Tour Tales | DJ Tonee says 6lack focuses on his career like he’s Kobe Bryant
In this installment of “Tour Tales,” 6lack’s longtime DJ discusses The Weeknd showing love to the star on stage, 6lack’s performing in 109-degree heat and more.
Musicians are barely getting a slice of music industry revenue, largely eating off of live performances instead. For ‘Tour Tales,’ we dig into the rider requests, delayed shows, diligent preparation, and future of touring by talking with the multitude of people that move behind the scenes. Record executives, photographers, tour managers, artists, and more all break down what goes into touring and why it’s still so vital to the livelihood of your favorite artists. What happens on tour stays on ‘Tour Tales.’
Since 6lack’s first performance after releasing his Free 6lack EP in 2016, DJ Tonee has had his back and kept his vision. He still remembers that show at Atlanta’s Aisle 5.
“The venue only holds 50 people max. There were almost 1,000 people outside trying to get into this man’s show. I could barely get in. They had to get me through the side door. I had to set my DJ equipment up early. It was the craziest thing I ever saw,” Tonee said REVOLT TV.
In this installment of “Tour Tales,” 6lack’s longtime DJ discusses The Weeknd showing love to the star on stage, 6lack’s concerts, and performing in 109-degree heat. Read below.
What was the first tour you were on?
I was in college at Morehouse College and got the opportunity to DJ for Sevyn Streeter around when she had “I Won’t Stop” with Chris Brown. I got the opportunity to DJ from my friend DJ Era. At the time, August Alsina was the hottest thing smoking and DJ Era had just caught his wave, and gave me the opportunity to be the tour DJ for Sevyn on Chris Brown’s tour in 2015 that August was on. I was so nervous because I was so used to deejaying in the club or doing what I was supposed to do. Our first show was at the Toyota Center in Houston where the Rockets play. We did this HBCU basketball tournament where she performed at halftime. I was so nervous. There were 25,000 people. It was nothing I had seen before. From that moment, she let me go out and deejay a little before to set the trend, and talk to the people. She let me take control and let me dictate what was going on, and the mood.
How did you develop her live show over the course of that tour?
I knew we had a DJ intermission in the middle of the show. I told her, “You have uptempo stuff and slow things, so a good change moment could be a DJ set.” Within the DJ set, I would play songs to key in on where we’re going and the type of music we’re about to play. She has a song called “B.A.N.S.,” which is an acronym for Bitch Ass Nigga Shit. I would do the DJ set and make it R&B by playing TLC’s “No Scrubs” before she got back on stage — leading up to her playing “B.A.N.S.”
You deejayed 6lack’s first ever show at Aisle 5 in Atlanta in 2016. How did you connect with him?
The connection was made through some weird destiny. Me deejaying in clubs in Atlanta, I would always support the local music scene. Promoter friends would always be supporting their artists. 6lack was with a group Team Flight had the backing of Flo Rida. I supported a song they had and that’s how I knew about them around 2013. Fast forward to 2016, I had a friend named Tunde [Balogun], the president of LVRN. At the time, D.R.A.M. had the “Cha Cha” song going viral. He called me about that record but also said, “I have this opportunity for you. I want you to deejay for this dude.” I said, “Cool, just sent me the music.” Six or seven months before that, I auditioned to be Lil Uzi Vert’s DJ and I got it, but my mom got sick. I didn’t get the opportunity to go with him, but it paid off. I thought [6lack’s] music was dope and was different than anything else. We linked for rehearsals and I didn’t realize it was him. I already knew who he was, I just thought it was another nigga named 6lack from the streets. I was like, “Nigga, it’s you?!” We just busted out laughing. It’s been solid ever since.
What do you remember about the show?
I remember we rehearsed for a week and a half. I had never seen someone lock in so much without locking in if that makes sense. He was so there, but it didn’t look like he was trying. I was thinking, “Is it me or is this nigga good already?” I remember I had to be there at 7:30 p.m. because we performed at 9:00 p.m. The venue only holds 50 people max. There were almost 1,000 people outside trying to get into this man’s show. I could barely get in. They had to get me through the side door. I had to set my DJ equipment up early. It was the craziest thing I ever saw. I didn’t know it hit like this. We were coming from the time when 21 [Savage] was coming with his movement, [Young] Thug was on fire. 2016 was a time. When I saw that I knew dude was out of here. I think the music had just dropped a week before and people knew the words already.
Around that time I saw a photo circulate of The Weeknd on stage with 6lack.
This is a crazy fact. We had our fourth show together. We did Aisle 5, two shows in New York, a show in Toronto, and a show in L.A. For the fourth show, that’s when 6lack brought out The Weeknd. The reaction was ridiculous. It hit me like, “People don’t do that.” This was when Starboy dropped. The Weeknd was steaming hot. A few months down the line, we ended up being the opening acts on The Weeknd’s tour.
What was it like being on that “Starboy: Legend of the Fall Tour”?
It was our first big tour before we knew what it was. Our gameplay was we’re opening up, so we need to be on-time and do whatever it takes. Anytime there were slots needed or help needed, we were there. A lot of people don’t do that when they first go on tour. We were focused on what we had to do, but I do remember The Weeknd would call him all the time like, “Ay bruh, pull up. I’m chilling and vibing.” 6lack really studied The Weeknd’s show. We’re coming off a tour doing 200-500 people. The Weeknd has an arena full of people. That’s a whole different type of wave. We were on tour with him for three months. To see that and learn from it was a great experience.
Do you have memories of any last-minute changes you had to make to save certain shows?
I have two stories. The first one was in Dallas while we were on Chris Brown’s “[Heartbreak On A Full Moon] Tour.” It was hot during the summer and was 109 degrees while we were performing. 109 degrees! It was 7:00 pm in Dallas — steaming hot. We had show laptops and we run tracks off that because 6lack plays with a band. If all fails, I got the tracks. In Dallas, Texas; both of the laptops crashed at the same time because it was too hot and I had to run the show with the band and all of that from my laptop.
Another story is about our first weekend at Coachella [in 2018], we had to play half the show with no [metronome] click. The click is what the artist, DJ, and band hear over the music to make sure we stay on beat. With all the speakers and stuff, when it gets back to your ears you’re not going to be on time. That’s why some artists may sound off-beat. Half of the show didn’t have any clicks. That was one of our worst experiences because we were trying to do the best we could but couldn’t.
What are some mistakes you two have made on a tour that has helped build your chemistry?
We mess up all the time (laughs). Mess-ups really happen when we’re away for a while. For instance, say if we go on a four-month tour, and within that tour, we might stop touring for three months, and then we’d have [a] show after that. That first show is when the slip up might come. I might say something wrong or 6lack might say an intro to another song. A band member might play the wrong note. But, we don’t check each other like that. It’s all family.
How has your role on 6lack’s show evolved?
It started as just going through the setlist. Now, we all play a role in deciding what goes where. If we don’t feel it, it’s not going. Not a lot of artists trust people with their show. I went from just controlling the vibe to being able to control the show. From the DJ perspective, it went from him saying, “Alright Tonee, go out there and do five minutes and we’ll come out” to “OK, Tonee go out there and do 30 minutes to get it ready.” We’re building that trust and building that system.
I interviewed LVRN’s head of touring Junia Abaidoo for Tour Tales over two years ago, and he said 6lack’s rider was really minimal. Now that he’s gotten a bit more fame, has the rider changed?
To be honest with you, people think the more money you get the crazier the shit you get. Nah, we got the same rider. Our rider is based on what he knows we like. He’ll have granola bars and fruit. We have backwoods and papers on there. The only thing he requires is Jameson. He also has to have his fresh fruit.
6lack’s had some big singles, but what are his tour hits?
“Loving You” is a deep cut. No matter if it’s on Chris Brown’s tour or our tour, we know that even if you don’t know the song and you hear him perform it, it’s going to hit you differently. “Never Know” for sure. That used to be the intro to the show.
How has the setlist changed over the years?
Of course you’re going to always change when you get new music. We have an arrangement. Within that arrangement, 6lack drops another album. We go from current hits to Free 6lack to features he might have. We have a feature medley on our show. He’s killing the feature game. We all talk about that. He’s like, “This is a cool part of my career. Let’s bring it to life for my show.”
6lack seems reserved. What is his personality like?
His personality is totally different from what we see. People see 6lack as very low-key, chill, cool, and personable. When he comes around us, you get to see his personality because he knows he can trust you. 6lack’s very spirit-based. He can feel energies very well. When he knows the energy is protected then you get a different version of him. For the most part on tour, he’s locked in and focused. His favorite person of all-time is Kobe Bryant. He looks at this rap shit like Kobe looked at ball. When we go on tour, we’re very competitive. We go out there to kill the show. If we mess up one time, we don’t argue with each other. We know where we messed up and we go from there to do it 10 times better the next show.
What are some of the most surprising moments on stage you’ve had with 6lack?
Obviously, the man proposing to his girl was a big one. I remember in Africa I got hit in the head with a beer can. It was like a rocket launcher. Whoever threw it, salute to you because it hit me exactly in the face.
How did the pandemic affect your 2020?
6lack had stuff he was going to do; another tour. We had some business we were about to start. He had just dropped 6pc Hot EP. I know we were going to tour from that. I also had some tour dates myself with different college concerts. It was a blessing in disguise because Atlanta’s open, so I’ve been able to stay afloat and be a big presence in the Atlanta scene. I’ve been able to stay book but also picked up the craft of producing.
What should we look out for in 2021 from you and 6lack?
I have no idea. We’re just waiting to see what’s going on. 6lack cares about the family. We all have family and we’re going to leave when it’s best for all of us. If there is any type of risk, he’s going to absolutely say no. 6lack hasn’t done any shows during the pandemic other than virtual shows.
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