It’s easy to get overwhelmed by the deluge of MCs fighting for your clicks and ears these days. TiRon is well aware of the saturated talent pool and managed to etch his own path with substantial rhymes over honest, personal themes. His role in an emerging Los Angeles Hip-Hop movement alongside his peers in Pac Div, Blu and Nipsey Hussle shouldn’t be ignored either. He’s dropped three noteworthy projects for free.99 and is determined to sharpening his skills as an entertainer.
Now Ronnie is all about making his next move his best yet. In the meantime we got to “ketchup” with the L.A. by way of Kankakee, Illinois native about MSTRD: his latest effort. He also talked about how he’s progressed since he first hit the scene with Handshakes & Pounds, his thoughts on writing, doing features, and how the exceedingly fast pace of releases affects listeners’ attention spans. Basically, he may be best known for throwin’ his money. But you’ll soon see he’s rather thoughtful about his rap trade.
Graphics by Talia
TSS: How did MSTRD come about?
TiRon: It was a cool process. A lot of people think that because I hadn’t dropped anything since Ketchup that I had been working on this project for a year. I only really worked on this project for three months max. I had been working on Ayomari’s project [because that’s my dude.] When he’s working on his project I’m giving all of my attention to him. That’s just how our team operates. Then when I’m working on mine, I’m all focused on my work. So, soon as his project came out I started working on MSTRD.
But I had always collected recorded and beats and people were sending records. The homeboy Phonix (who did “Paper” for Pac Div) was sending me records. Then I found this record called “1ne” which is the second joint on MSTRD. I had always been collecting beats and things on the side. Pretty much mixed the whole thing myself, engineered it myself, and recorded it myself. I didn’t want too many features because Ketchup was full of features. So I wanted to keep this one real, real simple: real 100% ALL ME. Because I felt like niggas fronted on me on some “Oh, all he got his hooks…” you know what I mean? I wanted to control that project just by myself.
I only reached out to a few select people. A lot of people wondered why a lot of L.A. artists weren’t on it. I always try to stay true to the music first. Like, if I can’t hear you on it I’m not gonna force you to be on it. It has to make sense. The mathematics have to add up.
TSS: I noticed you rocked to some DOOM tracks. That seemed kind of surprising since those songs came out some time before.
TiRon: Yeah and that’s another thing about me. If I strongly believe in a record, I’ll push it again. Because we’re in this industry and this day and age where literally MSTRD hasn’t been out but a couple months. But because music comes out so fast and people get it so easily, they take it for granted. Now the shit seems dumb ass old ya feel me? It feels like it’s been out for a year. I never want to play my music like that. I never want to play myself like that. So “Ms. Right” and “Boys and Girls” made the cut. Actually for “Boys and Girls,” I wrote the first verse for that a long time ago. And it was one of my favorite joints but I felt a lot of people slept on it. So what [I’m going to do] is reintroduce this because I’m not going to sleep on myself. Niggas can sleep on me all they want. But I’m not going to sleep on myself.
That’s essentially what Ketchup was. I want to slow down the whole process and the whole perception of music. Because people listen to it and then they just move on because they got it for free and they take it for granted. I want people to value my music like I value my music. And that’s why MSTRD is only 10 songs. I’m just trying to slow shit down and bring people’s focus back because the attention span right now is just out of control.
TSS: Moving on, I want to talk about “60901.” Why did you decide to write a song in that fashion?
TiRon: Mainly because people forget about the little places. We forget about the little towns and the little places that are struggling. At times I would forget it myself. Being from Kankakee, Illinois zip code 60901, people be like “Yo so where you from originally?” Because I wasn’t born in L.A., I wasn’t born in Cali. I was born in Illinois. I used to not like explaining where I’m from. I used to say: “Oh I’m from Chicago.”
But then as I got a little older, I was like “hold on.” I’m from Kankakee and I need to let these motherfuckers know because I still got family in Kankakee that I love and support and they support me all the same. So I need to hold my city up and embrace my city and let people know where my city’s from. So I say: “safe to say it ain’t the best place to be/but I claim it like my own/that’s my city that’s my home.” It just feels good to put my city on the map because now I heard Project Pat is going down there to Kankakee to do a show. I think he’s doing one this weekend. It’s just to get some money moving down there. Get some artists down there, inspire some people down there to strive to maybe to better. Because if a nigga like me happens to get on,then I’m pushing Kankakee. And then Kankakee will have somebody that they [say] “OK, he did it.” So that’s inspiration. That’s the main reason I wanted to do it.
TSS: It seems like with this project, when compared to Handshakes & Pounds and Ketchup, you talked more about your humble upbringing and past experiences. On your last projects you focused on the “here and now.” Why did you decide to switch gears instead of talking about what’s going with cats our age?
TiRon: Mainly on Handshakes & Pounds I was mainly proving I was a rapper. Proving I had bars and whoopty-whoopty-whoo. The second one was proving that I could hang with the best of ‘em. This one was just proving I could make records. Not even proving, I wasn’t even worried about proving anything on this one. I was just trying to be, instead of just trying to prove I was the best rapper and brag that I could do this. I guess I always try to make the music I like to listen to.
And as of right now I’m not listening to no rappers. I’m just keeping it real. I’ll tell you who I listen to as far as rappers go. Homeboy Sandman, Blu and…I don’t know. I’m listening to the dreamers: the people that write differently. That’s the reason why this project was less braggadocios and more talking about my experiences but not in a rap way and me hitting you with bars. Because I notice that a lot of people battle imaginary MCs on the record. They talk about rappers that aren’t even there. Unless you’re talking about somebody, then I don’t think you should be talking like that on a record.
TSS: I see. So it’s like “Unless you’re naming names, what are you talking about?”
TiRon: Yeah, a lot of rappers just talk about MCs. It’s just an umbrella term for any MC who want it and this is for them and I’mma rap like that. I don’t do that. I used to be that type of dude because I come from the school of the old school blow. The project blow and hanging out with Nocando and the best of the best. Back in those days, I used to come to them and play my songs. And they would be like “Yo man, that shit is crazy!” They would always push me to keep doing that. So when the best of the best battle, it’s just telling me to keep doing the songwriting game because that’s where they were lacking. Because I knew more than just proving I was the best rapper. And even more so than proving I’m the best musician or best songwriter. It’s more like showing who you are because that’s what people buy into. Like when 2Pac passed away, niggas and females wasn’t crying because they weren’t going to get a new ‘Pac song anymore. They cried because that’s Tupac Shakur. They felt like they lost a friend; someone they knew and could identify with. That’s kind of where I aspire to go.
TSS: Explain the concept behind “The Richers” and how’d you end up collaborating with Blu and Asher Roth.
TiRon: The concept for that song was kind of like “Vapors.” You get a little bit and you allow that to change who you are and how you view certain things. A lot of motherfuckers got The Richers right now. A ton of motherfuckers that ain’t even really on but got The Richers. I call it The Richers but we are The Richers. On South Park there was an episode where they made fun of the rich people moving into town but instead of calling them niggers they called them richers. That was kind like me reaching out to that little thing. Just how you get a little bit and allow it to change you.
Like in my verse I say “It’s a cold game/Niggas used to be no names/But know they rockin’ gold chains/They say the fame ain’t getting’ to us/It’s strange we used to hang/But hey, things change.” And as soon as I get to “change” the voice drops and from that point on I changed. And I’m talking about bitches I used to fuck with and I’m in the back of the club low key with the new ‘fit on just to stunt like I got it. It was going to be over this other beat but things couldn’t go down how I wanted [them] to. But I always heard Blu on it. Because I hear people on records or I’m like “I would just love to see what this person could do with this record.” And Blu is like the homey so I just hit him up [with the idea.] Oddisee sent me a bunch of beats and then I showed him the idea and he was like, “Yo, that shit is dope. Let’s go!!!” Then I sent the beat over to Blu and he instantly was like “O.K. I’m coming through right now.” He came through and recorded it.
Then I was missing a third verse. I wanted Danny Brown to hop on it. But he was doing a bunch of stuff and he has his own schedule. I was on a strict deadline and he couldn’t come through. So I was like, “O.K. who else could I get on this project?” Because [of] how I set up the beat with the breaks and all of that the last person had to complement everybody’s style but also take it to that next level. Then Shake from 2DopeBoyz said “Well, you know maybe you could holler at Asher.” And then he hit up Asher. Ash said he was a fan of the music and he couldn’t wait to hear MSTRD, so he hopped on it, no problem. And that’s just how that went down.
TSS: I see. Why did you decide to cut your verse early while Asher and Blu finished theirs off?
TiRon: Because being that I had the first verse, I had to give you the concept of the record a lot faster. When you listen to the song, you want Blu to go in. If I even tried to do what he did, it wouldn’t just been a whole lot of rap niggas on the same song—which would’ve fulfilled a lot of rapper fans. But in the terms of progression, if I give you a little bit and it’s still sustenance and then Blu gives you a little bit more of the bulk, then we let the track breathe a little bit more. You get to hear the quotes [from] Brewster’s Millions and then Asher comes in and it becomes a more progressive record.
I’m not going to say I allowed them to murder me on that song but I gave a little bit more on that song. It was more that just trying to prove I could hang with these dudes. I’m trying to give you a great record for people to listen to. I don’t even care who bodied who on the song because on that end of the day, the entire record was dope. You can’t front on anybody’s verse on that shit. I do what I feel is necessary. I never try to meet a quota. That’s just how it came out. It sounded right. It was just a nice little progression.
TSS: Your following stretches beyond L.A. as you’re known on various websites, blogs, and social networking sites. But I’ve noticed how rappers in a similar situation have difficulty in making that transition into radio plays and getting music videos in steady rotation. What are your thoughts on that transition and how do you plan on making that next step?
TiRon: As far as the next step in getting into mainstream media, I’m just going to keep doing what I do. I’m just going to keep making music. My goal is to just keep knocking out good music. I always look at DOOM. He’s an established artist and he’s definitely sitting on more bread than a lot of us would think. That comes from grinding it out and making cold, classic music. I’m talking to a couple of labels right now.
Just in terms of mainstream radio, mainstream radio isn’t trying to build careers at all. “Get in, get out.” That’s how it is. For the most part anybody that’s winning right now is based on an imprint. CuDi is on Kanye’s imprint. B.o.B is on T.I.’s imprint. Drake and Nicki Minaj are on Lil’ Wayne’s imprint. Aside from that you don’t have too many new Hip-Hop artists coming out because they need that co-sign.
I’ma keep doing what I do and keep grinding it out. Hop on some festivals, try and rock Coachella and actually reach fans. Because I’ve also realized this; Most fans of what they call “underground rap” are rappers and producers and motherfuckers that don’t buy music and that’s just the nature of the beast. But there’s another side of people that do listen to rap. Like a lot of the Indie rock kids and alternative kids, they fuck with Hip-Hop tough. If you go to a festival, they’ll fuck with you if you come with the right shit—especially overseas. I’m not even worried about the MTV’s and BET’s because they’ll fuck with you when you’re right. I’m not really chasing to be over there. If it happens, it happens but at the end of the day, I’m still going to be on my indie shit. It’s not like if [they] don’t fuck with me I’m done; I’ll quit. “MTV don’t want me, oh I quit.” Nah! This shit was before all of that.
I’m just trying to take my shit to the next level. Just working, grinding, meeting the right people, and doing the right songs. I’ll probably get into writing a lot more.
TSS: How do you think co-signs are affecting the game?
TiRon: Co-signs are great. But they aren’t given too often because you still have niggas trying to hold on to the game. So they rarely give co-signs. Hey, J. Cole is another one. He got Hov’s co-sign. He’s doing very well. He’s on the cover of The Source and XXL. He’s doin’ it. Co-signs are great. It shows a bit of unity between who did it and who’s trying to do it. It’s like “wow I can’t believe Jay-Z even listens to J. Cole. I can’t believe Kanye has his ears to the CuDis.” And when Lil’ Wayne started fucking with Drake…it’s good to see that in Hip-Hop because it’s rare to see. The Neptunes gave their co-sign to the Clipse. That’s just how it always kind of worked. Dre gave his co-sign to The Game but since then [he] hasn’t given a co-sign since.
I think it’s very important now because a lot of Hip-Hop listeners now they don’t listen to new music because there’s so much of it. Then people become overwhelmed with all the different types of Hip-Hop. And everybody raps. So most of the rap fans now, the ones who are listening to newer cats like me and the Pac Divs [etc.] are either rappers, sneaker heads…you know what I mean? As far as the females and the other niggas, they’re not really listening to that shit because it’s just too much. So they listen to the OG’s. They listen to the Jay-Zs, the Lil’ Waynes, The Snoops. That’s why when these dudes give out co-signs, it’s a big deal because all of their fans are going to listen to this new guy.
TSS: Now that we have Ketchup and MSTRD, is Relish the name of your next LP?
TiRon: I don’t know. MSTRD isn’t an album, it’s not an EP, it’s not a mixtape, it’s not a compilation. MSTRD is MSTRD. I don’t know if there’s a better way for me to explain that but it’s not an album. The only category it has is its own and that’s M-S-T-R-D. But as far as the next project, if people want to see another one and there’s a call for it, yeah we might have a Relish. I think that’s how MSTRD came along. People were just like “Ha, Ketchup! What’s the next one called? What’s the next one called, Mustard?” I’m like fuck it, O.K., then what?
TiRon: You know what I mean? Would it be corny? Or would you fuck with the music? Maybe the next project after this…Me and Ayomari are talking about doing a project called Sucker for Pumps. Cafeteria Line, we’re going to do a project called We Are The Hungry. Yeah you might see a Relish. Who knows? It’ll sound nothing like MSTRD.
TSS: You’ve put out your fair share of free projects. Are you going to put out an album out with a central theme or are you going to keep going with the projects that you’re doing?
TiRon: As far as that goes this is the last free one, period. I can’t keep giving away shit like this. I’m looking at all these other people dropping projects and I’m honestly think mines is up there with them as far as this year goes. And the fact that I gave it away for free…even Big Pooh hit me up like “Yo, I don’t know why you didn’t sell this??? You could’ve easily sold it.” Now for somebody that’s been in the game like that who I’m a little brother to, for them to say that shit it’s like “Wait hold on. Maybe I’m giving these fans a little too much.” And I don’t want them to take me for granted.
So this is definitely the last one. This is just my last little bit for y’all just so yall could be like “O.K. word he came with it.” After that it’s business from now one. No more free shit.
TSS: No one can be mad at that. You and your L.A. peers changed the culture of L.A. rap from showcasing it as a violent area to a broader, alternative side. Are there still cautionary tales in the streets that you guys aren’t talking about? What’s the whole focus of attack behind this movement?
TiRon: I think what goes on in L.A. now is more behind the scenes. I don’t want to get it twisted like niggas don’t gangbang out here cause niggas still get it in. But they aint bangin’ as hard like it was in the ’90s. Now it’s more of a hustle because niggas is broke. Our city is damn near bankrupt. There’s tales that need to be told [based on] watching how the youth is going down the drain, education is terrible, etc. Those are the tales that really need to be told. The street tales, that’s cool but it’s the same ‘ol song. And people feel like they’ve heard that tale over and over. All those tales do is perpetuate that cycle and get niggas hyped up to go do X, Y and Z. It’s nothing progressive. It’s just all the same type of thing.
There’s definitely tales out here that need to be told. Nip Hussle does a great job of speaking on them. Kendrick Lamar, that’s another dude, he’s dope as hell. There are people who speak for the younger culture like YG and Casey Veggies. If anything, what the West Coast is about to do is just open people’s minds to what the West has to offer. Aside from just the cautionary tales and things like that because that goes on everywhere. Some places more so than others but for the most part it’s bigger than just some street shit. It’s on some global shit, like on the BP oil spill. There’s bigger shit than that going on.
I really don’t think people’s attention spans can even handle all that shit right now, which is sad. There are definitely things that need to be talked about everywhere. But there has to be a way to talk about it without sounding too preachy. Because people would immediately be turned off. People hate being told what they [should and should not] be doing. It’s a weird time in Hip-Hop and it’s a weird time in life in general. There are a lot of things that need to be talked about but it’s difficult because people don’t want to hear it.
TSS: It was good to talk to you and here your perspective on anything. Before we’re through do you want to send out any shout outs?
TiRon: Shouts out to the whole Cafeteria Line, MCR 430, Shake the Hand, Teef, Ayomari, Kevin Robinson, Shake, 2DopeBoyz, The Smoking Section, y’all been holdin’ me down for a minute. Y’all posted Handshakes & Pounds when nobody did. Shouts out to Blu, Asher, everybody go get MSTRD now. I promise you that shit ain’t wack. I’m not even bullshitting you like my shit could be wack, I promise you. (Laughs). Nah, that sounds kind of arrogant. But look, I put some work into it so check it out. It’s free shit.