Fashion Ledge brings you another exclusive interview. This time we sit down with legendary group, T.O.K, and discuss inspiration, the new album and the first cassette they ever bought...really!For those that don't know, what does T.O.K stand for?
Craigy T: Originally it stood for “Touch of Klass” with a K. We have had a couple years in the business, we took over Kingston and we're always together and so now we are at the top of the class...with a k.
Does it stand for anything else?
Craigy T: Really and truly, we like to keep it as flexible as possible because we are such a very diverse group from time to time we like to change our style and change certain things. So we don't really want to brand it in any specific way.
So now you're getting ready to release your fifth album “Our World”. What was it like putting the album together and what's it about?
Craigy T: It was cool. It was a good vibe. This is actually the first album that we got so much creative control over. We did hundreds of things in the studio before we got to this point so I mean, most of the time was spent choosing. It was a fun process, we got to work with some of the people that we had chemistry with from before like Tony Kelly, he did a couple tracks on the album. We got to work with new producers as well and we also got to do a lot of our own production as well. Bay-C has a song on the album; his label is called Bomb Rush Records. The song is called This World feat. Beenie Man. Flexx, his label is called Xplosive Records. He has a song on the album as well, his song is called Wining and collectively we have a label. So we got to flex the production more and it was a good vibe. Putting the album together was definitely good.
Now since you guys are a group and you work together, do you guys tend to get into a lot of arguments?
Alex: Yea, you will have your altercations and confrontations but it's just how mature you can be to try and resolve and look at the bigger picture cause at the end of the day, as we have always said there is no “I” in team. And you have to realize that sometimes you have to compromise. Give a little bit of yourself for the grace and good of the group.
Bay-C: And we try our best to not leave any physical bruises because we have interviews and stuff. (laughs)
Now Alex and Flexx you grew up in Bridgeport, Jamaica. So when did the rest of the group meet up and decide to make a group?
Craigy T: It started with Alex and Flexx actually. Because they grew up together they had the idea to start a group. It was originally a duet between the both of them and then Bay-C and myself went to high school with Alex and we were in the choir at the same time with him. So we decided that we wanted to do the group thing. And after that it was really just history. We knew that they could sing, they knew us and that we could sing and we just link up. And we've been together ever since.
What was your first performance?
Alex: Culture Yard, back when we were in high school. It was like a talent competition. It was out first time on stage.
Flexx: That was the first time the group was put together.
Bay-C: Their was a duet a couple months before but they came up with this talent contest and Alex approached us and said lets form this group. So we formed the group like 4 o'clock and we to the talent contest like at 7 o'clock. (laughs)
What did you sing?
Unison: If I Ever Fall In Love by Shai
Alex: That was something else. Bay-C: As in the response that we got...
Alex: One girl fainted!
Bay-C: I don't remember that!
Alex: I remember! (laughs)
Bay-C: We almost fainted about how nervous we were! Because it's different when your performing. I know they've performed before and we performed in the choir but to form it at like 4 o'clock and go and do a contest at 7 o'clock. But we were very well received though.
And then you were discovered...
Bay-C: For a few years we did the whole high school scene doing barbeques and stuff like that but our first real break came when a young lawyer called Steven Gregs saw us performing at Cactus. We got a lot of experience performing at clubs as a young group and we killed the show and I don't know where he found our number from but he called and said he wanted to manage us and we were like manage? We don't even know if we should have a manager. And he took us into the studios and linked us up with Sly & Robbie who had established platinum producers and from there it was to mainstream, Richard Brownie and then the rest is history.
If you could change one thing about being famous what would it be and why?
Flexx: I have one thing that I would really think I would want to change. You know sometimes when people know you certain things that you could do before without it being an issue to anyone and after that you can't do it? That cause of celebrity life is my issue.
Alex: I kinda have to agree with him. You know sometimes its like you take things for granted when you can normally do normal stuff and if your just out somewhere and your just being you the sad thing is that sometimes you have (in good and in bad) people judging you a certain way and sometimes its like (the way) they react to even just your presence and you have to be a certain way.
Flexx: Even a little thing like going to a movie....now when you go there you have to sign autographs and you have to take pictures. And it's like your basically performing even when you're not performing.
Statistics recently released an increase in crime in Jamaica. So how are you guys using your status to work against this?
Craigy T: The thing is songs like Footprints, Guardian Angel and Live It Up, we try our best to make sure that people understand the growth and the maturity of T.O.K. And we try our best to push that message as much as possible so people can understand that once you get to a certain point in life, a lot of things become a lot more important to you. And you tend not to be as aggressive and not to be as violent and not to be as quick to take the wrong route as you would before. Ever since TOK started (we've been together over 10 years now) we've shown people just by our presence and just by getting out there that immunity is really the way. And a lot of times we have people with different (sometimes even) adverse personalities that wouldn't normally get along but they manage to work it out and get along and move towards a common goal. So really and truly that is the message that we try to push to people as much as possible, that there are alternatives to gun violence and any kind of physical violence. There are alternatives and we try a lot to highlight the consequences of such violence. It's really through the music. That's the main way that we go out there. We've done stuff before like seminars, talks.
Bay-C: We have a school tour in Jamaica. Because there is violence in the schools and a lot of times the violence that you see in society comes from the home or the schools or how the kids are growing up. In Jamaica a lot of the bad man dem is really boys. It's really young youths so basically we did a school tour in collaboration with Coca-Cola and this society in Jamaica called PALS (Peace And Love in Schools). And we went to a lot of schools and some even in the country area and promoted the peace and the alternative way as Craig said to resolve issues and the violence. So we do our part and as Craig said it's really the music that we try to give as an example.
Alex: Definitely. That's how you reach the greater audience. So we try our best to make sure that any message that (cause we recognize ourselves as role models now) we put out there is a positive one. So people can look at that.
Flexx: And (at the) same time we still have fun with the music. It's not like a situation where we're preaching.
Can any of you guys remember the first CD/cassette you bought?
Bay-C: I'm trying to remember. It's between Snap I Got the Power and Mama Said Knock you Out by LL Cool J.
Alex: Wow. I remember getting the Snap CD as well.
Alex: I mean cassette. I remember at that time Vanilla Ice and definitely Michael Jackson. I had Thriller at that time. I have that cassette.
Craigy T: I have no clue.
Flexx: I just use to record stuff from the radio.
Craigy T, Bay- C, Alex: You are a bootlegger!! There is a bootlegger in the building!!
Craigy T: And (he would) take it back and edit out the talking. (laughs)
Alex: He was actually very good at that.
What's your favorite Jamaican dish?
Bay-C: Steam fish
Alex: Mine is fried chicken and rice and peas.
Flexx: Ackee and saltfish
Craigy T: Probably would be ackee and saltfish. I don't really know. I'm more of the boiled food kind of person.
What's your favorite riddim?
Craigy T: That we have or in general?
Craigy T: For me Stalag.
Alex: My favorite riddim of all time is a toss up between three riddims. The Diwali Riddim, the Backyard Riddim by Dave Kelly and the Jon Jon Riddim.
Flexx: I like the Stalag riddim.
I know your hit song from back in the day “Chi Chi Mon”, did you think it was going to grab that much attention?
Flexx: We just go into the studio as a vibe. That's how we do all of our music. We're in the studio and we just vibe out and anything that sounds good to us is a “this is it”. When it came out everything happened so fast. I mean in one sense, the song was being played a little and we were saying ok lets see what's going to happen but as soon as it started to work everything was like bam, bam, bam. And we were like ok, what happened?? So, I guess everything happened in stages.
Bay-C: For me personally I had no idea because I remember when I finished recording the song, and the engineer was saying “Yo when this come out, this gunna be a big tune”. At that point we did a lot of songs that sounded good and we were very convinced that there were going to be hits and they hit but they didn't hit the way that song hit. So when it blew up it was a very pleasant surprise. And a very welcomed one as well.
Stay tuned for a follow-up interview!