Bells & Whistles, Vol. 6: Tony Shhnow’s favorite Southern rap tapes

Hey guys. Welcome to Volume 6 of Bells & Whistles, the No Bells newsletter. Pretty packed one for y’all today. Also…a weird amount has happened? We’ve got an NTS show on the way?? And we started a Discord?? Read on for all the big news. But first, a fun conversation I had with Tony Shhnow about rap music, and Millan Verma on the genius of Bear1Boss. – Mano Sundaresan

Tony Shhnow is keeping the mixtape era alive

Tony Shhnow’s mixtapes bridge the gap between DatPiff and SoundCloud, trap music and Atlanta’s thrilling nebula of now. Tracks burst at the seams with DJ tags. Misty plugg beats give way to jolts of old Zaytoven. His music makes me want to start my day and figure my shit out. He makes lifestyle rap, and because life never sits still, he makes loads of it.

“Don’t give me [beats] weeks ahead, I don’t wanna plan nothing,” he tells me over Zoom. “I want it to be right now. As soon as you give me the beat, I’m rapping on it. Expect to give you the song back in the same night or in the next hour type shit. I want my listeners to get exactly how I’m feeling right now. It’s almost like a timestamp.”

That’s the kind of immediacy that gets you a dozen projects in two years. There’s no consensus favorite because Tony’s that consistent and his ear wanders everywhere. He closed 2021 with his two most recent timestamps; the R&B-soaked RPS N PLAN BS II with 10kdunkin, and the Grimm Doza collab Killstreak Volume 2, which sounds like it was recovered from a rotting RZA CD. 

It’s his relentless, chameleonic approach, and the way he structures verses like a student of Gucci Mane, that made me curious about Tony’s history with Southern mixtape culture. Tony, 25, spoke about it with reverence and admiration.

“The trap or street artist has so much story to tell where the story is so exciting, it may look to another person like a ‘bar,’” Tony says. “Whole time it’s not a bar. It’s their real life, you know what I’m saying? They have so many real-life captions where they can just go in the studio, bow! It could just be a 10, 20 minute process to make a song because they’re literally just saying their life.”

A teenager from Cobb County heard the timestamps of Gucci and Wayne and countless others, then decided to record his own. These are Tony Shhnow’s five favorite Southern rap tapes.

Mano Sundaresan

Lil Wayne – No Ceilings

I had heard Wayne before, but that’s where I got him. That’s where I was like, “Yo, this nigga is the greatest rapper alive.” I don’t care, this rapper is the greatest rapper alive. Fuck what you’re talkin’ ’bout. Who is Jay-Z? I don’t care, Lil Wayne, like, you know what I mean? I’m on a school bus every day singing that shit. I’m getting off the bus, singing that shit. I’m waking up in the morning, singing this shit. I’m god damn playing video games, playing this shit. I’m walking home, playing this shit. This is my soundtrack for the entire year, probably the next year or whatever. If I’m playing 2K, I CAN’T WIN if I don’t play “Watch My Shoes” by Lil Wayne. I just can’t win, I don’t know why.  But when I play that shit, I’m winning. I’ll put $50 down, nigga wassup, like you feel me?

Gucci Mane – Trap God

I was in, like, ninth grade. I remember walking into a house party, and I was like, “What the fuck kind of music is this?” Like, I was throwed off. I didn’t even know people talk like this on songs. I didn’t know rappers was being street at the time. Because growing up, my mom, she from Compton, so she was putting me on to N.W.A and Ice Cube and DJ Quik. 2Pac and Snoop Dogg. So I’m aware of the gangsta era, but growing up hearing what’s on the radio and shit like that, it’s a little more polished than in the 90s, so I’m hearing Kanye West, Jay-Z. Those pop records in the early 2000s, it’s not really so gangsta per se, you feel me? So when I’m hearing Trap God, I’m like, “Yo, these people are still talking like this? He talkin bout whippin in the kitchen? He talkin about gangbangin and shootin up the club, holding your Rollie up?” I’m like, damn what the fuck, what is this shit? I ain’t know people was talking like this. I didn’t know this was still going on. And I’ll always love that part of hip-hop. I really only knew the gangsta side of hip-hop, so something connected again when I heard Trap God.

Rich Kidz – Everybody Eat Bread

That was my entire high school thing, you feel me? That gave me so much, like…I fucked so many hoes off that tape, you feel me? [laughs] I god damn went to so many parties off that tape. It was that tape or Astronaut Status by Future, but them tapes right there…it helped me become me. It helped me have fun. I was discovering I like weed, you know what I’m saying? I was discovering what kind of girls I liked. I was discovering what I didn’t like in life. You can’t play that tape for someone my age and they’re not going crazy. If they’re from Atlanta and you play that tape, it’s like playing “Faneto” in the club.

I hear their sound in a lot of shit today. Especially with Skooly and Future. Like, people were trying to sing, but they weren’t trying so hard. When I say Skooly and Future were singing, I’m not trying to be funny, but these niggas cannot sing. They can’t sing! But the way they sung so bad, you thought they could sing. They really was pushing out singing. They wasn’t just being “melodic,” they was really singing. They trying to carry a note.

Young Nudy – SlimeBall 2

My friend sounds like Young Nudy in real life, like I have a friend that talks like how Young Nudy sounds on records. And I used to think that bro was bruh, you feel me? Like damn, bro, you got a whole persona! You god damn sneak into the studio and rappin and shit like that? So I guess that turned into me actually listening to him more and actually liking his music.

When [Nudy] was first coming out, I had just became a rapper for real. I had stopped trapping and was like, “Yo, I’m ’bout to rap.” And this was my first year hanging out with underground rappers, from Lil Wop to Larry League, Yung Bans, K Supreme, Slimesito, Lil Candy Paint, Duwap Kaine. They all had a little house in the Bluff, and Lil Wop was just inviting me over. I was literally just watching the scene at that time. I was just watching other rappers, how they career will play out, how they maintain relationships with folks and how they would treat people. I was just playing the background at that time.

Kodak Black – Painting Pictures

I think that was the first time we had seen [Kodak Black] really get in trouble for the things he was saying. I don’t know, it’s weird in rap music where when a rapper goes to jail, it’s like all of a sudden everything’s verified, all of a sudden everything he’s been saying is true. So I guess I was a victim to that thought process, and I just started believing everything he was saying. Like damn, he’s really doing what he’s saying. And when I started paying attention to him, I already was a fan, but I just became a super fan at that moment. This was a tape where he was at the top of his game, he had just had a single. This was the project after XXL. So I was checking out all those dudes’ projects, but his just stood out the most.

Tony Shhnow

Bear1Boss, maestro

A few months ago, Popstar Benny tweeted that Bear1Boss “is a music wizard” who makes many of his songs in just 15 minutes. A user argued that this was not an impressive achievement because the songs were probably rushed and sloppy. Benny replied, saying that yes, this is normally true, but Bear is different–he knows exactly how he wants his songs to sound, and exactly how to get them there. 

The video above is proof of concept. It is eight minutes of Bear1Boss coaching his engineer. “Reverse the beat for that little four-bar then do the low pass for the bass. Set it at 3…Do the low-pass on the beat again then loop the last ‘Woah.’ Keep it goin’ for a long time, like, eight bars. Stack that last bar.” 
It appears that he decides precisely what to do with his vocals while he is tracking them. Brain firing on all cylinders. This is what made his music finally click for me. Bear1Boss does not just rap. He orchestrates. – Millan Verma

Discord

A couple days ago we launched the No Bells Discord server. It’s already kind of wild–like 200 heads in there last I checked–but more importantly, it’s been so fun! Lots of lovely intros, lots of little nooks for people to talk music, anime, gaming, sports. We’re starting a little internet music writing archive in there too–thanks to Jameson for the suggestion. Tap in.

No Bells, NTS resident

This is still kinda surreal to me but No Bells was named one of the 2022 NTS Residents. So this means we have a monthly online radio show at NTS are you kiddinggggg. Premiering soon. 

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