Breath in Some O2 Today!

Interview with Tonéx
Foundational Nureau —Part One

With a justified reputation for being prolific, it’s hard to believe that Tonéx’s O2 project is the first set of new solo material from him since his Pronounced Toe-Nay project stunned underground heads in 1997 and jolted mainstream listeners upon the 2000 re-release by Verity / Jive / Tommy Boy Gospel / Rescue / MSS.

To bring us up to speed, we recently connected with Tonéx via cell phone. TonexEvidently he’s good at multi-tasking, since he dropped these words on us while busy Fedexing a parcel to LA from his San Diego base.

Topics covered range from his new project, his influences and his always fascinating upcoming endeavors. (See also the Insider Interview with Tonéx.)

Many people find it hard to see past Tonéx’s flashy exterior: the blindingly eccentric fashion, the variety of hairstyles, the diversity of his musical expression even. In doing so, they often fail to see the man’s ministry.

“The ministry I have is for the world. O2 is not really a Gospel record, because it's so much more than that. By ‘world’, I don’t just mean people who are not believers. I don’t mean ‘wordly’, I mean ‘everyone’.”

“I offer this album to people who are believers, and at the same time, there are songs on it to be played anywhere. I hope to God that people from outside the box hear it.”

“If you take a look at the album art, you’ll see that the imagery is pretty tame. I made a lot of concessions so we didn’t have distractions to take away from songwriting and artistry. I had to sacrifice a lot of who Tonéx is visually and musically in order to get where I’ve got to go. It’s a step forward to get the audience.”

“I need to reassure people that I’m not so far off the mark. At the Stellar after party in 2001, I was wearing a suit. That was on purpose.”

Tonéx at the 2001 Stellar Awards
Tonex Then the music hit, and hit hard. Up first was Tonéx and his crew. With conservatively styled fashions, he came out looking more like Anthony Williams II, but in keeping with his unspoken motto, he quickly flipped the script and gave us all that is Tonéx....

See full report.

Tonéx then went on to wax about O2, and in doing so, explained the difference that we’re seeing and hearing compared to Pronounced Toe-Nay. The airy balladry, the floating vocals, these are much more evident this time around, and sure enough, there’s an excellent reason.

“This album is no where near as dark as Pronounced Toe-Nay (PTN). Meaning that PTN was more of an exposé record, or the first extension in my life's diary. In this second chapter, I’ve experienced love in a way I have never felt before and that's why the album surrounds itself around that subject so much.”

PTN was more about me and my journey through the summer of 1997. O2 is about my journey since I fell in love with Yvette in December of 1999.”

“Although O2 is not a 'love album', love's influence on my life has been so heavy and predominant that it carried throughout my music this go around. A true artist bring to the table where they are THEN. The fans then grow WITH the artist.”

“My look has changed a great deal. I'll attribute that to the natural evolution of character that life brings, maturation through marriage and wanting the veil that covered Tonéx for so many years removed. (Ronald McDonald you know exactly what I mean, too!).”

“However, I will always have mystique of some sort. You still will NEVER fully know how I'll look or sound. I love to keep people guessing because it makes them want to come back for more in search of what I'll do next. Who knows? I believe the production on O2 is WAY better than PTN because I didn't have that much gear to work with the first time around.”

He certainly was better equipped this time around, but there's still that age-old situation that Gospel artists find themselves in. The fact of the matter is that due to marketshare and other issues, R&B artists and R&B labels frequently have access to much larger budgets with which to assemble their albums than their Gospel counterparts. The plus to that is those on the Gospel side are obliged to be more creative. Tonéx acknowledges as much.

CD Like a breath of fresh air, O2 delivers an ever-intriguing mixture of styles and influences, a blend of the peaceful and the hyper, and choice guest spots from Nureau Ink delegates....

See full album review.

See Insider Interview with Tonéx.

"To me it sounds like we had a $300,000 dollar budget for the record to work with, but we who were really behind the scenes know much better.”

“I plan to make up for that with this record. I promise you that thing, OK? There will definitely be some changes with how that goes next time around. I know what God is going to do with this album and He's gonna give me favor to make changes. In the name of Jesus it is so right now. I speak to that thing. And it's done unto me, now!”

“On O2, people will really be able to tell how much I've grown as a person and an artist/songwriter. I feel like to date, lyrically and musically, this is some of my best work.”

“And some of the best stuff to me didn't even make the record. But those songs will surface somewhere or another. I mean they always do, right fans?”

“I know for a fact that Faith Evans loves the album and she told me that ‘I did it again.’ Believe it or not, she's a huge fan of my work, which I find flattering. She told me this backstage by her trailer at the Soul Train Music Awards. I’m like ‘No, I'm supposed to be trippin off you!’. She is a VERY talented artist, so for her to say it’s hot, I know I must be on to something.”

No doubt, most would agree with that —Tonéx is most certainly on to something here. He calls his style Nureau (pronounced ‘new row’), and he defines that as more than a sound, delving into a kind of culture, a feel, a dialect, a creed even.

“Nureau, it’s not just futuristic kick-drums. For example, on 'Dancin’ in the Son', it’s like four worlds combine. I was sort of going with a Joni Mitchell / Janet Jackson / Q-Tip thing [as they do on the smash song 'Got Till It's Gone' from the Velvet Rope, with the familiar lyrics ‘You Don’t Know What You’ve Got Til It’s Gone’].

TonexOn the song, Syntax RecordsTim Trudeau (aka SirROCdomz) takes control of production, something until now unheard of with Tonéx.

“Yeah, with Tim being involved, it’s so not like me. People would never expect us to work together, especially people who know the whole Sackcloth Fashion thing that Tim has going on. I mean, he’s got some real underground stuff, and people are going to be going, ‘How can those two ever get together to do something’. But Gibraan brought me the foundational track, and when I heard it, I said, ‘Wait a minute, what’s this?’ And then Tim had a whole bunch of beats. I added acoustic guitar to give a country feel, and acoustic soul feel.”

And what about that question that artists tend to not like answering —the one asking which song on the project has a special meaning. But like usual for this artist, Tonex doesn’t mind jumping right in.

“It’s ‘You’. The song was on the origin version of the album, the one I first turned in, back in January 2001. The album you’re hearing now is the 13th version. ‘You’ is all about Yvette. The rest of the record came about from that one. I’m glad that the record is not solely Gospel, and that are love songs on there. But God is love.”

There’s another consistency to Tonéx’s work, and that centers around the name of Steve ‘The Chef” Russell. From the beginning, this engineer has been involved on nearly every one of his recordings. We asked Tonéx to describe the importance of Chef to his musical ministry.

Tonex“He’s like my Bruce Swedien [the legendary engineer who worked with Michael Jackson]. He’s the mastermind behind the authenticity of the mix on PTN. From that time on, I have not worked with any other engineer, and that’s about 600 to 700 songs. We have a very personal relationship even though we don’t really hang out. But we’ve spent so much time together in the studio. We don’t have to say anything to each other, we really don’t have to, which might be mind-boggling to someone who doesn’t know the totality of the relationship. Chef is talented, innovative and ingenious."

“He also worked P.O.D’s Satellite record, and I think that O2 will be the record that breaks him to the industry. But O2 is not the finality of where we’re at today even. In five years, Chef has never tripped on me, never had it out, he never stifles me and we never have creative differences.”

So is there anything that Tonéx finds difficult, on a musical tip? Oh yes there is.

“My greatest challenge is not to get frustrated when I hear beats that I did, like five years ago, just now arrive in the scene. And then because a producer has a bigger name than I, he’s the one who gets all the credit for it, like he originated it. That really bothers me.”

Tonex“I've learned not to share ideas anymore through that. Nope, no more Mr. Nice Guy.”

“The other challenge is to remain innovative despite the fact that some have found me to be too innovative. But I'm learning how to make things different and progressive and still remain accessible.”

That’s right, there is no surprise whatsoever that Tonéx is busy cooking up more Nureau delicacies in the oven. Fans often wonder —hope even —that there will one day be something along the lines of entire praise and worship project, or an all hip hop record from him. Good news.

“I have plans to do both. I wanted to do an all rap record, really letting T.Boy loose in the studio you know? I think that would be so hot! As far as a Praise and Worship CD I know the name of it already. It's just the timing of it, to be in sync with the Holy Ghost to know when to put that type of project out.”

“I know that the Lord wants me there. That's really what I am. Most of us funksters are worshippers to the core. All of us have to evolve, please allow that people, OK?”

“You know I find it absolutely amazing that the same consumers who now throng Fred Hammond couldn't get with him when he was spicy like me when we was with Commissioned.”

The Fred Hammond Connection
Commissioned Transformation Crusade Fred Hammond solo album Tonéx acknowledges influences and inspiration from groups and artists that splashed progressive stylings back in their day. These include current hitmaker Fred Hammond, Gospel's supergroup Commissioned, and early rap innovators Transformation Crusade.
“That's where I got all this ‘bad boy of Gospel’ stuff from, musically, in the first place. Commissioned was all I had to suit my needs, aside from P.I.D., Transformation Crusade, I.D.O.L. King, 12th Tribe and all them.”

“See everyone wants to call Tonéx ‘left field.’ Well, I learned all of that from Fred.”

“Just listen to what this ninja was getting away with, like on his first solo album I Am Persuaded.

Referencing how progressive Hammond's writing and production have always been and how the church sometime has a tendency to be suspicious of such innovation, Tonéx doesn't mince his words.

"That Negro should've been sent straight to hell for what he got away with on the Number 7 album. That's why I had a snippet of "Second Chance" on PTN's intro.”

“What they don't understand is that Fred had to evolve, but the worshipper was always in him. Just like me, on O2, album you get to see that what most people wrote me off for four or even five years ago was not the totality of me as an artist.”

“Each album people will find out something else they didn't know I could do, or think that I could do. So when I finally do the Praise and Worship album, it will be when God says.”

“It will be the most anointed piece ever. And once again people will say, ‘Oh I like him now.’”

“Well, folks, it's the same person!”

Tonéx had a whole lot more to say.

Check out Foundational Nureau —Part Two, where Tonéx spills Nureau Ink, the scoop on his Nureau delegates, his upcoming work with Shanice Wilson and some fascinating reflections on multiple other topics.

Coming real soon!

interview compiled by Stan North

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