Believe the hype, Massachusetts rap prodigy Token is steadily carving out a permanent space in the hip-hop scene.
With his latest track 'Little Boy' garnering over a million views, this 19-year-old is already receiving co-signs from the likes of T-Pain, platinum producer Clinton Sparks and Hollywood's own Mark Wahlberg. Coming off the heels of his headline tour we catch up with the rapper to talk staying humble, touring with Hopsin and his upcoming album.
What we like, is that you always come out with something new, something different and obviously, you have also had your own headline tour, so is that the strategy you are working with right now?
For sure, that what it is man, my whole career I have been paying attention to not jumping too high, just going from step to step to step, because the second that I jump too high, it harder to get to that next step. So I am just staying at home, I still have a home studio, like I am still doing the songs in my element, the videos in my element and just building it step by step cause that's how you build a real foundation.
So you have had a sold out tour in London, bought out several hit singles, but let's rewind the clock a little bit, how did you get into lyricism?
Ever since I was like preschool I was into hip hop, my sister is five and half years older than me, and she got me into the Pacs, the Ludas, the Ems, the Jays, like super early on, so I was listening to that ever since I could remember, I have been a hip hop fan my whole life.
I started doing the writing thing when I was like six, it was mostly like poetry, kinda like a diary, just talking about what I was going through, whenever I was having issues I would just write about it. Where I fell in love with the art of putting words together and words, in general, was like, I would say would be like sixth grade, I started listening to real intense lyricism and reading the dictionary and I just fell in love with matching syllables together. And breaking down words, and double meanings, and I felt like I was good at it and I just thought it was cool because I felt like a lot of people weren't doing that, so I just grew and grew it and I really fell in love with it, so that's why it's like not a task for me, it something that I already enjoy to do.
So in terms of transitioning from someone who just likes to do lyrics, using syllables and rhyming too, I want to make this my life's work - when did you start to take making music seriously?
Ever since I began, ever since I recorded my first song when I was 10, I made the decision on what I was going to do for the rest of my life. I put a song on YouTube, I was kinda forced to put a song on YouTube by a friend, because at first, it was just for me, it was just to make myself feel better, it wasn't for other people at first, but my friend found it and he made me put it on YouTube and the first comment that I got that somebody liked, what I loved to do so much, I was like its over this is what I am doing and no matter what it is going to happen.
This is the first time I have had anyone with such conviction from such a young age, at 10 years old, knowing what you wanted to do.
That's how I am though. If I want something, if I really want it, real life want it, I am going to get it.
And that's quite evident! So when you are competing with others in rap battles, what is your motivation then?
Well, I never did like real rap battles, it was more like I would enter a bunch of concerts when I was like just beginning, 14, 15, 16 I would enter a bunch of online contests where I would be going against other people. But it wouldn't really be dissing that person and that was because no one was listening to me, and when you enter a contest you have to listen to me because you have to judge if I am going to win or not. So I was just like how am I going to force people to listen to me. I used to spam people like crazy like 'check out my stuff' and that is one of the ways I did it.
So how did it feel to get the attention off someone and that person is Mark Wahlberg?
It felt unreal, it was like confusing, cause the story is like he got my number from somebody else, he called me and I didn't even hear the voicemail until 10 days later, because I am horrible at checking my voicemail, and then when I picked it up I was like oh my god, he probably thinks that I am just like some hassle whose not going to pick up a call from Mark Wahlberg.
But we ended up talking, and he had us come out to his place, he is just supportive like crazy and it is one of those things where it doesn't sink in, it's like the same thing, where you look forward to something and then you get it and you are still mentally the same and you are like okay, 'what's next'. But its crazy, looking at his like his support and other peoples support in hindsight it is just crazy, it wouldn't be so crazy if I didn't love doing this too, it would sink in more but because this is like my real passion it like 'oh my God they love what I love to do', that's what makes it so cool.
So we know you love live shows, but do you think the art of live shows is something we need to refocus on more?
I think the live shows are still super important, almost more important than ever cause that's where most people are making their money nowadays, with streaming and everything, with all the difficulties with that, I think that it is still important in hip hop and the performance element is still important, it's just different now, a lot of people are saying less words and doing more. Like on the more performing aspect, I see a lot of acting come out on stage, rather than rapping itself, which is cool, I do both of them but performing is my favourite thing to do, I just love the energy of performing.
I used to do plays like acting in plays, but on stage, before I took music like a 100% seriously, so I am used to being on stage so I feel comfortable there. I feel absolutely just like comfortable and I think that has helped me grow the fan base that I have because a lot of them have seen me live and I think my live performances, I put that on top of everything else...everything else.
Okay, let's get on to the track 'Stay Humble & Stop Thinking'...
That's an oldddd song, crazy old!
I know! But that's the song that introduced me to you. Now the reason I mention that song, is because that may well be a lot of people's entry to Token, especially overseas, so what inspired you to create that song?
That was like the first time ever that some people were reaching out to me and they wanted to have me part of these labels or part of just like on the team with them and that was just kind of me just expressing my nervousness, going into that and feeling like it was too early on for me to jump into any situation like that.
So I felt like most people kinda just wanted to take advantage, it was that side but then on the other side, I am growing as an artist and lot of people tell me ' stay humble, stay humble, stay humble' and so it is like on one side people tell me stay humble; not being humble. That's why everybody just loves to say it, 'stay humble'. And it's like my friends don't say that me to because my friends know me and know that they don't have to say that to me cause that's who I am, but everyone else that's their way of saying, stay down there, stay humble, stay humble, but on the other side there's people trying to take advantage of me.
Saying how brilliant you are.
Yeah, but trying to take advantage of me really, it's like if I am super humble, humble in the way of like not knowing my worth too, that's the balance, cause if I am so humble that I like don't even know my worth, I am just going to be like 'wow, somebody wants to have me on their team, I am just going to go there because he's probably the only one' and then I am going to get fucked! And that was really balancing the act of like being humble but knowing my worth at the same time.
But for me one of my favourite songs is 'Talk To You', and you are talking to a young woman, and you say those pictures, 'where you are stripping, you are really stripping your innocent name, you think those Instagram filters will filter your pain', I mean wow! So in this age of rapping were most talk about clubbing, popping champagne, mumble rapping, and you where 15 when you wrote that, is the era of rapping that goes deep something that is getting lost or not focused on as much as it used to be?
It's definitely not lost, but it is definitely not focused on as much as other things but hip hop is THE biggest thing right now, so it would be kind of arrogant of us to say we are not going to allow for subgenres, rock is given all these sub genres like we deserve it too, and people want to listen to different stuff, at the end of the day there's so many fans of the other stuff, what are you going to say, you can't blame the artist for making something that other people...
Are going to gravitate to...
Yeah! It's definitely not lost, it's just so big and there's different areas like, people might look at me and compare me to someone like that, but he might be looking at me like oh man I know I don't have the fanbase that Token has and I want to go back and grow, there's different areas and there's different ways to build it so it's beautiful man, it's like hip hop is so big now, it is like there is so many different ways to go about it, build your own base but I defintely don't think it is lost, if it was lost then I wouldn't be here.
Tell us about that unforgettable Sway freestyle?
So the second that I heard that Sway was down to having me on the show, I made the decision that this is going to be the biggest thing of my career, like I am going to make this the biggest thing of my career, so I was just like writing so much, and I originally had one verse that was like 250 bars or something like that. It was like more than double what I did, it was so incredibly long, it was crazy and I was like this is going to go crazy.
But so what happened is right before I leave for New York, the night before or the afternoon before, I was told that, I thought that it was going to be like my on segment, turned out it wasn't going to be own segment, that there was going to be two other dudes there and we were going to go back and forth and I was like are you serious, I can't spit 250 bars when there is two other people next to me and literally I was freaking out. It was probably one of the most anxious times I have ever been cause I had like spent all this time doing this, and what am I going to do, cause I didn't want to get an old verse, I wanted it to be new.
So at that night and at that morning, I literally ended up just moving everything, I didn't cut off stuff, I mean I cut off some parts but I rearranged it and kept my favourite parts,'like of I like that and I like that line' and just put it all together. I was still memorizing as I went in, so you can see in the beginning I am like little a nervous, and I was nervous anyway but I still kick over a 100 lines in and it just went crazy and yeah, my career would be different if that video didn't come out.
Yeah, definitely I think that was a turning point for you!
Absolutely, it was a turning point.
So what is it like touring with Hopsin? Is he a personal friend of yours?
So at first at the US tour, I was still timid around him because I didn't know the type of person he was but we did 3 tours man, together and I would say at the end of the first US tour we started to grow like a little bit of a friendship. But by the time we hit Europe we were like super tight cause we were on the tour bus together and I was always running stuff by him too, I like to show him my videos before they come out, just to get his opinion on them and it's just one of those crazy things cause back when I was 13, 14 I used to listen to Hop religiously.
And even it was my first tour in general so it was dream come true every night and that's where I really developed my stage presence through going from US to Europe to Canada that's how I really learned to master it.
So how does it feel now, going out on your own now?
It is crazy, it is crazy, going out on your own is one of those things where you feel like you are never really ready for them, you just got to go into it when other people think you are ready for them. But I was ready for it like it was crazy. Its more pressure cause more things are relying on me, but it is better cause I can dictate more and everyone is there to see me, so I can dictate more and its fun man, I can really put together my set like for my fans, instead of just like okay I want to win new people over so how am I going to put this song next to that song. But it's really like I can get my creativity out and how I really want it to be constructed it's like really want I want to do creatively, I feel like I am not hindered in any way.
So when is the album coming out?
No that's coming man, building a project is actually one of my favorite things to do, people don't know it but I like I released, this is really just for me but I had a project when I was 10, I had a project when I was 13, I had a project when I was 17, like little mixtapes but it's just been like this step, to this step so next step I am going to get to is just going to be like, I just want it to be undeniable, and I am working on it and it is going to be amazing. I feel like it is going to really be another turning point cause it is going to be like okay I understand now, this is more than what I thought before, it is going to be something real special and I know how special it is going to be and that's why I have been taking my time with it, making sure that I just want to do it the right way cause I know how big it is going to be.
Tell us about your latest song 'Little Boy'?
'Little Boy' was really one of the first songs where I kinda just let the energy dictate where the song went, it was less about me being so oh I want to construct this with a song, this is what I want to get out with the song, this is what I want to focus on, it was more like I heard a beat and I kinda just let it come out of me and it was a energy that I feel like I can't replica it. And that's why I feel like this song is doing so good and that's why people are gravitating towards it and I dropped it the day the tour began and I did that because you have to see it live. If you don't understand the song now, you will understand when you watch it live.
You can find the rapper on Twitter // Instagram // Facebook
Words by Mr Wondah