At first glance, you’d swear Toon and the Real Laww were a team. Showing up for this interview wearing matching black hats that each have the word “DURM” emblazoned on the front (the hat, which comes from Durham’s Runaway Clothing, is pointing out the usual pronunciation of the city of Durham – “Who says the ‘H’?” asks Toon), they speak of how inseparable they are, performing on the same shows and recording in the same studio.
“We’re a separate group,” declares Trenton-born Jay Lawrence, aka the Real Laww.
“We like people to talk about it,” says Baltimore native Toon, whose government name is Kurrell Rice, “the fact that we never elaborate on what title we do or don’t have – group, not a group, partners, collaborators.”
The union of these Durham-based rappers/producers, both 27, started when Toon popped into his friend’s place years ago and helped himself to the refrigerator. Laww, who was dating Toon’s friend at the time, didn’t take too kindly to this. “He turns around like, ‘Who the heck is this dude in my girlfriend’s refrigerator?’ ” remembers Toon.
Luckily, the aspiring MCs bonded over their love of hip-hop (and “ramen noodles,” according to Toon). “That made us work together and go to a couple of open mics together,” says Toon.
Toon and Laww are something of an odd-couple pairing, especially when it comes to their rapping styles. Toon’s style is more playful and pranksterish, while the deeper-voiced Laww (who served in the military, touring in Iraq and Afghanistan as a radio tech) has been known to get dark in his rhyming schemes. Toon says that since working together, they’ve each incorporated a bit of their styles in their music. “It was kind of like we brought each other more toward the middle,” he says.
Although they don’t consider themselves a duo, they do work together onstage, usually doing local shows as a package deal. “When we do shows, we do totally different sets, but we blend them together, you know,” says Laww. They also work well together as business partners. “We’re each other’s managers,” says Toon. “He’s my manager, I’m his manager.”
“5 Pillars: Durm Hip-Hop Summit,” the show they’re doing this Saturday at Casbah, has them sharing the stage with a bevy of local hip-hoppers, including fellow Durhamites J. Gunn, The Beast and Sarah Kaboom. “ ‘Hip-Hop Summit’ might be the first time in maybe a year and a half that we’ve done a full, all hip-hop bill,” says Toon. “No band, no singers – just all hip-hop.”
Even though the music of Toon and Laww is just a Bandcamp or ReverbNation visit away, they’re finding they would much prefer people check them out live. “When they can take ownership or see what you’ve done onstage, then they can, you know, take away from that,” says Laww, whose “International Laww” video won video of the year at this year’s Carolina Music Awards. “They can probably think back on the song that you did when they were listening to your CD – like, ‘Oh snap, that dude did this on the stage!’ That’s where it’s good to have a great, live show.”
“I’ve never had somebody walk up to me before this year and say, ‘Yo, your mixtape was hot!’ adds Toon. “It’s not gonna be that much of an acknowledgement. But people will walk up like, ‘Yo, I heard you killed Casbah last week!’ ”
While they say they won’t be collaborating on a joint release (a Bull City “Watch the Throne,” perhaps?) anytime soon, they’ll be appearing on each other’s albums, which will be coming out around the time of their upcoming appearance at this year’s Hopscotch Music Festival.
So, expect Toon and the Real Laww to continue making good music together – while not really being together. “It’s a segregated partnership,” says Laww.