Despite the fundamental role that Puerto Ricans and other Afro-Caribbean people played in hip-hop’s creation, Latinos are more often than not left out of the dialogue that explores the very origin of rap music. Yet Big Pun, N.O.R.E., B-Real, Pitbull, Immortal Technique, Fabolous and Juelz Santana, among so many others before them, are emblematic of a hip-hop narrative regularly in need of careful unpacking.
Today’s cadre of U.S.-Latino rappers — Kap G, Snow tha Product, Emilio Rojas and Princess Nokia, for instance — continues to carry the torch. Enter Tony “Hi-Tone” Valenzuela, a Chicano MC (and professional tattooist) hailing from California, poised to establish himself as a leading voice in contemporary rap for Mexican-Americans.
It’s been an arduous grind for Hi-Tone, 33, who dropped his first project, TFC, Vol. 1: Top of the Food Chain, in 2010. The tattoo aficionado has since released a series of other independent collections, delivered a searing freestyle on Sway in the Morning, earned the respect of industry titans such as No I.D. and built three successful businesses. Top of the Food Chain is his burgeoning clothing line. Papi’s Barbershop is a staple in his home base of Covina, California. And Hi-Tone’s TFC Music Group releases his music and is partnering with EMPIRE for the debut of his proper introduction to the game, Price of Admission.
Price of Admission’s lead audiovisual, “The Voice” (premiering exclusively on Billboard) is a high-energy, lyrical chin-check that examines Hi-Tone’s current status in the rap game.
It also delves into how people have been prejudiced against him as a Mexican rapper, and calls into question faux MCs while blasting our current president’s bigotry and deplorable policies.
“With everything that’s going on in the world right now, I couldn’t help but think we all have a voice and we can’t be scared to use it. They can hold us back, box us in or push us away but they can never take our words from us,” Hi-Tone says of the song. “I believe every artist is a spokesperson for a group of people, and we hold a responsibility to them to represent how they feel. Now you’re either going to love me or hate me, there’s no in between. But stop looking at my skin color and start listening to my words because I am the voice.”
Name: Tony “Hi-Tone” Valenzuela
Recommended song: “All Down” featuring Tory Lanez
What’s next: After releasing a string of independent projects, Hi-Tone is gearing up for a much anticipated debut album, Price of Admission, set to be released on Dec. 15 via EMPIRE.