Token isn’t here for the Eminem comparisons, but he can rap his a## off. Boasting 389K followers on Instagram alone, the Boston, Massachusetts native has created a name for himself in the rap game, consistently releasing high-quality records and bodying freestyles left and right. Being introduced to hip-hop at the young age of 6 and writing poems at age 10, real name Ben Goldberg rapped for the first time at 13 years old.
It’s safe to say Token has dedicated his entire life to perfecting his rhymes and expressing himself through his music. His message is clear and relatable, as he injects vivid storytelling into his lyrics. Fast forward to 2020, he releases his new single titled “30 People,” with a powerful visual to match. The video sees him playing 30 different characters while letting his haters know that he’s here to stay.
AllHipHop caught up with the 21-year-old (22 next month), who was located in Massachusetts. He states, “It’s good. COVID isn’t as bad, I’ve been in the house mostly.” Read below as we discuss his time during quarantine, the inspiration behind “30 People,” his label Never Too Different, meeting NF, and more!
AllHipHop: At what point did you realize you could rap for a living?
Token: I was young thinking “I’m for sure, 100% going to do this for a living.” But the moment where I knew “this is definitely happening,” I was 17. I had a moment where one of my videos went crazy, I thought ”there’s no way this doesn’t work.” Even when I was 12, I knew this had to be it. I had no other thing in mind.
AllHipHop: Congrats on the release of “30 People,” it’s super personal. What were you going through recording this?
Token: I recorded that in LA before people were talking about COVID. It’s about seeing people from back home and knowing there’s a lot of people who support me, but at the same time there’s a lot of people who wish they’re a part of me or feel entitled to everything with me. Because of that, it breeds jealousy and reasons for people trying to bring me down. It’s not a sad song, it’s just the reality. I was in a good headspace writing the song. I was pumped up, I was getting a lot of recording done.
AllHipHop: The video’s crazy, how was shooting it in quarantine? How’d you go about picking the different characters?
Token: What’s cool is the video would’ve been the way it is. I write all the treatments for my videos, then I got director Ben Proulx who brings them to life with me. I had a completely different video in mind. When we’re getting ready to start filming it, we couldn’t get any actors or locations. We’re like “f-ck!” Luckily this woman Amanda who works closely with the production company, she’s an insane makeup artist. We thought of the concept of me being every one of these 30 characters, keeping it all on green screen. We spent weeks filming the video. Some of those makeup shots took f##king 8 hours, like the dragon we did. It was insane. They weren’t traveling, I wasn’t traveling, we stayed up and kept going at it.
AllHipHop: What was your best memory shooting it? There’s so many epic scenes.
Token: The crossing guard was hilarious. The dragon was hilarious. I’d be closing my eyes or on my phone while they’re doing the makeup, I’d look in the mirror and be a complete different person. I forgot, wasn’t expecting anything. Sometimes, I didn’t even look at the process. I had to open my eyes and I’m Abraham Lincoln or Albert Einstein, it was crazy.
AllHipHop: How did it feel having all that caked on you?
Token: Dressing up as a woman was crazy, I didn’t realize how much it is. That sh-t took hours, getting the nails on. I don’t know if you guys do it the same way I did, but my sh-t looked f-cked up for days.
AllHipHop: What’s one thing you want fans to get from this record?
Token: Making the song was definitely a step-up for me creatively. I’ve been super quiet, the last project I released was a year and a half ago. I’ve been working on finding my voice better, making my songs better, and growing creatively. What’s cool about this one is a lot of fans are noticing the growth and not jumping ship, they’re really accepting the evolution. Fans don’t have a responsibility to stay my fans if my sound is changing. Even though I’m going in different directions creatively, what matters to them is I’m staying me and doing what my heart’s telling me to do. They’re still accepting it, they’re playing it more than ever. The biggest takeaway is the growth.
AllHipHop: Have you picked up any new hobbies or interests during quarantine?
Token: I got a Switch. I play Super Smash Bros. a little bit. I got a basketball hoop for the crib, because every f##king hoop near me were all taken down. I’m not usually the person who’s out all the time, but I love to travel. It feels weird because travelling has been a part of my life ever since I was 17. I’m so used to leaving my house for months at a time. Other than that, it’s not too different for me.
AllHipHop: Who’s your character on Smash Bros.?
Token: Ike’s the only character I play. If you don’t have that character unlocked, I won’t play with you. I’m not a video game person, that one thing I can accept.
AllHipHop: People in here want to know about The Mindstate?
Token: Omg, what the hell? The Mindstate was my first project ever. I was 12 or 13, was I even going by Token? That’s so weird, someone’s been here since I was 13. I spent a long time making sure that project never surfaced. You need to check out some of my older music, you’ll understand. It was on Soundcloud and Bandcamp, but it’s gone now.
AllHipHop: How often do you get comparisons to Eminem?
Token: I used to get it a lot more, but I still get it for sure. They keep doing it with white people, man. [laughs] Early on in my career, I used to listen to him. I was influenced by him, so that just stuck. Now I see less and less comments. People think it’s funny, it’s fine.
AllHipHop: How far in advance do you prepare for the Sway freestyle?
Token: The story of the first Sway freestyle, I had the longest rap ever planned. Not kidding, it was a 12-minute verse. Written, not freestyling. More than that maybe. I had a bunch of stuff planned then the day before, I found out it was a cypher. It wasn’t my segment, I’m like “oh, sh-t, I spent all this time preparing.” I ended up moving a bunch of stuff around, picking different stuff up in the moment. I’m glad, it’s still a 6 minute freestyle. Definitely a moment for me.
AllHipHop: Talk about naming your label, Never Too Different.
Token: I’d been working on Never Too Different for a while. I wanted to have an imprint, have my own things fans could relate to bigger than Token. I don’t know where I’ll be 20 years down the line, I have more to bring the world than Token. The name is similar to how I found Token. The reason why I started expressing myself, talking on records or moving to poetry was never feeling like I could fit in. At 5 years old, feeling so different from everybody else. When I was young, it ran my entire life. I’d come home from school like “why do I feel like I’m from a different place?”
Those feelings lead me to write them down, inevitably finding its form in music. It became my career, my passion. The message is not to be embarrassed, never feel you’re too different. There’s no such thing as “too different”. The best way is to live your life and find happiness, embracing those exact things that make you different and not hiding from them. A lot of people who hide the things that make them unique, they turn around and realize that the people who are with them (their friends, their girl), they don’t even love them for them. They realize they’re pretending to be someone else.
AllHipHop: What advice do you have for upcoming artists?
Token: Working hard is more important than anything else. Talent is for sure important, but if you’re not talented and you work everyday, you’re going to get skilled. For people really trying to make this a career, it’s not supposed to be easy. There’s a reason why everybody wants to be a famous person or make a living off of music, they don’t get it because it’s hard. If you embrace the hard things and tell yourself every time it’s not going well “nah, it’s supposed to be like this. This is when other people would quit” — that sh-t makes you unstoppable.
AllHipHop: How much for a feature?
Token: $20 and I’ll hop on your record. Just kidding. I don’t really do any features. I like getting with artists in the studio naturally. I’ve been building on the Internet since I was 13. Getting some tiny looks, I’d bang out all these $50 features. It was a moment I had really early on, like “What the f-ck was I on?” Because back then, that’s a lot of money. Being on a song for $75 dollars, what the f-ck? I was done doing features.
AllHipHop: Goals for yourself at this point in your career?
Token: I never want to jump too high at once. The way I’ve built my career is step-by-step, making sure I don’t jump too many steps. Of course, sometimes that happens naturally. When you catch a huge record, you’ve got to do the groundwork after everybody knows your name. I’m lucky to have built a fanbase before I’ve gotten a real moment with a record popping off. I’m comfortable in the space of getting better. My main goal now is finding my voice, finding what I want to say. Doing it better, my way. I like to keep going up up. The people who work with me know that it’s not about chasing a huge moment, it’s growing the fanbase. Making sure my fans know what they’re getting really me, but I feel I’ve got time.