Tone Chop & Frost Gamble: Kill or Be Killed

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Photo courtesy of Drew Lewis

The emcee and producer duo, Tone Chop & Frost Gamble, stayed busy in 2019. Frost released several volumes of his instrumental series “The Sixteens” while Chop utilized his production skills on projects released by various emcees. Keeping true to the Tone Chop & Frost Gamble brand, the guys released singles throughout the year, and a free EP for fans called “4thelove.”

Tone Chop & Frost Gamble ended 2019 with a 7-track EP called “Kill or Be Killed.” The project doesn’t venture too far away from the Frost and Chop formula. The upstate New York natives deliver what they always do — hard beats and hard raps.

Tone Chop & Frost Gamble spoke to The Real Hip-Hop about Kill or Be Killed, their frustration with fake fans, and their upcoming full-length album, One Two.

TRHH: Why’d you call the new project, Kill or Be Killed?

Tone Chop: ‘Cause I had a song called “Kill or Be Killed.” Frost made a theme out of the whole joint. He came up with the overall title. That was the first joint for it. We was cleaning out the closet, so to speak. The new album we got coming out next year, One Two, a lot of the joints that we had wasn’t going with that theme in particular. We had a free EP out before this one, and then Kill or Be Killed. It’s a whole theme to it.

Frost Gamble: We came across an old sample that was a like a World War II theme and the energy of it really fit the vibe we were trying to create musically. Especially in the industry today, it’s kill or be killed.

TRHH: Kill or Be Killed seems slower than your previous projects BPM wise. Is that a fair assessment and if so, why did you slow the pace down this go around?

Frost Gamble: It depends. If you look back at our previous projects we would have more of a range of tempos and moods. This project we were pretty much in pocket the whole way through. So, you’re right that it was different that way and it was very much by design. We very much believe in sticking to our guns musically. We’ve been making the same style of music for a long time, but we do respond to what the fans respond to. Those kinds of records have done well for us, so packaging it as one cohesive project was the next move. Chop makes it very easy because he is always ready with those kind of bars ready to smash on somebody. From a lyrical standpoint it was easy to build around that concept.

TRHH: Chop, the song “Open Your Eyes” is your classic battle rap type song. What’s your opinion on the segment of fans who think that, that style of rap is irrelevant today? I hear a lot of people say “he’s rapping about rap” like it’s a bad thing, but that’s my favorite type of rap.

Tone Chop: It’s not irrelevant though, is it? What is Benny and all them rapping about? Their music is all in your face. That’s my specialty, man. I wouldn’t say it’s a battle rap though, because if it was a battle rap I would say your name in there. If it was a battle rap that means it would be about somebody else in particular and it’s not really about somebody in particular. A lot of people walk around here where I live at and act different. They’ll say things about me, but when they see me it’s a whole different ball game. If you’re not going to say my name, I’m not going to say yours neither. How you gonna act one way behind my back and see me and act like you’re star struck? Then you get struck by a star instead.

That’s my style to a T – wordplay, punchlines, metaphors. Some of it may go over your head. It might take you a couple times to catch it, but it’s a lot of things that I put in there and I take my time doing it. You might not catch it the first time around. Me and Frost got a lot of new records and people will see. It’s a lot of things you might not catch right away, but that’s just the way it is. That’s just my style. If you want to say that I’m rapping about rap, then whatever, that’s cool with me. I don’t have a problem with that. I’m just a lyricist, man. I can do the type of records these guys is doing, I just don’t want to. I don’t do melodies. That’s not my thing. I never tried and I never will. I’m not mad at anybody else trying to do that. The double time, I can do that, too. I’ve done it with a couple homies, it’s just not me.

Me and him have a formula and we like to stick to it. Maybe change it up here and there a little bit, but nothing crazy. Me and Frost been working together 30 years. We feed off of each other. That’s why we came out with them T’s — the chemistry is crazy – ‘cause that’s what it is. Me and him just have chemistry. If anything, people can’t deny that. You wanna say it’s battle rap? Whatever. It is what it is. That’s just how I rap and I’ve always rapped that way ever since I was a kid. It’s just me. I like getting deep too though. I was telling Frost that the record is the way it is because nobody is doing stuff with messages these days. My messages is going over your head and you’re ignoring them because that’s not what people are doing. I’m a fan of Benny, I’m a fan of 38 Spesh and he’s one of my homies as well. Right now, the messages is not what’s hitting in Hip-Hop right now. If you listen to a lot underground music they don’t have no messages on there. It’s all hard beats and hard rhymes. That’s our specialty. Whatever, I’ll rap about rap then.

TRHH: On the song “Fake Fans” Frost spits a verse. What made you decide to get on the mic this go around?

Frost Gamble: I had to get it off my chest. What I said I meant. I felt it and I meant it. It’s been one of the most frustrating parts of this journey. People will be so transparently disrespectful. They’ll come up to my face, have no idea what my music sounds like, have no connection to my art what so ever, and ask what I can do for them. “Hey Frost, can I get a beat?” I’ve literally had conversations in my own city where I’m asked for a beat and when I start talking to them I realize they’ve never heard my music before. They just realized I popped up on or I did a Sirius XM interview and they think they can somehow benefit. They deserve to benefit by living in the same geography as me. That gets me so tight. It’s so backwards based on the Hip-Hop we were raised on – the “do for self” mentality. It makes me angry. Chop couldn’t present that part of the story, only I could, so I did to the best of my ability. Chop came in and cleaned up from the emcees perspective. I love that song.

Tone Chop: To me, he’s just speaking from a producer’s perspective. I’m speaking for myself, the emcee part. I do the talking most of the time and he talks with his beats. I ain’t stop him. He started out rapping. A lot of people don’t realize that, but that’s how he started out. He started rapping against me, even. Me and him went at it in the early days – radio, songs, whatever. He decided to take a backseat and do beats instead and let me handle the rhyming part. Me and him been doing that ever since.

Frost Gamble: The funny part is, Chop is actually really dope as a producer as well. Because this vehicle has been successful sometimes that gets forgotten. He’s got a dope catalog of beats out there as well.

TRHH: The song itself speaks about your issues with fans not supporting, but are they really fans if they don’t support?

Tone Chop: Nah, they aren’t. That’s why I said “You’re a fake fan if you’re not supporting.” If you’re not supporting you’re not important.

Frost Gamble: To be clear, it’s not about money. We talk about people trying to get over in that way, but it’s not about money. Support is about intent more than anything. If you’re a fan of Chop and you want a sixteen from him because you think it will benefit your project, but behind his back you’re talking smack and saying you don’t mess with that kind of music, we run into those situations all the time. It’s disgusting and it was just something we had to get off our chests.

Tone Chop: My city is horrible for that. I just keep to myself.

TRHH: I don’t think it’s just your city. I think it’s everywhere there is a Hip-Hop community.

Tone Chop: I agree with that, too. I’m just speaking from my perspective and how it is here. It’s a lot of rappers out here, believe it or not. A lot of them are terrible. They think they’re a lot better than they are. I’ll tell them they’re terrible though. They won’t tell me I’m terrible. They’ll say it behind my back, but they won’t say it to me. I’ll tell them they’re terrible. If you want an honest opinion about your music and I tell you, I’ve had people get so angry about my opinion that they’d threaten me. Not to my face, but online and email. They want to do something to me just because I said their music isn’t my cup of tea. My music might not be your cup of tea, I’m not going to threaten you over it or nothing though. You’d be surprised. It’s terrible.

TRHH: I’m not surprised at all [laughs]. People are crazy, man. I think I was listening to Ice-T on Hot 97 and he was saying in our day if something was wack you called it wack. That’s just what it was. But now if you do that you’re a hater, you’re old, and everything derogatory. Nah, it’s just wack.

Frost Gamble: There’s no quality control anymore. I don’t know, man, it really bothers me because I feel like we let it get out of hand. Chop talks about this. This idea that just because you’re rhyming, three things rhyme with three things, and you said it fast doesn’t make it dope! Literally anybody can learn to do that. And I know anybody can learn to do it because I hear it all day long. There’s got to be 60% of young men under the age of 23 have a mixtape coming out. Everybody is doing the same style. It’s crazy to me.

TRHH: I get a lot of interview request and I don’t talk to anybody I don’t fuck with. I used to do that shit when I first started. I interviewed any and everybody just to get out there, but I felt like a prostitute. The shit was terrible.

Frost Gamble: That’s how I feel about selling beats – the exact same way. The idea that anybody can walk up to you, toss money, walk away with your art, and call it theirs, ugh, no thanks.

TRHH: Is that why you guys keep it all in house?

Tone Chop: Yeah, I’m the same way too. I got beats, too. When he came to see me, I showed him and he didn’t know I had that many. I got tons, but I don’t want nobody trash rhyming on my stuff. I don’t rhyme on my joints. I like other people to rhyme on them. But if you’re trash, you’re not getting on it, I’m sorry. You can keep your bread or whatever. I got a project out with Awful P. It’s on Bandcamp. I did all the beats on that, and that project is dope. That’s my man, too. Not just anybody can rhyme on my beats anyway. I don’t do what everybody else does – the trap beats and all of that. I don’t make those type of beats. I sample. I got joints without samples too, but I like samples and I like my joints a certain way. My joints is like Alchemist type of joints. You can’t just let anybody rhyme on a Alchemist beat, bro. I can’t let anybody rhyme on a Chop beat neither.

I don’t rhyme on my joints because I don’t have to. I used to. I got mixtapes out there with plenty of joints that I did the beats. Just the way it is now, I don’t have to. I’d rather rhyme on Frost’s joints so a song don’t go wasted neither. We’ll use it. We don’t waste songs. If he does something and don’t like the beat to it, guess what, the beat will be different the next time I hear it because he’ll make a whole new beat for it. That’s just the way it is. He does it all the time. I don’t stop him from doing that. If I record a song to a beat he gave me, and I like the way it is, sometimes he might not like the way the beat is and he’ll change it. A lot of times it’s for the better. If I don’t like the new version I’ll just tell him. There’s two version of “Wreck the Mic.” On the new project that’s the original version. I like that version and that’s why he put it on there. That’s the first version of it and I liked that beat. When he re-did the beat, I like that too though.

TRHH: So, the “Wreck the Mic” that came out earlier in the year was the second one?

Tone Chop: Right.

Frost Gamble: It was actually the remix.

Tone Chop: The O.G. version on Kill or Be Killed is the original version.

Frost Gamble: Chop, I think you actually recorded the vocals to another beat before that too, right?

Tone Chop: It was a different one, so that’s actually the third beat for it. He’s critical on himself. Like I said, all it does is make it turn out better. Like I said, if I like the original version more than the new version we’ll just keep it. We’ll keep both versions. A lot of times it’s for the better. He knows what he’s looking for. A lot of times it’s just the original joint that sparks me to make the songs and write. Write my battle raps and rap about rap.

TRHH: [Laughs] That’s funny. Going back to the battle rap thing; it’s something that really bothers me because all of the people I loved growing up rapped that way. I don’t know when that became a bad thing to young fans.

Frost Gamble: More of it was lost than just that though. The entire understanding around the importance of battling was lost. The understanding that you had to prove yourself, pay dues, and challenge the elders for your spot. You had to appreciate the elders, but that was the Hip-Hop tradition. It got lost in the lyrics. I think part of the reason that they call Chop a battle rapper is because he’ll actually see you in the streets, where these guys just want to post shit on Instagram and drop subliminals on Twitter. Anything but address a motherfucker face-to-face. Chop only has one mode, which is addressing a motherfucker face-to-face. It’s a lot of passive aggressive, subliminal, hide behind an online persona shit.

TRHH: I’m speaking specifically about when and why. It drives me crazy. Somebody posted a video of KRS-One freestyling and it was dope. But all of the comments were like “He’s rapping about rap, ha ha ha.” Motherfucker, that’s KRS-One! Have some respect. The comments just threw me and I’ve seen it a lot. It’s like the people in their early 30s type of thing. I don’t know what their thing is.

Frost Gamble: There is a rapping about rap where there is no real feel or realness about it. I do feel like there’s a type of rapper that might be able to stay on beat and write clever, but the voice is weak, the story is he’s just another kid from the suburbs who likes rap and had a difficult relationship with his parents, and he writes songs about drinking out of a red cup. That’s rapping about rap to me. Chop raps about punching you in your face most of the time [laughs]. I think there is a category of folks out there who are rapping about nothing under the guise of lyricism with nothing unique or interesting to say.

TRHH: That’s a tough one, because honestly it depends on what you view as nothing. I’m not dissing. I like Griselda, but it’s mostly crack stuff. That was 30 years ago. I like their music, but I don’t think they’re rapping about anything of value. They’re rapping slick, but it ain’t about nothing to me.

Frost Gamble: It’s interesting. I respect it. I feel their stuff very much and I’ve never moved a kilo of cocaine. When 38 Spesh says something like “Ten bricks in the whip of the same shit that killed Prince” he’s painting of picture of tension and anxiety and I understand the context that it happens under and I feel that.

TRHH: Totally! Cuban Linx is probably my favorite album and I can’t relate to it. But the way it was put together was beautiful. I was raised on gangsta rap and all that stuff. I had this discussion on Twitter with somebody; if you listen to N.W.A’s Straight Outta Compton and Niggaz4Life it’s two different things because Ice Cube left. Ice Cube was the soul of the group and he talked about shit. When he left they were raping hookers and it just got terrible. People like Cube and Ice-T talked that shit, but there was a moral to the story. I don’t necessarily hear that a lot to day.

Frost Gamble: That’s true. You hear it in our music. Chop touches upon it. The criminal life is not an essential theme to Chop. Chop has talked about the price he paid in his life in our music. Do you agree, Chop?

Tone Chop: Yeah, absolutely. And all my stuff makes sense. How many guys you got out there and their shit don’t even make sense? You can listen to my shit from point A to point B and everything I’m saying makes sense. You can make sense out of it. It’s not like I’m trying to reach, and I can do that on purpose. I can make it go over your head if I want, but I don’t though. I like it to be in your face so you understand, but still clever at the same time. It all has to make sense and it all has to come from the right place –which is my heart. To sum it up, it all comes from the right place.

I was in the street too. I could continue to keep talking about that, but that’s not what I’m doing at this moment. I’m a father. I got two boys and those are the most important things in my life. The streets used to be important to me at one time – for a long time, actually. Everything has to come from my heart and then makes sense. All of my stuff has to make sense. Even if you’re not feeling a joint, you can’t tell me that it don’t make sense. Everything I’m saying makes sense and I put it together that way.

I believe there is a moral to the story. That’s why I got the story joint on there because that’s missing too. I tell Frost all the time that the message is missing in rap. The stories are missing from Hip-Hop as well. I like to touch on those joints at least a little bit, and my stories is true. Bing Stories part 2 really happened. That was a real situation that happened and after it happened I just wrote the verse about it. Making sense is important to me. More than dollars, making sense is very important to me as an emcee. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Frost Gamble: Sherron, I was home visiting Chop last month and he was telling me stories that he’s never told on a record. I’m not going to put anything out there, but we’ve seen that shit that they’re talking about. It’s a difficult thing.

Tone Chop: That’s why I can relate to a lot of stuff that Benny says. As far as Griselda goes, I like Benny the best out of all of them. 38 Spesh, I know him as a person. That’s one of my homies. I can hit him up and say “Yo, I need a drop” and he’s got me. He’s done it before. I have mixtapes where I was talking about the street stuff crazy because that’s what I was doing at the time. I was in the street heavy. These days it’s different. Every track don’t have to be about that. If they want to say I’m rapping about rap then I guess that’s what I’m doing. Like I said, it comes from my heart though and everything makes sense.

TRHH: You mentioned being true to yourself is more important than making money and it’s also related to what you were saying about selling beats. At what point did you feel like “there’s certain shit I just won’t do”? At what point did you realize you weren’t selling beats to dudes or working with certain people for yourself and for your brand?

Tone Chop: I think I’ve pretty much always been that way. I have a few beats out there that other people rhymed on. Tom Gist, I did a record for him, he’s dope too. Swigga from Natural Elements, I did a song for him – he’s got a video for it and all of that. That’s a lyricist that I respect and we have a mutual friendship. I met him through one of my other friends. Swigga is actually a good guy. DNA is another guy I can reach out to any time. You have to be a certain type of emcee to rap on my joints. The typical dude nowadays is not going to like my beats. They’re going to say “You got something else?” If you’re cut from the cloth that I’m cut from you’re going to listen to one of my beats and be like “Yeah.”

Rated R just put out a project called “I’m Too Old to Rap” and I got three beats on there. I sent him the beats and he said he was only going to rhyme on one, then when his project came out there was three of them on there. He’s somebody that I respect and I have a relationship with him. He’s a good dude and he’s a lyricist. Not any rapper is going be like “I like that” they’re going to be like “You got something else?” That’s why in the video I say “They say I need to get with the times/And I say, nah, you need to get with the rhymes.” I’m not trying to get with the times. Me and Frost make the type of music that we like to listen to. I don’t listen to that type of rap, so I’m not trying to make my music around that.

That’s what people do. They copy somebody else’s cadence, delivery, and melody. How many guys you know with the same melody, cadence and delivery? That’s what these guys do. That’s how they get over. They see somebody making money and say “I’m going to make a song just like that!” They rhyme the same because they’re eating off of that. I’m not going to do a certain type of record just because I think I’m going to eat a little bit off of that. That’s just me. I’m a lyricist – word play, punchlines, metaphors, punch you in the face, ‘cause I really will punch you in the face.

That’s what I tell Frost all the time, that’s the type of bars that I write, punch you in the face raps. You can call it battle raps if you like, but if it was a battle rap it would have your name in it. Without a doubt. If you’re writing something and it’s about me, maybe you should throw my name in it instead of seeing me somewhere around and acting like you’re my biggest fan. That’s where Fake Fans came from. That’s why we made that song. I tell Frost all the time, there was a kid around here that was making diss records. He said my name in it and it was horrible. I did not respond to it. I just seen him in person recently and he said “It was just friendly competition. I didn’t mean it like that.” Dudes ain’t even worth my time, man. I’m just going to keep doing what I do from the heart, how I feel, and I’m going to make sense do it.

It’s a little late in the game to worry about trying to make a fortune. When my son gets a little bit older and he’s ready, I’ll pass the torch to him. He’s the only one I care about passing the torch to. If he doesn’t wanna do it, that’s cool too. He’s making beats and doing all that stuff on his own but he’s also skateboarding, riding a bike, playing video games, and doing good in school. Doing good in school is the main important thing to me. Music can always come at a later date if he chooses to do that. He can rhyme if he wants to. He’s only 11, so he’s not at that point in his life. When he’s ready and tells me “Take a backseat, dad” I will. Until then, I’m just going to keep rocking.

These interviews get me going sometimes. I don’t like to be rambling. It’s too much copying out there. They think they’re winning by copying. People don’t care about being original no more. That’s another thing about the 80s and 90s, you had to be original and have your own flow. Who do I sound like? I sound like myself. I don’t get it from nobody. People don’t say “You’re dope but you sound like such and such.” I was influenced, but I don’t sound like them. When I was younger they used to say I sound like Lord Finesse. He’s one of my idols and one of my favorite rappers to this day, regardless of if he’s still making music or not. I believe that sooner or later he’s going to make another album again too. People commented on YouTube and said “Since Big L’s not here, Lord Finesse ain’t made music in a while, we got Tone Chop instead.” I’m cool with that. That’s a positive comment for me and that gives me fuel. Those are two dudes that I looked up to and listen to. I was just listening to Lord Finesse’s album The Awakening the other day – top to bottom. That’s just me, man.

They can at least say that my shit makes sense and you can tell that it’s coming from the right place. He’ll tell you, sometimes it takes me months to finish something, because I just can’t write anything down – I don’t do that. A lot of dudes just write anything down and they don’t care if they sound like somebody else, who sounds like somebody else, who sounds like somebody else. Nah, that’s not me. Who do I sound like? Myself. You can’t be like “Chop sounds like so and so.” Look how many dudes are trying to sound like Westside Gunn now. Terrible! You know why? Because they see he’s winning and they’re trying to emulate that style. There’s a few rappers that sound just like him. That’s terrible! I’m not a big fan of him, but he has his own flow. Why would you copy that? Let that man have his own flow and style. Stop being a biter.

Raekwon and them said it the best, I can’t stand somebody that be biting and take your whole style. I never did that. Nobody can tell me I bit anybody’s style ever, because I didn’t. I got my own style and I’ve been that way since I was a kid. You can listen to some joints I did in ’96 and it still sounds better than some of these dudes. That’s why I said “I was better than a lot of y’all when I was 10” ‘cause it’s the truth! Dudes is terrible. All they do is emulate. How can you be proud of your product that you’re putting out to people if you’re emulating somebody else? And you know you’re emulating somebody else! How can you be proud of that? That’s like in the movie American Gangster when they had their product, Blue Magic, and the other dudes took the same thing and put a different name on it. You’re taking somebody else’s style and putting your name on it, knowing that it’s not yours and you stole it.

TRHH: The common denominator there is money. They don’t care about having pride in their work. They’re trying to get rich quick.

Tone Chop: And that’s the difference between me and them. I care about that. I got integrity and pride and all that. You’re not going to take my pride and tell me to do a song a certain way ‘cause I’m not gonna. If you don’t like it, we’ll scratch that song then. I’ll go on to the next one. I’m not going to sacrifice my integrity and my pride just to make a dollar. I’m good. There’s enough people doing that already. Let them do it.

TRHH: When will we hear One Two?

Frost Gamble: I hate to say it, but we’re going to serve it up when it’s ready. We put out five albums in a three-year span. If we had to we could drop another one tomorrow and it would be dope. We’re going to keep feeding the fans what we can. We’ll be dropping EP’s and singles, but when we drop One Two and it’s going to be by far the best thing we ever put together and we don’t want to rush that. Like Chop said, we’ve fine-tuned the formula to a point where we’re really hitting the sweet spot.

Tone Chop: We’re definitely sitting on some dope records, that’s for sure. It’s blowing everything out the water. It’s some of my best work. My father used to tell me all the time, he was an artist, not musically, but he was a barber and would paint and sketch, he used to tell me “you can’t rush art.” That’s something that always stuck to me, One Two is not going to be rushed. It’s something that’s going to be better than anything that we’ve did and we’re going to make sure of that. In our opinion, at least. There’s people that are saying that Kill or Be Killed is our best joint. I believe it’s dope, just like all the rest of them, but the best is yet to come.

I’ve been telling the homies that. I showed one of my homies a couple joints that we got in the cut and he was like “Yeah, this is going to be crazy.” We working. Me and him stay in contact. He was just in New York with me for like a week. We’re just building. We always like chopping it up with you though, man. This is important to hear. The emulating and copying is out of hand. Let people live, man. Why can’t somebody come out with a style and let them keep it to their self? Why does everybody have to jump on it and copy it and turn it a little bit this way or that way to act like they came up with it?

TRHH: It’s always money.

Tone Chop: If you’re making a puzzle, there are a lot of pieces that are similar and they look like they can go in that one spot, but they can’t go in that one spot. That’s not the right piece. It has to be the right piece to go in that spot. Not everybody has that piece to go in the right spot. Out of anything, people can’t say that I emulate at all. People that know me since I started out, they say “It’s one thing I can say about Chop is he always stuck with it and he don’t try to be like nobody else.” That’s why me and Frost go together. If I don’t like a beat, that’s one thing. But I don’t tell him “you should do the snare this way” or “you should use this type of kick.” Just like he don’t tell me what I should do. We don’t do that. A lot of times he’ll remix something later because he feels like the beat should be better, but that’s him, not me. A lot of times when I rhyme on something the original joint that he gives me is dope, that’s why the song comes out that way.

I don’t know, man. It’s frustrating to see how many people get over. That’s really what it was. They’re trying to jam that one puzzle piece into that one spot where it don’t go instead of searching for that right piece.  The joints that we put out, Kill or Be Killed and 4thelove, didn’t go with the project we’re working on now, so we added the pieces to them puzzles. All those are the right pieces for those particular puzzles. I even put my rhymes together like that. I can have 8 bars here, 4 bars here, and I’m always jotting stuff down too. If it don’t go together then it has to go for something else or not used at all. If you got 4 pieces that look alike, but they don’t go in that spot, I don’t try to jam them in there. Somebody else will try to jam that same piece in there. You could be like “nah, that’s not the right piece” and they’ll say “oh, yeah it is, and it’s going to work!”

Purchase: Tone Chop & Frost Gamble – Kill or Be Killed

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About Sherron Shabazz

Sherron Shabazz is a freelance writer with an intense passion for Hip-Hop culture. Sherron is your quintessential Hip-Hop snob, seeking to advance the future of the culture while fondly remembering its past.
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