Tone Chop and Frost Gamble are veterans in Hip-Hop. The Binghamton, New York natives have worked together over the last two decades on each other’s projects, but never as a group. With Frost moving north of the border and Chop holding it down in their hometown it would seem that an official project would never materialize – but it has.
The producer and emcee finally brought things full circle with their first official release as a duo — an EP that stakes a claim to their time in the game called “Veteran.” Veteran is a 7-track EP that is produced entirely by Frost Gamble. The EP features appearances by Awful P, Nobi, DJ Waxamillion, S.One, and Ruste Juxx.
Tone Chop and Frost Gamble chatted with The Real Hip-Hop about their history in Hip-Hop, growing up in the golden era of rap, and their new EP, Veteran.
TRHH: Explain the title of the new EP, “Veteran.”
Frost Gamble: It’s about a couple of things. It’s about our history in the game, the length of time we’ve been doing it — we’re not kids, obviously. We’re grown men and we’ve been through every era. We’ve seen the changes in Hip-Hop, both good and bad. We really just wanted to make our statement which is true to the way we were raised and the principles of Hip-Hop that we care about, but still contribute and not just regurgitate and copy what’s been done before. Create in that tradition, but also make our mark and show that that time was well spent and not a waste.
TRHH: How did you guys link up to decide to do this project?
Tone Chop: We’ve been doing music for years together. We just never put together a whole project. I’ve been doing mixtapes a long time. I’d always have 2-3 beats by him on there every single time. We just never linked up to do a whole project. We were supposed to a couple times, it just never panned out all the way. I made sure this time.
TRHH: What was the recording process like with you guys being in different countries?
Tone Chop: He would just send me the beats, I’d knock the track out and send him the vocals and he would mix ‘em and all that. I would just send him a rough mix and he would master and everything for me. He’s been doing that for a while. The last mixtape I did he did every single mix on there, too. I got a bunch of mixtapes out even though they’re not gonna matter too much right now. I put a lot of work in. I’ve been rapping since about 1989. I grew up with all the good stuff. I was one of the fortunate ones. I used to do graffiti, break dance, and all that, too. I grew up around all the good stuff about Hip-Hop. It’s a lot of changes now.
TRHH: What’s your take on the negative connotation that the boom bap sound has on younger people in Hip-Hop?
Tone Chop: I feel it’s disrespectful if you ask me because it’s a lot of rappers from the golden age that are still relevant now and are still great at what they do. Look at Kool G Rap for instance, he’s still relevant. There are a lot of rappers from back then that are still relevant. They may not get as much attention as some of these younger guys, but they still deserve it. It don’t mean that they don’t deserve it. I like some of the newer rappers, but not a lot of ‘em. I think Dave East is pretty good, Fred the Godson, I like a few of ‘em. Not no Fetty Wap or nothing like that. I’m not into none of that.
TRHH: There is this wave of drug rappers and to me it’s wack, but the young kids love it.
Frost Gamble: The thing that’s changed is the way that people earn their stripes anymore. Hip-Hop has always been about the younger talents pushing back on the veterans. It’s always been that way from KRS-One going at Melle Mel. It’s always been the case with the young cats trying to claim their spot. The difference was they did it with bars. They claimed their respect with bars. When you were undeniably nice on the mic that’s when you got your stripes. Nowadays kids literally don’t rap. No sideways talk, they don’t rap. They warble on a microphone and run it through AutoTune and focus on melodies and other things. That’s cool, I don’t have a problem with that. In fact, I can respect it as art and their creative output. But, if we’re talking about emceeing you can’t come in the discussion. If you can’t get on the mic and spit some fire you can’t come in the discussion. Your opinion isn’t credible, even though I may still give you respect for the music you created.
TRHH: On a different note, what do you think about the emcees who use writers? I think there is a place for Diddy, Kanye, and Drake, but they shouldn’t be mentioned as the greatest. They make good music and they make hits, but they shouldn’t be mentioned with Jay-Z and Biggie, ever. What’s your opinion on the artists who use writers?
Tone Chop: Absolutely not. They shouldn’t have ‘em. When it all started if you didn’t write your own stuff you was terrible. You wasn’t an emcee and you wasn’t genuine. I used to like some Drake stuff here and there because I thought Drake could rap, but when I found out he had somebody writing for him I can’t respect it no more. I can’t even listen to him no more – that’s just me. Now they’re saying even other guys are not writing their own stuff either. I don’t even listen to Fat Joe no more. I used to be a big fan but then I heard Remy Ma was writing all his stuff, too. I don’t know how true that is, but that’s what they say. I don’t respect it. I couldn’t let nobody write nothing for me.
TRHH: What about guys like Biz Markie? Big Daddy Kane wrote all his stuff, but he’s still Biz Markie!
Tone Chop: Big Daddy Kane is one of my favorite rappers. He still is. He might not be in a lot of people’s top 10 but he’s in my top 10.
TRHH: He’s in my top 3.
Tone Chop: I don’t know. I like some other people but he’s definitely in my top 10. I got every single Big Daddy Kane album. I collect ‘em, I know. Lord Finesse is actually one of my favorite rappers of all-time.
TRHH: Yeah, I think he heavily influenced Nas and he’s not ever mentioned…
Frost Gamble: Yeah man, or Big L. Everybody talks about Big L, but nobody gives Finesse the credit.
Tone Chop: When I first started using the punchlines that’s who I listened to. Lord Finesse is the one got me addressing punchlines. I like rapping with metaphors and punchlines and all that. Lord Finesse is one of my favorites with Big Daddy Kane, and Kool G Rap.
TRHH: Everybody’s top 10 list is gonna be different…
Tone Chop: Yeah, of course. I think it depends on which stuff you grew up on. A lot of these younger guys ain’t grow up around Big Daddy Kane. A lot of them don’t even know who they are. I got two boys and I teach my boys about the older stuff. They like newer stuff and I tell them that stuff from back in the 80s and 90s is better – it’s more to it.
TRHH: Like we talked about a minute ago, there is a divide and somewhere the history got broken. I interviewed this kid Ric Wilson recently who’s 21 and he said Drake inspired him to rap. He doesn’t sound like Drake, his music is different. He said his cousin is J. Wells and he told him to learn about Rakim, Chuck D, and all these other people and that’s how he got his style. I think it’s important that somebody take these young kids and says, “Hey, you should know who this is.”
Frost Gamble: Let’s talk about that for a minute. You mentioned Chuck D, Chop and I come from that era. I believe there was an effort by record labels to remove knowledge from music releases. I grew up listening to Boogie Down Productions, Poor Righteous Teachers, X Clan, and Public Enemy. This exposed me to all kinds of thinking I never would have been exposed to. I never would have become conscious about the things that people have to go through in the world if it wasn’t for that. But people today don’t get that. They don’t get that education, the jewels, and the wisdom. The 5% influence is gone. They don’t get the same opportunity to learn if every song is about strippers and molly what opportunity do they fuckin’ have? There’s inputs to that.
TRHH: I think that’s why some of us hold on to Kendrick Lamar and J. Cole so much. Those dudes aren’t like KRS but they’re saying something more than the rest of these cats are saying.
Frost Gamble: They’re saying something.
Tone Chop: I like J. Cole. I’m a J. Cole fan.
TRHH: Yeah, he’s dope.
Tone Chop: I don’t know, Kendrick don’t really do it for me, though for some reason. He is nice and everything but I think maybe it’s the beats. Some of his old stuff when he was doing mixtapes, I like all that. But the last albums he did I really wasn’t big on it.
Tone Chop: A lot of people like him. I don’t hate him, I’d just rather listen to J. Cole over him by far.
Frost Gamble: I like how J. Cole produces for himself, too.
Tone Chop: J. Cole is saying something, too. He’s not just rapping. I think that’s another problem, too. Nowadays, dudes ain’t rapping no more. The rap part is not important to them no more. They just feel like they want to sell a record. Who doesn’t? But at the end of the day why sell yourself short and not give something to the people? The most terrible thing to me about rap is all these guys got children and they all make negative songs. I got two boys and I got song about the older one teaching the younger one. All these dudes got children and you never hear them do a positive song, ever. It’s terrible. We know you’re turning it up and all this other stuff but what about being a father and the stuff that matters? I don’t get it.
TRHH: I think we lost the personal touch in Hip-Hop a long time ago. It still exists, you just gotta dig for it.
Tone Chop: You gotta dig for it. I listen to a lot of music, but it’s not the stuff that’s playing on the radio. I like underground rappers. If it’s any old school it’s gotta be somebody like Vinnie Paz or somebody like that. Vinnie Paz is a real good artist, too, all the way around. I don’t know if he’s in my top 10 or nothing but I listen to him and he has a message, too. It’s the message that’s gone.
TRHH: I think there needs to be a balance. Everybody can’t have a message. I remember when Ice-T dissed LL and was like, “He ain’t talking about nothing,” but let him do his thing with the girls, you know? It’s okay.
Tone Chop: I’m an LL fan still. I like all the stuff he does. I think he does both good. He does commercial records well and hard rap well, too.
TRHH: I think he’s one of the most underrated rappers of all-time. People just focus on the love songs.
Tone Chop: If he comes out with something I won’t skip over it. I’ll check it out.
Frost Gamble: I think L is super dope, but he wins his battles even when he loses battles. Moe Dee got him as far as I’m concerned, but he won that battle somehow. Canibus definitely killed him, but he won that battle, too because Canibus is working in a Starbucks somewhere and L is still L.
Tone Chop: He’s got records with some of the young dudes, too. I heard a couple records. He got one with Raekwon, Murda Mook, the battle rapper dudes, and whatever else. I watch a lot of battle rap, too. I ain’t gonna lie. It’s still a lot of lyrics in that – punchlines and all of that. You can get a lot of that from battle rap these days. I don’t know. That’s why me and Frost got a formula. We trying to stick to the formula. I been rapping for so long. I was gonna give it up not too long ago and Frost was like, “Nah man, nah. Just keep going at it.” I been going at it for so long. I been king around here where I live at. This town is just a lot of trouble and it’s going down fast. You got a bunch of young dudes around who think they got something but they really don’t.
I been around here for a long time and I always wanted to get recognized worldwide for what I do and that’s what we’re hoping to do this time around. Me and him been making music for over 20 years together. The title is about how long we been doing it and how long we been putting in work together as a team. We could have did an album a couple times but I was just on my mixtape game for a long time. I was at a point where I was doing a mixtape every other month and putting it out myself. I used to record and do everything all by myself. if you don’t got somebody backing you to promote it and get it in the right spots it’s not gonna get the attention anyway, no matter how good it is.
TRHH: How’d the song “Leave it Alone” come together?
Frost Gamble: The meaning of it is complex to me. I made that beat a year or two ago. When I made that beat Sean Price was still alive. I played it for him and he thought it was dope. We set it off to the side. As a side story, Sean Price is just an emcees emcee and I very badly wanted to work with him. You couldn’t approach him on social media. You weren’t going to have a pleasant conversation that way so I knew that wasn’t the correct approach. I figured one day with one of my friends I’d go to Brooklyn, get to meet him, and make it happen organically. A couple years go by and it never happens. He passes away on my birthday. On the day I turned 43 he passed away and he was 43 years old. It really affected me. It made me think, “I’m never hesitating again. If there is a move to be made, I’m making it.”
That had a bit to do with us doing this album. Because I wasn’t going to make the same mistake twice I reached out to Ruste Juxx and I was doing a different song for another project I was working on. When we realized we wanted to use Leave it Alone for Veteran and kind of use it as quazi-Sean Price tribute it made sense to have Ruste jump on it. I asked Ruste, “You gotta say it’s cool if you don’t feel it’s official for us to use his voice, let me know and I’ll kill it.” He was like, “Nah, man. This is crazy and I’m gonna smash it!” He jumped right on it and did his thing. Nobi is Chop’s boy and had done a track with Sean Price before. He’s from Queens and he brought the whole New York connect together. That track is really special to me for that reason.
Frost Gamble: Nobi’s dope, too. He has music out there and he’s official all the way around. He’s a good dude. You meet dudes and you get a relationship with ‘em and it’s fake and not real. He always tells me, “Whenever you need me, I’m here.” ‘Cause I make beats, too and he used to rhyme over my beats or whatever. If I need a drop or anything like that he was always there for that. He always respected what I did so I told him when I need him I’m gonna make sure it counts. When I hit him up I knew this record was good because he had a record with him. I’m a big fan of Sean Price, too, so it just all came about. I told him I had an EP coming out and it could be exposure for the both of us. He hopped on the joint fast, too, no problem. He got a nice little website and whenever I came out with a mixtape or anything he always put it up on his website to try to get me a little extra exposure. He’s a good dude, man.
TRHH: On the song Dedication you shout out a lot of veterans in the game in your verses. What was the inspiration for that one?
Tone Chop: Just all the rappers I grew up listening to. Everybody I mentioned on there is everybody I listened to growing up from Boogie Down Productions, to MC Shan, to Three Times Dope. That’s the era I grew up on. I listen to old school rap all the time. I just had to make that record. I did a beat for it and I did it to that originally. I told Frost it would be perfect for the EP. I sent him the vocals and he did the breaks and stuff behind it. I did it originally to a Harold Melvin & The Blue Notes sample that I spit it to. He put all the break beats behind it and it came out much better the way he did it. The rhyme just came from not only influences, but all the people that I grew up listening to. I’m still missing a few names in there, but I tried to cover as many as I could.
When I listen to it now I hear a couple other names that I could put in there still. I covered a nice amount of it so people could understand where I’m coming from. It’s just paying homage and respect to the rappers that I grew up listening to. A lot of people nowadays don’t even know as many rappers as I do. They can’t name an album, a song, or nothing. I think that’s terrible. To do anything you have to know some type of history. These young cats nowadays don’t know history or nothing. They’re just rapping to get a check. It was never about that for me. The fame wasn’t about that for me either, but I know it comes with the territory. It’s just all the rappers I listened to growing up and they influenced me in one shape, form, or another.
TRHH: Frost, you use the MPC right?
Frost Gamble: Yes.
TRHH: Which MPC?
Frost Gamble: I’m currently on the Renaissance. It’s one of the more modern machines, and I love it. I’m an old school guy but I’m not opposed to technology at all. On the other hand I still have an Akai S900 in my studio which was built in the mid-80s and I still use that as well. I’m an MPC guy because I like the physical aspect of it. Software is cool but I gotta have the pads. I gotta play the instrument, I just can’t program the song. I use the Renaissance, the S900, and samples.
TRHH: What do you guys hope to achieve with Veteran?
Tone Chop: Exposure definitely. The main thing is exposure so the world can hear what I got, not just where I’m from and some areas not too far from here. I’m pretty known in Upstate New York. I got a nice little reputation ‘cause I used to battle. I crushed a lot of mics in my day. Worldwide exposure definitely and the more exposure the better. That’s the main thing for me. I’m sure for him, too. We’ve been wanting this type of exposure for a long, long time and feel like we deserve it. Hopefully it takes us to another level so me and him can follow up and kill this project, too. I know we’re gonna follow up with something way crazier.
Frost Gamble: I would agree. I don’t care about money, I don’t care about fame, I care about the respect of people who I give respect to. That’s the Hip-Hop we were raised in. It was always about mutual respect among those who had a shared understanding, belief system, and appreciation for the culture and the art. That’s what we’re going for. Definitely I’m hoping we build a platform where we do have an opportunity to do releases again like Chop talked about. Maybe even have the opportunity to help out other people that are important to us. The biggest thing is engagement, reach, and having people hear, enjoy the project, and hopefully respect the passion and commitment that went into it.
Purchase: Tone Chop & Frost Gamble – Veteran