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T.O.K.: A Cut Above

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Since hitting the American scene in the early 1970’s, Reggae music has been very influential to all music as a whole. With classic artists like Bob Marley, Super Cat, Shabba Ranks, Sean Paul, Beenie Man and countless others influencing both the way American music sounds and moves, it was only a matter of time before we would see the eruption of artists show casing their original sounds, fused with the forever popular sound of the Dancehall. Now in 2005, with the rising popularity of Reggaetone and Soca music, the presence is as strong as ever.

T.O.K. is a harmonious group with a unique sound, straight out of Kingston, Jamaica. Although the group has been together for over a decade, it was their 2001 album My Crew, My Dawg that made T.O.K. an international name. Redefining the label of “boy band” in their own fashion, the quartet strays from the pop image with a fusion of Reggae and Soca – a sound that is a far cry from the Backstreet Boys or N’Sync.

With the release of their new album Unknown Language, T.O.K. is paced to bring their style to the forefront of popular music. AllHipHop.com Alternatives conversed recently with the influential group about what ‘T.O.K.’ really means.

AllHipHop.com Alternatives: ‘Footprints’ [from the new album] is a very inspirational song. Where did the concept behind the song come from?

Bay-C: Unfortunately, it was based on actual events that happened to Alex’s brother who was shot and killed in 2003. So we basically created the song to show the families out there who are going through grief that they are not going through it alone. To show them that no matter how hard life seems at times that there is always someone there to go through it with you, and I hope that it does touch a lot of people.

AHHA: With all of the beef in the industry and promotion of violence, are you hoping that this song will serve as a platform to say to other artists who glamorize the wrong lifestyle to stop and look at what they are contributing to?

Bay-C: Hopefully. I know that we all go through our immature times, because T.O.K. as a group has definitely matured over the years and we want people to understand that. Yeah, it may be okay to say certain things when you are younger, but as you get older you understand that life is the most important gift you have and we need to cherish that. So basically we are hoping that other artists understand that they do have a responsibility and that they live up to it.

AHHA: What has changed between My Crew, My Dawg and Unknown Language to affect the creativity between the two albums?

Bay-C: We have matured a lot as a group. As far as our friendship goes, we are definitely a lot more closer than we were then and part of it has to do with the tragedy dealing with Alex’s brother. So as a result, the music on Unknown Language is much more open and close to the heart than before. A lot has to also do with the fact that we are saying a lot more now versus putting words together over a nice beat, now we understand that we have a voice that people will listen to and want to use it in a positive way.

AHHA: Now you guys had a few huge hits off of your debut album, one being ‘My Crew, My Dawg’ and the other ‘Girl You Ah Lead’. When you went into the studio, did you set out to try to recreate a club banger to surpass the success of your first two?

Bay-C: We don’t usually set out to create like that. When we go into the studio, we listen to the music and then just create off of what the music says to us. Because if you think to much, then the creative process gets stifled, so we really just try to let whatever moves us take it’s course and put out what we feel.

AHHA: Growing up on MTV and BET, a lot of people would say that you guys don’t really have a traditional Reggae sound. Who are some of your influences?

Bay-C: Well T.O.K. as a whole is influenced by so many genres of music. I personally trained three years in classical music while doing vocal training, so I listen to everything from Bach to 50 Cent. But as far as Reggae influences, I would definitely say Super Cat, because I like the fact that he can freestyle so easily. It just comes from him so natural.

AHHA: Yeah, Super Cat in the ‘90s was definitely that dude and a lot of people are looking for him to come back. Do you see T.O.K. collaborating with him in the future?

Bay -C: Possibly. I’m not to sure where he’s at in his career, because he has achieved a lot. But if he wanted to collaborate, we definitely would like to do it. But truthfully, when it comes to a lot of collaborations, T.O.K. as a whole is so self-sufficient, that we truly aren’t ruling out working with anyone. I personally feel that any artists that are representing the message that we are trying to bring across in the sing and the feel of it, we are definitely willing to work with them.

AHHA: For those who aren’t clear, what would you say that the message is that T.O.K. is trying to bring across?

Bay-C: Honestly, the song ‘Footprints’ is very serious, but overall that is not the only message that we are trying to bring to the people. What we really want people to understand is us. We want them to understand that we have been together [as a group] for 12 years and use that as an example to show that you can be unified and have long lasting friendships. We want people to understand togetherness, by looking at us they can see that we have our ups and downs and fights but at the end of the day our relationships don’t change.

AHHA: Speaking on collaborations, you collaborated with Pitbull for the track ‘She’s Hotter’. How was it working with him?

Bay-C: He is a cool guy, we have been knowing him for a long time. We actually met him a while ago through our DJ, and we have always had a strong hold on the Latino market as far as Reggaetone, and they are always real good to us, so it was a nice vibe and he was real easy to talk to.

AHHA: With paying your dues and finally seeing your work pay off, as well as the explosion of international music as a whole on the American music scene, how does it feel to see that the music that once inspired you now being inspired by you?

Bay-C: It feels very good. It’s always good to see that your music is appreciated and especially to be accepted by the people you look up to leaves you with a great feeling. It makes you feel as if you have finally become a part of the committee that govern all the things that you have been striving to be a part of for a long time, so it feels great.

AHHA: I hear you guys are doing a tour of high schools in Jamaica to support the fight against AIDS. How did you become so active in the fight? I also hear you are working on a mixtape to benefit the same cause as well.

Bay-C: We do the tour every week in Jamiaca and the Bareback cd, came about to just make kids aware of the different plagues out there that are a destructive force in our community. We feel strongly about being a positive force, so anything to help our community, whether it’s being aware or whatever, we are here to lend our support.

AHHA: That’s very positive, especially at time when music is coming under scrutiny for the message it promotes.

Alex: Growing up as a child, a lot of times you don’t have both parents so we look to other outlets to tell us what’s right. It’s unfortunate but true, so we as artists have decided that the message that kids will get from us a positive one to say ‘Hey, think before you act.’ Just to make them more aware as well about the message that they can put out to effect and help others as well.

AHHA: Getting back to your album, you guys talk about that special woman that you would see in a club a lot. What is your type of woman?

Alex: Well I am attracted to a healthy girl, one who is very intellectual and makes me laugh. There is always going to be that initial physically attraction, but in the end it comes down to how you treat me and how we can relate to each other.

AHHA: With the heavy stigma that has been placed on Reggae music as a whole, what do you think is the biggest misconception that people have about T.O.K.?

Alex: I would actually have to say the biggest misconception has to deal with the whole labeling of a boy band. I mean personally I don’t care about being called a boy band because I know we are going to let the music speak for itself. If use being called a boy band is going to get the music out there, then what the hell. You know. I mean the word boy band has positive things to go with it, but it also has the negative association with being a fad and makes you sound pop cornish. But T.O.K. is definitely here to prove we are here to stay, and that we are a bwoi band of a different caliber.

AHHA: Do you feel that the label will hinder you in a way?

Alex: Yes and no. Yes, because our grass roots fans are Dancehall and hardcore, and to be referred to as being a boy band will have you being looked at as being soft. Especially if you do a lot of cross over and music that doesn’t seem natural to you. I say no, because we can’t be a boy band because they are generally younger children, between 6 and 15. So we look at it in many ways to say hey we aren’t a boy band, but if you call us one, we are re-defining it as a ‘bwoi band’ because we are not soft and we are not children.

AHHA: What does T.O.K. stand for? Initially when you came out it stood for Touch of Klass, but then was changed to Taking Over Kingston..

Alex: It really depends on the situation and how we are feeling, initially it did mean Touch Of Klass, but now we are saying Top Of the Klass, so it all depends on our mood and how we feel – but in essence, T.O.K. means Bay-C, Alex, Craig T and Flexx. [laughs]

AHHA: What’s next for T.O.K.

Alex: Taking over the world. [laughs] I see our music living on and seeing that Jamaican music lives on and continues to span all over the world. Check out our website at http://www.tokworld.com.

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