Tone Chop and Frost Gamble are a force to be reckoned with. Having dropped rap battles in the streets of New York since 1989, this synchronised duo have been in full force throughout the evolution of hip hop from day one. With Chop based in New York and Frost in Winnipeg, the two have an undeniable chemistry that no amount of land mass can come between. Always on the grind, these lads pay homage to the Golden Era of hip hop in their latest EP Veteran. The smooth samples and cut-throat rhymes uphold the passion they have for the true craft of hip hop.
We chat to Tone Chop and Frost Gamble about they're thoughts on hip hop today, the process of putting their latest EP Veteran together, and what we can expect from their upcoming album in 2017. Ayla Dhyani writes.
So first up, tell us how the two of you first hooked up. I hear you used to do rap battles in New York in the early '90s.
Chop: Yeah, it wasn't like we were rivals. It was basically just friendly competition. Then we decided to team up. Frost decided that he didn't want to rap anymore and just wanted to make beats. We were in his basement making 4-track recordings and that's where we started. We've been making music since then and constantly getting better. The rap battles weren't too heavy, though. It was just friendly competition and a way to get music out there.
Frost: Yeah, I think Chop really captures it. 'Brag-rap' was just expected. Everybody talked about themselves. So if you wrote rhymes, you'd talk about how great you were. But like Chop said, I recognised that I was better suited to making beats than rhyming. I know it was a good move. I listen to Chop today and I enjoy it just as much as I did back then.
Well that's great that you both found your path and stayed in sync with similar aspirations and inspirations.
Chop: Exactly. We grew up liking the same type of artists anyway. We're from the same era, so the music that we grew up on and the music that guys today grew up on is a lot different. We like to make music that we like to listen to. That's why we work so well together. We like the same sound. That's the best thing about being independent, because we make music that we like.
Having witness the evolution of hip hop throughout the years, what are your thoughts on the genre in today's climate?
Chop: I mean, I salute everybody doing what they're doing, but I don't really listen to a lot of it to be honest with you. I'm usually a little bit more vocal about it, but I'm trying to be easy (laughs). I think it's trash to be honest with you. It has to have substance, and I find a lot of the stuff on the radio today doesn't have a lot of substance. There are a lot of people rapping out here, and I feel that it's all the same. They're all just doing what everybody else is doing, and it's not anything different. I mean, I don't follow suit and neither does Frost. The only suit we follow is our own. I do like a few new artists, but not too many.
You both pursued solo careers from the '90s onwards, tell us a bit about that journey for each of you.
Chop: For myself, I was just making mixtapes for a long time. But we were always working together throughout that time as well. There would always be a few of his beats on each of my mixtapes. I always liked to keep him included in what I was doing. I like writing over other peoples' beats and freestyles. A couple of times we were close to making an album, but it just didn't pan out. It's better that it happened now anyway. I don't have any more obstacles that are stopping it from happening anymore. A couple of times it felt like we were getting close to where we're at right now, but a few obstacles got in my way, which I won't go into now.
Frost: Yeah definitely. In my opinion he was definitely getting close to where we are now. It's satisfying for me, because he needs to be heard by people. Talent and hard work and perseverance is supposed to pay off and I think he's got all that. So it's great that he's at this point now.
Chop: In my opinion, I'm one of the best. I had people telling me since I was a young kid that I was one of the best. And I still feel that way.
Frost: And that, to me, is what's missing. I don't understand emcees that have a different attitude. That's the difficult thing for me. I can appreciate that the music changes, the style changes, the fashion changes, but to see yourself as an emcee in the tradition of hip hop, you need to take pride in what you're doing. I think that's changed and it's difficult for me to get my head around.
Your latest EP, Veteran, pays homage to the Golden Era of hip hop in a very real way. Tell us about the process of putting it together.
Frost: It's pretty easy. I mean, we're working from different areas of the world, but he can tell me what kind of beats his looking for and I understand what he's saying. We put things together pretty quickly. We did it all over e-mail. He recorded vocals in his home studio, and I did mixing in my own home studio, and that's what you hear on the EP. That's exactly what we did.
Chop: Frost did the same on the last mixtape I did as well. He did every track on that. The same way we did this. I sent him vocals to all my tracks on the last mixtape. That's how we do it. We already got about six joints already on this upcoming project, and this one is going to be far better in my opinion. This last project we did was about getting noticed and getting the right exposure, so now that we are, we're just putting some more fuel to what we're doing. All it really does is make the fire burn a little brighter.
You have an album coming up in 2017, what can listeners expect from that?
Frost: It depends. So far we've been knocking off tracks that are pretty consistent with what we've been doing. Stuff that comes naturally. We'll find a nice sample to chop up to vocals and he can just easily jump in and in a day or two knock out a couple of bars. It just flows naturally. But we've also got to think about the question you raised, which is that we don't know exactly what the album is going to be. We've been doing this a long time, but this is still very new to us. We're not used to doing all kinds of interviews and enjoying people checking out the music until really recently. So I don't know. We're going to stay true to what we believe in. We're going to continue making tracks that we've always made, but how and when is still a big question. And we're grateful for that.
Chop: We're knocking easy ones out first. We've knocked out some nice ones already. It's the same type of formula, but it's going to be better and more well-crafted. I feel that a lot of people don't put their heart and soul into what they're doing, and both of us do. I know people who have been doing it not even half as long as we have, and their heart and soul isn't in it anymore.
What's your favourite track on the EP?
Frost: I've gone back and forth on this. I know it's cliche to say, but I truly love every track on the album. But I think it's got to be 'Step Up'. The base-line on that track is sampled from one of our basement parties from back in '96. Chop was freestyling so hard and we recorded it and sampled it. To hear him rapping over that in the video from the single is definitely my favourite.
Chop: For me, 'One Two' is one of my favourites for sure. There's something about that track. I go back and forth with a lot of the tracks, but I've been playing that a lot lately.
You've both been in the game since 1989. What has been a pinnacle moment for you in your career so far?
Frost: That's a tough one. One of my favourite memories was seeing Psycho Les' head bob to my track. I'm a huge fan of The Beatnuts. They were just so fearless in what they sampled and what they created. And to see Psycho Les losing it in the crowd at this show I did with an artist here in Winnipeg was pretty great.
What moves you?
Frost: We're both pretty passionate people, so I'm up all the time. I'm always thinking about what next moves we're supposed to make, all the problems that could come up that we've got to get in front of. I'm very focussed on what we're doing. But in terms of what inspires me, just making music. When I send a beat to Chop and he responds with new rhymes on that beat, that just gets me going and keeps me moving at all costs.
Chop: For me, my main motivation is my kids. That's my number one motivation. On top of that, Frost has always been on fire too. With the last bunch of beats he sent me, I killed them all. One after the other, everything is on point. He inspires me. But there are rappers who inspire me as well. There are a few dudes who I can listen to, and they make me want to keep going and be better.