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T.O.N.E-z prepares for 'War'

Sunday night, (April 27, 2014) I had the pleasure of attending a listening session for T.O.N.E-z's new album, Fog of War, due to drop late May to early June. If you are unfamiliar with the multi-talented artist, allow me to introduce him to you. T.O.N.E-z is the first Emmy-nominated rapper, an honor he received along with Rench (Gangstagrass) for the theme song to "Justified" - "Long Hard Times To Come." Known for his eclectic mix of hip hop, bluegrass and alternative, the rapper's songs have been featured in a variety of television productions, including the hit Fox show "Bones" and the History Channel reality series trailer for "Appalachian Outlaws."

 Rapper T.O.N.E.-z prepares for the release of "Fog of War"
Photo by Kevin Winter

If you were unaware of his accomplishments and Hollywood connections, you would never guess by his laid back and down-to-earth demeanor. Obviously unfazed by the fast life or blinded by the success, T.O.N.E-z is all about the art. The lyricist eloquently expressed this sentiment on one of the tracks (one of my personal favorites) off his upcoming album. Seeking to hear straight from the people, T.O.N.E -z decided to go against the grain of a traditional listening party with industry insiders. He held a private and intimate invite-only gathering to get feedback and help decide on a possible next single. Based on what was presented during the listening session, T.O.N.E-z has a solid album with some potential hits on his hands. If the passionate, yet playful debate of his next single choice was any indication, T.O.N.E-z could possibly release the next pop culture dance and catch phrase in a few short weeks.

Fog of War offers a little something for everyone - and every mood - from upbeat party mode, to heartfelt and reflective.The lead single expresses the latter, as it pours out his heart concerning the loss of his daughter through a miscarriage. During our interview, I would come to learn that despite the pain of the song sounding recent, the incident happened ten years ago. Although years have passed, the topic is still a wound that is fresh, as the rapper says that particular track still gets to him every time he hears it. Check out our interview below...

What has the experience been like being a part of the hit TV show, "Justified"? Where you surprised by its success?

I first got that call that they wanted to use "On the Run" (a track done with Rench) for the trailer of season 1. It was, 'Oh we will just use this in the commercial.' Once they used it, now it was, 'Do you think you guys could turn out a theme song?' I'm like no problem. We did that and they took it in the same day. That's crazy. It didn't hit me until I was at the Emmy's in 2010. That's when it hit me. And I haven't been the same since..[laughs]. In every way you can think of, I haven't been the same. But it's all good. I was surprised, shocked, humbled, feeling blessing. I'm very appreciative. Everyone on the show is cool. There is no superstar, everyone is cool. It's more than fun than anything.

Season 5 just wrapped and Season 6 will be its final season. Are you sad to see it end?

Financially it's cool, because of syndication. You see "Fresh Prince" on every channel [joking]... but it does kind of hit the heart a little hard. But we will see. They say it's the last season but you never know. If it does go for another two or three seasons, I just hope its on FX. I don't want it to go to another network and they change the theme song [laughing]. I'm not happy about it and I'm not sad about it. To go for six seasons in anything is crazy. A lot of shows don't make it to two seasons. Everything is on Netflix and you end up saying, 'Remember that show?' I'm just glad "Justified" wasn't one of those shows. It will be bittersweet.

What made you decide to share something so personal as losing your daughter in "My Baby Girl"?

When that happened, you know as artists - real artists - we usually just go in with poetry or a journal or something. We write it down. Those lyrics are ten years old. That happened ten years ago. People think it happened last week. So it took a while. I did a few different versions but never really threw it out there. When I met Alicia [Witt] at the "Justified" Season 5 party, I didn't know she was a classical pianist; she plays all these instruments and she sings. We linked up and I said, 'Look I have the perfect song.' I went and listened to her on YouTube and stuff and said, man she has a unique voice. I sent her the track and of course, it got to her. And instantly she did it. The video was crazy too. I went out to LA to do it. As far as what gave me the strength, The Man Upstairs. When I was playing it tonight, it kind of got to me a little bit; its hard to listen to it.

What was your inspiration behind your latest project, Fog of War?

It's really going to bug everybody out, you're not going to even know who I'm talking about. There is a band over in the UK called Oasis. It's two brothers, Noel Gallagher and Liam Gallagher. The writer and producer of the group is Noel. They inspired me.

Do you have a favorite track from the album?

Probably "My Crown"

If you could work with anyone, who would be your dream collaborator?

Unfortunately he is not on this planet anymore. You know where i'm's Michael Jackson. The other one would have been Whitney [Houston] and man, all the greats are gone. As far as hip hop goes, it would be Nas and Jay [Z]. I know Jay, he just be fronting on a collab.

Can you tell me a little bit about your latest film project?

I did one scene in "Justified" Season 3, I had a line or two. And then in Season 4, they brought me back. I had a little more screen time, said a line or two. After that, I got bit with what the call "the bug." When you get people like Timothy Olyphant and Mykelti Williamson saying, 'Man you're a natural.' Then its like, I got to do this. It's a short film called "Clarity " by a guy named Sonny Dylan, he lives in Florida. I have small role in it. I can't really speak on anything because its one of those things if I say what I'm doing in it, it will kill the whole thing. It has fifty twists in it. I have another one that I really can't get too much into detail, but let's just say... I will say a name. Martin Scorsese, that's all I can say. That will probably be the beginning of next year.

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