Toddla T is a 2-hour weekly BBC radio show where the host (Toddla T) generally interviews rappers and hip-hop artists. So what’s a Solo Piano virtuoso doing on the show? As we all know, Gonzales’ harmonies affect all who listen, and Toddla T is a huge fan – especially after attending one of Gonzales’ two sold-out shows at Cadogan Hall in London.
Part of the Toddla T show includes the guests selecting a few of their favourite tracks; in keeping with the show’s overall hip hop sound (i.e. no Berlioz). Gonzales interesting song selections, along with even more interesting explanations as to what in particular interests him within the tracks.
First up was Busta Rhymes as one of Gonzales’ early favourite rappers:
“In the late ‘90s, coming from a trained musical background which included classical music, but jazz as well, there was something about Busta Rhymes that made the link between jazz music and rap very clear to me – the way he played with the rhythm.”
Gonzales also indicates that he’s a big fan of Drake, and talks about Marvin’s Room:
“I co-wrote Marvin’s Room and wrote the piano outro…the last minute and a half of is just pure piano and that’s me. And I went into the studio with Drake and he didn’t even have a piano – he had an M1, which is a 90s synthesizer; a very, very tiny, pingy, digital sound and with most people I go to the studio with, I might have thrown a fit and been like, “What is this? You invite Chilly Gonzales to the studio and you don’t even have a real piano?!!” But, I did it, of course, it was the first take, and that’s what’s so great about rap is that it’s really feeling-based…”
Enter the host segment, where Toddla T reveals that Gonzales inspired him to take piano lessons (again), and proceeds to play a recording of Toddla T playing the first four chords of “Ivory Tower”.
Gonzales was flattered, and upon hearing Toddla T’s piano teacher’s accent, Gonzales remarked, “By the way, she sounds hot…is she?” Gonzales inquired where she was from, then proceeded to state, “I like me some East-European piano babes, I must say!” which elicited a giggle from a female co-host in the studio!
Next, Gonzales selects ODB’s “Shimmy, Shimmy”, which has just a tiny bit of piano, but it’s so important. On this particular track, he was stymied by the one-note riff that goes down briefly to a semitone repeated over and over. “How can someone make this into a catchy hook? It almost sounds like a three-year old is banging away on a note, and so it really opened my mind as to what could become music just through sheer force of repetition.” Maybe this track inspired Gonzales to play three notes over and over in the iPad-commercialized “Never Stop”? Gonzales explains why that piano sound worked so well for ODB: “And so to have that very, very simple motif of the piano repeated over and over again was actually the perfect foil for the craziness of ODB.”
Gonzales’ next track is Pjano by Eric Prydz – a house music track employing a piano riff. Toddla T asks Gonzales if he had ever been a raver. The be-cardiganed Gonzales responds with an inside joke, “if you only knew!” Apparently, Gonzales didn’t have the idealism to have the spiritual experience of a rave. Some people get high reading “The Economist” – Gonzales is probably one of them! Through friends like Tiga and Boyz Noise, Gonzales gets a window into the “rave” world. He just loves this track, “The piano riff is very, very simple, but very prominent – very addictive.”
Then, Toddla jumps into how good the concert was – he wasn’t ready for it (who is?). He asks Gonzales about the “Grudge” bit. In concert, Gonzales play the Grudge to a solitary person in the audience under a spotlight who has, “done him wrong” in the past. What Gonzales says in the next two minutes could fill several books. It’s worthwhile to simply post the transcript:
It’s a joke – the person who is sitting there is random. It just happens to be who is sitting on that chair will get the spotlight on them. It`s a way to illustrate that I think people who get up on stage are motivated by more than just the pure innocent love of wanting to share music with people. If you get up on stage, as I do, I think it is a positive spin on what is essentially a psychological defect of needing to go out and impress hundreds of people at a time who you don’t know. I feel like music would be better if we all acknowledge that and I don`t like the false modesty of so many musicians pretending that they don`t have the defect. I think the defect is a wonderful thing in the end so that`s what the point of that is – it doesn’t matter who is in that chair; what matters is that I need to get up on stage – I have my cocktail of inspirations that makes me get up in the morning and want to achieve things. That`s one of the reasons why I’m attracted to rap – rappers have always included their faults as well as their qualities in their personas. And that`s what I love about rap – rappers are very honest about their shortcomings. Even though we like think rap is only about ego and glorification – of course, it`s much deeper than that. People say, `how can you listen to Rick Ross – all he does is talk about is jewelry and women?” I’m like, “No.” How about this line where he talks about how people feel his pain – and he doesn’t even have to say it? So that`s what that particular part of the show is about and maybe one of the reasons hopefully that it affected you not just because it was funny, but because there was some truth in it. There is some truth in the idea that there is always someone that you want to put the spotlight on – and say, “Look, look, see – I became Chilly Gonzales, look, I have a sold out theatre!” you are proving it to yourself over and over again – and in some ways you could say there is something sad or tragic about it – but in the end it’s creating something hopefully beautiful out of that – it has a positive outcome which is music and art and things that you create, so it’s a beautiful thing that we hold grudges and that that leads us to want to create things like that.
Wow. Toddla T’s response was, “Very powerful.” Gonzales fans are happy that he has “The Defect”. Of all the things that he could have chosen to do with his life, he chose to entertain – and not just at the boardroom or operating room or courtroom level, but at a sold-out concert hall level. On a personal level, I must add that for someone who isn’t in a ‘regular’ job, “Working Together” and “Decisions” are two of the most true-to-life songs about work ever written.
Gonzales’ last selection is the veritable “My Doorbell” by The White Stripes. He seems somewhat surprised at how the White Stripes came up with the particular piano sound on this track. “Very, very heavy – it’s just drums and piano the whole track…It’s rudimentary, but, again, super addictive. When I go to the piano and play this riff, it’s kind of like, Wow! How did he come up with this? It seems as if it was just waiting for someone to pick this series of chords out of the ether.”
Interview after interview, Gonzales keeps it fresh and keeps surprising us – and that’s part of his appeal. Gonzales’ “disembodiment” of songs that appeal to him provide us with some insight into what specific aspect of a song appeals to him. His two-minute soliloquy touched on many aspects of music, entertainment, revenge fantasies, and healthy grudges. Oh, yes – let’s not forget East-European piano babes!