“You don’t want it fall back, leave it alone/ or your name and today’s date are gonna read on your stone.”

– Tone Chop, “The Return Intro”

In case you weren’t aware, hip-hop has finally made it. The craft, one that started at a block party in 1973 on the heels of DJ Kool Herc’s record flipping, was certified by Nielsen Music to be the most popular form of music in the United States. Despite hip-hop branching from a number of different regions in 2017, one locale remains on the map: New York.

Keeping with the rough and ready grit of the five boroughs and beyond, rapper Tone Chop teams up with producer Frost Gamble for Respect is Earned Not Given via 22 Entertainment. The follow-up to the Veteran EP in 2016, Tone and Frost collaborate for 14 tracks that embody the lyrical fortitude and headnodic melodies that characterize hip-hop’s underground movement.

Despite a conventional release, Tone’s style is more reminiscent of a street-lit battle rapper than any of his contemporaries, and rightly so; he and Frost first squared off in the 90s before moving towards the occasional partnership and this very album.

The duo’s history in musical confrontation lends itself to a synergistic release, with Tone predicating his flows on tactical punchlines and sticky delivery atop Frost’s cleanly chopped, flipped and mixed samples and production.

On the hook of “It’s Hip-Hop,” Tone professes, “Rap is something you do, this is something I live,” setting the tone for the bulk of the material across the album. Whereas the NY rap sector often idolizes the Notorious B.I.G approach of, “Squeeze first, ask questions last,” Tone comes across as something of an anomaly. Tone’s metaphorically drenched wordplay is often reactionary, as he stays in his lane until he arrives at a problem which is then solved with a swift, surgical assault and a return to his craft.

Tone assuredly covets his role as a protector of real rap, and often reminds the fake cats that he’s not above calling them out to defend his trade. “Acting like you hard, you should quit that/ Me against you ain’t fair it’s a mismatch,” is part of Tone’s callout of degenerate rappers on “Beat Down,” a group in which he includes the ever-popular segment of mumble rappers.

That said, Tone does take a break from burying other rappers in irrelevancy, particularly on the cuts “Bing Stories,” “Inspiration” and “See You Again.” On the former, Tone recaps the lead up to a date that, while a setup, left him with, “an ill story to tell.” The MC runs through advice of putting life in perspective and looking out for friends, as he’d rather live to see another day than “die over a dub and some chains.” Too often, the machismo of hip-hop would drown out the possibility of an artist being a victim in a track, and Tone’s honesty, paired with Frost’s flip of a piano sample make for a refreshing take on a stick-up story.

Along with a handful of features from names like Kool G Rap, DNA, Planet Asia and Tragedy Khadafi, Tone Chop and Frost Gamble nimbly manufactured a project steeped in the earthy and ghoulish sounds of hip-hop’s golden age. Incorporating standout moments like a feature from Bigga Hatian or the introspective cut “See You Again,” Tone and Frost are tilting the spotlight back towards beats, bars and rhymes.

Respect is Earned Not Given is available both digitally and on CD from 22 Entertainment.

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