tabi Bonney Talks Making An Album With Ski Beatz, Signing With Dame Dash
Exclusive: The D.C. vet explains how he chomped at the bit to do business with BluRoc, work with Ski and tour with Murs. tabi's just-released "The Summer Years" even features a link to his father.
DXnext alum tabi Bonney's sound has always shown a knack for trying new things musically, and The Summer Years is no different. What's remarkable is that Ski Beatz is responsible for every beat on the album. Ski's wide-ranging ability almost becomes the highlight of the project given that The Summer Years samples tabi's father (Afro-Funk legend Itadi Bonney on opener “On Jupiter), features more of Ski's signature rock-inspired beats (“Winners Parade” and “Beautiful Lover”) and even includes a few tracks with a prominent dubstep influence (“Hello & Goodnight” and “Top Notch”). As such, The Summer Years seems like an album that tabi and Ski Beatz created to prove that they can't be boxed into one particular sound or style.
It's true that summer may be gone for another year, but tabi is hoping that his latest will keep those easy-going vibes going well into fall. The Summer Years attempts to be the soundtrack to keep those joyous and carefree moments alive even as we inch closer toward Halloween, Thanksgiving and Christmas.
tabi spoke with HipHopDX from Washington D.C. last week as he was prepping to go on tour with Murs. During the conversation, he spoke on getting involved with Dame Dash and BluRoc and weighed in on whether or not we should expect more of a Dubstep influence in Hip Hop's near future. Lastly, he helped to clarify a piece of D.C. slang for the rest of the nation.
tabi Bonney Explains His Album, The Summer Years
HipHopDX: Why The Summer Years? Is that a nod to the sound of the album itself? I've it and it sounds like you're really trying to keep that summer vibe alive.
tabi Bonney: Yeah. I'm a summer baby myself. I just equate it to when everyone always looks forward to the summer. As far as me and other people I know, we equate that to the best times of [our] lives. You can't wait for the summer. The women [are] looking good. They're in the bikinis. You're on the beach or traveling. That's why I called it The Summer Years – it just reminded me of good times where hopefully the good times never end.
DX: What was your father, Itadi Bonney's, reaction to “On Jupiter,” which features a sample from one of his songs? Was he happy with how Ski Beatz decided to chop it up?
tabi Bonney: My father thought it was cool. Really, most of the music is from my father, which he made – what was that, like late '70s? Early '80s maybe? Ski [Beatz] didn't do too much to it but loop it up and add a drum kit, but my father just was tickled by hearing it be more of a Hip Hop track and me [rapping] on it, so he was excited about it. I always wanted to [sample his music]. My father has so much great music, that's hopefully the first of many [tracks].
DX: Considering how the track ended up, have you talked to Ski or your father about possibly sampling more of his music or maybe making an entire project of it?
tabi Bonney: Yeah, I'm thinking about it. We just haven't sat down and talked about it, but it's definitely something that I think will happen at some point.
tabi Bonney Explains Getting Down With Dame Dash & BluRoc
DX: How did the BluRoc connection first come about?
tabi Bonney: Someone hit me on Facebook. I think it was when Dame [Dash] had just put everything together. He had brought in a handful of producers and it was more of a creative collective and people just working out of there. So this cat, one of the producers, one of the earlier producers that was there, hit me on Facebook and was like “Hey, I've been a long time fan of yours. I let Dame hear some of your music. He's a fan now and he just wanted to meet you in person and wanted to know when you could come up here.” So I immediately replied, like “Man, I can get there tonight,” you know? [Laughs] And he was like “Okay, cool. Dame said just come up here tomorrow.” So I literally just hopped on the road and drove up to New York, [and] met Dame in person for the first time.
I had known of Ski and met [him] a couple of other times because he had worked with a really good friend of mine, so as soon as Dame saw that me and Ski already knew each other, he was like “Oh wow, you already know each other?” Ski was like “Yeah, tabi's my homie.” And then he was like “Get to work. Create something. Let's do music.” That was simply it.
DX: How did the album come together? Did it start off as a few tracks and became an album or did you and Ski know you wanted to craft a whole album from the start?
tabi Bonney: No, we went in saying “Let's do a collaborative type of project.” At first, it was just one, two, three songs that we were doing, then it [turned into] “Hey, let's do a full album together.” But that was always Dame's intent, just to do a full album. Me and Ski really weren't sure and didn't know, but that was Dame's intent.
DX: One of my favorite tracks from The Summer Years is the closer, “Chasing.” It's a great, honest way to end the album, and unlike a lot of tracks that you hear talking about the come-up, you really flip the concept on that first verse and speak on the difficulties of trying to hold onto the vision of being an artist when it may not be paying off. Do you consider that to be the personal centerpiece of the album?
tabi Bonney: Yeah. That was really an honest piece with me letting my guard down, reflecting on the hard times and really just, you know, just thinking of other artists / superstars that I've run into in person and stuff like that. That's definitely one of the most honest ones.
DX: Is there any other track on The Summer Years that you'd consider to be the centerpiece that really dictated where the album went or defined what you felt the album to be about?
tabi Bonney: To me, I've felt like almost every track is just what I'm going through, [like] “Parachute” – that's completely a true story for me. I broke up with a long-time girlfriend during the making of this album and got with another girl. Almost every track, man. It's hard to say. You know, we all have different days in which we feel different things and there's multiple layers of things that's going on in our lives, so I feel each track is a layer of me.
DX: Speaking of “Parachute,” I was pretty surprised when I came across a mention of the track in Spin magazine. Did you get a positive response from areas that you wouldn't otherwise reach given the mention?
tabi Bonney: Yeah. I mean not everybody. People like my friend Cisco Adler, who hit me and up and was like “Man, I see your thing in Spin. Good stuff.” It's just funny seeing the different pockets of people that things like that hit, you know? I'm real interested to see how the response will be because the video drops the day my album drops on all MTV channels. It hits MTV2, MTV Jams, MTV U, and MTV proper is also gonna be running a promo for it. To me, I feel like this is one of my best videos that I've been able to shoot too, so I'd love to see what the response is knowing that it is indeed a true story.
DX: You direct or co-direct most of your videos and have directed videos for other artists as well. Having your hands in both performing and directing, does that dual mindset give you a firmer grasp on where you want to head with a project musically or even visually?
tabi Bonney: Most definitely. Even as I'm writing, I can't help but think visually. I don't even think in words really. It's just more the setting. My writing is a little different. I'm not one of those artists that tries to, like, kill the track. I just really try to set up the ambiance, the mood – an actual setting. That's how my tracks come about, so I'm always thinking visually, imagining and seeing everything happen as I'm writing, so it almost forms itself. By the time I'm finished writing, I already see the video.
DX: Does the final product usually hold pretty firm to what you first envision when you're writing?
tabi Bonney: Yes and no, because sometimes you want to bend the boundaries or extend or challenge yourself to come up with something that wouldn't be expected. Oftentimes, when it comes down to the video, depending on the resources that you have, you try to either figure out if you're gonna do [it] the way that you actually envisioned it or [if] you are gonna take it to another world.
DX: You said earlier that when you're writing, you're not trying to kill it because you're more concerned with setting up the ambiance. The Washington Post basically said the same thing recently, going on to say “Bonney has an knack for finding the feel of a song and adapting his flow so that his voice and words mesh with the beats,” which I would definitely agree with. Is that part of your process, to try and set up your cadence so that you really ride the beat well, and is that active or has that just become your process over time?
tabi Bonney: It's both. It's active and has become my process because everything has to become one. You can't think of the beat completely separate from what you're doing. Your voice is that other instrument, so oftentimes I'll just sit and listen to the beat and see where it takes me. I don't have something in mind, like “Oh, I'm already gonna write this.” I try to let the beat fill the emotion of it.
DX: So you write to each beat?
tabi Bonney: Yeah, I can't write without the beat. I write to each beat.
DX: Getting to Murs, he's featured on “Hip Hop and Love.” With Murs featured on “Hip Hop and Love,”can we expect to find you on a track or two on Love and Rockets, Volume 1 when it drops?
tabi Bonney: Yeah. That actual song is on both of our albums, and that ended up being the name of this tour that we're kicking off, the Hip Hop and Love Tour. He's a friend,I admire his work ethic, what he's been able to do, so it's just the first of many songs that I think we will do with each other.
DX: And who knows, with Dame and the way that collective works, maybe a collaborative project will end up happening.
tabi Bonney: Yeah, you never know.
DX: Considering that you're heading back out on tour with Murs this Tuesday, you two must travel well together.
tabi Bonney: Yeah, definitely man. I love being on the road. You know, that's the one thing that I've been missing is being able to be on the road as much and touch my fans throughout the nation, so everything just made sense and lined up correctly.
DX: “Hello & Goodnight” and “Top Notch” both have a real dubstep influence. With electronica creeping more into Hip Hop, and with Jay-Z & Kanye West's Watch the Throne featuring two Dubstep-influenced tracks, do you think that sound is where Hip Hop is headed in the near future?
tabi Boney: I think it's not per se headed that way, but [we're at] more of an experimental stage, and I think it's a thing of Hip Hop not being quote unquote “closed in” any more. It's getting so that people like Kanye [West] just try to push those boundaries and make it more musical, because you know, even me, that's the type of stuff that I've been listening to. I am a big fan of people like Lykke Li to people like Bjork [and] Portishead, so it's definitely exciting for me. I've been listening to stuff like that so it's not a phase. It's something that I wanted to do two, three years ago. I just couldn't find the producer to do it. All those songs were done and recorded by January, so it's not even following what Watch the Throne was doing. I think everybody is just more so on one accord right now.
DX: As I was listening to your album the last few days, I kept typing down lines that struck me and I wanted to get your take on one of them. On the second verse of “On Jupiter,” you say “I'm so conceited / Moonwalking on a paraplegic.” I have to say, that's pretty conceited, man.
tabi Bonney: [Laughs] Yes. You know, all of us have this thing in us when you're just feeling at your absolute best [and] you don't care what anybody says or thinks, where you just lose yourself and you're so into the vanity of being a human being. It's weird to say best, because you're not at your best doing something like that, but I hope you get the point that I'm trying to convey.
DX: Oh yeah, definitely. It was an image where I was just like “Yup, that definitely would be conceited.”
tabi Bonney: [Laughs] That's something that you would see on a [Chappelle Show] segment, you know what I mean? I actually envisioned that.
tabi Bonney Explains Washington D.C. Slang, "Bamma."
DX: Lastly, I was wondering if you could help me and DX get caught up on a piece of D.C. slang that you use fairly frequently. Can you help clarify what "bamma" actually means? When I was checking around online, the consensus was that people from D.C. know exactly what it means even though it's confusing for everyone else.
tabi Bonney: The main meaning of it is pretty much an uncool person. That's a "bamma," just someone who doesn't know how to really dress or they're doing too much. You just call those people bammas. But, in turn, over time it evolves into just you calling a friend of yours “man, that bamma” or something like that, almost like the word nigga, how it evolved to not being a term of hatred. And [bamma's] not a term of hatred, but I mean that's why I think for a lot of people it's confusing, because we use it so loosely and it doesn't mean someone is uncool when you call them that any more. It's just the context in which you use it. The main meaning of it is just an uncool person.
You can also follow tabi Bonney on Twitter (@tabiBonney)