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Pre-Wale, There Was (And Is) D.C.’s Tabi Bonney

Tabi Bonney

There was a time in D.C., just a few short years back, when the most prominent MC on the Chocolate City’s rap scene WASN’T named Wale. To be exact, his name is Tabi Bonney, and his ultra-lyrical, Go-Go-inspired tracks helped lay a path for other, errrr, ummm, “locals” to follow.

Tabi isn’t bitter about the other successes coming out of his ‘hood right now, though. The former educator, who now records under a famous Roc-A-Fella founder, is all about the music and the touring right now. And along with fellow artists like Murs and a long-missing Nicole Wray, he’s making thoughtful, musically-laced raps while building a strong fan base across the country.

If you don’t know Tabi yet, get acquainted via AllHipHop.com’s exclusive interview with one of “The District’s” quiet but golden spitters:

AllHipHop.com: I know you’re from D.C. by way of West Africa where your family has roots, so I wanted to ask you first about D.C. It’s such a melting pot for so many cultures, and I think there is a really great musical tradition there. So, do you have any musical influences that came independent of your African roots, like from D.C.?

Tabi Bonney: Yeah, I mean, absolutely. I think that’s what Go-Go music is like, really hook happy and strong on percussion, so I think that’s why I lean more towards a lot of bridges. I think I’m a good hook writer, too.

AllHipHop.com: Well, people might be surprised to hear about your educational background, which is really impressive. You have a master’s degree. I was just thinking, I’ve met a few, good, intelligent rappers this year who have actually completed college. J. Cole comes to mind, and Dee-1 out of New Orleans. So I wanted to ask you, do you think those degrees lend something extra to your lyrics and to your style?

Tabi Bonney: For me, I think, not per se to my lyrics, but more so towards the discipline and patience, you know, being in the industry and going after your dreams.

AllHipHop.com: Right.

Tabi Bonney: That’s what I think has given me the persistence and discipline to just buckle down and be in this line of work. As far as lyrics, I wouldn’t say so because all the stuff I studied was really scientific.

AllHipHop.com: That’s right, you have a Master’s in Biology. So you’re going to be walking around for the rest of your life with all of this Biology in your head! Do you think you’ll ever do something with that?

Tabi Bonney: I don’t personally think so. I think if I had to do it again, I would go more into other sciences as far as dealing with, say, the solar system or even just new technology of science that’s not biology and stuff.

AllHipHop.com: OK, that’s interesting! Well, Dee-1, who I mentioned earlier, is also a former teacher like you, and he said his students, before he left the classroom, his students knew he rapped. So did your students realize that you were a rapper back then, and did you see any opportunities to use Hip-Hop in your classroom?

Tabi Bonney: Yeah, they actually found out that I rapped and actually did a write-up on me in the school paper. They just came at me to battle me! [laughter] I don’t know. It was just weird because my age from them wasn’t that different. I was maybe three years older than most of my students, because I taught as soon as I graduated college. And then, I was in an inner city school so I had some 19- and 20-year-olds in the classroom.

AllHipHop.com: Wow, that must have been interesting.

Tabi Bonney: It was!

AllHipHop.com: I was looking back and thinking about you, and there are some people out there who might say, out of the D.C. region, you were the bigger rapper at one point, and I’m sure there’s always comparisons to Wale. Do you kind of feel like you built the foundation, and then he just sort of catapulted off it? What are your feelings about that?

Tabi Bonney: I feel like I definitely laid the groundwork because there is still nothing to this day, there hasn’t been another rapper outside of D.C., that has gotten as much radio play as I did, not even being signed. So the thing is, I am extremely excited and happy for Wale, because I think it opens up the door for everybody. And the thing with me is like, I just feel like everybody has their own journey, like I’m completely happy with my own journey and not taking the major label route as of yet because I got those offers during that time. But I just knew it wasn’t right for me, because they thought my song was a dance song.

AllHipHop.com: Right.

Tabi Bonney: So, I could have very well done that and my career could have been over, you know what I mean?

AllHipHop.com: Yeah, absolutely.

Tabi Bonney: So I still feel like I’m just getting started honestly. Just being around Dame Dash and soaking up so much knowledge from him and also looking at the journey and the long haul, because I just really plan on being a multi-millionaire on the road. I’m not one of these guys that’s just in it for the fame and then that’s it. You catch me a year or two later, and I’m broke.

AllHipHop.com: Right, so you love the performance angle. Well, that’s great to hear. Your album, The Summer Years, I know you had Ski Beatz as an executive producer and you just mentioned Dame Dash. So I want to hear about how you hooked up with Dame, and then I want you to tell me…I think your sound is somewhat different now from before and does that have anything to do with the people you’re working with now?

Tabi Bonney: Yeah, I think so. I feel that this is one of my best albums ever. I tried something different; I’ve never done just one single producer for an entire album. And then the other thing that was different about this one, too, is that I actually wrote on the spot in the studio, I’ve never been able to do that before. Usually I have to take the beat with me into my own environment, into my house, or driving in the car around nobody, and just get into my own world.

AllHipHop.com: Right.

Tabi Bonney: With this one just being around Curren$y or seeing Jay Electronica, people like that, just writing on the spot really inspired me to do that. Plus it’s the only way that Ski Beatz works. He only works in the studio. He doesn’t send out music.

AllHipHop.com: And how did you hook up with Dame?

Tabi Bonney: Actually through Facebook. There was a producer who was working with him who was like, ‘Hey, I’m up here at DD172 and Tribeca, I’ve been a fan for years now. I put Dame onto your music, and he wanted you to come up here and meet him.’ So I was like, “Man, I could get there tonight,” and he said, ‘Dame said to come tomorrow.’ So I just hopped in my car and drove from D.C. to New York the very next day and met Dame.

AllHipHop.com: Wow. Well, that’s a great story. Thinking about not being signed as an artist right now, there’s so much technology now that allows you to do so much more on your own, so that’s a great story of how social media connected you with somebody. That’s great.

Tabi Bonney: Definitely, definitely.

AllHipHop.com: I want to ask you about a few individual tracks on the album. The first one is “Hip-Hop and Love” featuring Murs. That’s a really smooth cut and I think Murs is dope. He mentioned an interview with you guys, but it never happened.

AllHipHop.com: Actually, it did. We ran it. I was just going to say that last time I saw him was at “Rock the Bells,” and we ran something on him after, that but I’ll have to make sure that they get to see that. So, tell me about working with Murs.

Tabi Bonney: Oh, man. Same thing. I linked up with Murs on MySpace when it was actually still cool. I’m just going to take you back real quick because it’s such a wild thing. He hit me on MySpace and said he was a fan, that he came onto my music, just stuff like that, and then I think he said, ‘Hey do you want to come out and perform on the Rock the Bells tour this year?’ I told him, “Yeah, thanks.”

So then this year, he asked if I wanted to hop on tour with him for “Paid Dues,” which I think was a 33-city tour. So I did and once we made the stop in New York, I told him I was about to go through and meet up with Dame and Ski, if he wanted to come along. And he said ‘sure,’ so I brought him through. Him and Dame connected, and then we recorded that song on our day off during the tour – the “Hip-Hop and Love” song that Ski did led to the “Hip-Hop and Love Tour” that we’re on right now.

AllHipHop.com: Right, I noticed the title was the same. That’s a dope story. So what about “Feeling More” featuring Nicole Wray? She has a great voice, and I was really happy to hear her on the song.

Tabi Bonney: Yeah, I love Nicole. She is just spectacular and her voice is just “wow.”

AllHipHop.com: She’s one of those people with a voice that makes you just want to see her go farther or make a comeback, or however you want to call it. I was just glad to hear her still recording.

Tabi Bonney: Yeah and I just shot a video for that, so that’s the next video that people will be sitting on. It’s just a great feel, good track. She just so happened to be hanging out in the studio that day, and I was just like, “Yo, I need to have you on a song.”

AllHipHop.com: Right. So things seem to just kind of fall in your path. Sort of like…

Tabi Bonney: Yeah!

AllHipHop.com: That’s sort of your legacy, that you were just in the right place, at all the right times. What about you sampling your father on “On Jupiter?” Tell me about your dad as a musician and his inspiration.

Tabi Bonney: Yeah, well that came from his first album, and I’ve always been a fan of his first album, so I brought that in and let Ski listen to the whole album, and I was like, “Listen to my father’s music, and I would love to sample something so whatever you hear…” just ‘cause I trust Ski’s ears. So he picked the song – the original song is called “Dodci,” that’s D-O-D-C-I, which means ‘patience.’ So he took that, flipped it, and that’s how we got “On Jupiter.”

AllHipHop.com: So, as far as people who are already fans, or people who will read this and say, ‘I’ve got to go check this guy out,’ I know they can catch you now through Thanksgiving on the “Hip-Hop and Love Tour” that you mentioned before. I know you did A3C recently in Atlanta, and I know you did Brooklyn this past weekend, so how are the crowds receiving you as you go to different places in the country and introduce yourself to different people?

Tabi Bonney: It’s been almost overwhelming as far as the reception. I’ve been getting nothing but love from people, and people who have never heard of me are like, ‘I can’t believe I’ve never heard of you. That was one of the best shows I’ve ever seen.’ So it’s been just spectacular for me.

AllHipHop.com: Good, good. Well, hopefully this article will help a few people come out and support the tour and get to have the Tabi Bonney experience.

Tabi Bonney: Yeah, you know, the “Hip-Hop and Love Tour,” that’s something for the masses to come out and hear more.

AllHipHop.com: Ok. So with you being an intelligent guy like you are, I always like to close out my interviews with a few current event kinds of things. So, you know we’ve got these folks out there protesting in different cities like “Occupy Wall Street,” and you know people want jobs and they’re demanding all these different things because there’s tough times. I know you have some entrepreneurial ventures of your own. I heard about your production company and your clothing line, Bonney Runway. So coming from you, how important do you think it is to be an entrepreneur in these times and getting your own. What do you think about that?

Tabi Bonney: Yeah, well, it’s time now more than ever to create businesses and be your own boss. You don’t want to be that guy that someone has to come to and say, ‘I don’t need you anymore.’

AllHipHop.com: Right.

Tabi Bonney: That’s the American Dream, the American entrepreneur. From before to Thomas Edison to, you know, Bill Gates. You know, everybody that’s extremely successful, they’ve all been entrepreneurs. That’s the only way that we’re going to further our culture and the U.S. – period.

AllHipHop.com: Yeah, it’s a time that people aren’t getting more they’re going to get less from the government and other entities, so we have to get our own I think. That’s definitely true.

Tabi Bonney: And we do a better service. You create a bigger, a better economy employing those people that don’t want to go that route.

AllHipHop.com: Right. Somebody always has to do it. Exactly. Lastly, this year was pretty good as far as Hip-Hop and rap music go, so I wanted to ask you what your most memorable moment of the year was. Can you think of any standout Hip-Hop moment of the year?

Tabi Bonney: I guess I would say the tour. Just from being in Tampa on this “Hip-Hop and Love Tour,” with Murs, with Dame Dash right there in the corner. And just being like, “Wow, I would love to be that someday,” and just to have someone like him care enough to fly down to Tampa just to do a handful of dates with us, and be in our corner, and be on our tour bus with us. That’s sweet. I can’t even explain that, you know?

AllHipHop.com: Yeah. You seem like such a good guy, so what are you like on tour? Was it like ‘what happens in Tampa stays in Tampa,’ or what? [laughter] What are you like on the road?

Tabi Bonney: You know, stay to myself. I’m there at like 4:00 to go to the stage and perform. I love being able to talk directly to fans and touch the digital world. People hit you up, whether it be Facebook or Twitter, all the time, and to actually meet them in-person at your show.

AllHipHop.com: Right.

Tabi Bonney: You can put a face to a picture or a name, and just to see people mouthing the words of your song that you wrote, like I said, I still feel like I’m just starting. That’s just such a gift to see something that you created effect people and your actually making a living off of what you’re doing and your living your dream and just climbing the ladder towards your ultimate goals.

AllHipHop.com: So meeting people at your show…that sounded like a politically correct way of saying ‘groupies on tour.’ [laughter]

Tabi Bonney: [laughter] You’re hilarious!

AllHipHop.com: Meeting groupies on the road after you meet them on Twitter. Just kidding. Well that’s all the questions I have. Do you have anything else you want to add or let people know about before we wrap up?

Tabi Bonney: Just that they can follow me on Twitter – @TabiBonney – and then just for people to not be afraid to be themselves. ‘Cause we’re just in a culture and a society now where everybody is dressing the same and looking the same, and everyone is just afraid to come out of that shell and straight up be themselves.

AllHipHop.com: That’s great advice, Tabi. Best of luck to you on the upcoming tour and all of your other ventures.

Tabi Bonney: Thank you.

AllHipHop.com: Alright, thank you. Take care.

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