If you haven't heard of Rob $tone, here's why. Today's music landscape is more fractured than a California fault line, allowing for songs and artists to be adored by millions and completely unknown by millions more. Plus, $tone is from San Diego, a city that's somehow never produced a rapper who's achieved any real mainstream popularity (with my apologies to Nick "The Rapper" Cannon.)
If you have heard of Rob $tone, here's why. His "Chill Bill" song has become a viral hit, with video of a recent fight (Google it) that expertly uses "Chill Bill" as its soundtrack providing a second wave of attention. That buzz has lead to a deal with RCA that has the city of San Diego energized, hoping one of its own will finally make it to national rap stage.
While the nation's image of San Diego is largely one of surfers and sunburn, you don't have to travel far to find the city's rougher side, a side that $tone was born and raised in. But while the city's local rap legends are largely of the gangster rap style like Jayo Felony, $tone and his 1207 crew are rising by combining the city's two sides. After all, what is "Chill Bill" but gangster rap over a melodic whistle? "We're launching a new wave, a new positive energy," said Stone. "We can see it."
"Everybody in San Diego hates on each other, they've never gotten behind anyone like they've gotten behind me and the rest of 1207. They see me and think, oh shit, I could do it too. Everyone wants to see each other make it instead of wanting to be that one."
So how did $tone become "that one"? Stone left San Diego for a college stint in Atlanta but soon realized college life wasn't for him. As soon as he returned to San Diego he joined the 1207 crew his long time friends had begun and they immediately began recording. At first it was Hustle & Flow by the beach, recording in bedrooms with mics hanging from the ceiling fan. "All of this was us," $tone said. "All the money came out of my own pocket."
$tone insists there was no marketing tricks, no secret powerful co-signs. They simply put "Chill Bill" on SoundCloud one day, it took off, they released the video, it took off further, and then he began to get calls from labels eager to ensure that they didn't miss out on the next Desiigner and "Panda."
"I didn't get no blog coverage, no press, until it already had millions of views."
$tone signed to RCA in April of this year, and while a major label signing certainly has to feel like a powerful victory for someone from a city that had seen almost none of its own sign to a major, now the hard work begins. Music's history is paved with artists full or promise who signed early and then were unable to find longevity, but history also has its Nellys, its Drakes, its Bryson Tillers and Fetty Waps, artists from cities with no industry machines, no established highway to stardom, who have gone on to platinum album success.
$tone's determined to do the same, saying he's already got a project coming out in a couple weeks featuring Denzel Curry and production from Nate Fox, but he's still a long way from the top. But no matter how far he goes, he's already gone far beyond what anyone could have expected. He's already a hometown hero, now it's time to put that town on the map,
By Nathan S, the managing editor of DJBooth and a hip-hop writer. His beard is awesome. This is his Twitter.
Photo Credit: Alex Vibe