying that “everything’s bigger in Texas” and I hold the rise of Tum Tum as an artist as proof positive both figuratively and literally. Born Tony Richardson the large and in charge MC was given the nickname Tum Tum by his grandmother because of his big belly, and Richardson was obviously fond of the moniker since he kept it for his rap career. He may be little known outside the confines of the Rio Grande and the Gulf of Mexico, but in Texas his clique of Dirty South Rydaz has sold 300K+ mixtapes on the streets – members include Addiction, Fat Bastard and Big Tuck among others.
Tum is looking for things even BIGGER than himself or Texas and wants to bring his Dallas flow to a national audience. That means when you listen to his album you’re in for a few surprises, and when you look in the liner notes to figure it out you’re in for a few MORE. If “Do That” sounds a bouncy piano-pounding East coast track made for the club that’s because it IS – a track produced by the legendary ‘Tuff Jew’ himself Scott Storch. Thankfully he’s not rapping on this one, he leaves the mic duties all up to T Squared a.k.a. Tum-Zilla:
“I do it for the block that’s why the hood’s so proud
Show and I prove, Scott Storch track, TA-DOW!
Zill on the big screen, Zill on the radio
Zill in the magazines, Zill in them videos
Tryin to do my thang, stack up my change
Park that machine, and leave your girl amazed
God damn I love this rap shit
One lucky bastard”
Luck really didn’t have anything to do with it. Tum’s voice may be higher than Suga Free and Pimp C put together, but it really helps him stand out in a rap field full of baritones that growl and grumble a lot. His flow and breath control are solid, and that’s not to say they couldn’t improve over time, but they do reflect that he’s a five year veteran of the game and not a rookie to this rap shit despite being unknown nationally before now. The most solid criticism of Tum Tum is that he seems entirely comfortable talking about “Hood Shit” and not really willing to push the envelope in any way; but with Mannie Fresh producing the beat and guest-starring anyone would be tempted to stick with what they know and try to crank out a hit:
“Big black and ugly, still pull foxes
They know I ride 4’s and I candy up boxes
Caprices and Deltas and Imps that’s tight
Fire weed, fire bead I had to cut with that ice shit
Down South hustler, throwed in the game
From the A.M. to the A.M. grindin tryin to get it made
Who gon’ stop MEEE, please point out HEEE
Him R.I.P., make him read these ice creams”
Tum Tum strikes me as what Mike Jones would be if he could write raps at better than a nursery school level and not repeat the same phrase four times just to get a rhyme. In fact it’s somewhat surprising that Jones wasn’t tapped for a beat or a guest appearance on this album, as both Tum and Universal seem keenly aware of capturing the loyal Southern audience while crossing over to the mainstream. Trae appears on the smooth Just Beatz orchestrated track “If it All Go Tomorrow,” D.S.R. members Double T and Lil’ Ronnie appear on “She’s a Go” and the Missing Element provides an epic feel for collaboration between Tum and Jim Jones on “Show Time” complete with paparazzi cameras flashing. In fact Element is responsible for the production on many of the album’s tightest cuts including the title track, the Ying Yang-esque “Caprice Musik” and the gangsterish funk of “T.U.M.” The song that stands the strongest chance of crossing over though is the Play-N-Skillz jam “Better Days” featuring Reyez. Best known on production for helping Chamillionaire to ride dirty, this track is anything BUT fast paced and synth heavy – it’s slow and smooth and heavy on the ivory keys. Tum is somber but hopeful throughout:
“I hit the blunt, leave Earth for a second
Headaches and hardships keep a brother stressin
I lost homies to the struggle (homies to the struggle)
I lost more to the hustle (more to the hustle)
I cain’t win for losin (win for losin)
But like the cigar, I keep movin (I keep movin)
Remain with my head in the sky
They tryin to hold me down, but still I rise
They try to ban Swisher Sweets, saggin and mixtapes
God damn, can a nigga get one break?
Gang unit on my ass for some bullshit
Pray for better days, Lord help me with this bullshit”
Did Tum Tum need Universal Records for “Eat or Get Ate” to be a success? Ultimately no. This album would have sold in Texas regardless. Ultimately his fate will be decided by how much exposure the music video and radio rotational outlets are willing to give him, and there are always politics involved in getting put on through those venues. Tum has the talent and determination to earn a spot, and a unique voice that will stand out in a crowded field if he’s given a fair shot. To be fair that’s not to say Tum Tum doesn’t have room for improvement – the flow is a little muddy at times and the lyrics could be elevated to a greater level of depth and complexity but “Eat or Get Ate” is not the same old cliches of hardcore hip-hop one would expect – you’ll need no Rolaids needed to stomach Tum Tum’s CD.