There are a handful of Toronto artists that I thoroughly look forward to and enjoy hearing on a damn-near everyday basis. Clairmont The Second, Just John, Sean Leon, Tre Mission, and Tona are among those whom I anticipate music from at any given moment. All of their styles are different in delivery and production. The beauty that I’ve wanted to hear more from Toronto, is that diverse range of sounds that would highlight the talented amongst a crowd of copies, and personally, that’s where I feel the state of Toronto Rap is at, and you get more evidence of artists trying to emulate a style that’s already been cemented by our neighbours to the South; that’s pretty much the only thing that a majority of 18-24 year olds are interested in hearing. I went to an artist showcase recently, and of the 2 hours that I was there, about 9 acts performed, and only 2 of them weren’t influenced by Trap whatsoever. It’s overwhelming, the oversaturation of it all, and there has to be something different that the overall crowd wants. Thankfully, Tona released a new album that takes a stab at a different approach, sonically.
I wasn’t sure if the title of the album was a nod to the critically acclaimed Netflix series, or a metaphor for being Black and looking in the mirror to see a reflection of self or a reflection of his people, but I’ll leave that up to interpretation by the audience – that was just my best guess. Tona’s skill as a rapper has been evidenced in his work for quite some time, and the evidence is apparent in all of his works, whether it was his solo efforts like Direct Deposit, Reform School, and Carpe Diem, or when he collaborated with Adam Bomb & Rich Kidd as Naturally Born Strangers. There’s proof in the product, and with this new album, not only are those skills re-established, but also they’re presented in a more experimental fashion.
One thing about the show, Black Mirror, that makes it so unique is every episode stands on its own from season to season. There are some elements that connect the show together as a whole, but you can watch an episode from Season 2 and Season 4 consecutively, and you won’t feel like you’ve missed everything. When it comes to Tona’s album, there’s that comparison in terms of the songs not having a necessary connection to each other to make the album fit together cohesively, although there is still the overall theme of celebrating the highs & lows of the Black experience.
When the album starts with Appleton Estate, the production is busy, the drums are heavy, the vocals are drowned out by periods of static – it’s chaotic really, and I wonder if that was done on purpose, because there aren’t any hints of that going forward in the album. War Child & Gold are likely the most upbeat songs you’ll hear from Tona, and I’m glad that there’s an element of fun in there. A lot of rappers don’t tend to incorporate that kind of vibe, but even in spurts, it’s a nice breakaway (see Just John’s Noise for another example). Lisa McDowell is a standout for me, because how it comes right off of the Interlude was a rude transition, and showing love to the women is a good thing all the time, and it was the first thing I thought of when I watched Coming to America recently. Can you say ‘infectious?’
It’s funny how if you are a ‘boom bap rapper,’ you get dismissed as dated and stuck in an era while not progressing with modern sounds, because if this was an album that sounded like a standard Trap album, there would have been a lot lost on it. Rapping is a skill that should never come secondary to production, and that’s what’s been the trend these days. Too many times, you hear that the lyrics are wack but the beat is hot. Where’s the balance? Why not both? It was refreshing to hear a body of work that gave me little to no autotune and a showing of skills that put together something pleasant to the ears.
From a visual standpoint, he released a video for Notice and it’s funny how Black Mirror (the show) comes back into full frame because of the imagery of America’s President & Kim Jong-Un fighting over control of a detonator, as if we’re slowly anticipating the explosion of human implosion. I know the saying goes that art imitates life, but life inspires art, and the shit that’s been going on in real life, the art has been necessary. Depending how you view the way of the world, you’re either scared of these times, or just waiting it through until things get better. Either way, there’s a greater sense of awareness, which allows images like the example shared by Tona in this video, to be appreciated.
Be sure to check out both the album and the video, and continue to support Toronto Hip Hop across the spectrum. Not everything that’s popular or curated is designated as good. Do your homework. But for now, this is my opinion, this is my review,
That’s My Word & It STiXX