These are the transcripts of an interview conducted with Steel Chump (Tone E.
See & Dela Kreme.
Every once in a while, a group or artist comes out of nowhere and surprises us all. In hip-hop, this happens all of the time. In underground hip-hop, it’s a beautiful thing. Steel Chump consists of Tone E. See and Dela Kreme, a producer and emcee from Orange Country, California. Together, they released the “Tonacity” LP on their own Maseed Records.
With influences ranging from De La Soul, A Tribe Called Quest, The Roots, Hieroglyphics, Common, Little Brother and more, Steel Chump’s “Tonacity” LP is a fun album filled with a passion for good beats and tight rhymes. The production, handled by Tone E. See, has a smooth quality with tight rhythms. As lyricists, Tone E. See and Dela Kreme both have a love for rocking mics. “Tonacity” is a tight independent underground hip-hop album with the same passion and fun as “The Listening” by Little Brother.
On a cold afternoon in early 2004, I talked to both Tone E. See and Dela Kreme about hip-hop, their new name, the underground hip-hop scene, Orange County, and more. Like emcees that rhyme back and forth during a verse, They go back and forth during the interview. Tone E. See and Dela Kreme have the tenacity to make incredible music and their love of hip-hop is as strong as steel.
MVRemix: What goes on?
Tone E. See: All is good, it's a new year and we got a lot in store.
MVRemix: Tell us about the new album.
Dela Kreme: The album is entitled ‘Tonacity’. All of the songs are different from each other. It reminds me of classic De La Soul or Tribe but its really unique and somewhat refreshing.
Tone E. See: It's a collection of works that I put together featuring myself and Dela Kreme on the majority of the songs. I completely produced the entire album and called on the talents of some respectable MC's to hop on the project as well. The album was designed to cover numerous styles of hip-hop from vibey, abstract sh*t all the way to hardcore. The album pays homage to the hip-hop culture and helps define what real hip-hop is.
MVRemix: What is the meaning behind the title?
Tone E. See: ‘Tonacity’ is a play on the word ‘tenacity’ which describes one that is tenacious, dogged, strong willed, adhesive, and one that perseveres. It took all those elements to bring forth this project, yes the elements.
Dela Kreme: It took a lot of tenacity to complete it!
MVRemix: You changed your group name to Steel Chump. What is the meaning behind that name?
Tone E. See: The name Steel Chump came about during a brainstorm for an ill name. We are an underground hip-hop group and because of that, groups that are in our genre of music often get looked down upon as ‘chumps’, so to speak, by peeps in the commercial rap industry. We put the word Steel in front of that to show that even though we do underground hip-hop, we are still hard and hold firm to our beliefs in the culture. The name is an oxymoron, thus the ‘Steel Chump’. We've just started rocking shows and have noticed that many of the peeps that are repping hip-hop are of different ethnicities. Few of which happen to be black. These are the peeps that are buying the CD's, and buying the tickets so as a way to identify with them, more so on an image level. We went with Steel Chump because the name does not imply a stereotypical sound of hip-hop. Also, the name is quite controversial too. I've been getting a lot of peeps asking me to explain it and once they get the meaning they are like ‘I like that shit!’.
MVRemix: What song took you the longest to do? Why? The shortest? Why?
Dela Kreme: The shortest I think was ‘Dizzbee’. ‘The Verses I-III’ was definitely the longest. That’s a real big joint! Tone had to get it just right. I’m happy how it came out.
Tone E. See: The song ‘The Verses I-III’ took a long time because there was so many tracks to mix. I had Dr. Dre's violinist on that joint, so I wanted to get the mix just right. Yeah, the shortest song was ‘Dizzbee’. Everything just came together right from the start on that one.
MVRemix: When making hip-hop songs, do you go into the studio with pre-written rhymes, lyrics and themes or do you hear the beat first and write then and there?
Tone E. See: Beats come first, then the lyrics.
Dela Kreme: In the studio, we just gel. Tone normally hooks the track first and we get a vibe from that.
Tone E. See: We need to feel the vibe that the track is giving us first.
MVRemix: What is the song writing process like? Who makes the hooks? Who thinks of the themes?
Dela Kreme: I don’t know where he comes up with his shit but it’s off the chain. Tone, a lot of the times, has the theme since he does the tracks. I try to vibe off of what he's doing and give what I get from the track.
Tone E. See: I wrote all the hooks on the album with the exception of ‘Maseed’. Themes come from how I'm feeling and what point I want to get across to the listener. We think alike so its easy to work. This album was definitely a themed album so each song fits together like chapters in a book. Once I knew what the story was, all I had to do was write out the appropriate chapters.
MVRemix: When did you first begin rhyming?
Dela Kreme: Sh*t, I was about 12. It just felt right. I knew this is what I would be doing for a while!
Tone E. See: I started at 12 or 13. After a while, I got more off into production and left MC-ing alone. After working with so many other cats, I decided to dust off the mic skills and do my own joint.
MVRemix: What song made you fall in love with hip-hop?
Tone E. See: The song that made me fall in love with hip-hop was ‘The Message’. My pops used to DJ way back in the day, so I used to jack a lot of his stuff.
Dela Kreme: ‘Criminal Minded’ and ‘The Bridge Is Over’. My pops loves hip hop too! He loved Whodini. I memorized ‘5 Minutes Of Funk’.
MVRemix: How did you two meet and eventually form a group?
Tone E. See: Dela Kreme and I met in our freshmen year of high school in 1989 through a mutual friend. I was rhyming since Jr. High and when I went to high school, I was one of a few MC's at my new school. I was friends with Dela Kreme's girlfriend. When she told me that he bust, I had to hear him. He let me hear his demo and I thought it was fresh. It was obvious at that point that we would be a good fit as a crew. We were the only MC's in school that were actually repping East Coast style hip-hop while many others were only into West Coast rap. We formed a crew called the ‘Blacc.I.Peez’ which was an acronym for ‘Blacc Intelligent Poetz’. We carried that name for many years and when the rap group Black Eyed Peas came out, many people thought that they was us. We went on to meet Taboo from the Black Eyed Peas at the Variety Arts Center in Los Angeles. We let him hear our demo and he was very much feeling our music and expressed interest in wanting to work with us in the future. With his hectic schedule, we never got the chance to make that happen. Still, we had to let them know that we were the 1st original Blacc.I.Peez. Sh*t was mad funny! Much love to the Peas. So that's the story.
MVRemix: What emcee or group would you like to collaborate with in the future?
Tone E. See: Anyone with skills, I'm not too particular on that. I'm hungry. So, if a cat is willing to put us on and that cat reps real hip-hop, I'm with it. Me being a producer, I have to think from a different side of things.
Dela Kreme: Wow! So many. Tribe, for sure! I could quit after rocking with Q-tip! Honestly, same as Tone, anyone who is willing to put it down.
MVRemix: What has been in your CD player or on your turntable recently?
Dela Kreme: Right now, I got Sade ‘The Best Of Sade’, Jay-Z's first album (‘Reasonable Doubt’), ‘Things Fall Apart’ by The Roots. I’m still trying to give Common’s ‘Electric Circus’ a chance! ‘The Justus League Mix tape’.
Tone E. See: In my CD, I'm bumping Madlib, Common, Little Brother, Slum Village, a lot of Jay Dilla production. Jill Scott and Erykah Badu are in heavy rotation too. We are definitely more on some vibey, ambient sh*t.
Dela Kreme: There is so much soul there.
MVRemix: Where do you guys grow up? What was it like?
Dela Kreme: Orange County! California! Not much of a hip hop scene.
MVRemix: What was the last incident of racism you experienced?
Dela Kreme: My last job 6 years ago. I was called a ‘n*gger’ for the second time in my life. I worked in parking control. That hurt pretty bad because the dude was black.
Tone E. See: It's on going. It's predominantly white out here in O.C. You get looks and stares just being black out here.”
MVRemix: Where were you on Sept. 11th (The World Trade Center Terrorist Attack)? How did you deal with it? How do you think it has affected music?
Tone E. See: I was at work when that went down. I remember that day vividly. That single event changed American history forever. It definitely gave me a greater since of urgency to stop bullsh*ting and get this music out there. You never know what day will be your last.
Dela Kreme: On Sept 11th, I was in the middle of sex with my ex. My mom called my cell and told me to turn on the TV. It freaked me out. I couldn’t get my mind around it.
MVRemix: Word association time. I’m going to say a name of a group/emcee and you say the first word that pops in your head. So, if I say ‘Chuck D’, you may say ‘Revolution’. Okay?
MVRemix: C Rayz Walz.
Dela Kreme: Confused.
Tone E. See: Backpacks.
Dela Kreme: Lyrics.
Tone E. See: Successful.
Tone E. See: Ill.
Dela Kreme: Sick.
MVRemix: 50 Cent.
Tone E. See: Gimmick.
Dela Kreme: Marketable.
Dela Kreme: Soul.
Tone E. See: Resurrection.
MVRemix: Phife Dawg.
Dela Kreme: Underrated.
Tone E. See: Sidekick.
MVRemix: Wu-Tang Clan.
Dela Kreme: Classic.
Tone E. See: Kung Fu.
Dela Kreme: Tired.
Tone E. See: Admirable.
MVRemix: Gil-Scott Heron.
Dela Kreme: Legend.
Tone E. See: Legendary.
MVRemix: George Bush.
Tone E. See: Cowboy.
Dela Kreme: Puppet.
MVRemix: What do you think hip-hop or music (in general) needs these days?
Dela Kreme: ”Sincerity. It needs to be honest. Hip-hop needs direction.
Tone E. See: It's not what music needs, it's what it does not need. It does not need to be controlled by people that know nothing about it. Plain and simple.
MVRemix: What is the biggest mistake that you made in your career?
Dela Kreme: Not taking it serious earlier. Letting my ex sing on one of our hooks! Check out ‘Dizbee’!
Tone E. See: The separation between hip-hop and rap is disappearing nowadays. We need to put that wall back up. They say that 50 cent, Lil John, and Bone Crusher are hip-hop. That's scary! The biggest mistake was intrusting others to get us to where we wanted to go, instead of doing it ourselves.
MVRemix: What are some major misconceptions that people have of you?
Dela Kreme: That I am a chump with no nuts and that short guys have short members!
Tone E. See: That just because we come nice on the mic, don’t mean that we won't knock your ass out at a party if you get out of line. People just under estimate the talent based on looks alone.
MVRemix: If you could re-make any classic hip-hop song, what would it be?
Dela Kreme: A Tribe Called Quest’s ‘Electric Relaxation’.
Tone E. See: ‘I Used To Love H.E.R.’ by Common. That's a stretch though. That song is sick as is.
MVRemix: How has your live show evolved?
Tone E. See: It is still evolving.
Dela Kreme: But coming along nice. Big up to DJ Who?
Tone E. See: Yeah, that's our DJ. He has been a tremendous part of the evolution of our live show.
MVRemix: What is your favorite part of your live show?
Dela Kreme: Crowd reaction, sharing our sounds with others, to see there faces! I love to see some cat in the corner nod his head to our sh*t.
Tone E. See: You'll know real quick whether your sh*t is nice or not based on the crowd response of lack there of.
MVRemix: Besides hip-hop, what do you do for a living?
Dela Kreme: I am a Claims Examiner Specialist for Blue Cross of California. It pays the bills.
Tone E. See: I'm a computer networks analyst.
MVRemix: Will you guys be doing solo albums?
Dela Kreme: I don’t think I will. I am also a songwriter.
Tone E. See: In the future, we will be settling more into the production and label side of things. We already have our next project slated ‘The Sho Luve Project’.
Dela Kreme: ‘The Sho Luve Project’ will be sick. It’s mainly a mix-tape but I think me and Tone will get down on it. We want to get Tone's production out there. Hip Hop needs what we are about to give them. Like I said, hip-hop is on life support.
Tone E. See: Yeah, we're going to do 3 or 4 cuts on that. Plus, we'll be featuring some production from this cat out in Germany and well as turntabalism from DJ Who?
MVRemix: Any final words for the people who will be reading this?
Dela Kreme: Keep supporting real hip hop! Check for that ‘Tonacity’ album!
Tone E. See: Support independent hip-hop music and all true purists of the culture.