October 28, 2021

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Tone Tone Interview: Detroit Rapper’s New Restaurant

Donning an iced-out chain centering a photo of his late grandmother while speaking to Billboard, Tone points out the inspirations behind the restaurant. From the Berry Gordy Chicken & Waffles to framed photos of late city icons including Aaliyah, Aretha Franklin, J Dilla and Proof lining the window sill, Detroit’s rich musical history will take center stage at Toney Island.

Among the local legends revered at the restaurant is Tone himself. The rapper has long been a constant on Detroit radio stations, and recently signed a deal with Empire Distribution, a company boasting a list of clients that includes Kendrick Lamar, Anderson .Paak and Snoop Dogg. Tone’s first major release with Empire, the mixtape Baby Unk 2, features Detroit favorites like Icewear Vezzo and YN Jay, and was led by “100 P’s,” a trap-heavy tune with DaBaby which came about during a joint session between the rappers in DaBaby’s home state of North Carolina.

Toney Island’s spotlight item, the Waddupdoe Burger, is named after Tone’s 2007 breakout song turned Detroit anthem, honoring the city’s signature greeting. Customers have the option of a six-ounce beef or turkey patty, lettuce, tomato, pickles, cheese and the signature Toney sauce. Despite breaking into the restaurant business, Tone says he’s not much of a cook. “I’m a fan of eating food, though,” he jokes. Instead, Tone prefers working behind the scenes, curating the right staff, menu and image for his buzzing restaurant.

“This restaurant took me from a Detroit legend to iconic,” says Tone. “It’s being talked about like a hit song.” Among the congratulatory texts and calls: Akon, producer Jazzy Pha and former NBA great Chris Webber.

When coming up with the menu, Tone reflected on his own journey. “I remember going to get chili cheese fries literally having $2.25, that’s it,” he explains. “I couldn’t even get the wings with it.” At the time, Tone was an 18-year-old burgeoning rapper, recording vocals in a friend’s closet. When his breakout record “I Ain’t Playin Witcha” hit the streets, everything changed. Tone says crowds began to gather outside of his family home so frequently that he was forced to move out.

While the days of closet recording booths and savoring two-dollar meals are behind him, Tone’s humble beginnings continue to inspire his efforts. For the menu, he coined the “4 for 4 Project Meal,” a nod to Wendy’s 4 for $4 deal, the nearby Manor projects and his own early struggles. The meal consists of two sliders, fries and a drink, satisfying the hunger of patrons on a budget.

Opening a family-run, Black-owned Coney Island on the eastside of Detroit is a point of pride for Tone. “You’re going to walk in here seeing all Black people, the people who supervise, the workers are all my blood family,” he says. Through his flourishing business, Tone hopes to give opportunities to passionate local chefs.

The restaurant’s logo is a photoshopped image of the rapper-turned-entrepreneur’s one-year-old son, Antonio Jr., donning a Jesus piece, tattoos and Cartier buffalo horn frames, known to Detroiters as “Buffs.” Tone, who plans to franchise Toney Island and is gearing up for multiple single and visual releases, notes the importance of legacy: 20 percent of his masters under Empire Distribution are in his son’s name, he says. “Fifty years from now,” says Tone, “he’s going to know that he was a part of this.”

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