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culture

Sound Advice: Reform School by Tona

Scarberian MC Tona makes big claims on his new mixtape, then more than backs them up.

Braggadocio is a pretty well-accepted part of hip-hop culture. We expect rappers to talk about why they’re the best, and we tend to get a little disappointed if they don’t. That said, brag raps are inherently dangerous, because the only thing that disappoints an audience more than a total lack of boasting is an MC who over-promises and under-delivers.

On his new mixtape, Reform School, Scarberian rapper Tona begins by setting the bar perilously high—not with what he says, but with what he samples. The first track, “Already Gone,” uses a clip from professional wrestling legend Ric Flair. Tona is essentially comparing himself to the iconic 21-time world champion, which is a tall order.

While Tona may not have achieved Flair’s stature quite yet, he certainly has championship-level skills. Sounding a little like Kardinal Offishall and—I know this is a big comparison—a a young Jay-Z, Tona throws out the sort of head-scratching, rewind-worthy metaphors that are the hallmark of elite-level MCs. He’s able to sound equally convincing whether he’s eviscerating haters on “We Do” or lamenting the state of modern R&B on “RIP R&B.” (Think of it as Common’s “I Used to Love H.E.R.” but about singers.)

Tona uses guest MCs judiciously, and is careful about choosing collaborators. While he is skilled enough to carry the entire album on his own, he opts to liven up Reform School a little by including a few friends, who represent a wide cross-section of Megacity MCs, from established acts like Kardinal, Shad K, and Raekwon protegé JD Era, to underground heroes like Adam Bomb and Theo3.

As good as Tona is, he’s also blessed with great production. Rich Kidd’s distorted vocal samples on “Street of Dreams” provide a subtle, spooky backdrop for an angst-filled song, while Boi-1da’s big, banging “Good Livin” just begs for someone to boast over top of it.

Toronto’s been a hotbed of hip-hop talent for years, but has only recently received global attention. First there was Drake-mania, then American labels scooped up local talents like Era, Gangis Khan, and Honey Cocaine. Tona is a world-class talent, and Reform School proves it. With any luck, it will be enough to make him the next local MC to get international recognition.

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