In recent years, style has become an essential element of hip-hop, and it has gone in many directions – from pioneers like Andre 3000 to newcomers like The Cool Kids. Some artists try to emulate the likes of Kanye and Pharrell (stylistically and otherwise), and others create their own lane and make a name for themselves because of their uniqueness. One of those artists is DC-bred Tabi Bonney, who broke through a few years ago with his infectious single “The Pocket.” Now a few years removed from that single, he’s prepping his sophomore album, Dope Meets Fresh…Fresh Meets Superstar. He sat down with iHipHop to discuss bringing hip-hop to the White House, why he doesn’t follow trends and why Andre 3-Stacks is the ish.
Your fellow DC comrade Wale is consistent in exclaiming that DC fans hate on any progress that he’s making. Do you ever get the same feelings towards your success?Yeah, but I wouldn’t say overall. I don’t think he means DC fans period, either – probably other rappers in the area more so than the fans. I’ve gotten nothing but support, and even if there is a little hatred, it’s overwhelmed by the love.
I read that you have your own clothing line, Bonney Runway. So many rappers have clothing lines nowadays, what makes yours different?Well my line started way back when I was in college. I’ve always been into fashion, and I didn’t do it as a trend or a fad. My line is also more of a euro-chic. It’s not urban at all.
There’s a new wave of fashion-inspired artists, and it’s slowly becoming a much more accepted quality in hip-hop. Whose one artist who’s style you’re inspired by?Definitely Andre 3000.
Speaking of Andre, have you seen his new line, Benjamin Bixby?No, not yet. But I’ll definitely check that out.
Who’s one modern artist that inspires you musically? And they don’t have to be from hip-hop.Jay-Z. I’ve looked up to him since he came out, when I was in college. Lyrically, no one else could ever compare.
A lot of people are saying Jay is too old to rap and that he should hang up the mic. What do you think?But “American Gangster” was a beast! If anything, he’s been the most consistent rapper. And he inspires me especially more than just in the music art form, I look at the business too. He’s accomplishing things that haven’t been done in our genre. He’s showing us that you can take everything to another level.
You, Wale and other DC artists are known for infusing Go-Go into your music. But, is there really any popular demand for Go-Go on the radio?I think on the radio in DC it’s just Go-Go, period. But I don’t per say use Go-Go the same way Wale does. I don’t rap over Go-Go beats. But I think it’s still in popular demand – like back in the days of Salt N’ Pepa and Kid N’ Play – that’s all they used to rap over.
I was with a few friends when I first saw the video for “The Pocket,” and since then we’ve all thought of you as just a cool and stylish dude. What made that song just stick to people’s brains?I think it was the inflection in tones. I think that’s the science in hooks. Other than that, it’s completely different sound and just me.
I saw you perform live in New York at Wale’s mixtape release party, and you just did “The Pocket.” Are you getting sick of a lot of fans knowing you just for that song?No, because true fans know me for more. I’ve had a handful of other videos and the people that aren’t in-the-know know me just for that. Everybody will see me when the next album drops, everybody will see the difference.
How do you expect your album to do, and where do you see yourself by the same time next year?Definitely way bigger than what I am right now. Hitting up a couple of awards, digging deeper into the history of hip-hop. Right now, there’s no other artist doing what I’m doing – completely independently. I don’t have any backing from investors or a major deal, and yet I’m having runs on MTV Jams and MTV Africa. As far as my plans for the label, it’s going to be something like a modern-day Rocafella.
Do you classify yourself with the new era of backpackers – Lupe, The Cool Kids, Mickey Factz?Not at all. My music is completely different. My music is more like the popular kid [in high school] sitting at the popular table. Everybody can’t sit at that table. So my music puts people onto what they don’t know about yet. I don’t follow trends.
I know you went to FAMU in my home state, and you have a degree so you’re one of few formally educated artists that I’ve ever spoken with. With that being said, tell me how you feel about Barack and bringing Hip-Hop to the White House.I think it’s great. To me, it’s not even a comparison [between McCain and Obama]. His running mate doesn’t even matter – it’s going to be a landslide already. It’s a new time, and it’s a new day and age.
Since you’re based out of DC, would Barack winning the election affect you more directly?Yeah I think so. It’s a transient city so you see the difference with a new president or a different party. Certain people come and go from the city, and at this point I live down the street from capital hill.
Tell me a little about the artists on your record label, Organized Rhyme, and what listeners should expect from them in the near future.Pretty much…jet setting music for dreamers of leaders of tomorrow.
There was a moment when Kanye got on, and a lot of people began to find out about Kweli and Mos Def because they were featured on Kanye’s album. Do you feel that happened at all with you when Wale got on?Yeah, we bonded together. We know that you can’t do it on your own, and we wanted our city to come up just as Texas, New York and Atlanta did. Me, Wale and Raheem Devaughn are headlining DC right now.
In a few words, tell me about the new album.Dope meet fresh, fresh meet superstar. It’s not for everybody. It’s only for those cool people that get it – those trendsetters who don’t follow the beaten path.
Are you worried about coming off a bit pretentious, since you’re saying the music is only for some people?Um, I don’t think so. Just like everybody wont come to a 50 Cent show or a Celine Dion show – you cant please everybody. If I only cater to 1 percent of the world, that’s 65 million people, so that’s a lot of people that will get my message.
Some artists I’ve talked to smoke weed, go for a drive, or spend time with their kids to find inspiration? What’s one place you draw inspiration from?Women and traveling.
Hypothetical – You’re going to the Grammy’s next week. What do you wear?I wear a Bonney Runway hoodie, Maybe some up high-top Gucci shoes and mix that with some ill slacks.
Speaking of wearing things – do you have a stylist or are you genuine with the clothing picks.Its all me. I don’t need a stylist. I might probably need one when I get super busy though.
E-40 was the headliner for the Bay Area a few years back and used a lot of energy to try to make the Hyphy movement actually happen. Will the DC movement actually happen?It’s happening, man. You got Raheem on the forefront. You got Wale that just got signed at Interscope – he is making the biggest buzz on the underground. Then you got me whose not even signed and just imagine what it’ll be like when the album drops.