DXnext: Thee Tom Hardy
9th Wonder's latest pupil talks about earning his mentor's support, going 1-on-1 with Skyzoo, cracking the game through poetry slams, and patience before the album.
The fateful encounter between Thee Tom Hardy and 9th Wonder meeting is a perfect blend of opportunity mixed with unyielding tenacity. Skipping math class at Durham Technical Community College to attend a course taught by 9th Wonder just down the road at North Carolina Central University, then-18-year-old Thomas Hardison introduced himself by offering to rhyme for the veteran producer. Less than three years later, Hardy finds his talents front and center as one of It’s A Wonderful World Music Group/The Academy’s leading faces thanks to his ongoing Hardy Boy Mixtape Mystery series and a plethora of notable freestyles.
Speaking with DXnext, Thee Tom Hardy discussed his growth as an artist over the years, his new mixtape Secret of Thee Green Magic and the first two records he ever played for 9th Wonder. Go ahead and make some room on your iPod; you’re gonna need it for what Thee Tom Hardy has in store.
Rap Influences: “Around the time Stankonia came out by Outkast, I think ‘Bombs Over Baghdad’ was the first single and the second single was ‘Ms. Jackson.’ Once I heard both of those I was hooked. I was in middle school when I got that album, and then I went back and got Aquemini and ATLiens, then Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik. Once I had played those songs so many times, I started looking for albums by the featured artists on their songs. And that’s how I got into Goodie Mob, Backbone, Witchdoctor, Cool Breeze, people like that. Outkast is one of the exceptions to the rule; they’re one of the few groups that make timeless music that get a lot of burn on the radio when they put out stuff.”
Finding His Voice: “Every once and a while I would write something serious, relating to life and whatever struggles a fifteen or sixteen-year-old kid is going through that you might think at that age is the biggest thing in the world. And then you hit adulthood and you’re like, ‘Wow why was I tripping over that?’”
“My very first slam poetry contest that I entered, well I only entered one, but the one time I did, I was the only poet that did anything silly at all. The whole poem I did that night was like punch lines. I think I had a line about dropping a pack of Duracell’s on the ground and its assault on batteries. Just like absurd punchlines. That’s one that I remember that I said. But I don’t think my material was that far off from what I do now, it was just a lot worse [laughs]…I think slam poetry and Hip Hop have a connection. But I feel like slam poetry, to me, seems kind of pretentious. I don’t love the people that go onstage and act all righteous or holier than thou, but the people in the crowd that night really received my poem well. I got second place, and it was based on the people that were judging and the crowd. I got a great crowd reaction, and that’s what actually really made me want to be a performer. After that event I never did any more slam poetry, I just started writing to beats I would find online.”
Keeping Friends Close: “Thee Band Geeks is myself and four of my best friends, like the four main people I actually hang out with outside of music. Basically we all met between elementary and middle school and in high school we all took marching band together. Around our senior year we started making beats on fruity loops, and we would play live instruments and chop them into a vocal microphone and then kind of sample it. It was cool and we still do that a lot. They actually did two beats on my mixtape Curse of Thee Green Faceded and they have four beats on my new mixtape Secret of Thee Green Magic. They’re definitely a huge influence on me. It’s cool to work with them because I’m friends with them outside of music so we don’t have to book studio time and say, ‘Hey, lets knock out three hours of music.’ We just get up and chill and whenever we feel like making a song we do.”
Two Records, One 9th Wonder: “The first [song] was called ‘So Real.’ It wasn’t about being real; it was a sample-based song that said ‘I’m for real’ and the verses were just typical Tom Hardy punchlines. That’s the one that he liked. The other one, I don’t remember the title, and ‘So Real’ probably wasn’t the title for the first song, but the second one was about not liking mainstream Hip Hop and I feel like I went through a phase where everything on the radio was whack and every underground song was dope. I think a lot of Hip Hop heads go through that [phase] at some point. Some people stay like that, but then you start to realize that stuff is on the radio for a reason. Like, some shit on the radio is really hot, and not every song with a loud ass snare and a crazy chopped sample is tight. And [9th Wonder] told me that when I played the song for him. That started to be my new direction, where now I just look at music if it’s hot or not, I don’t put labels on it. Like 9th gets labeled as backpack all the time, but 9th just likes what’s hot. And that’s something that’s cool about him.”
Gaining 9th Wonder’s Confidence: “I knew [9th Wonder] for probably a year and a half before he started thinking I was good enough to work with him on a regular basis. After I first met him and introduced myself to rap for him, he would let me come to the studio as much as I wanted. But as far as doing songs and giving me beats, that didn’t start for another year. So I had a lot of improvements to do as far as my delivery, my voice, pretty much become a better emcee. And the way that I did that was by watching him and watching his artists at the time and how they went about business.”
“He signed me [in] January of 2009, so that’s when we started working. From there, I haven’t been nervous with the partnership because people really like the music me and 9th make together. But being able to work with 9th is crazy because he is so talented and so well-respected. So to be able to tell someone that you’re 9th Wonder’s artist is a big deal, like they automatically look at you differently than they did before you told them.”
Building A Signature Sound: “[9th’s] got a group of producers called The Soul Council, and their names are Fatin, Kash, Amp, E. Jones and Khrysis. One of them is always in the studio; there’s no shortage of beats around Bright Lady Studios. 9th has taken a very active role as far as branding our label and obviously a very active role in the music, but unlike a lot of the Justus League releases where him and Khrysis did all the beats on related albums, he is taking a little bit of a backseat as far as making the beats. Like he only did four of the 17 beats on [Big] Remo’s new album Entrapment. But he’s still here in influence. He’s still giving advice on every single song. Being as in-demand as he is and traveling a lot, he doesn’t do all the beats for all of his artists. But what he does is shapes the sound of everybody even if he is not directly involved.”
Discovering Personal Growth In Music: “I understand that as an artist, you don’t want to make every song just a big joke. For me being the age that I am and what I go through in life is really like punchlines, metaphors, just goofy shit. But, every once in a while in a different situation or the way a beat sounds, whatever vibes I’m feeling at the time will make me want to write something that’s a little bit deeper, something that’s going to challenge me as a person and make me write something a lot more meaningful. And I did that with ‘Afterschool Special’ and I have a song with CunninLynguists called ‘Around I Go’ and that song is on Secret of Thee Green Magic. That song is about dealing with clinical depression. There’s another song on there called ‘Off The Radar,’ produced by Eric G, and that one is about anybody leaving town, whether on the road or a business trip and leaving their girl behind and just wondering if she’s gonna be there when you get back. So I’ve started to do a lot more serious stuff. What I’m known for so far is just goofy punchlines and absurdist jokes, and I like that, but I don’t want to be pigeon-holed. So the more I experience the more I’ll be able to write about actual real life shit.”
On Secret of Thee Green Magic: “The biggest difference between the two mixtapes is there’s a lot more variation on Secret of Thee Green Magic. 9th Wonder had less input as far as the number of beats that he made on it. He made 14 out of 18 on the first mixtape; he only made four out of 17 on this one. And that was a conscious decision that we all made, that I don’t need to be so reliant on his beats, I need to be reliant on myself. It’s like I just need to get the hottest beats I can get regardless if its 9th’s name or it’s a no-name [producer]. So that’s what we did, and I think it turned out for the best because I have a lot of different sounds and my voice being the way it is, I have a lot of different deliveries and flows that I try out. It showcases my talents better to have different types of beats to rap to. Curse of Thee Green Faceded was my baby and I love it and to me it’s a personal classic, but Secret of Thee Green Magic is like ten times better.”
Going 1-On-1 With Skyzoo In “A Different League”: “[Laughs] First of all, I’m terrible at basketball. I looked like I could not play in that video, and that was the point. I was gonna be the worst basketball player in the world and he was gonna completely dominant me on the court. Until we got to the third verse; at the third verse is where I really turn it on. I’m not really much of an athlete. I love sports, I’m just not athletically inclined. [Skyzoo] could easily beat me in a pick-up game but I was playing a role in that video.”
Diary Of A White Rapper: “Being a white rapper is a gift and a curse because one, people are always gonna assume that you suck until they hear you rap. So once they hear you rap and you’re actually pretty good, it’s like you’re amazing to them, ‘cause most white kids that try to rap are garbage. So that’s one thing. But another thing, you just get put into a whole different category. You don’t get counted as an emcee, you get counted as a white rapper. So what I’m trying to do is just be included into any rapper encyclopedia and not just the white rapper encyclopedia. It’s not something that I really trip over because it’s just something that comes with the territory. Like it’s nothing I’m trying to hide, and I’m not ashamed to be a white rapper. It’s just like, that’s what I am, but what 9th has said before is that I’m an emcee first and a white boy second. I think that’s definitely the right thing to say.”
Next Collaborative Project: “With me and [producer] Eric G, he’s always sending me beats and I’m always doing songs with him. He did two beats on Secret of Thee Green Magic; “Off The Radar” and “One 4 The Money” with Donnis. And those were two of the standouts, we did videos for those. Me and Eric G, we have chemistry, I just sound good over his beats. So we’re working on an EP slowly but surely. It’ll be out before long. He’s also doing an EP with another artist on 9th’s label named GQ from Jamla [Records]. I think they’re gonna put that out before the end of the year, but me and Eric’s EP will probably be out by next year.”
Debut Album?: “I’m not thinking that far ahead. I do want to make a concise album. I’ve always viewed my first album as having 13 tracks; 13 is my favorite number. That’s one thing that I know. I don’t have a title, I don’t know how I want it to sound. Really I’m just working on mixtapes and EP’s that are album-caliber without calling them an album because I feel like every great rapper’s first album was great. You want your first album to be like your best work, your magnum opus or whatever. And just have that shit just sounding perfect.”