I Celebrate Myself, And Sing Myself

Aspiring Hip-Hop Mogul Top Tone Taps Into the Deepest Wells of American Optimism--But Keeps Coming Up Dry

Amazingly, Tone emerged legally unscathed. "When you're supporting artists, and everyone has a dream but no one has any money, you get a lot of colorful characters there," he says. "All I can say about that is, whatever was going on there shouldn't have been going on there. And I wasn't there." He smiles. "And that's why I'm here today."

Jokes aside, the rapper is uneasy about rumors that he's a criminal. For one thing, he has worked at Washburn High School and Hopkins North Junior High Schools, and says those kids still e-mail him--in other words, he's a role model. "Supposedly I have a Benz, this big house out in the suburbs: I'm this rich drug dealer. It's not like that," he says. "If it was, I wouldn't be here still. I would buy my way into the music business, because you can do that with enough money."


Diana Watters
“How can I get on the cover of a magazine? Well, I can own it.” Top Tone with ‘Anonymous’ editor Bo Chae

Tone's faith in himself as a gambler in the house of capitalism seems doomed by the sort of luck that would suggest Job got off easy. Yet he still perseveres with a strange kind of existential optimism--exactly the ideology that pervades today's top-shelf rap music. Hence Tone remains as close to credibility as he is to failure. And both qualities mingle in his tragicomic passion.

There is the sentimentalist who wept the first time KMOJ-FM (89.9) played one of his songs. And if love boils down to buying somebody's bullshit, there is the rapper who loves himself more than anyone else could. Others do love him, though: His cousin DMG--the first local MC to make the national rap charts (in 1993, after signing to Rap-a-Lot)--even rose from obscurity to appear on the latest Top Tone album. You can imagine Tone's daughters nodding their forgiveness at this liner-note dedication to them: "Your daddy loves you...it may not show much timewise right now, but if anybody tells you different, just say he's busy right now changing the world."

Tone's never-ending sales pitch to the universe is as deeply felt as his antipathy toward, say, Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis for not giving him a hand up. Doesn't the local rock royalty realize that we're all equal under luck? "Everyone's human," Tone says. "The cast of Friends could be dead tomorrow."

But there is always the faint chance that Tone doesn't have endless faith in the possibilities of himself--a submerged insecurity that surfaces as jealousy. "I don't watch videos," he admits. "I don't listen to the radio. Because I have a major complex about 'That should be me.' When my baby's mama come in, she'll say, 'We don't have any money to do this or do that,' and there's a freshly unwrapped Jay-Z or Snoop Dogg CD. She'll say, 'Can you buy me a drink?' I'll say, 'Well, you just bought Snoop two!'

"I'm hungry," he concludes, slipping into his most disarming mode: pleading. "I want my just due. If anything, it should be for perseverance. Because people do know I exist. If you say 'hip-hop Minnesota,' you know I exist--whether you like me or not."

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