The business world has the saying that you have to spend money to make money. Some rappers employ this basic rule of investment quite effectively. The idea is that you model your image according to the income bracket that you aim for. If you want people to literally buy into the lifestyle you aspire for, you have to act the part. If you are not yet a superstar but would like to become one, act like one. Turn your songs and your videos into self-fulfilling prophecies. You have to sound like you’re worth your impending fortune and fame. Milk Dee did it back in the ’80s when he blurted out, “I get money, money I got,” and it’s been proven to work many times ever since. In fact, the phrase holds such a universal meaning that it’s been sampled by artists as different as Lil’ Flip, Apathy, The BUMS, and 50 Cent. In order to become a rap star you have to be perceived as one. This may sound fatalistic to someone who sees this movement just as much as a culture as as a business, but image has always been important in hip- hop. Selling yourself isn’t the same as selling out.
As a rapper you have various options to display wealth. The most important and quite frankly least expensive way is to simply rhyme about it. If you don’t fully trust the suggestive power of your words, it can be helpful to invest in some props. If your record label pays for it, rent that luxury car you want to drive in your video or pose in front of on your album cover. If that’s not in your budget, hire skilled graphic designers and video artists to find ways to make you come across wealthy. However, while it is wise to think economical, the fact remains that you have to spend money to make money. Don’t be too cheap, especially when it comes to the beats. Nobody will take your flossing serious over cheapskate production. Be a true entrepreneur and split your costs wisely between production and promotion.
So where’s the catch? Rap isn’t a a foolproof get-rich-quick scheme. Advances have to be recouped. Lawyers have to be paid. Tours have to be financed. That’s all understood. The real catch if you want to build a rap career on the You have to spend money to make money motto is that people might question your initial star status. In most cases, only rhyming about it will not cut it. They will want to know if you’re really living that large. If everything goes as planned, you go from being a nobody who talks a good game to having a hit album in a matter of months, and you will be forgiven because even though you weren’t really a rap star before, you are one now. If you’re lucky, you’re some superstar’s protÃ©gÃ©, which makes you a star by affiliation with ample time to prove yourself as a solo artist. But even so, what if your personal success as a rapper is only so-so?
A widely accepted loophole out of this dilemma is to say that you’ve made your money by some other means before you decided to try your hands at a rap career. The most common claim is that you’ve hustled, then smartened up and applied your hustling skills to the world of entertainment. The hustler argument has the added benefit of being able to say that you’re still making rap money, even when your success is not registered by SoundScan. Like a true hustler, you’re beating the system at its own game.
With this I give you rapper Tone Tone, who’s quite a mystery in financial regards. Antonio Henderson released his debut “Skoolz in Session” in 2004, was signed to Jazze Pha’s Sho’nuff Records for two years, a period during which he dropped a couple of mixtapes, and has now finished his independent sophomore effort “D-Boy Fresh.” While most rap listeners are liable to interpret the term ‘d-boy’ as ‘dope boy’ (i.e. drug dealer), the ‘D’ in “D-Boy Fresh” actually stands for Detroit. Which is all the more surprising as Tone Tone makes rap with a distinct southern leaning. These confusions suggest a complicated artist, and in his very own way he is.
Scanning “D-Boy Fresh” for actual amounts, the sum of a million seems just about right for Tone Tone. He mentions a “2 million dollar record deal” and having “bought a million dollar studio” installed in his basement. Just as often, however, the million is not a real figure but a symbol for the league Tone aims to play in. He “made it out the hood with a million dollar dream,” and when he walks through the door he’s looking like he’s “worth a million.” In Tone Tone’s rags to riches story the riches definitely play the more prominent part. “I’m gettin’ money, so I let it talk for me,” he reasons. Case in point: “I done lived the glamor life with money, clothes and cars / and popped bottle after bottle with the baddest broads / I done bought the mall out and drove off the lot / in a candy apple Charger, then rode to the block.” That, my friends, is the sound of money talking.
To his credit, the rags do have a minor part in his success story. On “Whatcha Know Bout Me,” the opening behind-the-scenes look, he confesses:
“I done been through a lot, but nobody could tell
I’m gonna go to heaven now cause I done been through hell
I done hung on the block and seen my boys get shot
I done seen them dope boys push a brand new drop
I done seen my older cousin go to jail for murder
15 to life, the person snitched was right in the circle
I done slept on the flo’, we only had three beds
12 people in the house, back then was hard
Now I done get my money up, now I can pop my collar
So many rooms at the crib, now I can start a Ramada
I used to window-shop at the mall and beg my mama
See now I shop, pop tags and give cash to my mama
This ain’t happened overnight, so why y’all mad at me?
And I ain’t do it by myself, pimp, I had the D”
There it is again, the D. Standing for Detroit, not for dope. At least that would be my educated guess. “I don’t sell no drugs” he declares in “Die Anyday.” Is that ‘I never sold drugs’ or ‘I don’t sell drugs anymore’? I’m asking because Tone Tone is unusually shy about fully disclosing his sources of income. On “Yeah Right” he says, “I was in the hood gettin’ rich before the deal;” on “Mr. Clean,” “They say I’m really rich because I made a quarter mill / and I did all that, pimpin’, way before the deal.” How do you get rich in the hood? If you let rap tell it, there’s only one way to getRICH IN the hood, and that’s by selling drugs. As he says on “Deuces Up,” “Where I come from they all keep that white girl.” Logically, that would include him too. To be perfectly clear, this album doesn’t detail a single drug deal. What’s cooking on “D-Boy Fresh”? It almost certainly ain’t crack. Then again, what does he refer to when he relates on “Stackman,” “Been trappin’ in the A and I’m back to the D”? What exactly went down when he recounts on “Check Me Out,” “Couple dollars in my lap / Had to hit the hood, get the money, so I trap / Hit the mall, spent at least ten stacks / It’s nothin’, I hit the hood, make the ten back”? When he asserts on “Stuntin’ Wit My Shades On,” “Tone be fresher than your average dope dealer,” doesn’t that logically suggest that he is a dope dealer, just not your average?
I suspect that Tone Tone leaves these things purposely open. He wants to be “fresher than your average dope dealer” as they currently populate rap music, but he doesn’t want to knock the hustle per se. Hence the double entendre of his album title. Hence the rhyme “Rubberband banks got me lookin’ like a trapper / stuntin’ in my shades got me lookin’ like a rapper.” Ultimately, he’s not justLOOKING like a rapper, he’s proud to BE one. “Whatcha Know Bout Me” sees him mentioning sold out shows, and on “I Don’t Think They Like” he calculates: “Five for a show, just imagine how the stacks get / Extra five for a sixteen without a ad-lib / Fitted cap, lean pimpin’ like a six-fo’ / Promoters payin’ me for my shows and I ain’t got a video.” And all financial benefits aside, “Homie, that’s a good feelin’ when they rappin’ your words / Another good feelin’: I can grab my boys and splurge.” Truer words have never been spoken. At least not on this record.
If the glamorous life of a rap star is all about keeping up appearances, Tone Tone keeps his up marvelously. He’s left the paper chase behind him and spends money like water. In fact, he’s taken a particular liking to the phrase ‘make it rain.’ On “Candy Roll” he makes it “rain inside the club,” and then on “Stackman” he even takes it “out the club” to “make it rain outside.” Weatherman would be a more appropriate nickname. Needless to say, there’s quite a few strip club joints here. “In Da Strip Club,” the album’s official “strip club anthem” ends up a piece of faux crunk, but several other tracks get the job done – with more or less interchangeable lyrics of course. On “Check Me Out” Tone even offers up the ultimate proof that he’s for real: “Now everybody wanna make it rain in they rap song / but when they in a strip club, money they ain’t got none.” I admit I’m not too familiar with strip club house rules, but am I the only one who thinks it’s kind of funny when the tippers are given more attention than the strippers? Aren’t the women supposed to show off while the men sit back and enjoy? Being the man that I am, I wouldn’t really care about another man’s stacks as long as the stripper’s stacked. But I digress.
Tone Tone is enamored with southern rap. He’s likely to reference his generation’s hit songs such as “Laffy Taffy,” or “Party Like a Rockstar.” With “I Don’t Think They Like” he even puts an original spin on Dem Franchize Boyz’ “White Tee” and “Oh I Think Dey Like Me.” He makes the conscious decision not to curse, and while he says doing so guarantees play and performance of any of his songs anywhere, he keeps his content clean as well. On top of that he’s soft-spoken and renounces the typical threats found on any given rap album. “D-Boy Fresh” is 75% stuntin’. The problem is that the stuntin’ is incredibly basic. Cartier glasses, “alligatored up interior” and “diamonds against the wood” are nothing compared to the extravagance artists like the Big Tymers or Jay-Z have engaged in. That’s what made listening to these rich bastards palatable. If stuntin’ is your main theme, why not go all the way with it? But that requires lyrical creativity or talented ghost writers, and Tone Tone seems to be short on both.
So we get an album that is for a large part mindnumbingly simplistic, where a line like “We don’t make it rain, man, my clique make it flood / See now we got the Red Cross comin’ to the club” has to be considered a stroke of genius. And after all that he has the nerve to backtrack, saying “I ain’t rich but I’m straight doin’ what I want” on “Don’t Think About It,” the most money-oriented song on a money-oriented album.
If he ever comes close to realizing his dreams, Tone Tone will laugh all the way to the bank at these objections. There’s no denying the hit potential of tracks like “Deuces Up,” “Candy Roll,” or “Stuntin’ Wit My Shades On,” even though vocally he’s about as memorable as that Hot Boy you forgot about. Naturally, there’s plenty of room for growth. A couple of years from now, he’ll know how to work out the intended irony in “Yeah Right,” he’ll know how to explain what he means when he stresses, “Don’t let the limelight fool ya / the average life cooler” (“Whatcha Know Bout Me”), and finally his record label will have learned to pay attention to spelling details (it’s Yung Joc, not Young Joc, and Teairra MarÃ, not Teairra Marie). Already Tone shows signs of maturity. Both ladies cuts, “What You Need” and “Sidekick” are executed with competence. “Die Anyday” and the closing “Live and Let Go” show a level of reflexion you wouldn’t have thought possible.
You get what you give. Musically, the album offers catchy production that backs up Tone’s alleged baller status at least partially. He produces seven tracks himself in a manner that suggests that his real calling lies in production. If it weren’t for the obstinate percussion, “Deuces Up” courtesy of Midwest Bang Productions would almost be of Mr. ColliPark quality. While “Mr. Clean” by Brave Soul is about ten times more interesting than its lyrical content. Lyrically, Tone Tone banks on getting noticed by talking about money. That may make him come across as shallow, but it has to be noted that listeners won’t think of him as greedy but rather as generous. What’s more, there seems to be an ulterior motive behind it all. As he says on the very first track, “Everybody love the ground you walkin’ on when you shine / but ain’t nobody ’round to help you when you broke on the grind.” Considering this, who could blame him for trying to shine in his raps?