By Nate "Igor" Smith
By Abel Folgar
By Kat Bein
By Jacob Katel
By Karli Evans
By Jose D. Duran
By Pablo Chacon Alvarez
When you hear "T ... O ... K ..." echoing through the scene, that's a warning that the vibrant dancehall quartet is about to lace you up with sheer niceness! TOK's talent for finding new harmonics and new DJ styles is unsurpassed. The upbeat DJ patterns of cheeky Craig "Craigy-T" Thompson with his eat-the-cat grin are complemented by the rich deep bass of the very serious Roshan "Bay-C" Clarke. The high-octane deliveries of Xavier "Flexx" Davidson are sweetened by the impressive range of Alex McCalla.
Aside from hypnotic harmonies, the appeal of TOK's 2000 debut, My Crew, My Dawgs, rests in hard-to-forget hooks. How does the foursome write songs? "Describe a writing session?" Craigy-T reiterates. "CHAOS! Leading into ORGANIZED CHAOS. Leading to ORDER. Ideas flowing left, right, and center until all four members of the board chime in 'Yeah, dat bad!' Then it's a wrap."
Yet for all the rage surrounding My Crew, My Dawgs in the dancehall community, the record didn't reach the peak in the United States the group had hoped for. TOK now looks to label VP Records for a broader crossover strategy.
As Flexx, the man in charge of the group's dubplates, points out, getting out on the sound systems poses a dilemma for artists out to internationalize: price and demand versus need and promotion. "Honestly, I believe that dubplates are important for the dancehall music, but the thing is that TOK's career was built more on record play than dubplates," he explains. "I see dubplates as the same as radio drops in the sense that they both do promotion. It's just that one is for a hard-core audience and the other is for a commercial one. So basically it depends on which market you want."
Since TOK wants more than just hard-core, the group will continue to service the mix-show DJs and record pools that helped make the single "Chi Chi Man" a smash. But that's not enough.
For the followup, Bay-C promises, "We plan to do videos and make all the moves to carry us to the next level. The next album is going to be hotter than the one before. I know that there's always room for improvement and so that's what we intend to do."
The foursome has been doing everything possible to make their presence known, currently dropping the Monster riddim from Bay-C's own label Bomb Rush Muzik. The Monster riddim compilation features several notable tracks including TOK's own "Woman A We Please," as well as Bounty Killer's "Naw Go Run" and Desperado's "Never Really Wanna." Flexx recently dropped his own riddim, Dragon Fly, but that won't be released as a riddim compilation, proof that the boys still have some tough lessons to learn. "I really learnt the importance of networking in this business," says Flexx of the experience.
But don't think the group's cooped up in the studio. It's been busy performing at home in Jamaica and throughout the Caribbean as well as doing shows in Europe and stateside in New York, Boston, North Carolina, Atlanta, Miami, and Los Angeles. A testament to how near TOK is to living the crossover dream, the group was booked at the annual North Carolina A&T Homecoming Hip-Hop convention alongside hip-hop stars Beanie Sigel, Cam'ron, Clipse, Ludacris, Mystikal, MOP, Noriega, and Tweet.
Right now the stage gives TOK its biggest chance for winning new fans. So Alex says he has no problem looking to other hot international male artists for ideas. He admits of the group's choreography, "It's been mostly my intervention and insisting. Seeing that we're performing internationally, it's not about locally anymore. It's about the image, the look onstage, sound, and the presentation. It encompasses everything. You realize the competition [that is] out there, like Backstreet Boys, 'N Sync, Ricky Martin. It's all about taking different elements from different genres of music [and from] reggae greats like Shabba Ranks, Supercat, Beenie Man & Bounty, [then] trying to find a way to combine the different elements and make it into our own, to best represent TOK. With more crowd interaction, people can feel your performance better. I felt we needed to put more vibes into our show so people feel it."