Token Explains His Journey As An MC & How Music Saved His Life (Video)
Less than one week ago, Salem, Massachusetts MC Token released his debut project, Eraser Shavings. The 17-track effort featuring production by Nottz, Clinton Sparks, and Jon Glass (among others) arrives just as the lyricist turns 18 years old. Although he is a teenager, this MC is hardly new to the craft. That shows in revealing songwriting, fervent deliveries, and highly advanced flow and rhyme structures.
Speaking with Ambrosia For Heads, Token expounds on Eraser Shavings, his key influences, and making an album that upholds his reasons for rapping in the first place.
One of the project’s video singles is “Happiness.” Within, Token shows his storytelling sensibilities, thematically looking behind the facade of some of his high-school classmates, as well as issues under his own roof. Depression, alienation, bullying, and the differences between one person and the next are recurring subject matters in Eraser Shavings. “I think that my generation is just so vulnerable—a lot because of social media. [Young people] put themselves out there so much.” He continues, “The idea of ‘likes’ is so crazy. And people wonder why there’s so many people my age who are already depressed and anxious all the time. It’s because there’s people in my school who post a picture on Instagram and get a certain amount of likes, but then see this other girl who may be more popular, getting more likes, and that is their worth, to them. Before, you could tell if somebody was more popular than you, but it’s not [quantifiable],” Token explains. “We’re kids, man, and people look too much into that. People look too much into [social media popularity]. People are afraid of that. I feel that that’s a huge reason why so many people my age are sad. I really feel like people don’t talk about it; it’s insane. That’s a lot of [how] ‘Happiness’ came about.” Near the 9:00 mark of the interview, Token also lists several of the things in his life that contribute to his own happiness quotient.
Recently, Token appeared (in animated form) in the “Kill At Will: The Final Chapter.” A song that began as Token and Joell Ortiz on a Domingo track has since expanded to include contemporaries and fellow fiery spitters Snow Tha Product and Chris Rivers. The video also included a full verse from Big Daddy Kane, whose “Set It Off” excerpt had always been used as part of the song’s chorus.
“When that request came in, I didn’t believe it. I didn’t believe it,” says Token near the 15:00 mark, of the final update mix to his single from Ortiz’ That’s Hip Hop album. “Joell [Ortiz] is one of my favorites. [Big Daddy] Kane, I got into a little bit later. But Joell is like… when I saw [Slaughterhouse] live, I was 13, and I like almost cried. I literally almost cried,” he admits of the quartet of Joell, Kxng Crooked, Royce 5’9″ and Joe Budden. “I was such big fans of them that I’d watch every single interview that they’d done, every single song. I just loved what they represented. At that point, I was really, really into ‘bringing the real Hip-Hop back!’ That was like my thing.” Joell Ortiz told AFH earlier this year that he strongly believes in Token. The MC feels that support from the Brooklyn, New York vet. “He’s a supporter, that’s mind-blowing to me.”
Slaughterhouse is a key influence to the now 18 year-old. “I just remember being in fifth grade, discovering like—Slaughterhouse and Ludacris, and just falling in love with breaking down words, repeating consonants and vowel sounds. It was just something I took a huge interest in. I just incorporated with my own music,” he says around 2:30 into the interview. Token, who has writers in the family, adds that he’s been writing rhymes for a decade, and recording for seven years.
In the aforementioned “Happiness” video, which portrays Token engaging in that early Hip-Hop experience, posters on the wall show Tupac, The Notorious B.I.G., and 50 Cent. Asked about the biggest influences he had at that impressionable age, Token shares his list. “So the first three guys I ever started listening to in Hip-Hop were Tupac, Eminem, and Ludacris. Those are my biggest influences—I still would say they are my biggest influences because if it wasn’t for them, I don’t know if I’d be here.”
He breaks it down, “I think [with] ‘Pac, it was how real he was—and the fact—I think all of ’em, to me, after I listened to each of their songs, I felt like I had a conversation with them. I felt like I knew the person they were. ‘Pac, he was just so real, and I could feel the emotion; his songs would just give me goosebumps. Eminem [is] a similar thing. I was an angry kid, and so was Em’. So I related to a lot of stuff he was saying. Ludacris was just the fun style, and the humor behind it. I’ve always had a sense of humor, and I related to that.”
Token also gives credit to 1990s and 2010s MCs alike. “A lot of guys after that [whom] I was looking up to: Jay [Z], Nas, Talib Kweli, Slaughterhouse. I really like a lot of the new guys; I like Chance [The Rapper], Kendrick [Lamar], [J.] Cole, a lot of people.”
Similarly, at the 12:30 mark, Token is asked about three dream producers. “I have to say [DJ] Premier. Premier’s my dude too, so that’s gotta happen. I would [also] say The Alchemist. And…man, yo, El-P is insane. I would love to do something with El-P.”
On the single “Mass Reform,” Token raps, “You older rappers are goners / I’m faster and stronger / I’ll blow you out of the water.” As there is a current discourse surrounding generational relations in Hip-Hop, the MC was asked what he means by the line, and where it comes from. “That’s just the Token that feels he’s invincible and feels that no one can touch him. I think that line specifically, I wrote that a while ago. But a pet peeve of mine is a lot of dudes come up to me and talk down to me to the point where my respect for them goes down. I respect the O.G.’s, and I have full respect for the people who came before me. But to the point where [they treat me] like, ‘What you’re doing is nothing and you haven’t even put in work yet,’ I don’t like that. So [that inspired] that line.” Further in the interview, to the point he made earlier, he says the songs show his many sides of himself. “All of these people together is who Token is.”
Around 28:00 into the interview, the MC explains the dual significance of his first project’s title. “I haven’t went out and talked about the [Eraser Shavings] title. The title is kind of a double meaning. Like you said, it’s about the perfectionism—making sure that everything is perfect and how I want it to be. I say in ‘Shavings’: ‘I can’t even see the page I’m painting / All I see are these eraser shavings.‘ So it’s putting out all this work and not even paying attention to [it] and focusing on the shavings [instead], which can be a gift and a curse. Focusing on the negatives is how I run my life a lot, which can be good, and which can be bad. Focusing on the negatives [also] allows me to discover the negatives and do better the next time, and that’s why I’m here today.” That’s one part. As to the other, he continues, “The other idea of Eraser Shavings is a lot of the things I’m talking about on this project are stuff I really never talk about in person, when it comes to ‘Just A Couple More Words,’ or ‘Perfect,’ or ‘Exception,’ it’s a lot of things that I don’t talk about—don’t like to talk about—things I almost try to erase from my memory, but they’re not totally erased. There’s stuff left in there [touches head] and that’s what, to me, the ‘shavings’ represent.”
Elsewhere in the conversation, Token reveals preparing for one month his game-changing Sway In The Morning appearance, and memorizing more than 250 bars. He talks his school, production choices, and life-changing turnaround.