Tonedeff Never Got All Of His Props As An MC. Many Can Relate To His Powerful Story (Video)
The late 1990s Underground Hip-Hop movement produced would-be stars like Eminem, Yasiin Bey, El-P, and Aloe Blacc. However, for every one of those examples of the mainstream embracing a particular voice, style, or message, there are hundreds of artists who seemingly never got their just due.
Tonedeff is one of those artists. Approaching Y2K, the Florida-turned-New York-based MC was ahead of the curve. Tone’ was winning contests, dazzling fans with his nimble flows, and was an early, successful adopter of how to market a movement online. He appeared on KRS-One’s Nelly diss (“Clear Em Out”), worked alongside Immortal Technique, Masta Ace, and the late Pumpkinhead, among others. However, being ahead of the curve does not always help.
Although Tonedeff was (and remains) a prodigious talent and has a cult following, more substantial commercial success and critical acclaim have evaded him for his 20-plus-year career. When his 2016 oeuvre Polymer failed to gain the attention it deserved from the press, he was fed up. It was the straw that broke the camel’s back in a career of setbacks, criticisms, and some perceived disappointments. He had put so much into the four-part record that seemingly went unheard, outside of Tone’s dedicated base that also includes support for the QN5 umbrella (Cunninlynguists, PackFM, Domingo, Mr. SOS, etc.) So, he decided to make a documentary that chronicles what went into Polymer and what led to such a personal offering.
Polyoptics: The Formation of Polymer gives a lofty album the attention it deserves. There are performances and music videos. However, on a bigger and more sticking scale, it aims to show how visionary Tone has been since he came on the scene in the late-1990s. The doc gives ample proof of how influential he has been over two decades. Many of his QN5 labelmates like PackFM, Kno and Deacon the Villain, as well as other underground heroes like J-Zone and Louis Logic, give testimonials about how criminally underrated this Hip-Hop artist is.
The MC born Antonio “Tony” Rojas has been labeled many things — underground MC, backpacker, fast rapper, a pioneering “netcee” (a term that he spends time bemoaning—but what he wants to be considered a Hip-Hop singer-songwriter. Premiering at Ambrosia For Heads, a clip from the documentary (available to stream/rent in full) shows a vital time-capsule from a particular time and place in Hip-Hop, and how MCs like Tonedeff helped set a stage for so many artists today.
Additional Reporting by Jake Paine.