Tone Dogg Raw- Hills and Windows

Last week, So-Cal based Hip-Hop artist Tone Dogg Raw released his latest album Hills and Windows, which is arguably one of the most relatable, and authentic projects to hit the independent Hip-Hop scene in awhile. From pen to paper, the author chronicles a tumultuous journey through one of life’s most difficult experiences—a break up, particularly the separation from his long-term girlfriend, and mother of his children. The title of the album is symbolic of the adversity he faced during the split, and the looking glass through which he experienced the highs and the lows—which ultimately led to a new wisdom. From arriving at a crossroads, to becoming heartbroken, to feeling lost and depressed, he ultimately transitions into new life, and finds peace with the outcome. Tone bares it all on this album, and leaves no stone unturned. Each song is profoundly personal, as if was ripped out of his diary, and this raw honesty is what makes this album oh-so Hip-Hop.

The production was handled largely by Robert “EQ” Diaz out of L.A., with a couple of tracks by German producer Odd Job, and one from Moodz Odyssey out of Compton. The production has an undeniable, golden-era throwback vibe, but at the same time, it maintains a certain uniqueness that sets it apart as its own entity. The beats are full of resonance, with slapping drums over creative jazz samples. Tracks like, “Real World,” and “Signal Hill” feature drum beats over cinematic strings which create intensity and provoke feeling. Personally, my favorite beat on the album is “Miss Los Angeles” produced by Moodz Odyssey, which features dusty boom bap drums over a dreamy Spanish guitar lick. It’s undoubtedly grimy, and it’s sure to make your head nod.

On top of the production, Tone Dogg Raw’s flow is incredibly smooth. Throughout the album, he demonstrates his lyrical prowess with both single syllable, and multisyllabic rhymes. Often times simple, and others complex and deeply philosophical, it is evident he is no stranger to the pen and pad.

“Which way,” is one of the most powerful tracks on the album, because it vividly paints a picture of what it’s like to be at a crossroads with a long-term partner. The instrumental is atmospheric, with menacing, theatrical sounds that make you feel like you’re in a whirlwind of uncertainty and instability. Coupled with Tone’s lyrical imagery, the listener truly gets a sense of what he was feeling in the midst of a break up. 

We can never relax when all we do is react
Matters of cardiac get pushed to the back
All the energy sapped, trying to keep it in tact
Destroy build and collapse, is what’s keeping us trapped

With so much time invested in a relationship, it is difficult to determine “which way” to go. Should they continue to stay and try to work it out, only to find themselves caught up in the same negative cycle? Or should they leave the life they’ve built for so many years, and completely start over? The feelings of being stripped from everything he once knew, torn, and mentally restless, are feelings many of us can empathize with.

For Tone, the break up gave rise to a significant depression, and he lets the listener into the deepest corners of his mind through his rhymes. “Nomadic Tribesman,” is one of the darkest tracks on the album, where Tone describes the depression in grave detail. He expresses how he felt far away from home, withdrawn and lonely. He dwelled in a colorless world, where he was merely going through the motions, trying to carry on and push through the pain.

The album eventually transitions to a contemplative state, as he waxes profoundly philosophical on the track “Signal Hill.” Amidst all the affliction and desolation he was experiencing, there was a place where he found solace. Skyline Park in Signal Hill was nicknamed by Tone as “The Temple,” because it was a place where he would go to think deeply about life, spirituality, and the deeper meanings behind what was going on around him. It’s where he’d sit peacefully to write his rhymes, and it’s where he ultimately found a new perspective.

Shaman on top of a temple, the ritual
Commences in rhythmical poofs of medicinal
I can feel my ancestor’s blood mixed with immigrants
Faces warmed by the sun, skin is glistening
With the sweat from a dance that brings the rain
I bob my head to boom bap to help me maintain

The song “Falls Apart,” is an ode to his love and appreciation for graffiti art. As a form of self expression, it has a remarkable healing power. Over a melancholy piano instrumental, and with impressive alliteration, Tone Dogg Raw raps about how graffiti helped him through this difficult time, and how his love for it has remained constant when all other aspects of life are unstable.

Somberly I scribbled with a sharpie
These morose mood musings marvelously
Pondering the profound penning poetry
Daydreaming of dichotomies dope to me

The album’s lead single “Cry,” features a smooth boom bap instrumental over the well-known jazz sample, “Go On And Cry” by Les McCann. The sample is extremely fitting, because the song is about turning a new leaf, and ultimately being happy with the decision to split. The track is restorative— it marks a point with which Tone found renewed strength and confidence in the outcome. Resolution reached, contentment restored, Tone Dogg Raw weathered the storm, and found a new perspective. 

The album’s progression moves through the ups and downs of a long and arduous experience. At times it’s dark and stormy, at others it’s calm and peaceful. And just when you think you’ve gotten off the emotional roller coaster, it becomes joyful and conquering. These are the “hills,” Tone Dogg Raw journeyed through upon reaching a pivotal turning point in his life. The decision to leave was extremely painful to make, but in the end, it was for the best. The production on this album gives life to maddening spectrum of emotions felt by Tone, and his words are honest and heartfelt. Hills and Windows is quintessential self expression. It’s Tone Dogg Raw’s life communicated through the mic, over a head-nodding beat…what’s more Hip-Hop than that?

Jenny Johnson