Saturday, April 11, 2009

Remembering Tony D

Hip-hop lost an important producer last week when Tony D died in a car crash at the young age of 42. His name may not mean anything to you, but like hundreds of other music people behind the scenes he was very instrumental in making hip-hop an art-form that the world would eventually take seriously. Tony D's hip-hop heyday was arguably gone by the time he became popular in Cork, through a few low-key yet incredible releases for Manchester label Grand Central in the mid 90's. While many were enjoying great success as hip-hop blew up, it was typical of Tony D that he remained behind the scenes making music that still sounds great years later.

Having a forged a tight relationship with the Manchester label, it was inevitable that myself and a few other Cork music people would be enamoured with Tony D's releases, and his track with regular visitor to Cork Spikey Tee ("Erase the Pain") became a huge anthem here. Lyrically finding comparison between the Irish immigrant experience in England and the similar difficulties experienced by black people, it was always going to strike a chord here, but it was the music produced by Tony D that had laid-back funky production style that was unique to a person who is now being rightly heralded as a hip-hop pioneer.

Other tunes, such as "Piano Grand", were also massive in Cork and I remember selling loads of copies of his "Pound for Pound" when i worked in independent music shop Comet (now Plug'd) back in the day. Tony D was happy to remain behind the boards in the studio and like many in hip-hop he would at his most comfortable here. In a hip-hop climate all of these years later where rappers and producers of only a fraction of his talent loom large in a celebrity obsessed media that favours style over substance, it is poignant to think this week of the likes of Tony D. His hip-hop roll of honour included YZ, Poor Righteous Teachers, Blaque Spectrum, Almighty and KD Ranks, Ministers of Black and King Sun. These are artists who were from the underground, but they came from an era where the underground really was that, and where even the big stars of hip-hop were grounded in some degree of reality.

The tragic death of Tony D is mirrored by a less important tragedy, but one in which is still a shame as hip-hop reaches it's 30th birthday as a mainstream music force. The likes of the Tony D, the Beatminerz, Organized Noize, Diamond D, J Dilla, Large Professor, Buckwild, The Beatnuts, Eric Sermon, Clark Kent and many more are reduced to mere footnotes as artists with only a fraction of the talent make millions from a loose definition of what we know as hip-hop. In a week in which hip-hop legends Run DMC were rightly inducted in the rock n'roll hall of fame, and in which Eminem compared the Queens trio to the Beatles, it is additionally poignant to think of the many on the margins of a music that fought hard for credibility over it's 30 years.

But this is the way of the world and we are still blessed to be able to hear the great music of many who didn't care for the limelight as much. As a respected crate digger of rare music himself, Tony D would probably treat all of this with a wry smile. Those who want to know will always know and damn the rest! I'm lucky enough to be in a position to spread the word about the likes of Tony D and others and this Saturday on Black on Red i'll be spinning a few of his best tracks. He was a big lover of reggae too and tonight i'll also be rolling out part two of my hip-hop reggae mix, with Tony D featuring on a few tracks. The beats of a great producer will thankfully live on forever, and if you are new to his music I invite to come along and check out one of the finest.

Some classic vids

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    I'm a DJ from Cork in Ireland. I work with RedFM, presenting Red Drive, The Hitlist and my specialist show, Black on Red. I'm probably best known for being one of the main hip-hop/soul DJ's in Cork and Ireland. I've been DJing in Cork since the early 90's in legendary clubnights such as Sweat in Sir Henrys, Mor Disco, Free La Funk, Yo Latino and also Jam and Jam Junior at the Savoy and the Pavilion. I've also held down long term residencies at clubs around Ireland such as Brown Sugar at the Kitchen in Dublin, U-Turn at Ri Ra in Dublin, Jazz Juice at the GPO in Galway, Thompson Garage in Belfast, the Soul Clinic, Dee-Bop, Meltdown and Mo Bounce in Limerick and i've played abroad in the United States and the U.K. on numerous occasions. I also write a music column for the Evening Echo and i'm a regular contributor to the U.K.'s Blues and Soul, the longest running black music magazine in the world. These days i run the Pavilion, a music venue in Cork, which hosts my Jam night every few Fridays also you can catch me at