Rob $tone is aiming to put San Diego hip-hop on the map, as he tells Billboard it's always overlooked when compared to Los Angeles or the Bay Area. "There's a sense of unity and pride from San Diego right now that's amazing," the San Diego native says.
$tone is one of the reasons for that pride: his track "Chill Bill," which samples the famous whistle from Quentin Tarantino's Kill Bill films, recently climbed inside the top 25 on the Hot R&B/Hip-Hop chart and cracked the Hot 100 as well. Though the rapper isn't acting along. $tone is a member of 1207, a movement and hip-hop collective established in San Diego that includes other rising talent such as Spooks, Malik Burgers, J. Davis, Ed Jones, Keely, Thommed Cruz, Artie, and Adam Twelve0.
Before $tone takes his own budding career on the road -- he will open for A$AP Ferg on the Turnt & Burnt tour that kicks off in October -- Billboard caught up with him to discuss his hit, his admiration for Uma Thurman, and his I'm Almost Ready mixtape.
What the scene like in San Diego, aside from 1207?
It's a real hip-hop culture. There's a lot of gangsta rap in San Diego as well. Ever since 1207, everyone's been coming together. There's a sense of unity and pride from San Diego right now that's amazing.
Does everyone know you in San Diego now?
Yeah, actually it's crazy. I walked out the liquor store about 10 minutes ago, and I was walking out, someone was like, "Yo, Rob $tone!" Everywhere I go in San Diego, somebody knows me.
How did you first start rapping?
It's always been a dream of mine since I was like five. In high school, my boy had been rapping since we were freshmen, and I saw how much better he got. It just inspired me to get started. Then when I was out in Atlanta I started going to the studio all the time, I moved back to San Diego, linked back up with all my friends. 1207 [his rap crew] started, and it's been going ever since then. We all just push and help each other to get better, keep doing it, and never give up.
When you were Atlanta, what rap was big out there at the time?
I was listening to 2 Chainz a lot. It was different being in Atlanta. They play a lot of hip-hop on the radio. In San Diego, we don't get that on the radio. I wanted to bring that to San Diego and give local artists a chance. When I was out there I saw how everybody in Atlanta support each other. It's definitely a different music culture. Being in Atlanta made me want to make more bangers, more hype music than calm, chill music like in San Diego.
How did you start making your tracks?
In garage studios with old Windows computers. We would record on GarageBand in my room on the Macbook and just hang the mic from the ceiling. Whatever we had to do. It started really underground. It's really progressed ever these last two years - every studio we go to gets bigger and better. We started in the garage, then we made it out all the way to a warehouse by Mexico, then our next studio moved over to North Park. That was the nicest studio in San Diego; it was a change for us. Now we be up in L.A.; I even record in New York now. As my career keeps picking up, the studio gets bigger and better. It amazes me to see where we started, hanging mics from the ceiling, to where we are now.
How did you run across the "Chill Bill" beat?
J. Davis, who's on the song, he found the beat. I believe he got on SoundCloud. One day we linked up after we got stopped by the police. They let us go and immediately after we went to Spooks' and J. Davis had the beat. He was like, "I found this beat, Purpdogg produced it," and he put it on. Kill Bill is one of my favorite movies, so I was already into it when I heard the beat -- he says the whistle is "infectious." We booked a session out by Mexico, made the trip, and "Chill Bill" came out. It's a real life story. That was a wake-up call. You need to take a step back, focus on music, get life right. Since then, it's just been golden.
Why do you think "Chill Bill" is resonating with so many people?
So much authenticity and energy went into it from all three of us. People feel it. I don't know man, I can't really explain it. I didn't know it was going to do all this. But I knew it was something hot when we laid it down.
On your new mixtape you also have a song that samples the ice cream trunk jingle.
I knew you were gonna say that one. When I heard the beat with the ice cream truck sample in it, it was perfect. I like catchy stuff. I'm all over the place, but as soon as I hear a beat like that, something familiar with a bounce, I gotta go.
When you posted your mixtape on SoundCloud you captioned it, "a mixtape that should have been an album."
I feel that way 100 percent. I put a lot into it. It's a newer Rob $tone, a new sound compared to "Chill Bill" and my beginnings. That's why the title I'm Almost Ready fits so well.
How do you feel like the sound is different?
I feel like it's a bigger sound. My beginnings were elementary rhymes. What I was talking about was little boy stuff. I've grown up a lot. The stuff I talk about, everything is an older, bigger, and better Rob $tone than in the beginning.
Is more music coming from 1207?
We're working on the whole 1207 album right now with all of us on it. It's going to be completely produced by 1207. And be looking out for a lot of visuals from us too.