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Tony Shhnow Interview: ‘I make music for myself and my homies… to inspire them’

Photo courtesy of John Cotter.

Tony Shhnow isn’t rapping for anyone but himself and his circle. So, why am I — and many others — always listening to him?

27 year-old Atlanta native Tony Shhnow appeals to his audience with truth and vulnerability. Not in a lyrical sense per se, but with the displayed assurance that he’s one of the best emcees helming the mic right now. There isn’t a viral push behind any of Tony’s music, because it doesn’t need it. The 20-plus albums, mixtapes and projects that Shhnow has released since 2016 lace his rapping resume with poise, ensuring that each successive release just gets better and better.

Tony Shhnow has maintained a stickiness with his art; once you listen, you’re bound to come back for more. It’s hard to be sticky, someone who can withstand the peaks and valleys of clout-filled trends in the industry, harnessing something special and alluring that just can’t be algorithmically enhanced. The love of the genre is innate within Tony, and he’s about to prove this again.

His forthcoming album Love Streak hits streaming platforms this Friday (April 28), with this romantic excursion featuring the likes of Mavi and DRAM, while also giving his hardcore fans another album to throw in their rotation.

I chatted over Zoom with Tony Shhnow about this new record, the varying audiences that consume his art, the art of time, and the virtues and mindsets that keep him balanced in a fast-paced industry.

Check out the interview below!

This interview has been lightly edited for clarity.

JC: You’re somebody that a lot of hip hop aficionados have been paying attention to for like a really long time now. You’ve dropped over twenty mixtape/albums over the last four years, and that’s that kind of consistency that a lot of rappers strive for. But especially within the SoundCloud era, I think a lot of artists got trapped in the, “I need to drop something” mindset. For you, it feels like each successive tape and album gets better and better, no matter the time in between releases. On your end, how have you maintain that consistency? Is it a mindset thing? Is that a creative process thing? How do you ensure that each project after the next is just going to get better and better?

Tony Shhnow: It’s a mindset thing, for sure. I go in there knowing that I’m gonna’ get better. I’m literally making music, attempting to get better. I sometimes look at a studio like it’s a gym; I reference Kobe a lot. Most rappers are gonna’ go in there and put up fifty points. I’m gonna’ go in there and try to put up a thousand points. I’m gonna’ go up in there and try and put a hundred more points than you did. I’m gonna’ take the extra shots, I’m gonna’ stay overnight. I’m not gonna’ leave the gym. The gym’s in my house, you feel me? Like Drake

JC: That kind of dedication, you can’t fake it. Would you be able to keep up with this pace you’re at if you weren’t as dedicated to hip-hop and the craft of it as you are?

Tony Shhnow: I don’t think so. Some days, I’d be not wanting to deal with rap. Not like making the art, but just like the politics of rap, you know what I mean? Some days I don’t even want people to know I’m a rapper. But, I love hip-hop and rap so much that I can’t stop. I want to master it.

JC: A hundred percent. When there are times that you want to take a break and play some video games or something, that stuff creeps its way into your music. It feels like when I listen to a Tony Shhnow record, I’m getting the full characteristic experience of who you are in this moment. Especially on Kill Streak with the “killing spree” Halo sound bites. When you don’t want to deal with the politics of rap, what helps get you outside of that mindset and helps you relax?

Tony Shhnow: Yeah, I play a lot of video games. I play a lot of Apex [Legends], I just bought a PS5. I play Switch, I’ll be playing Legend of Zelda. I play a lot of video games to take my mind off of stuff. I even have games on my phone. I just paly games just to, like, escape that shit. I watch anime, Snowfall. But games, I used to do that in the trap. It was something good to pass the time. I keep the Switch on me just to pass the time. I’m gonna’ do the business, but the in between time, I don’t wanna’ get in any bullshit; I like my life.

JC: If I’m not mistaken, I’m pretty sure I saw you with the Switch in Chicago at the Kenny Mason tour…

Tony Shhnow: I definitely had my Switch on me.

JC: Video games are something that I can personally relate to you with, but the majority of what you talk about in your music, it’s not meant for me. You’ve spoken towards this before, but it’s meant for people that have been in the trap and lived your life and experiences. You’re providing them tips and help them pave a path that you maybe didn’t have for yourself. Despite your music not being made for me, I still find myself listening to it a lot and enjoying the hell out of it. Have you thought about how a lot of people outside of your intended audience are listening to your music? What do you think about that?

Tony Shhnow: I’m surprised every time because of the range of people. Sometimes it’d be a super nerdy kid or a little kid, like a nine-year-old. Or it’d be some forty-year-old dreadhead with gray hair, or some dude with piercings and stuff like that. It just surprises me every time because I make music for myself and my homies, like my literal homies, to inspire them. It feels like everybody’s my homie now!

JC: Something else I really like about your music is that I can feel the influences through each song of yours. You go through a range of ages and eras of music, whether it be some ’80’s or boom bap stuff. It feels like it’s an Oregon trail of sorts, where you’re picking up regional influences from places you perform and adding it atop your musical persona. Have you noticed yourself becoming more creatively inclined to strive for sounds that you would’ve have before when touring and living life?

Tony Shhnow: For sure. The last tours I was on last year were Cousin Stizz and then Kenny Mason. Hearing about states and the size of the country, that’s one thing. Seeing music videos and hearing music, that’s one thing. But going there and seeing it, living there and listening to their radio, it definitely opened my ear up a lot. Going to Florida and hearing nothing but Spanish music, going to the Midwest and seeing the way it looks, going to California and listening to Drakeo the Ruler; it definitely opened my ears. Even listening to what the old heads are listening to, it definitely makes me want to try more things.

JC: Within all of this, you seem to have a rotating selection of producers that you like to work with, like Cashcache, Mexikodro and PoloBoyShawty. Having a consistent producer helps build your sound, and also gives the listener a sense of comfortability when they hear a recognizable producer tag. Do you feel like you need to have a personal relationship or friendship with these producers in order to make the best possible music with them?

Tony Shhnow: Yeah. I’m a fan of hip-hop, I studied it. That is hip-hop to me, having that relationship with your producer. The artist, the producer and the DJ having a relationship is very important to me. I feel like they can see what you really like, they can hear your voice and know how you’ll sound. I don’t have to be the best of friends with them, but we definitely have to be friends though.

JC: It feels like we’re in a bit of a type-beat tundra right now, where a lot of people are looking for sounds here and there instead of building a working relationship with somebody. If you don’t love this, love working with the people that you’re working with, then you’re not going to make the best possible shit that can be made.

Tony Shhnow: I tell dudes all the time how much I respect them and appreciate them.

JC: Is there anyone in your line of sight right now — whether it be producers or artists — that you’re itching to work with?

Tony Shhnow: I’m trying to work with Boyz II Men, and I’m trying to work with The Alchemist.

JC: I was going to bring up The Alchemist and how I feel like you and him would expeditiously slide on a song together. It feels like one of those things that will happen. Are you prepared for when that moment might happen? It feels like it might come pretty soon.

Tony Shhnow: That’s all I’ve been doing my whole life. That’s all I’ve been doing. All the mixtapes we were talking about? I’ve just been preparing! I’m prepared for sure.

JC: You’ve got that resume lined up already.

Tony Shhnow: Y’all will see. I’m not gonna’ rush anything. Everything comes in due time; I’ve been studying the art of time.

JC: That’s a really important sentiment. Taking the time and trusting the process, is that a mentality that you’ve had to learn over time? Or is it something you’ve always kept close to you?

Tony Shhnow: I learned about it. I read “The 48 Laws of Power” and throughout the whole book, there are laws, but they’re reversible. The one law that isn’t reversible is the art of time, and it just always stuck with me. Everything I have is time. There are songs of mine that have blown up or gotten millions of streams, and maybe I could’ve gone harder or maybe I missed the moment. Maybe I wouldn’t have been prepared for that moment, or been able to handle the fame or handle the money. Me taking my time is helping me learn what’s going on, so that way, when I do have my own thing — the moment — I can carry it for the rest of my life. I won’t look around in two years and not have any friends or anything like that. I’m studying relationships too, I study people. That’s where time comes, where I can have enough time to study people, relationships, how people do business.

JC: And not taking any of that for granted, either. Really perceiving each moment as a fleeting moment in time. You can’t teach yourself that, you can only improve as you go forward.

Tony Shhnow: I don’t live in the past, I don’t live in the future. I live in the present.

JC: That’s an easy thing to say, but a really hard thing to actually live and learn. But some artists can get stuck on wanting one thing, like a Rolling Loud lineup placement. It’s almost an “I’ve made it” sign for contemporary rappers. You’re on the lineup now, and I’m curious what you have in store for fans who will see you there, as well as people who might not be as familiar with your music, but stop by your set?

Tony Shhnow: I hope they go home inspired. I hope they’ll to get go get some money. To fall in love, to live life.

JC: What’s your advice to any upcoming artists that see your consistency, dedication, and growth and are inspired by it?

Tony Shhnow: Everybody goes through the time when they were on the couch eating ramen noodles, fifty-cent chip bags; everybody’s stomach touches their back. If you can get through that, you can make it.

JC: That just got me inspired, I didn’t even know that I needed that right now. What do you want fans to anticipate with your upcoming album, Love Streak?

Tony Shhnow: I just want you to listen. I want you to take it in and just let it be your soundtrack to your next few months. Listen to it for real. Don’t be skipping around, it’s a story from start to finish.

JC: Listen to it like it’s an album.

Tony Shhnow: Listen to it like it’s a movie. Just let it play.

Read more about Tony Shhnow below!