In 2016 longtime collaborators Tone Chop and Frost Gamble joined forces to release an EP called Veteran. The emcee/producer duo wasted no time getting back in the lab to create what is one of the best albums of 2017, “Respect Is Earned Not Given.”
The 14-track album magically mixes Chop’s grit and wit with Frost’s phenomenal production. Respect Is Earned Not Given is produced entirely by Frost Gamble and features appearances by Tragedy Khadafi, Planet Asia, White Rhino, Bigga Haitian, DNA, DJ Waxamillion, and the legendary Kool G Rap.
The Real Hip-Hop spoke to Tone Chop and Frost Gamble about taking their music to the next level, collaborating with some of their Hip-Hop influences, and their new album, Respect Is Earned Not Given.
TRHH: Why’d you title the album ‘Respect Is Earned Not Given’?
Tone Chop: I had the title for like a year or so. Basically I feel like you should earn your respect lyrically. These guys nowadays don’t have to. It’s just me showing everybody we gotta earn our respect and we’re going to earn it. When I came up we had to have rhymes ready all the time. You couldn’t just be like, “I rhyme,” or whatever. Nowadays they just get over. They get hot over a YouTube video and you didn’t really earn nothing. You didn’t have to sit in the trenches and rhyme it out. When I battled somebody you had to have 25 verses, not three rounds. You had to have verses on deck. I always had rhymes on deck. I had that title for a while now. I told Frost about it and he was like, “Yeah, let’s go with it.” That’s really it. It’s a popular quote anyway. At the same time to me it means musically you should have to earn your spot. I have done it, but not worldwide, so we’re earning it worldwide right now.
Frost Gamble: The EP was the warm up, especially Chop’s back story on who we are and what we’re about. On the LP Chop goes much deeper lyrically. You get to find out more of his story, more of his personality, and more of our complete style and sensibilities. I’m really proud of what we made. I feel like it’s a complete cohesive album. There’s nothing throwaway about it. We put our heart and soul into every track.
TRHH: Chop, would you say you took your skills to a new level this time around?
Tone Chop: Absolutely, absolutely. Frost will tell you that even when I make a mixtape I try to push the envelope every time. Veteran we did before the deal and all of that. This is me with the deal and really making the album. The EP, we did 7 songs and put them on there. This is me trying to make an album. I got over 20 mixtapes. This is me trying to spill it all out without having to do certain things like club tracks or whatever. I’m not into that type of stuff. I spilled it out a lot more. There’s a lot more to this album than Veteran by far. I feel like we both stepped it up.
TRHH: Was stepping it up a concerted effort to step it up or did you just get better over time?
Tone Chop: I think we got better over time. If you listen to the intro it say, “They’re praying I fall off, we just got better with time.” There are a lot of people waiting to say, “He’s hanging it up, congratulations.” But that’s not happening. The movie that we got after this is just ridiculous. We just keep getting better – it’s crazy. I’m 44 years old, I ain’t no youngin. For me to keep getting better at something is a positive thing.
Frost Gamble: I think it’s validation, too. Chop and I have been getting our energy from fans. Just like he said, it’s crazy at our age that we’re just breaking through and just starting to get this love. We have people from the UK and France telling us that we’re into the music and it’s inspiring. It erases that self-doubt. I spent a lot of years hearing a bunch of bullshit from A&R’s about having to make a beat that sounds like whatever the trend is. Chop and I have never been about that. We stuck to the Hip-Hop script right from jump and we’re fortunate that after 20 years of being stubborn people that it’s come back our way and it’s working. We’re blessed.
Tone Chop: Imagine being a basketball player and you’re great. You’re telling everybody all the time and show them what you do for years, but you never made it on the right team or made it to the next level. This is just me showing them and I appreciate it. I’ve been telling them for years. If you go back and listen to my mixtapes, I’ve never been garbage. I always had hot music it just didn’t get to the masses. I didn’t have the platform to get it to the right people. If I did then this would have happened a lot sooner, I know it would have. That’s why we say everything happens for a reason. It just wasn’t our time and now is our time. We stuck to what we do and we do the music that we like and the music that we would listen to. It’s not too many people that inspire me lately, seriously. It’s a lot of dudes out there that aren’t really impressive. I got love for this. This is what I do for a long time. I always try and push my pen more and more every time.
TRHH: How’d you link up with Kool G Rap for ‘Walk The Walk’?
Frost Gamble: That’s the beauty of this label situation, now we have the connections to reach out to people and be credible. With G Rap I basically just reached out to his manager and started a conversation. He saw that we were official and weren’t bullshitting and wasting their time. It was such an incredible experience because G Rap is clearly, if not thee, one of the greatest of all-time. He’s incredibly important to our culture and lyricism. He has unquestionable contributions, but he was so humble and so cool to work with. We sent him the track with Chop’s vocals on it and he hit me back right away. We’re texting and he’s not doing it from a distance. He’s like, “Man, Chop killed this. This is dope. I hope I can keep up!” He said something real complementary like that, what a great person. He doesn’t have to show us love like that, but he did. That’s exactly the kind of thing that feeds Chop and I energy. That’s all we ever really wanted. We don’t want to be rich, we don’t want to be famous, but we do crave acknowledgment from the architects – the people that we admire, the people that we respect. It all ties right back, respect is earned, not given.
Tone Chop: I’m highly grateful that he liked the record before putting himself on it. Nothing is revised. He got the record how it was. I didn’t change none of the words or nothing after he did his verse. I kept everything the same. I’m grateful that he even gave me the props and said that the record was dope before he even got on it. That was one of them records where I was telling Frost that we don’t even need a feature on it at all. He said G Rap was the right feature for it. He put it together and the record is making a lot of noise. Hopefully it catches fire. He’s got an album out right now and he’s been one of my favorite rappers and I’ve never changed. I got certain rappers that I hold to a certain pedestal. That’s why when they ask me about the Jay-Z album, I’m a fan of Jay-Z, don’t get me wrong, this one is better than the last one but this ain’t the Jay-Z that I want to hear. I feel like the 4:44 joint, I don’t know, I feel like my album is better. I know as a rapper you’re supposed to feel like that, but I’m not just saying that. I feel like we put together a solid body of work.
TRHH: I’ve only listened to your album once so I’ll have to go back and listen again and judge that. I hit Frost up when I was listening to it and I was like, “Holy shit, this is crazy!” It’s banging from beginning to end. I love it, but I do like the Jay-Z album a lot.
Tone Chop: I like the Jay-Z album, don’t get me wrong. I like it better than a lot of the last few that he did. He went back to his roots this time with the beats and everything. It ain’t a bunch of trap bullshit on there. I do like it, but I’m not like, “Wow.” Like I said before, anything he puts out people are going to hop on it anyway. He can call it anything he wants. They’re saying he’s the GOAT so maybe next time he’ll call it The GOAT and have a picture with him looking like a goat on there.
TRHH: [Laughs] You know what I think the buzz is? Number one, it’s the whole Beyonce thing. 2, I’m a fan of what people call “rapping about rap,” just lyrics. I love that, but the majority of people like when they can connect with you on some shit. 2Pac didn’t have the greatest flow, but because of the shit that he said people love him to this day. They could relate to the shit he was saying and Jay-Z doesn’t really do that. There’s not one club record on that album, which is not normal for Jay-Z. Jay-Z is being vulnerable, which he’s only shown glimpses of over time. That’s why people dig it.
Tone Chop: Speaking of 2Pac, I actually appreciate 2Pac more now than when I was younger, actually.
Frost Gamble: Oh yeah, me too and it’s not even close.
Tone Chop: I listen to 2Pac now and I get a whole different chill listening to 2Pac now than I did when I was younger.
Frost Gamble: We were East Coast kids. That whole East/West thing, media induced or whatever, I felt like at the time he was pouring fuel on that fire. I loved Biggie deeply, so I was not messing with him back in the days. I deeply appreciate and respect his artistry, the impact he’s had, and his legacy and all of that. I do listen to his music now, but at the time outside of the Digital Underground stuff he was on radio silence as far as I was concerned [laughs].
TRHH: I’m the opposite of you guys because I was heavily into him back then, but now I can’t listen so much. Only because I don’t think the production has held up. He’s got some shit but some of the beats sound very dated. I can listen to some Preemo shit from back then and still love it, but some of the production was not that great to me. It’s hard to argue with a guy who had that kind of success.
Frost Gamble: Right.
Tone Chop: Absolutely.
TRHH: Frost, did you take a different approach working with Chop than when you worked with ZotheJerk on Black Beach?
Frost Gamble: With Chop we’re so much further along in our understanding of each other. Zo is my twin and we’re really close, but we’ve only been making music together for 3 years. Chop and I have been making music together for 30 years. When Chop says, “I’m looking for such and such,” or “I got whatever on my mind,” I know what he’s talking about right away. I know what’s he’s going for and it’s very easy for us to communicate. We’ve done so many songs with each other and Chop still surprises me with flows and styles. Even though he surprises me I’m well prepared to lay down the sonic blueprint that he needs. We laid almost 30 songs for Respect is Earned Not Given and just picked the best 14 and put it on wax. Yes, we’ve gotten better but we’re working like crazy to get there. It’s still fun. Sometimes we have deadlines that stress you or other projects we’re working on, but with Chop it’s always fun. It comes very easily for me.
TRHH: The beat on ‘Bing Stories’ is crazy. Without sample snitching, how did you find that sample because that was nuts? What genre was that?
Frost Gamble: That’s a jazz sample. That’s an old jazz record. It’s just a loop. You can hear from the album that sometimes I chop things up and take it crazy, but that’s just a loop. As soon as I heard it I was like, “This is a storytelling joint right here.” Chop has lived an interesting life so I knew he had some stories. I said, “Check this out if you want to tell some experiences to this,” and man did he write a compelling story.
TRHH: Chop, on the last couple songs “Inspiration” and “See You Again” you kind of got personal. Was it easy for you to spit those rhymes?
Tone Chop: With the Inspiration joint I go to this group and it’s church based, but it’s a recovering group. I’m not necessarily recovering but it’s a friend of mine who runs it and he’s a pastor. He reached out to me because he knows that I have a voice. He tries to help me out. Sometimes I have a lot of things on my mind and I can go to that group and express myself without anybody judging me. Inspiration really comes from going to that group and being around people that are trying to do positive things in their life. They have people constantly knocking them down because they had a drug problem or an alcohol problem, so it’s actually inspired by that. I’m trying to inspire you and inspire myself as well. You know how people quote things all the time? I took a few popular quotes and weaved them in the rhymes to bring forth a positive message. I have kids and I want my kids to be able to listen to my album top to bottom. I don’t want them to have to skip through songs. My oldest son is into Hip-Hop very much. I’m trying to show him the ropes at the same time because he’s already writing and ready to jump in the bag already. I’m trying to inspire people with that one.
See You Again is about a good friend of mine that passed away. It was a couple of years before I made the record, but it just wasn’t the time to make the record. I was just sitting there thinking and it just all poured out the way it was supposed to. I feel like those records all come from a special place. It has to come from that special place. If I tell Frost I need something pain wise he knows what I’m talking about. Those two records really came from a special place. I’m a street dude. Frost knows what it is, but unless you really know me personally then you don’t know what I mean by that. I was a person that was really in the streets. I’m not trying to glorify anything but I was really getting money. I went down the wrong path and got in trouble. To cut a long story short I just went through a lot of changes. That’s why it says in the song, “I’m making changes, so if you don’t hear from me that means you’re one of them.” That means I cut you out of my life, I don’t need you around, you’re not helping me in any way trying to further what I’m trying to do. If you’re not going to be behind me positively it’s no sense in having you around. I cut my circle down a wicked lot in the past five or six years. If I see somebody I won’t turn my back on them.
Frost will tell you, where I come from I’m popular. I know a lot of people. I’ve been here all my life so it’s hard for me to go anywhere and not see anybody I know anyhow. I don’t ever shrug them off or nothing. We just might not chill or go hang out at my barbecue or nothing. We’re still cool though. I just don’t need those types of people around. I need positive energy. I got a lot of feelings and everything. Everything that I do is for my kids. I really tried to make an album this time. This ain’t no mixtape. Veteran was dope, don’t get me wrong. I told everybody that this was going to be way better than Veteran and I feel like we accomplished that. All 30 joints could have went on the album and we could have got away with it, but we had to narrow it down. I let Frost pick everything to be honest with you. There’s only one joint on there that I really wanted on there and he made it happen. He picked out all the other joints. I let him use his instincts on that and I think he did well. Everything flows well throughout the whole album.
Frost Gamble: That’s another reason why I’m so blessed because Chop gives me that kind of latitude and reach. It’s beautiful for me as a producer. Think of the power of that. Chop is a master emcee. He’s been doing this his whole life. He’s wrecked stages, cyphers, battles, corners, every place. For him to go, “I’m just going to go in lyrically. I’m going to dig deep, give you personal stories, battle bars, and be a good caretaker of that for us.” That’s the opportunity that he’s offered me and that’s a privilege. I take that seriously. We package up these products as carefully and as thoughtfully as possible.
One thing I wanted to share with you real quick, on the See You Again track that was a last minute decision on if that was going to make the album or not. When we made the song I was beside myself listening to it over and over again. I couldn’t believe how much of his soul he poured out on it. He was like, “Yeah, but this is a touchy thing. It’s about a real person who has a real family.” I won’t put too much info out there but Chop went to the family and had some chats to make sure he had their support before doing anything more with the song. It was very much a last minute decision to include the track and I’m so glad that we did. I think what Chop did on it is just brilliant.
TRHH: I agree. It was the perfect way to close it. What are some of the positives and negatives about being an indie Hip-Hop artist?
Frost Gamble: Lots of positives. We still have our creative control. The label never pressures us to make any bullshit. They never say, “Go make a club record,” or “Go make a trap record,” none of that. They will challenge us to get features and create our art in a way that they can deliver. They want strong albums and they are looking for features. There are a lot of positives. We have such a good situation with 22 Entertainment. We’re incredibly thankful. I guess the downside of being independent is you have to fund everything out of pocket. Rap money is slow money. It takes a long time for iTunes to pay the labels, it takes a long time for the labels to pay the artists, and it takes a long time for the radio stations to pay for spins. It’s not fast money by any means. For me that would be the downside, but the upside far outweighs it.
Tone Chop: I wouldn’t want to see it any other way to be honest with you. I wouldn’t want to be in a situation where they’re telling us what to do and all that. Creative control has got to be there. When he hands the album in and they go, “Man, this is dope,” and they didn’t hear nothing before then that’s like if you give somebody 16 songs and they tell you it’s a masterpiece and they didn’t hear one of them, that’s got to mean something. That shows that the label is behind what we’re doing. They didn’t hear no songs at all. We did the album, he handed it in, and that’s that. They were like, “It’s a masterpiece.” That makes me feel good and makes me push harder to know it’s appreciated.
You know how many people go unappreciated nowadays? There are millions of rappers that go unappreciated. It’s not that they ain’t dope or nothing, it’s just that they ain’t get the right look. I think we got the right look and we’re in the right situation. Like I said, I got all my trust in Frost. Not just because we’re friends, but I know he knows what we do together as a team. If you’re telling me he’s making a certain move I don’t generally go against it because I know it’s for the good. I would go without no features if it was up to me. I feel like I’m strong enough that I don’t need features at all. The features I do have, all the records came out dope. I appreciate it but I’m not stressing about having a feature.
Frost Gamble: We haven’t told the label yet, but we’re going to try to do the next project with no features. We’re going to try to convince them that we don’t need any features on the next project. We gotta get this one to pop first.
TRHH: Speaking of features, Tragedy Khadafi is on the album, how’d you hook up with him?
Frost Gamble: It started with my compilation album. For a couple of years now I’ve been working on a compilation album called “I Missed My Bus” which is all features. When things started popping with 22 Entertainment I reached out to Tragedy. This was around the time we working on Chop’s album and getting close to having to turn it in. I knew they would want features. Tragedy and Chop actually have a little bit of history because Chop had sent beats to Tragedy before and Tragedy liked them. When I hit him I was like, “Let’s do a Queensbridge to Binghamton connect,” and he was with it. We had that Here I Go record. It’s just a fun straight Hip-Hop joint. It was the perfect vibe to get someone like Tragedy on. That relationship has really grown. We’re in regular contact and Trag and I are working on an LP, and you’re definitely going to hear more Tragedy and Chop together. It’s a must, they just sound amazing together.
TRHH: Who would you say Respect Is Earned Not Given is for?
Tone Chop: I think it’s for everybody. Why wouldn’t it be? I know people who don’t listen to Hip-Hop at all and they listen to my music. They got a whole different perspective on Hip-Hop when they listen to my record. I got family that don’t listen to rap at all. They’re going to support regardless, but they don’t just support, they listen to it too. I feel like it’s for everybody. I feel like anybody can get something out of it. Like I said, I got children. My son is a critic. He doesn’t like certain things. He doesn’t listen to what’s on the radio. He listens to the same music his daddy listens to and he’s ready to rap right now. We’re going to do something very soon – I already see it coming. The rhyme he’s got put together right now is pretty good for only being in fourth grade. He raps better than some of these guys on the radio already. I don’t ever shoot for a particular crowd, I just do what I do.
I just make music. I make music that comes from a certain place – it’s natural. I feel like if your music don’t come from the right place it’s not real then. You can have all the money and cars that you say you got, but at the end of the day if it ain’t coming from the right place it’s not real. There’s dude that got ten children but they don’t have one single song that’s positive on their album at all. It’s about trapping and popping bottles. Can you play your record for your children? Can you kids listen to the music you do honestly? Can you let your children listen to it and you feel good about that? I would have to question that. I know I can play my record for my kids. There’s nothing on there too vulgar or too crazy, right or left. They can listen to it top to bottom and I don’t have to have an unsettling feeling at all about it. They can listen to it and enjoy and know I made it with them on my mind because they’re always on top. That’s just me.
Frost Gamble: I don’t want people to get the wrong idea, you totally can play this album in front of kids, but that’s Chop’s rare ability. He can make the toughest, hardest songs without swearing. He has a vocabulary, he has character, and he has a presence that comes across on the mic. He can threaten you without using the F word. He’ll let you know what he’s about to do to you on the microphone without using offensive words. That’s a rare skill. I agree with Chop, I think the album does have something to appeal to everybody, but who we made it for is honestly ourselves. We’re going to stick to the script. We make music that we like to listen to. I got no idea what half the music on the radio sounds like. Most of these famous artists that people hate, I don’t hate them because I don’t know what they sound like. I don’t listen to them.
Tone Chop: I never heard one Lil’ Yachty song, Uzi Vert, nothing. I never heard one song by them. I heard Kodak Black once. A friend of mine showed me a track and I almost puked. That’s how terrible it was.
Frost Gamble: I recently listened to that Desiigner joint, Panda. I’m not hating on him, I don’t know if he’s dope or not. I sincerely wish everyone in the industry wealth, success, and all of that, but I wondered what’s the big deal? I know I’m an old guy because I don’t get it half the time. I’m like, “This is the beat to the song they’ve been talking about for months?” Did they hear Ransom’s album? Did they hear our album? I don’t get it. I don’t understand why it gets any attention at all.
TRHH: You know what? We’re dinosaurs, man.
Frost Gamble: [Laughs].
Tone Chop: If I’m a dinosaur or not if you’re horrible, you’re horrible. If you got anything to say about my opinion we can meet somewhere and I’ll surely shred you. It’s not a problem. I don’t battle no more but people still try to do it nowadays and I tell them, “You really don’t wanna jump in that bag. Just stick to doing what you’re doing.” My record is flawless. I took one loss and it’s not really a loss because I beat him too, and that’s like one of my dudes I rhyme with all the time and he’s nasty. I don’t take that loss as nothing. That’s one loss out of a gazillion rappers I done tore to shreds. A bunch of mumble rappers, too. They come to me all the time. My boy got the bodega and they come up to me all the time like, “I heard about you. You ain’t that nice,” and six bars in they’re already getting their bottle of soda and breaking out the door, “Can I get that Dutch Master and that pack of cigs? I’m outta here.”