For almost a decade the Hip Hop scene coming from New York City was somewhat dormant. Even though the Big Apple is the birthplace of the culture, local artists weren’t able to make a major statement beyond the five boroughs.
Fast forward to present-day and rappers from the “City That Never Sleeps” have NYC wide awake once again. In particular, the Borough of Brooklyn has seen a real cultural revival as rising musicians, visual artists, and filmmakers from the Hip Hop generation continue to push artistic boundaries. One young artist that is proudly repping for his hometown through his sharp, heartfelt music is Brooklyn’s TonyEmcee.
You may say that TonyEmcee (born Anthony Stephenson) has royalty in his blood. The 26-year-old lyricist was born in Kingston, Jamaica and raised in Kings County, New York. As a member of the Always Proper Individuals (API), Tony has joined forces with other artistic minded New Yorkers looking to share their gifts with the world.
With already having his TheTonyAwards mixtape available for download and his single “Up Early” being featuring on HipHopDX, the Brownsville resident is preparing to release his next project, Tony’s Pizza (Mind). DZI: The Voice got the chance to go deeper into that mind in our exclusive Q&A with TonyEmcee.
Yohance Kyles: When did you discover your voice as an artist?
TonyEmcee: December 13,2006… Well, rather that’s when I discovered my talent for rap, but truthfully I’m still searching for my “best” voice as an artist. Some would say I’ve found it already, but I feel otherwise so far.
YK: Has your Jamaican background influenced you musically?
TE: Absolutely. I listen to tons of reggae and if you’re familiar with reggae artists they tend to play with the flow in very unique ways. I do the same minus the accent though.
YK: You’ve recorded music all across the country. Does the location of where you’re recording impact the music you make?
TE: Yes and no. I will admit different cities give me a different feel when making music, but the focus should never change depending on where you at. My mind state stays the same.
YK: Brooklyn now has a striving Hip Hop community. How do you see yourself standing out from other rising rappers from BK?
TE: First off, I definitely agree with you. Brooklyn is really looking up lately with Pro Era, Flatbush Zombies, The UnderAchievers, etc. But the best way of me standing out from all those dudes is just being TonyEmcee and giving y’all my unique brand of Brooklyn Hip Hop with my own style, flow, sound, and all that dope shit ya use to.
I look at it like Brooklyn is the “Rap Sparta,” and I’m just next in line.
YK: On your track “Go Brooklyn” off TheTonyAwards mixtape you shout out several famous emcees from the Borough. Do you think that Brooklyn’s long history in Hip Hop has made it easier or harder to breakout as an artist from there?
TE: Well, it’s definitely a bit intimidating when you look at the list of great emcees that hail from Brooklyn, but honestly, to me I think it’s an advantage. I look at it like Brooklyn is the “Rap Sparta,” and I’m just next in line. But of course I gotta prove myself in battle so to speak.
YK: “Pray For Us (Like Son)” has a line where you say your mission is to “bring that real shit back”. Does that mean you’re not feeling the current state of Hip Hop?
TE: I’m not overly mad at the current state of Hip Hop. There’s a lot of talented young dudes making money, but as far as the music is concerned, I feel it lacks a proper balance in content and that comes from lack originality on certain artist’s part. I’m just trying to bring back that feeling when you felt you could really connect with every word coming from ya favorite artist because it was real.
YK: Are there any “new school” rappers that you think are properly representing Hip Hop in your opinion?
TE: Yeah, of course. All my Brooklyn neighbors I mentioned before, along with some uptown cats like ASAP Rocky, Smoke Dza, and YC The Cynic. Of course the whole TDE camp, Blu, Freddie Gibbs, Dom Kennedy, Odd Future, Danny Brown, Childish [Gambino]. All those dudes are following the first rule of Hip Hop… “be yourself”.
YK: You also have a song called “Ken N’ Ryu” on TheTonyAwards. Are you a big gamer?
TE: No, not at all actually. I don’t even own a system. The concept of that track came about with me relating rap to karate, and me and my homie, Spit, being the Ken and Ryu of the shit. I’m way too busy for games these days, but ironically enough I do play a lot Subway Surfers on the train to and from.
YK: You’re preparing your new project Tony’s Pizza (Mind). What’s the concept behind the title and what themes will you be exploring on that project?
TE: Well, Tony’s Pizza (Mind) is basically an introduction to me, TonyEmcee, by doing just that- giving you a piece of my mind. My mind just so happens to be very random. So one track you will hear a carefree song about my casual marijuana use, then some conscience heartfelt rhymes about some shit I seen go down in my hood, or something that happened to me with a girl. Or you might just hear me turn up or just go in. But the one constant will be the level of quality I hope to bring with this next stage of evolution as an artist.
YK: Do you have an idea when Tony’s Pizza (Mind) will be dropping?
TE: I’m really looking forward to dropping Tony’s Pizza, but I also want to do it the right way where it’s properly received. So I plan on putting in as much work as need be till I’m content with the final project. But hopefully midsummer it should be out along with a few visuals, and maybe a street mixtape for my freestyle lovers.
YK: What was the inspiration for the video for the first single “Up Early”?
TE: Well, honestly I got the inspiration from the title. The beat just sounded like the start of something more specifically the start of a day… my day. So I figured I’d just show you how I start one of my random days from hanging out the night before and having a session in the am, and all through my homies eyes at that. Just to add another dimension to the video. I felt the video came out cool, but I have a bunch more ideas, and I can’t wait to see them come to fruition like it did with that short introductory video.
YK: Can you just speak on the Always Proper Individuals collective?
TE: Well, Always Proper Individuals is the brain child of my good friend and business collaborator @SPJoe. He basically got together a bunch of like minded people from different fields like fashion, producing, videography, singing, rapping, and art who just want to make their own mark on the world. The movement is still growing so look out for a whole lot coming from The API Group.
I spend a lot of my free time consuming art in almost every form.
YK: Besides making music, what other activities do you enjoy doing?
TE: Honestly, I spend a lot of my free time consuming art in almost every form. I’m constantly reading great books. I have to listen to new music and classic music on a daily basis. I’m a huge movie buff, so you can always catch me watching some indie movie in the city on my off days. I don’t get out to Broadway as much as I would like, but I definitely have to see “Book Of Mormon” somehow this summer. I very much enjoy live shows as an artist myself but more so as a fan.
YK: What’s next for TonyEmcee?
TE: World Domination. But seriously, I just plan on taking the right steps in my career because I honestly feel the sky is the limit, and if I make the best music positively and good moves in between, I should go as far as I want to go.
For more info about TonyEmcee click it
To connect with TonyEmcee follow him @TonyEmcee
Stream/Download TheTonyAwards mixtape and check out the video for “Up Early”: