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Tabi Bonney


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"What's Up With...TABI BONNEY"

Washington, D.C.’s Tabi Bonney is leading a quiet revolution within his hometown’s musical landscape. Along with Wale, another breakout rap star, his hit single “The Pocket” has been crucial to the Dirty District’s maturation as a hip-hop force, ready to step out of go-go music’s chokehold on his city’s identity.

“I think everything really depends on the right timing, and that time is now,” says Bonney, 28. “The Pocket” is an infectious ode to the ladies and their uncanny ability to get a brother sprung, and the scratch-heavy, DJ-friendly track has D.C.’s radio and club scene on fire with its laid-back knock and irrepressible swagger.
It’s also rife with Beltway slang, and Bonney breaks down some of the more popular catch phrases, like “bammas.” “The initial definition means someone who’s not cool,” he explains. “Calling someone ‘young’ is the same as calling them dog, man or son. Another word we use is ‘joe’—it pretty much means the same thing. ‘Carry’ is when someone disrespects you, or turns you down.”

Bonney’s debut album A Fly Guy’s Theme was released locally but recently found a home on iTunes, and the Internet’s power doesn’t escape the artist. “That’s been my main tool and weapon,” he says. “I have people in the Netherlands buying my music digitally and I’ve never been there. It’s honestly hard work and requires some business savvy.”

“Nowadays you have to be more than just an artist to be successful,” Bonney continues. “When all is said and done, good music is undeniable. For me it was a combination of timing, knowing the right people and being consistent. You have to have style and something unique about you. Most rappers sound alike and look alike, and therefore never get noticed.”
Standing out from the pack isn’t a problem for Bonney, and his eventual legacy isn’t lost on him either.

“I think I’m bringing original creativity back, somewhat like the golden age of hip-hop when it was fun and everybody wasn’t scared of being themselves. I’m definitely bringing a different sound and perspective to the table. My ultimate goal is to be a worldwide artist. I want to put people onto a different lifestyle and a different way of looking at the world.”
- Philadelphia Weekly by Dirty South Joe

"From Front of the Class to Center Stage"

Tabi Bonney looked out at the class he taught at Roosevelt High in Northwest four years ago and decided he couldn't take it anymore -- kids slacking off, fighting, cursing, showing not one iota of interest.

So he became a rapper.

" Retirement?!" asked his stupefied mother, who herself retired as an assistant principal in the District.


His parents didn't talk to him for months. Then one night they were driving to the movies, and a rap song called "The Pocket" came on the radio, a catchy tune featuring a voice sounding very much like . . .

"Hey! That's Tabi!" mom exclaimed.

They stopped badgering him.

Unlike most home-grown hip-hop wannabes, Bonney's dreams are coming true.

Washington has launched its share of musical royalty, from the Duke (as in Ellington) to the Godfather of Go Go (as in Chuck Brown). But no local rap artist has found chart-busting fame beyond the Beltway.

Bonney is not a marquee name, far from it. But he has begun to impress local deejays and producers, a crusty, heard-it-all crowd that has endured a litany of D.C.-born rappers flailing at creating an original sound.

"They sound like everybody else -- they sound like a New York rapper or a Memphis rapper," sniffed DJ Tru, a WPFW (89.3 FM) host. "It's too simple, too elementary."

Bonney has a "viable style that will work beyond our borders," DJ Tru said. He's all about positive rap -- happy, funky, bling-less, 'ho-less and gun-less. "He's very relatable to a commercial crowd. He's not going to have entire songs about 'the chain around my neck and if you look at it too long I'm going to shoot you.' "

Bonney released his first album last fall ("A Fly Guy's Theme"), followed by two music videos, one on MTV, the other on VH1. Radio deejays spin his tunes and show up at his promo parties, along with producers, music store owners, publicists and the requisite coterie of young women. A short set can earn him $750 these days, he says, and he got $1,500 for performing one tune at a Sweet 16 party.

There are even glimpses of celebrity moments that befit an up-and-comer. At a club off U Street, a guy from an outfit called, chewing gum beneath a cockeyed baseball cap, asked with all the gravity of Ted Koppel: "What's next for Tabi Bonney?"

Buy This Photo

Tabi Bonney, hip-hop star and former D.C. public school teacher, has begun to impress local DJs and producers. He released his first album last fall. (By Melina Mara -- The Washington Post)

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"Just taking it nationwide," Bonney replied, eyeing the videocam recording his every word, his "What-me-worry?" purr in full-cool.

He corrected himself: "Actually, worldwide."

The traffic on his MySpace Web site suggests a considerable following. "I am feeling your style so heavy!" wrote one of many admirers last week. She threw in a photo.

His fans include at least one of his former Roosevelt students, who finds inspiration in the man he once knew as Mr. Bonney. "It was great to see someone do what they wanted to, and not let life push them around," said Reggie Guinyard, now a bank customer service rep.

Small-framed and soft-spoken, Bonney, 29, has tufts of longish hair, a trim beard and an easy smile. His lyrics are steeped in the language of the District -- "I'm from D.C., I'm from D.C.," he chants. He refers to " 'bamas," a locally born term used to trash the uncool; "Langdon Park, the Northeast D.C. part," where he grew up; and the people he knew who "dropped out of school, drowned in a pool" while he's "floatin' even if I'm in an ocean."

"See me at the top," he sings, "walking with a bop . . . "

Bonney described his upbringing as "sheltered," though he knew his share of troublemakers, including his best friend, who he said was locked up for murder at 16. Bonney focused on his studies at Banneker High School, as ordered by his mother, a District native who retired from Kramer Middle School in Southeast, and his father, a musician who has an insulation business.

"They instilled in me that you need to be successful," Bonney said. "They didn't steer me, but in my mind, it was 'become a doctor or a lawyer.' "

While most of his pals stayed in the neighborhood after high school, Bonney went to Florida A&M University and decided that his ticket to the good life was becoming a . . . dentist.

At the same time, Bonney also found that he had an artistic twitch. In his free time, he designed T-shirts with funky logos. And, with a friend, he wrote rap songs they performed at open-mic nights and parties. Soon Bonney was opening for well-known performers, including the 6,000 fans waiting one night in Tallahassee to see LL Cool J.
Somehow, a life of filling cavities no longer held much appeal.

But Bonney wasn't ready to commit to showbiz. After college, he returned to Washington and worked as a guidance counselor at Ballou High School. He entered a master's program in education and taught science for two years at Roosevelt.

If the conditions at the school weren't sufficiently challenging -- Bunsen burners and test tubes often were in short supply -- his students' lack of interest wore him down. "At a point, I almost felt helpless," Bonney said. "I wanted to teach them that they could be successful in life." But "it felt like they had no hope, and I couldn't change that."

He quit and produced a line of silk-screened T-shirts that he still sells to boutiques. He also turned back to his music, writing songs and performing at clubs.

His parents were appalled. His father, Itadi Bonney, knew firsthand how hard it was to survive as a musician. A well-known guitarist in his homeland, Togo, he wrote songs protesting the despotic rule of former President Gnassingbe Eyadema. After moving here, he learned that the president's allies had vowed to kill him if he returned.

For all that, Itadi Bonney's objections were rooted more in his concern that his son choose a stable career. "We sat him down, we said, 'Tabi, get a job,' " Itadi Bonney said. "He said, 'Daddy, I'm happy.' "

Aren't those the words every parent dreads?

Unlike his father's music, Bonney's is devoid of politics, though in one video a friend flashes a T-shirt that reads: "Keep DC Black." It's a sentiment expressed in gentrifying neighborhoods.

Bonney's parents blanched and told him that he'd offend his audience. He ignored them. It was his manager's idea, he explained with a shrug, lounging as he waited to perform on a Saturday night at the Takoma Theater.

Moments later, Bonney was transformed. He bounded on stage in jeans and a hooded yellow sweatshirt, skipping and shuffling while his band pounded.

Only a few dozen people dotted the sea of empty red seats, but that did not dampen his exuberance.

"Live your dreams," Bonney exhorted his audience, lost in his own.

- The Washington Post by Paul Schwartzman

"Off the Radar - Tabi Bonney"

In an industry with predictability and repetition, it is often a challenge for an artist to maintain originality while appealing to the masses. There is a constant creative struggle between an artist and his music. The conflict exists as the artist battles with the environmental dilemma to determine whether he will make a "safe record" or venture out to be creative and unique. Ehile many follow trends and traditional mechanical patterns in an attempt to achieve a successful album and single, D.C. rapper, Tabi Bonney goes against the grain to expose music lovers to another side of the Hip-Hop culture.

With a mixture of kicks and scratches on a suspenseful beat. Bonney's single "The Pocket," from his latest album A Fly Guy's Theme has become an international phenomenon. The buzz worthy single has been receiving rotation nationally and internationally, and was recently added to MTV Base Africa (which currently boasts 1.3 million viewers in forty-eight countries). More impressive than this feat is the fact that the Togo-born rapper operates completely without major label backing.

Bonney's distinct rhyming style has become a hot commodity within the music industry, attracting attention of legends such as Camp Lo and Dead Prez as well as Motown Records President Sylvia Rhone and KOCH Records GM Alan Grunblatt.

At a recent showcase in New York the DC MC showed reps from various major labels why he's established a following for his live show. As many artists performed while re-recorded tracks streamed in the background, the eclectic rapper captivated the crowd, performing with a live band ensemble accompanying him.
Continuously hard at work, Bonney plans on shooting a video for his follow-up single "Escalator." "I make music to inspire people to be themselves, and avoid the pressures to conform" says Bonney. "I make music to show that hip-hop can be fly and flashy, while maintaining its essence. - the SOURCE by Max Achille

"So Fresh New Hip-Hop Scenes Emerge in Three Key Markets"

It's a chilly, late-winter night in January, and the mass of people outside New York's Museum of Natural History is growing by the minute. On the bill: budding Chicago MC Kid Sister, set to perform her first show in the Big Apple. °Sporting fingerwaves in her blond-highlighted hair, a black-and-white layered dress and matching acrylic nails, the 25-year-old rapstress took the stage with her boyfriend/producer/DJ A-Trak—who is Kanye West's DJ—and performed a five-track set at the overcrowded venue. She was joined by West himself for a surprise performance of their collaborative track "Pro Nails," which West decided to appear on after A-Trak played the song for him in early 2007. °Until recently, Kid Sister, born Melissa Young, rode her bicycle to multiple jobs to make ends meet. She began rapping three years ago with the help of her younger brother Josh (half of Chicago-based DJ duo Flosstradamus), who, along with his partner Curt, helped create Kid Sister's techno/house/dance-driven hip-hop sound. "I wrote my first song in the summer of 2005 and it was so lame," Kid Sister says. "To think that two years later I did a song with Kanye West . . . I dropped to my knees and was like, 'Thank you, Jesus!' when I heard the version with 'Ye on it."

Kid Sister was recently in a bidding war among Atlantic Records, Universal and Downtown Records, and eventually signed with Downtown. Her debut album, "Koko B. Ware," is set to be released in July and features production from XXX-Change, Gant-Man, Trackademiks and A-Trak, with guest appearances from West and Nina Sky. The days of Kid Sister peddling her two-wheeler through the Windy City are long gone, and the hundreds of people lined up outside for her New York debut are a testament to the fact that the hip-hop industry is hungry for new talent.

"It's sort of hard to manufacture that kind of genuine interest in an artist," Downtown Records chairman/CEO Josh Deutsch says. "Female rappers haven't connected in a while, but I think people are starting to see that this might be the beginning of a new movement. What's going on with Kid Sister right now is encouraging others from that scene to break too."

Ebro Darden, PD at New York's urban station WQHT (Hot 97), became the first to play Kid Sister in the city. "The beat was dope, Kanye is on it, and her buzz is serious. We're fans of this music, so we took a chance."

It's not a moment too soon—the need for fresh acts comes as hip-hop album sales have declined in the past few years. According to Nielsen SoundScan, overall rap album sales in the United States have dropped by more than 50% since 1998, from 84.9 million that year to 41 million in 2007. The latter number is particularly disheartening in that September 2007 had one of the biggest hip-hop sales weeks, when 50 Cent and West released albums on the same day and sold 957,000 and 691,000 copies, respectively, during the first week.

And Kid Sister isn't alone in rejuvenating interest in hip-hop. While she spearheads a musical wave out of Chicago, she is joined by new talent in Washington, D.C., and Los Angeles who all are ready to breathe some life back into the suffering genre. Here, Billboard highlights the hottest acts with the biggest business potential from coast to coast.

Los Angeles

Born from the ashes of gangsta rap, Los Angeles is experiencing an independent hip-hop resurgence—customers in the city purchased 6.2% of rap's total sales in 2007, according to Nielsen SoundScan. New MCs BLU, U-N-I and Pacific Division are the talk of the Internet and guiding hip-hop's path in the city by juxtaposing music with customized fashion. Using Fairfax Avenue as their epicenter, these rappers pitch honest, universal and comical lyrics—a departure from the Death Row-influenced '90s—and capitalize with clothing brands like Trendy Trash and Lemar and Dauley.

"This scene is a way of life that supports commerce," Warner A&R VP Naim Ali says. "It's not just music, it's lifestyle. On Fairfax, these kids can buy custom clothes and music at stores like Flight Club."

L.A. artists distribute their songs either hand-to-hand or digitally and utilize social networking Web sites and rap blogs like MySpace,, Hypebeast and to spread their sound via interviews, viral tracks and videos.

Boasting a clear rhyme style, 24-year-old BLU isn't afraid to discuss his life, including his Bloods-affiliated gang member father or his bouts of homelessness. Cutting his teeth with Exile, the pair released their debut album, "Below the Heavens," last year via independent label Sound in Color. It has sold 4,000 units, according to Nielsen SoundScan, via digital distributors like iTunes. The release has gathered positive press on sites like, and now he's in talks with Talib Kweli's Blacksmith Records for a deal. BLU recently released another duet album, "C.R.A.C.," with Detroit MC Ta'Raach in April and another release, "Johnson & Johnson," with producer Mainframe, is slated for this summer.

From Inglewood, Calif., U-N-I—comprising 23-year-olds Y-O and Thurzday—is best-described as a "young OutKast," KDAY Los Angeles radio mixer DJ Dense says. After meeting at St. Bernard High School in 1996, Thurzday plays the semi-straight man and Y-O is the Mohawk-sporting jokester. U-N-I distributed its debut, "Fried Chicken & Watermelon," via MySpace and its own company, Honor Roll.

Working L.A.'s club circuit, the duo opened for such artists as Redman and Lupe Fiasco. Last May, U-N-I released an online video for the song "K.R.E.A.M." They twisted Wu-Tang Clan's classic "C.R.E.A.M."—an acronym for "cash rules everything around me"—into its own "K.R.E.A.M." chorus of "kicks rule everything around me." Thurzday says, "When we dropped the video for 'K.R.E.A.M.,' it was the sneaker anthem." Now, the act is translating the song's popularity into its own shoe line with boutique designer Trendy Trash.

Pacific Division boasts three members: Like, Mibbs and BeYoung, all younger than 23 years old, from Palmdale, Calif. Sharpening its live show at clubs like Temple, Pacific Division released its first independent album, "Sealed for Freshness: The Blend Tape," last year.

"We pressed up like 6,000 copies of our album . . . and passed them out for free," Like says. "Then one day, the Roots' drummer, ?uestlove, calls me while I'm stacking mayonnaise boxes at work, talking about how much he liked our music—and our buzz just kept growing."

The group also released several accompanying videos, including "F.A.T. Boys"—an acronym for "fashionable artistic trendsetters"—and "Women Problems." The MCs are signed to indie labels Two Tone Elephants and Arts N Crafts, but are in talks with several major labels, including Interscope.

Now the question becomes: Can these acts translate online and local success into national success?

"I think so because it's not just music," Warner's Ali says. "Like the Harlem Renaissance or the emergence of Andy Warhol and Jean Michel Basquiat, there was music and art pushed that. You just have to figure it'll work."


When it comes to hip-hop music, Chicago has had its share of success stories—think West, Common, Twista and Lupe Fiasco—and a new wave of MCs is catching mainstream attention. Sales of rap albums in Chicago were 1% of total U.S. sales in 2007, according to Nielsen SoundScan.

Up-and-comers like Hollywood Holt, Flosstradamus and the Cool Kids are unified by sound inspired by juke—another of Chicago's native rhythms—as well as '80s rap, techno, Detroit ghetto tech, house music and electronica. "Chicago has a very intellectual sound," Hollywood Holt says. "I think what's coming out of Chicago right now is a melting pot of different sounds. We're in the Midwest, so everything passes through us—from the L.A. bounce rap to New York's hard rap."

"We're a universal bunch. Chicago is in the middle, and we didn't grow up listening to one thing," adds Chicago producer/DJ Mano, who recently DJ'd for Ludacris and M.I.A. "Everyone in Chicago has been influenced by gangsta rap to backpacker hip-hop to house music, juke and electro, all the way to Southern rap and beyond."

In summer 2005, Curt and Josh, two local DJs with a shared affinity for turntablism and scratching who play as Flosstradamus, began hosting parties that they later christened the "Get Out the Hood" affairs. The two would mix dance party records, juke music, hip-hop and techno during the weekly events, which became a nesting ground for Chicago kids who had an appreciation for all types of music. "We started DJ'ing parties just for our friends—low-key kind of shit," Josh says. "But, naturally, it grew. We started making fliers and handing them out and posting some on MySpace bulletins. All of a sudden 500 kids were showing up to our parties."

"Flosstradamus is definitely the quarterback of the team. The whole scene formulated around them and their parties," says the Cool Kids' Mikey, who, along with partner Chuck, recently announced the release of their "Bake Sale" EP—available digitally May 20 via iTunes and physically June 10 via Chocolate Enterprise.

Besides setting up the party circuit, Josh and Curt are the masterminds behind the sound of Kid Sister. It's this type of collaboration, Curt says, that is helping the city's sound blow up on the national stage.

"People are so hard up to get on that there's a competitive notion among Chicagoans," Curt says. "But, at this point in time, now more than ever, Chicago is blowing up and getting recognition as a whole. It's an organic scene and we're all friends and we're doing something together slowly but surely. You just got to feel good about that."

Today, some key players in the music industry have taken notice. Barbara McDowell, music director for Chicago's WPWX (Power 92)—the first station to play the Cool Kids' "Black Mags" single that they released on their MySpace page—says: "When I first heard [the Cool Kids], I immediately called my program director and told him, 'This is hot. We need to be playing this,' " she says. "They are definitely the next big thing coming out of Chicago."

Washington, D.C.

While the nation's capital isn't widely known as a thriving hip-hop town, sales numbers indicate a subculture that could be on the brink of expanding—according to Nielsen Soundscan, 2.9% of all rap albums sold in 2007 were purchased in Washington, D.C.—but the city accounts for 4.1% of the 53.9 million R&B albums bought last year.

Artists like Wale Folarin and Tabi Bonney believe the key to boosting those numbers is to draw on the city's strong go-go influences from pioneers like Chuck Brown, blending heritage music in their songs to get the maximum amount of play on local radio stations. Folarin has collaborated with go-go groups like local favorites the UnCalled 4 Band; Bonney's style recalls the cadences that Brown popularized.

The local urban station, WPGC, caters to listeners who enjoy national hits sprinkled with home-grown go-go tracks. Seeing an opportunity, 23-year-old Folarin appealed to both audiences and released "Dig Dug" in 2006. On the track, Folarin rapped over the Northeast Groovers' go-go beat in "Off Da Muscle." Folarin's manager Daniel Weisman gave DJ Mark Ronson the MC's demo and Folarin soon joined Ronson's Allido Records, which has become a joint-venture deal for the artist on Interscope Records. Now, Folarin is recording his major-label debut and keeping his presence alive online with mixtapes like "Scion A/V Presents Wale vs. 45 King."

"Nothing from D.C. has really worked before but Wale's not limited to his region," Allido Records president Mark Kleiman says. "He's diverse."

Meanwhile, 28-year-old Bonney is D.C.'s alternative kid. Sporting T-shirts from his own clothing line, Bonney Runway, the MC is a high school biology teacher-turned-rapper. While begging for open-mic slots at local clubs like Bar None, Bonney used his teacher's salary to form independent label Organized Rhyme with partner Haziq Ali. In 2006, he released his debut album, "A Fly Guy's Theme," and met WPGC DJ Flexx for spins. Bonney's string-driven first single, "The Pocket," garnered "MTV Jams" rotation, as has current single "Beat Rock" from his upcoming sophomore effort, "Dope Meets Fresh, Fresh Meets Superstar."

"People can't put me in a box," Bonney says. "I'm developing a brand by directing my own videos, launching my clothing line and being an artist, so the situation has to be right. I don't think a lot of labels know what they're doing. It's just persistence. Everybody isn't going to get my music. I only want it to be for hip people, anyway. I think it's going to break—people are thirsting for something new."

- Billboard by Mariel Concepcion and Hillary Crosley


*A Fly Guy's Theme (LP)
*dope (EP)
*A Place Called Stardom

-Nuthin But A Hero (single)
-the Pocket (single)
-Rich Kids (single)
-Syce it (single)
-Beat Rock (single)
-Cool and Fly (single)



Rappers are often deemed products of their environments. What then of an MC born Tabiabuè Bonney in a little-known West African nation, and who now splits time between LA and Washington, DC? From the country of Togo to the land of go-go? From a childhood sans indoor plumbing to a jet-setting, globetrotting lifestyle? Sounds incongruous, even implausible. Yet Tabi Bonney has made a career of doing what others won’t or can’t. While other rappers are stuck serving the same postured, provincial look at life, Tabi’s point of view is refreshingly borderless. And his perspective is both incisive and ironic as the son of one of his homeland’s most prominent entertainers: musician Itadi Bonney, who was exiled for criticizing the Togolese dictatorial government.

Imagine honing one’s voice as an instrument when its very use is hazardous. But Tabi Bonney revels in turning obstacles into opportunities. His irrepressible, anthemic tracks are known best for unusual cadences and pitch-bending inflections; opening salvo “The Pocket,” off 2006 debut A Fly Guy’s Theme, rode its high-octave hook onto every major US video outlet. In fact, Bonney is the only truly independent artist –no label, no publicist– to appear on MTV’s Sucker Free countdown.

A Fly Guy’s Theme gained momentum with second single “Syce It” produced by Akon heatmaker BennyD, and “Doin’ It” featuring fellow DC denizen Raheem DeVaughn. Alongside his keen ear, Tabi displayed a sharp eye, directing two music videos off his debut. He’s since created a production company, Cool Kids Forever Films, with an aim at Hollywood. And his personally-designed Bonney Runway clothing line —www.— continues to sell out of boutiques in New York, LA, Miami, DC, and London. Impressive.

But music remains Tabi Bonney’s lifeblood. Now in late 2008, Tabi is readying the whimsically titled Dope meet Fresh…Fresh meet Superstar. Hype is already swirling around the intoxicating buzz track “Cool and Fly,” with tantalizingly sparse lyrics splashed over a deliciously downtempo groove. Other songs to watch for are: “Nuthin’ but a Hero,” “The Stars,” “Peanut Butter Slow Jam (Fever)” again alongside Raheem DeVaughn, and Killer People featuring Wale. Expect a couple of other prominent guest appearances as well. Tabi also points to “Dreams are Only Dreams,” noting that the song “reflects my world and how I feel right now.”

“You either get my music or you don’t,” Tabi concludes. “You remember in high school you had the popular, cool kids’ table where new and trendsetting things are happening? Everybody wants to sit at that table but they can’t; that’s how I look at my music. You can’t really sit at this table if you don’t have that mentality. Most followers won’t dig it until everybody else likes it; in the meantime, they don’t know what to do.”