Rappers might be the face of D.C.’s growing hip-hop scene, but producers are its pulse. In this multipart series, Bandwidth talks to local hip-hop producers making tracks you should hear. Read Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3.
Producer: Tone P
Stats: Age 27, Southwest D.C.
Notable Collaborators: Wale/The Board Administration, Curren$y
Before Tone P became one of D.C.’s best-known hip-hop producers, he dreamed of a life in uniform.
A team uniform, that is. “A lot of people that know Tony, not Tone, know that I used to play basketball,” says the Southwest D.C. native born Ernest Anthony Price. “I played all sports—basketball, soccer, baseball, football—but I had hoop dreams like most kids,” he says.
There was just one problem: Price wasn’t quite tall enough to play professionally.
So with reservations, the young striver set aside his NBA fantasies and transitioned to the field he’d stumbled upon during high school while rapping over Napster-downloaded beats on a karaoke machine. Not long after his cousin Craig Balmoris brought home Fruity Loops software, they started the hip-hop production team Best Kept Secret—and Ernest Anthony Price, aspiring athlete, became Tone P, producer.
Early on, the charismatic Tone was able to sell Best Kept Secret’s beats—which he describes as just “presentable” at the time—before he’d even perfected his craft. “I was pretty much selling my stuff off personality,” he says.
Over time, the rhythms of go-go became Best Kept Secret’s signature. The duo aimed to create something that could appeal to national listeners while preserving the sound that surrounded them growing up. “If we can mesh it right down the middle to where it can be accepted in and outside of D.C., we’ll be on the money,” Tone recalls saying.
Best Kept Secret’s breakthrough came when they met an on-the-rise rapper named Wale on MySpace and put their beats in his ear. Not long afterward, the team had two productions—the go-go-infused “Ice Cream Girl” and “DC Gorillaz“—on the MC’s 2007 mixtape, 100 Miles & Running. In 2009, Best Kept Secret popped up numerous times on Wale’s debut LP, Attention Deficit, including on the single “Pretty Girls.”
Tone P would soon go solo full-time, and Craig B and producer Julian Nixon continued under the name Best Kept Secret.
“Ice Cream Girl” may have ushered in Tone P’s sound, but his vision of bringing together the local and mainstream wouldn’t be fully realized until Wale released his 2011 track “Bait,” a Tone P banger that extracted its thunderous bass and 808s from trap rap, but inherited its timbales from go-go.
Now still one of Wale’s top producers, Tone P continues to find ways to incorporate deeply musical elements into his work. On tracks like Curren$y’s “Chandelier” from 2012’s The Stoned Immaculate, Wale’s “Black Grammys” from MMG’s Self Made 3 album and Wale’s recent “MMG Under God,” Tone trades the bounce beat for something with a little more soul.
Sometimes, though, Tone likes to take a step away from the boards and assume a broader role. He says the distinction between beatmaker and producer has been lost over the years. “You have beatmakers that are just bulldozing the title of ‘producer’ because they make the beats,” he says. “Producing was back in the day like Puffy or Quincy Jones. Puffy didn’t touch anything,” he says. “Producing is knowing where the pieces fit together. Someone who puts together the entire song, not just the beat. It’s a heavier title.”
For him, the title of rapper sounds promising, too: Tone P has already spit a few bars on previous tracks, and later this summer, he plans to release his debut mixtape, A Distrixt Motion Pixture. (He recently released a cut from the EP called “Designer Bounce.”) So far, the tape is set to feature fellow DMV artists Kingpen Slim, Black Cobain, Fatz Da Big Fella and Dino, as well as out-of-towners Casey Veggies and Eric Bellinger—and of course, Wale. He says the tape will tell the story of his life as a D.C. native.
“My city…is going to have a hand in this project,” Tone says. “To me, that’s how you give back.”