One state that often gets overlooked in the rap game is the great state of Texas. While most followers of hip hop pay closer attention to artists straight out of New York or Detroit–big areas which are mainstays in the art of hip hop–few understand that the state of Texas is littered with quite a few gems in hip hop. However, if you were to ask anyone to name an artist out of Texas, the only one they might be able to name is Nelly. Nothing against Nelly, but Texas hip hop is made up of more than just one major star. The underground scene there especially has some truly talented artists spitting on the mic. One of those artists happen to be Tone Royal.
When he isn’t working on a podcast, Tone Royal is using a microphone to exude lyrical hymns chronicling his experiences on a daily basis in Texas’s southern region. Refusing to allow his voice to be boiled down to one box, Tone Royal used his last mixtape, Rushing Greatness, to provide an array of different styles to showcase his own versatility as a hip hop artist. His mixtape provides a trap vibe, some spoken word, classic boom-bap, pure rap, and at one point even a melody which highlights Tone Royal’s surprising singing chops. Tone Royal appears to be a jack of all trades who, for the time being, is here to stay. Due to commitments to school, podcasting, and life in general, Tone Royal had taken somewhat of a hiatus from releasing music since Rushing Greatness, but now he is preparing to release an upcoming EP titled Late. He spoke a little bit about his new project with Patchchord News, among other things.
Audio version available here:
Right now, you’re straight off the heels of opening up for Lil Durk the other night. Can you tell us what that experience was like and how you got that opportunity to begin with?
The experience was crazy, man. Just recently, the music industry has been really expanding and I’m from San Antonio–I live in Austin right now–and so being able to perform for such a high class artist in your own hometown and having such positive feedback is a really good experience. I got the opportunity because myself and another artist named Phillip Wolf, we hosted our own show in San Antonio at 502 Bar. We managed to bring out a little over 200 people without a major headline, and Dedspot Agency–who helped do the Durk show–happened to have people there who liked what we did. They just let us out to perform [at the Durk show]. Really cool experience being able to open up and seeing the music expand and grow.
I’m actually glad you mentioned Phillip Wolf because on top of him opening for Lil Durk as well, he’s also someone who you collab with a lot. Can you give us a little background on how you two met and what’s going on with that relationship?
Phillip is actually a guy who I met probably about five years ago through a mutual friend. I had just started doing my music–I was in a group called Innermost Truth at that point–and I just ran into Phillip…he told me he was going to start getting into more hip hop music and I had this song instrumental by The Cool Kids, so we did a remix to it. Seemed like a really cool dude, so I just brought him over. Never really heard his music before, and he just hopped on the track, man, and the moment we did it, I thought “this dude’s awesome!” So since that time, man, he’s just been the only one I really collaborated with. Because he’s not just someone who just talks about doing music or performing music. He’s the one who really chases it, so if I ever have a show, I always have him. Either he’ll open for me or, if he does a show, I go and open for him just to help each other out. It’s been cool to be able to grow with someone from the city and, really, just hone another craft. He’s like my brother, man. He’s awesome. He’s a good dude.
Friendship aside, what is it about Wolf and his music that makes you want to collab with him so often? Because you two have made a lot of songs together.
Yeah, yeah, man, we have. [Laughs]. I feel like every album or ever project we do, we at least have one song together. And I think what it is that makes me want to collab so much…like I said, work ethic’s awesome, he’s really driven, but also it’s such a different style from mine as well. I’m very lyrical, bar heavy type stuff and it’s slow, and with him, he does have all those aspects, but he can also sing. He’s more, I guess, what’s the term? Wavy style? He rides the beat a little bit more. A little bit more chill and laid back and if I try to do that stuff, it just doesn’t come off as genuine, I think. It’s just not the style that everyone has gone for and with him, that’s just right in his lane. So, it’s really cool to work with someone like that who has a different style, but can also mesh well with the one that you do as well. That’s why I enjoy working with him.
Speaking of collabs, you mentioned earlier that you used to be in a group called Innermost Truth with Olajuh Wise. But you two only released one mixtape a few years back so, I’m curious, how did that group come together and why did you both go solo?
Well, the group came together because I actually grew up in Georgia. I lived in Columbus, Georgia for 10 years so, that’s where I kind of fell in love with the whole hip hop stuff because that’s what was big over there. People rapped in lunch rooms, rapped on the buses, and that’s what I was always around. So I met Olajuh when I was about…I think I was 10 and he was 9 years old. He always had that passion for hip hop music, too. So they way we started together was, you know, I never intended to ever pursue rap music or anything like that. It was always just a joke. Honestly, I probably wasn’t very good at it until I was about 18 or 19. Rapping from 12 and all those years was something I did as kind of like a party gag, almost. And [Olajuh] started doing music, and he got on the radio in Georgia, and I was showing people some of his music and they were like “Oh, man, it’s really good!” I had just started rapping too and so I hit him up one day like “Hey, man, I’ve been thinking about trying to do a mixtape if you’re interested in collaborating.” And he was like “Yeah, no doubt.” So I flew down to Atlanta, Georgia, did a mixtape with him, and literally went down there with probably about three songs written…they weren’t fully fleshed…he had maybe two or three verses…and I wanna say that album was like thirteen songs ’cause we wrote and produced everything in probably two weeks. So it was pretty insane. It was a cool experience just going down there and working on music. Yeah, that’s how we came together just as childhood friends both pursuing music and it ended up working out. The reason why [we broke up] was because he still lives in Georgia and I live over here in Texas and it just wasn’t something that we could keep pursuing so far apart. I still do plenty of songs with him and he’s gonna be featured on my new album that’s coming out. He has a verse on there and, in my eyes, he’s still like my favorite rapper ever. Growing up with him, it’s always cool to see your friend. Super talented dude. I wish that he would pursue music more, but you know, full time job and everything like that. Hopefully he comes back one day after all that.
You mentioned that you were working on the next album. Can you tell us what the musicmaking process for the next album is like and how is it going to be any different from Rushing Greatness?
Yeah, man, my next album coming out is actually my EP. It’s eight songs and it’s called Late. Obviously, it’s kind of a play on the title Rushing Greatness from just a little over two years ago. I kind of got caught up with life, man. I did a bunch at University of Texas, and trying to do school and work and doing music at the same time, which is pretty difficult. With this EP, it was kind of like “Alright, I’m out of school now and music’s the realization.” That’s kind of what I wanted to do, especially with all of the buzz I’ve garnered. It’s just been growing. So with Late, it’s just been a great experience because I’ve been working with a new producer. His name’s Chris Locke from Lit Up AV Studios and he only works with hip hop artists, which is something I’ve never had before. Every studio I’ve ever gone to mainly focused on bands and different types of music, and rap music is an afterthought or a new experience for them. With Chris, this is all he does. So to find somebody–an engineer–that all they do is mix and that’s their element–hip hop music–it’s a really cool experience because they know exactly what you’re trying to go for. I can tell them “Hey, yo, I have this idea for this drop” or “I wanna do this effect” and he’s just like “ok” and puts it right in there, so he’s an amazing engineer. Also what’s been cool is that I’ve been working with Max Damon on mastering the tracks and editing, and he’s a Grammy nominated engineer and big time in San Antonio and just Texas in general. He’s been engineering for 30+ years and it’s a real honor to be able to work with him because he hasn’t worked with a hip hop artist in about 10-15 years at this point. It was just something that I reached out to him about and showed him the music. He was just really impressed with the style that we had. Just said that it was real hip hop and that was the stuff that he liked, so working with a legendary engineer like him, it’s just been really cool, man.
Is there a release date for the next mixtape yet?
No, but I’m thinking the next 2-3 months; I’m trying. Now, the big thing that I’m trying to do with this that I did with Rushing Greatness is the marketing value. ‘Cause with Rushing Greatness, it was an 18 song mixtape and it did really well and I was really happy with what it did, but when I put it out, it was kind of like “Ok, here’s 18 songs. Go listen it.” [Laughs]. Whereas with this one, I’ve been working with visuals, music videos, I wanna have t-shirts. It’s all about the merch and all the ducks in a row, pretty much, so that way [there’s] a build-up to this EP, the EP’s ready to come out, and I’m all ready to go with things I can release for it and really push it. I’ll have the date finalized within the next week or two. I’ll let you know as soon as it happens, man [Laughs].
Earlier, you were talking about all the stuff that was going on with your life. Work, school, and we haven’t even covered this yet, but your podcast. Is that why it’s taken so long for you to work on a second mixtape, considering Rushing Greatness came out two years ago?
Uh, yeah, man. I think that all plays a big factor into it as far as time coming out and one thing that I’ve been trying to get better with as well is constantly writing and searching for instrumentals. So, that was another thing. Just trying to find the right tone for the EP and the proper song, and developing my flow and style. ‘Cause I didn’t want it to just be a rehash of Rushing Greatness. I felt like I’ve really grown as an artist and one thing, with this, that I’m trying to do is infuse the lyrical stuff, but also do that turnt up and really just the wave of…I don’t wanna say trap or mumble rap, but you know the current style that’s out right now. This is me trying to find out how I want to infuse those two together. Just developing that took awhile as well. But yeah, man, Doubletoasted.com is a podcast that I’m still doing stuff with, but as before, I was more heavily involved. Same thing with school. Going to the University of Texas in Austin just takes a lot of time. Now that I’m out, just giving myself two or three years to pursue music fully and push to make it where I want to be.
Will you also use the time to spend more time with Double Toasted? Because it’s been awhile since you’ve been featured on there; even with your own show, Double Dribble, it’s been about 3-4 months since the last episode.
Yeah, man, so with the Double Dribble sports show, it was just something that didn’t work out in the long run only because I was putting in too many hours to the show, it couldn’t get uploaded to the website, and not many people understand how much time goes into developing the show as far as prep time, as far as editing the video, and even uploading it. You know, it takes time. So, Korey Coleman, the owner of Double Toasted and the main host, we talked about it. I was like “Man, I’m just not into sports as much as I was in the past. I feel like we’re wasting time developing this thing that I’m not truly passionate about,” but I still wanna be apart of it since it’s been such a great part of marketing stuff like that for me as well. Just getting my name out there, and I love that stuff…it’s like a second family, you know? So, actually, what Korey and I have been working on is a music show specifically just for the Youtube channel. We used to have a segment on the Casual Call-In Show called Music Mondays with Marcus. Marcus…can’t do it anymore, but…I’m always finding music that’s maybe not really well known. I’m always listening to music so I’m like “Man, why don’t we just do this Youtube show and really just show people what we like? What we listen to, and new songs that they can find as well.” That’s something me and Korey are trying to work on. We’ve already recorded one show, but it wasn’t the way that we wanted the final product to be, so we’re actually going to be recording another one this week and hopefully get down the pattern for what we want the show to be like. I’ll still be doing stuff with Double Toasted, it’ll be music based, and I’m really excited for it.
Keeping up with the subject of Double Toasted, I was just curious, how did you become apart of that team to begin with?
I was actually just a big fan of Spill.com and they’re based out of Austin, Texas, so I ended up going to school in Austin and, just on a whim, man, I ran into Korey Coleman on Rainey Street, which is a popular bar area in Austin. I was with a girl at the time and I think Korey walked by me at the bar and [laughs] when I saw him, I freaked out! It was really weird, I was like “Oh my God!” and I remember kind of pushing her. She was talking and I kind of just put up my hand to, like, go up and see him [laughs]. Probably not the best move on a date, but [laughs] I walked up to him. I was like “Hey, man, I’m a big fan,” you know, I was probably fanboying a little bit. I was just like “Hey, I’m a Broadcast Journalism major and if you need any help, or whatever, I’d love to, you know, be on the show and interview you.” He was like “cool.” So, three weeks later, he invited me over to the show. I didn’t know I was going to be on the show. He just was like “Hey, man, are you comfortable on camera?” I was like “Hell yeah! Let’s do it!” Ended up having on the show and afterwards, he was like “Hey, man, you’re really good! You should come back next week!” So I ended up coming back the next week for another show, and then he invited me again the next week, and by the third week, he was asking me to be apart of it, join the cast, and that’s kind of how it happened.
I didn’t know you majored in Broadcast Journalism. That actually reminds me of an episode of Double Dribble when you had Mia Khalifa on as a guest and to some of our audience, that may be a big name. So as far as the interview process–because you don’t usually interview people on the show–what was your mindset going into interviewing Mia Khalifa?
To be completely honest with that, man, it didn’t even really phase me ’cause she wasn’t…it’s not like I followed Mia Khalifa or anything like that. I knew that she was a big name and I knew the name, but I didn’t really follow her or anything like that. So going in, I just tried by finding out as much about her background as possible. Seeing where she was from, I knew that she was a big sports fan…she was super cool, man. She came on and especially when you do someone with that big of a name that you can say and everybody knows, she was really down to earth. She was really cool. And, like I said, I was worried that it was going to be something totally different. That she was going to be stuck up or something like that and it ended up being the total opposite and it was cool. Once we got started, the nerves–if I felt any before–were just kind of all gone. It was just having a conversation with someone in your living room, you know?
How’d you guys book that interview to begin with?
So my co-host at the time, Chase, he just happened to know her. I can’t remember where he met her exactly, but he just knew her and reached out like “Hey, you know, we’re doing this podcast, would you like to come on?” She was just like “Hell yeah,” so her and her friend Alex George came by and, you know, we talked sports, talked about movies coming out–I think we talked about the It [trailer]–just started questions like that, so it was really cool, man. Something that I wasn’t expecting I would ever do, but it turned out well and she even said we gave her one of the best interviews she ever had so that was an accomplishment.
Going back to your music, I wanna go back to Rushing Greatness for a second, specifically the cover of the mixtape. Because there’s this logo on the cover–well, I guess its the signature you use for everything since it pops up on everything Tone Royal related–the cover has this cartoon character wearing a bandanna with two X’s over its eyes. You’re even selling replica bandannas so, obviously, the image means a lot to you. Can you tell us what this image symbolizes?
So, the image just kind of symbolizes [that] everybody, I guess, has a face and has a voice in whatever they do, but if you’re not doing it…following something that you believe in, or you’re not doing something, then you’re not living life. You’re dead. It’s also just an homage. I’m a huge Outkast fan and Andre 3000 fan. Like I said, I live in Georgia and he did a music video with The Gorillaz where his character wore a big bandanna with an X–it was just a single one–so [my image] is just kind of pointing to that as well. An homage to a legend. And yeah, man, it was just something…I love animation, I love movies, I love artwork. I love cartoons and animation and things like that. So, it was just something where I was like “you know, I almost want Tone Royal to be this character instead of it just being me.” You know? [Laughs]. And especially with doing Double Toasted and things like that where I’m almost like a personality. There’s always like “Hey, why don’t I have this Tone Royal character?” And I want it to play a part in whatever I do. I want him to be like my figure and kind of a symbol going on there. There’s also a halo over its head that I have on it with everything. The halo is just to pay respects to my grandmother…her last name’s Angel. So, I wanted something that’s always showing how I have love for my family.
I did a little digging in my preparing for this interview and found something really interesting. In an issue of the Austin Chronicle, they called you a “rapper’s rapper.” What does that mean to you? Being a rapper’s rapper?
I guess it’s really humbling, man. To be considered a rapper’s rapper. It’s just funny because in today’s music, a lot of it is about, like I said, the turnt up attitude and the beat and stuff. And I’ve always just been in love with the lyricism and like I said, how I feel like I’ve developed as an artist is, yes, there’s always gonna be lyricism with what I do, but finding a way to infuse that with a sound that’s popular now. But lyrics are always what I’m gonna be in love with, man. Like I love poetry, I love art, I love performance, I love all that. And to be considered a rapper’s rapper is just really cool because it shows other artists look up to what you do and look up to the lyricism that you’re able to provide. And if you can wow other people who do rap music as well, it’s really cool and I think the Austin Chronicle wrote that after I won the first Rap for a Stack competition they had in Austin. Which was incredible man, because at that point, I think that’s when I realized “Ok, I can do this.” And I actually just won the last one they just had. I did last month–I think–and I just won that one again. Swept through the rounds. Didn’t go into overtime or anything. Just straight through the competition and ended up winning it again. And it’s just been really cool man. Like I said, growing up just listening to Outkast–with Andre 3000, one of the greatest lyricist ever–Talib Kweli, Eminem, Lupe Fiasco, Rhymefest. Like, people just like that, man, and just for someone to consider you like “he’s a rapper’s rapper. He’s got lyrics and bars,” I think that’s really cool.
Why did you become a rapper to begin with?
So, [laughs], like I was saying earlier, when I started rapping, it was kind of like a joke. Like a party trick. I guess I really just became a rapper because I love music. Whether’s it’s country–it’s funny, I rap, but I love to two-step–I love bluegrass, I love rock music, I listen to all types of stuff and growing up, my family was full of musicians. My dad was a tejano player, and he still makes tejano music. He used to tour with Selena, who’s like the Latina queen of music [laughs]. My sister can sing. Almost my whole family can. I can’t sing to save my life, so growing up in Georgia listening to rap music, I guess it was just something that was able to take the music ability and once I got good at rapping, I guess that’s when I just fell in love with it all, man. And like I said, I love poetry, I love music itself, and I love entertainment. Obviously, that’s why I went into Broadcast Journalism. Because being in front of a camera is always where I feel most comfortable, and doing rap music and doing hip hop music, it’s able to infuse all of that together. The poetry, the entertainment, and the music itself and just creating stuff, and I just think that’s really cool.
Earlier, you said that rapping was just like a party thing for you when you first started out. At what point in your rap career did you decide you wanted to do it professionally?
Ah, man, it was the first time I got paid…’cause the first time you do anything, there’s gonna be self-doubt. Am I good enough? Am I able to do this? There’s always that self-doubt that I think everyone holds with them. The first time that I got paid and it was doing something that I loved–which was hip hop music–I think that’s when I was like “Ok, this is what I wanna do.” It’s just cool, and then when it’s all said and done, you’re getting booked for shows. You get to travel to all these different places. And people are enjoying you. People are going up to you and saying “Wow, you’re an inspiration.” I wasn’t expecting that. I think that’s what it was. It was the first time that I got paid and it was for something that I loved to do. I was like “Ok, let’s do this. Let’s see what I can do. I’m all in.”
Looking at your rap career as a whole so far, how do you feel about where you are now and where you’re going in your career?
Well, I hope that I’m going in the right direction. It has been frustrating not being able to put out another project since Rushing Greatness, and the truth is that I have a ton of music. It’s just that…I guess I wanted to make sure that it was a big improvement over what I was doing. So it took me time to improve my craft. So, I didn’t just wanna put out songs. I wanted to make sure I was doing it right and learning the whole spectrum of everything. So, I hope in my career that I can keep making people proud of me and actually garner a chance. Not just as Ray, but as Tone Royal. And that’s what’s been pretty surreal, man. I feel like I’m doing that. Like when I was out in California, I did a show over there and when I was leaving on my flight back to Austin, I ran into–what is it, a TSA agent?–and he looked at my ID and he was like “I know you.” Just instinctively, I was like “You don’t know me.” [Laughs]. He was like “You’re Ray, right?” I was like “Yeah…?” He was like “Like Tone Royal Ray?” I was like “Yeah, dude.” He was just like “Oh my God, man, I love your music! I’m a big fan!” It was just surreal! It was one of the craziest moments in my life! For that to be in a whole different state and to be in California for the first time doing a show and all of a sudden, a TSA agent recognizes you and is excited to meet you? It was cool, man, so if I can keep improving and as long as I can keep getting paid to do what I love, which is hip hop music, I don’t care if it’s, you know, $40,000 a year. As long as I’m making music and that’s what I’m making a living off of, then I’ll be happy.
Is there anything you’d like to say, mention, or promote before we end this interview?
Yeah, if you wanna get ready for my upcoming EP, Late, I’d really appreciate it. It’s gonna be on Spotify, iTunes, pretty much all major stuff. And I hope that people don’t ever be afraid to try. Like, I know people say that all the time, but that’s when you’re at your most happiest. Don’t be afraid to try. I’ve failed plenty of times and I’ve grown from it. I hope everyone gets to do what they love. Check out my album [laughs].