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“I gotta say what’s up to Tony Williams.”

This is an all-too-familiar line that hip-hop artist Yeezy uses to shout out the World Famous Tony Williams. Many recognize Tony for his outstanding work with his younger cousin Kanye West, but he’s no protégé. He’s been in the game for over 30 years.

The four-time Grammy Award-winning singer, songwriter, and record producer has been very successful in the pursuit of his music career, collaborating with highly acclaimed artists like Patti Labelle, Fall Out Boy, and Jay Z, to name a few. Tony “Penafire” Williams is a mastermind behind many brilliant mainstream songs we jam to today. And you ain’t even know it.

As always, we can add Williams to the list of those working on the upcoming Yeezy album. And after releasing his very own studio album, King or the Fool, back in 2012, Williams revealed that the wait for another one will be over sometime this year.

His eclectic and colorful music style bridges the gap between story telling and the “old school” fundamentals of soul music. Check out the interview below, as Tony talks about his passion for music and his opinion on the industry today.

Where did your passion for music come from?

It came about from my experience with music coming up. I think that it’s a travesty we’ve cut so many music programs today, and in my mixtape Some of my Best Rappers are Friends, I talked about my relationship with the hip-hop industry. At the same time, I kind of have a negative thing about hip-hop because of the way it has affected real music and the fact that we’ve taken music out of schools and a lot of the music programs. Then all kids grow up knowing is hip-hop and most kids don’t even play instruments anymore. I came up in an era where we had awesome choir directors and band directors, where people would encourage you and actually taught you musical skill. And then a lot of my family played instruments. There was a piano in everybody’s house and everybody either played piano or was a choir director, or sang. The funny thing was that just about everybody in the family had real musical talents except Kanye. And people don’t believe this, but he was the kid that couldn’t play an instrument, and couldn’t sing, so he’d just sit on the side during holidays while we were singing. And so that was a big influence. It was family thing and a mixture of great choir directors at church, great school programs with really great band directors. We all played instruments and we all had bands.

Define what “real music” is.

People that rap think that they do real music. They don’t. Real music is melodic. It’s the ability to create melody and understand chord progression. It’s not so much about hearing a song, snatching a sample, putting drums behind it, and then rapping to the beat. That’s not creating music. And that’s not to say that I don’t respect it as an art form, because I highly respect it. But I almost feel sorry that it’s no importance put on real music. If it weren’t for church, I don’t know what we’d have musically in our community. Nobody wants to go take a lesson. I could easily go into a rant about it. Because, back in the day our parents took us and dropped us off at guitar practice. They dropped us off at piano lessons. Nobody wants to learn anything anymore. They just want to rap in the hallway between classes and be late to class. Go take a lesson! That’s what we grew up doing and so that’s the difference.

With all of that said, where do you see the future of the music industry going, and how do you see yourself fitting into that?

I think that music is coming full circle, and everything goes in cycle. And I don’t want to let any cats out the bag, but even with a lot of the projects – and you know which ones I mean, you know which ones I work on (In reference to Kanye’s upcoming album) it’s a lot of old feel, very organic and real musicality, that’s about to be injected back into music. Even in hip-hop/pop, which is pop culture overall. Even as an individual artist, the direction that I’m going is back. My evolution was that I was a particular type of artist, very music-oriented. I came from an era where we went in the studio with five musicians and we all plugged up and turned the amps up and we played. That was how we recorded.

But, there came a time when I started working with artists like Kanye, I started to change the way my music sounded, the way it felt, the process that went about to create it. We went from six musicians pressing record, to one producer making a beat that I would write melodies to. So even in my last album King or the Fool, there’s a few songs – one that I am especially proud of called “The Crown” – that song was recorded live. Like old school, the message that I was talking about. And we were on tour at “The Glow In the Dark Tour,” and I had this song and when we had a day off in Chicago and I took the Kanye band to the studio, we recorded this particular song old school style! And it was literally live musicians all playing simultaneously. It’s not one producer making a beat track. It’s six musicians playing at one time. And so I’m proud of that record in particular because of that and on this album, it’s gonna be probably 90 percent of that type of music. Very organic, and very minimalistic, pure music. And to answer your question what is my role in it, I hope to be very instrumental in taking music back to that. And I think that just the way that things cycle, people are going to be ready to receive that sound sooner or later. I’m just waiting on it to come back.

What is the creative process like when you’re in the studio with Kanye or any other artist?

It’s different. My favorite thing to do is to just sit down in a room with the guitarist. And just strum chords and sing melodies, and watch a song develop. It’s like almost from the gut. That’s my most favorite. Sometimes it’s very spontaneous. As far as the process, if I hear a song, it’s not as complex as people think it is, even at a very high level. The voice notes app on your iPhone is used a lot. And the reason being is, it’s that spontaneous melody that you hear the very first time most of the time it’s the melody and the rhythm and everything that is actually in that final take once you have the lyrics written. I could be walking down the street or the mall, and just hear a melody in my head and I’ll pull my phone out, hit the record button, and sing the melody into the voice app. And it’s very common for that to become a real song. It’s very spontaneous. It’s not really that thought out, because music is what’s inside of you. It’s just like whatever comes out. And the first time it comes out is usually the best. That’s what soul music is. It’s just what you feel. That’s pretty much how every song evolves.

What led you to want to branch off and work on your own mixtapes and your very first solo album King or the Fool?

As an artist, it’s about what we have to offer the universe, that’s the purpose of our gifts. As an artist, I would be so unfulfilled if I never got to share my gift individually. So it was about picking back up and doing what my purpose is.

What kind of reaction were you expecting from King or the Fool?

I’m surprised everyday by the new fans on Twitter and social media that say, ‘I’m a huge fan,’ and ‘I love the album King or the Fool’ and they’ll even recite some of the lyrics to the song. I’m genuinely surprised when people tell me that they know the album. I’m very grateful and humbled, because tomorrow is my 50th birthday, and something like that in this genre of music does not happen to somebody in that age range, because it’s such a youth-driven industry. You know it’s all about that 23-year-old artist at this point in the game, so I’m very humbled and very grateful, and still surprised by people that say that they love the project. With that being said, it exceeded my expectations, actually. And I’m also humbled and very grateful because I don’t really listen to music. And I do it purposely because I don’t want to be influenced. I think I have something special as an artist, and I want to keep it pure. So because I feel that I am something that is uniquely me, I understand and accept the fact that you’re either going to like my music or not. And I’m very cool with that.

What can we expect from the upcoming Yeezy album?

I’m not saying nothing… but it’s gonna be crazy. It’s about to be crazy!

PHOTO CREDIT: Instagram

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