It must’ve been a festive yet bittersweet moment for Triangle rap fans when Bulltown MCs Toon and the Real Laww announced they were performing as a duo for the final time at last year’s inaugural Art of Cool Festival. (Technically, it wasn’t their last time – they did open for De La Soul at the Hopscotch Festival later that year.) They certainly gave their next-to-last show their all, getting the crowd at Durham’s American Tobacco Campus that Saturday afternoon properly turnt up.
Today, both MCs have gone their separate ways musically, but not professionally. “We still do plenty of business together,” says Toon (aka Kurrell Rice). “It’s just our content and our music – we’re just carrying all of that out pretty separately. I mean, the relationship’s the same. We’re just not working on joint projects right now.”
These days, Toon, who officially goes by Professor Toon (“I profess to be a lot of things,” he says), has been going down some deep personal paths with his music. “People have been telling me that my stuff has gotten a little darker than it used to be,” he admits. “I got a whole story that I’ve never told ’cause me and him have always rapped together. So, I’ve got a whole slew of crap to go to, like I’ve got an entire life story to tell.”
Toon lays out more of his life story on his latest EP, “Pain & Parties,” slated to drop in the next couple of months. According to the rapper, he’ll be spitting bars about his humble beginnings as a Baltimore native whose family ended up in the Tar Heel state. “My first two years living in North Carolina, my family – like, we were homeless,” he says. “I hadn’t really talked about that in my music.
“We were living in suburban Baltimore, like I had it pretty easy in life,” he continues. “I didn’t necessarily have a silver spoon, but it was definitely a shiny, polished steel spoon… So, (my mother) moved to North Carolina with her sisters and it wasn’t quite working out. So, we did a couple of weeks at the shelter, whatever. Like, (expletive) was real.”
Toon’s family left Baltimore after his mother went through a horrible breakup there. “She went through domestic violence with my stepdad,” he remembers. “They were married for years or whatever and, then, he went crazy. And we got the (expletive) up out of Baltimore and ended up here.” Toon admits there is no love lost between him and his stepfather, who inspired Toon to spit some choice words for him on “The Elephant,” a recent track. “If I really see this dude,” he says, “I will literally smack him open-handed.”
Those years of Toon being the man of the house, helping his mom raise his two sisters, influenced him to be a better provider and father for his girlfriend and their daughter, who’s now 3. Toon is also continuing to work with his former onstage partner the Real Laww on organizing the annual DURM Hip Hop Summit, scheduled to go down in Durham Aug. 14-15. At the moment, Toon is keeping mum on what is planned, even refusing to divulge when the lineup will be announced. “Just know that we’ve been studying the game right now, and the success of surprise albums – thank you, Beyonce and J. Cole – has inspired us to take a different approach this year,” he says.
Until then, you can catch Toon doing his thing live, Saturday at the Pinhook in Durham. Local rap fans who come out will be pleased to find that Professor Toon is doing quite fine on his own.
“The music actually gets to match the passion that I have onstage,” he says. “You can kind of see where the passion comes from now, like that drive to not stop, to not give up.”
Who: Professor Toon, with Slowriter, B Stacks, Eggy Strange and Weirdo
When: 9 p.m. Saturday
Where: The Pinhook, 117 W. Main St., Durham
Info: 919-667-1100 or thepinhook.com