Tonedeff: QN5’s Mastermind

By Andrew Singer

Without a doubt, Tonedeff is one of the illest MCs out there.  He has a witty flow filled with endless syllable match-ups, similes and metaphors left and right, plus it can move rather quickly at times as well.  In addition to his stunning solo work, he runs a group called QN5 that consists of extremely talented rappers throughout NYC and the country.  Before their once-a-year spectacular QN5 Megashow, City Scoops sat down with Tonedeff to get more insight on the group and the process.

What makes your hip hop collective QN5 stand out from other hip hop collectives?

I think it boils down to our approach to albums and our fans.

We’ve always been committed to created full-length works of music, regardless of the singles-driven trends happening in the industry. It’s just what we do. Our sole focus as an artist-collective is to work together to make the most honest, innovative and emotionally resonant music possible in hip hop – which I feel is a genre that has still has plenty of room still left to grown and evolve. I feel that you can immediately hear the difference when you hear a QN5 release immediately.It’s hip hop for music lovers that don’t have all the political baggage many folks bring to it.

But most importantly, I think it’s our fans. We’ve developed an intensely close-relationship with our fan community over the years and it really shows. They respect us as artists….which I think is very tricky in a day and age where accessibility of artists can easily strip them of the magic that “mystery” brings. They’ve watched us struggle – seen our successes and failures first hand. We’re talking about fans that will literally fight and drag corporations down to defend us whenever they feel we’ve haven’t been given a fair shake. Hell, they fly out for shows and even have a regular QN5 Fanzine they make on their own. I don’t know if you could ask for more than that as an artist these days.

Photo by Darren Nanos []

Photo by Darren Nanos (

In the last decade, which year do you think was truly “The Year of QN5″, and why?

2006 was a very big year for us, but I have to say 2009 (or Q009 as we like to call it) has been the one where everything seems to be coming together. And I mean that in a sense of multiple releases, touring, industry accomplishments. We’ve had some forays into into MTV already with Substantial’s release, and CunninLynguists really seem to be on the edge of blowing up nationally in the coming months, so it’s a very excited time. Not to mention that every artist on the roster is releasing new albums this year – anyone who works at a label will tell you what a herculean task that is.

It just feels like, all the work we’ve killed ourselves doing the past 8 years is finally starting to manifest into something bigger. People are becoming more aware of “QN5″ and it’s artists. And that’s what we always set out to do. It just feels “bigger” this year, than any time before.

What are the easiest and hardest parts of the game?

I’ve definitely given up a lot of normalcy in my life to do this. Mrs.Deff  will tell you the same. I rarely sleep, do the work of 4 full-time employees and attempt to hold on to my sanity daily. It’s definitely gotten the best of me a couple of times, shutting me down entirely, but I truly believe that what I’m doing is right – so I keep on. Some people might think I’m delusional to think I can play the game against deep-pocketed major labels when it’s just me with a few volunteers slugging it out for attention – but if you’ve seen what I’ve seen, and what we’ve managed to do with essentially nothing – you keep the faith. But I wouldn’t wish my daily-life on my worst enemy.

The easiest part for me, is performing. After ALL the work is done – the music is mixed, the promotion is in full force, the distribution is covered – being able to experience people’s reactions to the music first hand is just icing on the cake at that point. THAT’S where you see if what you’re doing is working. Granted, touring is definitely tough when you’re an indie artist, but once you hit the stage, all bets are off.

Photo by Darren Nanos []

Photo by Darren Nanos (

How did you first come up with your particular hook of rapping quickly?  What are some of your other specialties?

I’ve actually told some folks that I was personally trained by the Micro Machines guy, just because it’s a much more entertaining answer than “I practiced alot”. But I’ve tried to push it farther than what’s expected, cause in my personal experience, people generally tend to write alot of nonsense to fill up the time and I wanted to do away with that, so that if you slowed it down, it’d still be just as lyrically potent as any of the slower stuff. There’s still punchlines and wordplay and patterns and all that…which is only possible with a more developed sense of diction. That to me, is just as important as the actual speed itself. I feel like there’s plenty of “fast rappers”, but when you filter through to find folks who do it with solid lyricism, you end up with a very short list.

Which acts have become QN5’s breakout stars, and why do you think they in particular have excelled?

CunninLynguists are definitely our most notable act on the roster at the moment. They’ve been on a non-stop roll of fantastic releases and constant touring – which is the classic way to build a fanbase. We’ve seen everything grow since the very beginning and it’s fantastic to see them in a position where they’re just about to explode nationally. I give it another year or so before you see them on the cover of URB or SPIN or something like that.

Substantial was the first of us to get national exposure via MTV. The fans really got behind us on his video and made the difference in terms of the getting it getting a fair shake on the network. I have very high expectations for him, because he’s very prolific writer and the press seems to love him. It’s probably the dreds, but Spike Lee told me it was the shoes, so I’ll go with that.

Photo by Ross Feighery. (L-R: Deacon, Natti, Kno)

CunninLynguists. Photo by Ross Feighery.

So.. what else is new with you these days?

We just relaunched, and it’s the most user-friendly thing we’ve done. If you’ve never heard of us, hit up the site and you’ll get everything you need in one shot. I’m dropping my next album this year with Kno of CunninLynguists on production entitled, Chico & The Man, which I’m VERY excited about because of the sheer scope of it. Other than that, new albums from PackFM, Mr. SOS, Substantial and Session are on the way to round out the year. I don’t think I’m going to catch any Zzz’s till New Years, honestly. But the fans will be happy, and that’ll definitely make it worth it in the end.

QN5 Megashow is this Friday, August 7 at 9pm (doors open 7pm) at Highline Ballroom on 431 W 16th St (btw 9th & 10th Ave) in NYC.  Tickets are $15 in advance and $17 at the door.  Performers will include CunninLynguists, Tonedeff, PackFM, Substantial, Mr. SOS, Kokayi, Session + Special Guests. Purchase tickets now.

Andrew Singer performs all over the NYC as comedic rapper “soce, the elemental wizard.” He has toured Europe and the U.S., and been featured on numerous media outlets, including MTV, VH1, Here TV, Logo, The Source, Out, Howard Stern and Sirius Shade 45.  His music is available on iTunes.

Last 5 posts by Andrew Singer

Posted on 05 Aug 2009 at 4:15pm
Read also
15% Off All Golf Balls

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.