Weed plants sandwich a stop sign in the center of the Brooklyn Made stage. The DJ is playing a random assortment of half-decent rap music while Tony Shhnow is on stage pouring a drink into a red Solo cup. It’s Tony’s first tour with Cousin Stizz, and it’s his first time in Brooklyn this past April. The Cobb County rapper sports eyeglasses that have gold semi automatic guns on the sides, a green army jacket, a black Louie Vuitton belt, and a pair of clean white Air Force 1s. Tony opened with “EVEN ON A SUNDAY,” a track built entirely by plug-in style beats. When asked to define plug on a Zoom call, Tony replied, “It’s player ass trap music. It’s a player ass hustle Music. Getting money music. Sometimes your girl don’t want to hear you playing gangsta ass shit all the time. Sometimes she wants to be serenaded.” With plug, the instruments are synthetic and digital with compositions of tinkering bells, woozy flutes, and slow drums. “Plug is super chill, relaxed stoner-type stuff. But also super street Atlanta turnt. I feel like there’s a duality,” ATL producer Popstar Benny says over the phone.
Plug music results from Atlanta street tapes bootlegged on peer-to-peer sharing sites like Limewire and Frostwire and hosting sites like Datpiff and LiveMixtapes. “It was built on traditional Atlanta. It was mixing traditional Atlanta with the internet age,” Benny adds. Taking inspiration from the elegance of Zaytoven’s piano work, Plug adds a pop spin jam-packed with explosive digitized synths and video game sound bites.
Plug Motivation is Tony’s new project, 24-tracks of money hustling, designer flexing, and drugs come entirely produced by the most prolific producers of the plug sub-genre: Big Emm, Cashcache, DJ YoungKash, Fashion Kor, GameBoomin, IceWater Black, JBand$, Mexikodro, Polo Boy Shawty, Popstar Benny, StoopidXool, and Youngstill. Plug Motivation is hosted by DJ Yung Rell, returning the days of vintage Gucci Mane in ‘08. Tony carries the spirit of old Atlanta with tracks like “Dats Me” and “Work Like This.” Flutes and snares come together with dreamy synths on the latter, with Tony showing pride in his swag and coming clean about his “bad bitch problem.” The entirety of Plug Motivation was recorded in Tony’s kitchen, no fancy studio equipment required. Tony takes inspiration from Gucci Mane’s Bird Flu 2, Lil Wayne’s No Ceilings and Carter III projects, as well as Zelda: Breath of the Wild while making the tape.
He seems excited to talk about the making of Plug Motivation over our Zoom call. For High Times, Tony discusses plug music, its purpose, the songs of his new project, and the difference between mixtapes and albums in 2022. Throughout the call, he smokes Metro Bloomin’ branded flower in a blunt, puffing between responses.
High Times: Last week you just dropped Plug Motivation. When did you start recording that?
Tony Shhnow: I started recording what I felt as soon as I got off tour. Because Reflextions was damn near done when I got off tour. So Plug Motivation was definitely music I had fresh off tour trying to go into transition to the next project.
HT: Plug Motivation is a play on Jeezy’s Thug Motivation. What made you want to use that as the theme?
Tony Shhnow: Well, Mexikodro came up with the title. I got to attest that to him. I just applied my own style to it. I applied the theme to it. He picked the title and I just made it, I brought it to life.
HT: What I like about the tape a lot is that it brings back that old ATL mixtape aesthetic. What’s the difference now between a mixtape and an album? And I feel like Plug Motivation distinguishes that.
Tony Shhnow: For sure. I feel like a mixtape is raw music. It’s raw. It’s not really looking to be polished type shit. It can be, it’s music recorded in a kitchen or it can be in the trap. It could be, it’s something that it’s not meant to be pop or be on the billboards, necessarily. I’m not looking to be on the radio. I’m looking to be in the trap. I’m looking to be in the streets. It’s not a project aimed to please the average listener. Mixtapes aren’t aimed to please your fans. That’s what I feel like the major difference is.
HT: You also dropped the ShadowBanned mixtape before Plug Motivation. Rappers don’t do that anymore where they rap on each other’s beats for a whole project. It’s a lost art.
Tony Shhnow: Yeah. That’s why… It’s hip hop to me though. That’s why I did the BBC project. I ain’t going to lie to you. I’ve been one to do the rapping on other people’s beats that were my peers. But I felt like I had to wait a second until it was the right moment. And right now I feel like it was definitely a good moment to do it.
HT: Do you think this whole streaming era ruined the identity of mixtapes nowadays?
Tony Shhnow: Yeah. It did a little bit. It did a little bit. But I still feel like there’s a space for it. I feel like just people have to, we got to adapt to it type shit. You don’t really see the premier artists doing that. People, the rap game normally imitates whatever the premier artist is doing at the time type shit. At the time when Lil Wayne did that, Tyga was doing that or Jacquees was doing that or Young Dro was doing that. It was multiple artists doing that at a time. But you don’t see the premier artists, which is Drake or Kendrick or J. Cole, you don’t see them doing that. They’re not going to imitate it.
HT: What is the big significance of having someone host your mixtapes? Because DJ Yung Rell hosted a few of your tapes.
Tony Shhnow: Yeah. I feel like that role is a lost art form in hip hop. So it’s important to me to keep pushing him or keep pushing that narrative type shit because I feel like hip hop needs that. That’s what I grew up on. That’s what a lot of these kids don’t get to see. You know what I mean? It’s almost like a narrator.
HT: I think it definitely is a lost art form because you don’t hear DJ Scream or Evil Empire as often anymore.
Tony Shhnow: Because a lot of them guys that’s older, they’re successful as fuck now, they not doing it no more, they just successful as fuck. So they don’t have time to do it. They changed ventures. They might have a label now or they might have a clothing line now. They just aren’t into it. Because like I said before to go back into the main, nobody’s calling them to come do something. You feel me? Tyler was the last big dude I saw doing it.
HT: On Plug Motivation, you kept the sound with strictly plug producers. So why’d you keep it so inclusive? What inspired that?
Tony Shhnow: I was already planning on making a plug project. Nah. When ‘Dro gave me that title, I feel like I had to keep it true to being plug. I had to keep it true to that. I feel like it’s a misconception about plug music. I just made the project to clarify what it is. I even used the old plug. I tried to show y’all exactly what plug was and what plug is now.
HT: How important was it to get everyone’s contributions for this project?
Tony Shhnow: I feel like it was very important on the producer end to make sure I tapped in what each producer that was a part of the Beats Plugs type shit and as far as the new culture. I feel like I can do the rapping. So I leave everything else to them, I try to make sure I work with the best producers, or the best DJ, the best director.
HT: One of my favorite songs is “Hell’s Hot” because I never heard you so angry before. Why were you so mad?
Tony Shhnow: I was dealing with this girl and really, it was a response to her. She just text me, “Hell is hot. I hope you burn, nigga.” I was like, “All right. Bitch, fuck you.
HT: That’s a mean text.
Tony Shhnow: On God. So I responded. I just use music as my therapy sometimes. So that’s just what that was. I honestly didn’t even know I was going to keep that song. People just started liking it.
HT: Based off the few drill songs you have on the ShadowBanned mixtape, how do you feel about drill music and how do you feel about the culture?
Tony Shhnow: It’s cool. I like it a little bit. I ain’t going to lie to you like I’m a super big fan of it because I’m not really into rap that talks too much about guns or violence type shit. I’m just super not heavy on it. The drill wave in Chicago was cool to me but I didn’t look at it that much. I just ain’t, I’m more of a fan of just player music. Talking about getting money or smoking weed. I like Wiz Khalifa and Curren$y or Lil Wayne. I like Gucci but I don’t like his songs when he talking about just shooting shit up all the time.
HT: That’s understandable. I can tell you’re on the fence with drill music.
Tony Shhnow: Yeah. I’m like, eh. Like I said I want to do it but just a little more player. I really fuck with, I fuck with, what’s that dude name? Damn, what’s that dude name? They dropped the Too Slizzy Too Sexy tape.
HT: Cash Cobain and Chow Lee.
Tony Shhnow: Yeah, bro. I’m fucking with them. Something that make the hoes move. Don’t get me wrong. The drill shit is cool. But I like the songs that the hoes get to moving with the girls. You know what I mean? I want girls to dance. I don’t want to shoot; I don’t have a stand-off [laughs].