TONA's Experiments Pay Off on 'Good Energy'

TONA's Experiments Pay Off on 'Good Energy'
Few rappers are better at getting listeners to chant along than TONA. "Closing Sermon," from the Toronto MC's new album Good Energy, boasts a call and response between him and what sounds like a formidably sized crew that's self-assured enough to leave any listener pumping their fist. "Low" is even better in that regard, thanks to its sampled "heys!" (from an even bigger sounding squad), sports-montage keys, sprinter's pulse-evoking percussion, and bars from TONA that are as heart-stopping as they are thought-provoking.

Both tracks harken back to some of the most galvanizing moments from his tragically underrated 2016 LP, The Ivy League. And like that prior release, Good Energy is also laudably conscious, from TONA's nimble rhymes about the virtues of staying indie and circumventing shark-suited execs on "Closing Sermon," to his gut-punch lyrics about "minorities dying" over the mummering minimalist horn sample on "Ways." Even more compelling is "N Words," which finds TONA rapping about not merely re-appropriating but also abolishing and reconstructing that hateful slur. He's fittingly backed up on that track by drums that shuffle like Muhammad Ali at his most fleet-footed. 

Indeed, TONA's rhymes fit like a fist in the boxing mitt that is Good Energy's production. TONA has the Kount in his corner, the Madlib- and Noname-approved Toronto beatmaker who produces Good Energy from front to back. That's not only impressive because the new album amounts to a staggeringly long 18 tracks — the Kount will also floor listeners with the leanly soulful instrumentals that are TONA's sweet spot, while also offering the adventurous MC a number of eclectic forays.

That last point is especially important, because it allows TONA to finally get out of his comfort zone with great success. While The Ivy League was an air-tight indie rap record that left backpack diehards fawning, it wasn't as experimental as follow-ups BLACK MIRROR (2018) or July 26th (2020). And thankfully, his batting average is far higher on Good Energy than the commendable pop-inclined big swings he too often missed on those prior pair of releases.

Take, for instance, Good Energy highlight "Nobody's Perfect." On it, TONA is backed up by a G-funk-esque bass sample from the Kount and brassy crooning from Travis Knight; for a couple of endearing lines, the rapper switches his typical Roc-A-Fella flow to a deeper, mellow register a la Biggie Smalls. "Ways," meanwhile, finds TONA occupying an entirely new pitch, nimbly following in DMX's "Damien" footsteps (in terms of technique, not content). Then there's "Genesis," on which TONA cranks his usual steady tempo up to a breakneck speed. He also — on the pop-refined, R&B-leaning "Vibes" — hits sudden high notes that screech like a speeding car's tires, before flowing smoother than a BMW careening on a Sunday highway drive.

By both playing to his strengths and finally hitting his more experimental marks, Good Energy one-ups TONA's already-impressive, decade-and-a-half-long career with his best effort yet. (District Ent.)