Sunday, March 6, 2011

11. Album Review: Tonedeff-"Archetype"

     I remember, growing up in the late 1990's, the first exposure I had to any real, lyrically complex emcee was Eminem. My household wasn't intolerant of Hip-Hop, but it was more likely you'd be hearing Brian Setzer, Weezer or NPR through the halls over, say, Fat Boy Slim or Onyx. However, through my brother and various cousins, I became savvy around age 10 to this seemingly taboo genre of music. Eminem was seriously impressive back then, showcasing a disarming amount of self-awareness with the accompanying technical skill to back it up. He cursed. He hung out with Dre. He bleached his hair, as did my cousin, probably in an attempt at emulation. So, in large part, I have my love of Hip-Hop to thank Eminem for. Him and the Geto Boys, oddly enough. Thankfully, I've been expanding my horizons ever since, but I can still listen to tracks like "Infinite", "My Fault" and "Rock Bottom", and fondly remember how completely Eminem blew my mind with his multisyllabic rhyme schemes and self-deprecating humor. 
      My point in bringing this up, is that on Tonedeff's 2005 album Archetype, that sense of amazement I felt as a kid listening to Eminem is ever-present. I first heard of Tone by way of Immortal Technique's Revolutionary Vol. 2, on the track "Peruvian Cocaine". Having always liked his verse, and wanting to hear more, I tracked down Archetype. I realize I'm kind of giving away the final verdict here, but Tonedeff needed an introduction and this is the least sycophantic manner in which I could think to do it. Let's begin. 

1. Overture 
     First, a few facts about Tonedeff. He can sing. He can write lines so hard-hitting, so socially pertinent and so personal, you'll feel as if you're listening to a confessional instead of a Hip-Hop album. And he can spit these lines insanely fast. Like, rivaling Busta Rhymes, or Twista. It's difficult to rap along with him in some spots, so intricate are the tongue-twisters. But he doesn't do any of that on this track. This is a an overture. Not much to say. Doesn't feel necessary, but doesn't feel like a hindrance either. 
Memorable lines:
2. Archetype 
     In a commonly used strategy, Tone introduces himself as the savior of, a paragon, the new archetype for Hip-Hop music, an ideology to which you'll quickly warm to. He's so angry, and sounds so full of purpose, that it's hard to take this as just another "I'm the next big thing" jam. 
Memorable lines: 
"The do it all emcee, with the 2 long sleeves and a passion for practical magic
A tap of the wang, and I'm graphic
Another tap, I'm the fastest
You tap again, and I'm chanting on a piano ballad
The preconceived notions get shattered
Fuck mainstream and underground-
'Is the shit any good?', is what matters"
3. Masochist
     If there were a trial to determine which contemporary emcee has the smoothest flow, this track would be Tonedeff's Exhibit A. On top of everything this song has going for it; the somber beat, the mind-boggling lyricism and the keen look into the game from Tone's eyes, the chorus is downright glorious.
Memorable lines:
Close your eyes, poke your finger on the lyrics sheet and you'll have landed on a wicked bar. Just listen to it.
4. Let's Go
    The only two-word song title on the album. A violence-inspiring, tribal beat drops, that can barely keep with the lyrical equivalent of Tondeff kickstarting this beastly machine that is his creativity.

Artist's Interpretation 

Memorable lines:
"Now I ain't tragically hip, and I'm proud of it
Son, I'm a natural at this, I don't reenact for an audience
Or party with them wack hoes hollerin'
Girl, if that's your milkshake, I'm lactose intolerant" 
5. Disappointed 
     This song is pretty grody. It's a booty break, with more emphasis on the booty than the break. Humorous lines colored misogynistic. He's being purposely over-the-top, and injects a good amount of fun into an otherwise serious album.  
Memorable lines:
"I got pussy, pussy, pussy on my mind and it's killing me
2 to 3 at a time, ménage à trois or a trilogy"

Ménage à trois; The only thing Lizzie McGuire lacked. 

6. Loyalty 
     Bundle up, because this one is chilling. Tonedeff, a veteran of the game at over 30, has probably had his fair share of backstabbings and rocky fellowships, which is the subject matter of this song. Having sampled and drastically sped/pitched up Leon Russell's "A Song For You", the vocal adds a creepy quality to the already present paranoia. I particularly enjoy Tone's input during the chorus, sarcastic and bitter. "And that's forever right?" 
Memorable lines:
"Don't speak another sentence to me, ever mention me
I don't exist, convince yourself you invented me
You've committed the crime of the century
And just 'cause loyalty ain't a trait you possess, don't think I'll lessen the penalty"
7. Porcelain
     A love song. Starting in Tone's public school years, he showcases his voice and his past feelings for this one elusive girl. A "one that got away" tale. Heartbreaking, jaded and wistful, this jam is a coming of age story, as well an example of how one can make the mistake of putting the wrong person on a pedestal.

What happened, Adam?
Memorable lines:
"Desperation became my religion
The same way you envision cynics finding Jesus caged in a prison
Visiting hours consisted of English Lit. & diction
History quizzes on Christians to Mr. Richard Nixon
Transfixed in her smile like the other fifty guys
She hypnotized, guess I'm another stickler for pretty eyes"
8. Issawn
     This is about as close to a "hype" track Tonedeff gets on Archetype, and it's still is too melodic to truly qualify as such. I once heard a complaint about Tone's "soft" production, and I understand the sentiment. This is not a RZA beat, or some Havoc shit. Tone's production compliments his voice and flow, and although it could be fresher in spots, for the most part it nails the intended atmosphere. The "tear this bitch down" bridge makes me want to flick lit cigarettes whilst I strut with purpose, scattering passersby with an ivory cane and aimed squints from a debonaire monocle. Really, this song is more of a call to arms. 

Yeah! We're ethnically diversified to a T! 
Memorable lines:
Nothing in particular, but this is a nice, energetic departure from Tone's usual flow. 
9. Quotables 
     In Hip-Hop, a quotable is the standout line in a verse, song, album, or even a career. Examples:
"One of us, equals many of us. Disrespect one of us, you'll see plenty of us."-Gang Starr
"It drops deep as it does in my breath. I never sleep, 'cause sleep is the cousin of death."-Nas
"You can't handle the truth."-Colonel Jessup 
     Shit like that. So this song, which has an astounding lineup, including Substantial, Wordsworth, PackFM, Session, Superstition and Rise, each spitting 8, with Tone coming in at the end with 24 monstrous lines, is bound to produce a few quotables. Also, I think I hear a very faint sample of James Brown's "Blind Man Can See It" being worked. Someone should check me on that. 

Bum stiggedy bum stiggedy, bum hon! 

Memorable lines:
All of it, but I especially enjoy the bars from Wordsworth, Rise and Superstition.
10. Politics 
     Whereas Quotables was a series of sharp jabs at wack emcees, this track is a piercing look at the industry from an outsider with complete creative control over his own projects. The beat is brooding and snarl-worthy. Tone does most of his own production on these songs, and has a knack for capturing his state of mind musically. He's frustrated. Me too. Also, the accordion outro is HOT. That needs to be a full song. 
Memorable lines: 
"'cause, what the fuck? Do I need to get shot to get props?
Do you need talent? I guess not, but with drug money and a guest spot 
You can spend lots on a track from the producer of the month 
And that'll induce you with the buzz that'll get you news-scoops and the pup 
But Buddy, I'm flat broke, so on that note, I'll say goodbye to articles
Bookings for college shows, distribution pushing us hard for dough
Then you wondering why you're seeing the same niggas over and over
The more original the flow, then the colder the shoulder 
The same reason you can't stand that vese you heard's 
The same reason you know it word for word" 
11. Pervert
     Similar ground to Disappointed, but made far more pleasant by Tone's singing/rapping approach and blazing delivery. Almost every "I got your girl" song before this falls by the wayside. This rivals Big Pun's "I'm Not A Player".
"With my balls bangin' off your hymen"

Memorable lines:
My mother might look at this review, so all I'll put is:
"But see, it's all in my head, and though we'll probably never meet
I've seen you nude and on your knees" 
Who said romance is dead? 


12. Heavyweight
     Simultaneously presented, the assertions as to how Tone is changing the game and the needed proof to back it up. So many words. So many rhymes. Whereas some emcees strain to pump out a wimpy 16 bars, struggling to fill the space, it seems like Tone can barely fit in everything he wants to say, even rapping as fast as he does. He puts out some great choruses too. 
Memorable lines:
The first 4 lines of the second verse. Linkage.

13. Children 
The instrumental is a slice. Anetra puts down a really juicy chorus. Tone reflects on his childhood, and how things have changed for the current generations, sounding understanding, even kind. I'm not sure why he's put a song with such a young target audience on the same album with the likes of Pervert, but regardless, Children is definitely insightful and potentially influential. I don't mean to take shots, but compare this to Kid Cudi's "REVOFEV", which attempts to invoke a "big brother" mentality as well. 

Memorable lines: 
"And they'll become their parents
So look at them and decide if that's who you wanna be
Honestly, think about their qualities
You're probably exhibiting parts of these people's behavior chronically
Call me a Saint to warn ya - see that bitch that thinks she's the shit
At 15, with the heaving tits, the type kids would just fiend to get
Will end up pregnant before she hits community college
Broke and soon to be jobless, abused by the dude she gets high with"
14. Case Closed 
     This is fast. Normally when an emcee puts out a track promoting their skill, I listen to it skeptically, like "yeah, whatever dude". Yes, my internal monologue makes use of the term "dude". However, everything Tone says here is totally justified. This is not braggadocio. This is just stating the facts. 
Memorable lines: 
I'll get back to you once I can figure out what he's saying. Just kidding. 
"And sedate crowds with the same sound
They've been layin' up into your brain loud 
Enough to take any rational thought
And leave your brain clouded to rap as just pop" 
15. Gathered  
     Tone has a good voice. It's not as feeble as a "croon", but he's no brassy Cee-Lo either. He sticks nicely within his range. The piano and strings are beautiful here. Although Tone's been honest-sounding throughout this entire album, he sounds outright vulnerable here. Whenever I re-listen to this album, I'm always pleased that he ended it with this song, instead of some incongruous banger. 
Memorable lines:
"Got all my belongings gathered
Got my best shoes on" 
Worth the time?
     Simply put, if you enjoy Hip-Hop, or entertain the pretense that you enjoy Hip-Hop, or have even "heard" of Hip-Hop, or are even capable of "hearing" things period, Archetype is a necessity. 

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