Cincinnati’s own Hip-Hop Rapper T-No is a very talented lyricist who can move more than your soul. This talented rapper can move your mind as well. SayWhatNews sat down with T-No to get to know the man behind the music. T-No provided an in-depth journey of his life and his music. We were able to meet the man behind the beats and learn who is really is.
SayWhatNews: Thanks for taking the time and speaking with SayWhatNews. First, tell us who is T-No?
T-No: Well, first off, thanks for giving me the chance. T-No is simply, a man about being true to himself and what he’s been around. T-No is from the struggle, mostly the Cincinnati struggle, even though it’s a struggle that’s worldwide. Everything that made him what he is came from Cincinnati, or keeps him coming back. T-No is that force you always run into, reminding you that there’s more and better things and people out there. To sum it up, I often think of myself as a man of the people. T-No is what I’ve learned, what I’ve been, what I’ve become, and what I’ve seen. I pull no punches and stay honest with myself, you can’t be honest with others if your not honest with yourself first. That’s a hard pill to swallow but I’ve taken it many times and I’m far from the last.
SayWhatNews: How did you choose the name T-No and what does it stand for?
T-No: It was back in 2000 I think. I was at home free-styling to myself, and I had already began using the name, using it as an abbreviation for “Trust No One”, but in my freestyle I said I was “Tha Nati’s Own”, and since then I stuck with it. To be honest, before that name, from 14 and up, I was goin by “Soulja Boy” (Laughs)… seriously! But “Tha Nati’s Own” simply states, I’m from Cincinnati, and that’s what made me. Though I don’t just keep my mind, surroundings, and fan-base limited to Cincinnati, I never forget where I came from…
SayWhatNews: Tell us about your experiences growing up in Over-the-Rhine, a community in Cincinnati, Ohio.
T-No: I did a lot of stupid stuff growin’ up, setting fires, breakin’ glass on the streets, getting in dice games and plenty of childhood fights. I was always into something. When I was younger we stayed in Winton Terrace; that was the roughest for me. I had fights everyday. As I got older I learned more and more bad habits. In OTR, I saw a guy get shot right in front of me. That’s a new feeling; it’s not like witnessing a fight; you seeing somebody else last moments; that could be you.
When I was 14 I had a gun put to my head, you think it’s a joke until you feel the cold touch of a pistol’s barrel; that’s hard to man up to once u realize it’s not a game. I didn’t break down or anything but I could tell you, I couldn’t move an inch, my mind and body froze. My only thought was, “It’s all over now”, until it turned into a beating; I got pistol-whipped. The gun wasn’t even loaded. It was a guy I had repeated altercations with; about him thinking I was somebody else.
I haven’t seen him since. As I got older I didn’t hang around as much on the streets. I’ve done things I won’t or can’t talk about. I’m not a thug, but I been out there and I ain’t no gangsta. I never tried to be. I’ve always been the loner type, but it’s crazy out here for everyone no matter how young or old you are. It’s an environment you gotta adapt and adjust to. It’s not something to be proud of out here but a lot of people are doing the only things they can do, and they still are barely getting by…
SayWhatNews: How hard was it to stay focused on your dream to become an entertainer while witnessing your father selling and using drugs?
T-No: I was too young for music at that time…music was far from me then. When the dream came my dad was already a new man. I didn’t really understand what was going on with him then, but I never had any hatred for my dad about the past. I learned pretty quick what going to jail was, I knew he did some things he shouldn’t have and had to own up to them. I just had to wait it out for him…You learn bad or good, from good and from bad.
I got 4 parents around me now and I love them all the same! They say a lot of us today are messed up cuz we don't have certain people in our lives, I can tell you, them being around helps, but it still don’t determine the situation. Anybody can end up any kind of way. Whatever you got in the way of yo’ dreams, you gotta fight to get through it and believe in it and ignore the negativity because you can’t beat it by going around it. But you also have to keep an open-mind and ear. Determination and Motivation got to be there.
SayWhatNews: Your father is now a Deacon at a church. What advice would you give someone who is suffering from drug addiction or who is witnessing a loved one suffering from drug addiction?
T-No: I’m often silent about them kind of things, it’s so common now, and sometimes you don’t want to sound like you preaching, but if somebody is messed up they might have to be told, sometimes by the ones that’s most important in they life… I can’t lie, when I was younger and just getting in high school, the past came back to haunt me in a different way. I got into a lot of things that I picked up because of my dad being into it, I won’t say them all but, I was that guy out there selling. I never was around cocaine other than when my dad began using it and selling weed but I picked up his selling habits. But it didn’t last long, people start watching you and checking you out, I was only a kid in high school and noticed it. I got spooked and left it alone after a couple days.
But sometimes, the only person that can make them change is themselves…You should always tell them how you feel; share your pain with them. Most of the time people are on drugs because they have their own pains to deal with. And drugs are addictive, rehab doesn’t work alone, and they have to really want to let it go. Whatever your addiction is, even if it’s not drugs, I can say put it in God’s hands, but you have to keep in mind these type of things aren’t solved overnight.
SayWhatNews: Wow, well put. Let’s talk about the music. Who were your musical influences growing up?
T-No: To be honest, what got me started on writing was Kriss Kross blowin’ up real big. I figured I could do it myself too…but my early years of rap music consisted of NWA and Run DMC. It was a mix then, as I got older it was Da Luniz, Lunasicc, Three-6-Mafia and a lot of underground artists. I never had a favorite artist. It would be certain songs that just made me like it, consistency aint something that grew with rap over the years.
SayWhatNews: At the age of 12 you wrote your first song. What did you rap about and how did that song give you your voice?
T-No: My first song, “This Ghetto”, this was about one year into me being in Over-The-Rhine…I was still developing myself as an artist. I took what I had seen on a regular basis, the things you usually see in the hood; how people can’t keep things together, the things we do just because were poor and used to having no money. I couldn’t really get the words together, but if I wrote that song over right now, I would probably have a lot more to say. It was the ghetto, you live in the ghetto, but it doesn’t automatically mean the ghetto lives in you. But also, it’s still YOUR life.
SayWhatNews: At the age of 21 you joined the United States Navy? Why did you join?
T-No: Most jobs in Cincinnati aren’t pretty promising if you want something above average out of life. Especially being a young black male with only a GED. After the riots came, our reputations just got worse, and I knew how they play us when it comes to jobs. Sometimes we do bring it on ourselves, but sometimes it’s there before we hit the door. I got tired of petty job after petty job, losing this one and quitting that one.
My step-dad made me leave after things got too slow for me. I stayed with my dad and his family for a couple weeks, and I got a call from my aunt about talking to a navy recruiter…I was always one to say “F*** the military” assuming too much when I didn't really know nothing. But I was in a corner, I was stuck, and I figured just going to talk to them wouldn’t hurt.
It ended up sounding like something that would help me for the future. And I ended up doing 4.5 years of it and got out on an honorable discharge. It isn’t for everybody though, you got to be humble and know how to deal with the BS and you got to be self disciplined. They say you learn discipline in the military. Naw, you got to already have it in you, they just bring it out! It can make you or break you. The one thing I learned about most in the Military was about me… I’m always thankful for that.
SayWhatNews: How did the Navy help nurture your passion for music?
T-No: I was always anti-social growing up, because I spent most of my time alone. Mom’s got to work; the babysitter’s show is on and everybody else is going out tonight, stuff like that… I got siblings and stepsiblings, but I was always by myself for the most part. That can be good and bad. When I joined the Navy, I got more used to being around people I didn’t know, so it helped me open up to people, it built my self confidence and that kind of showed me what everyone else had already seen in me; all these years as a person and as a recording artist. Now, it’s like I got people waiting on me to make it big more than I am! But it’s things like that which led me to calling my 2006 Mix CD “Man Of The People”, it wasn’t just about me, it was about everybody that believed in me and stood by me as a person, cause I’m always going to be me before I’m a rapper…on and off stage.
SayWhatNews: After returning home from the Navy your song “Thump Wit Mine” from your 2006 Mix CD “Man of the People” received local radio play. How amazing was that?
T-No: That was overwhelming. I was shocked with the idea. I was still serving in GA, and I sent a CD with a whole bio and everything to 101.1 The Wiz FM Radio…Big Greg called me up, asked me which track I wanted him to play…I called everybody up that I thought would be interested…the song wasn’t my best, but over the last 4 years it showed my growth extremely as a lyricist.
He played it sometime around 11:40pm, and my momma called me while it was on, I thought she was just listening to it at home, and then I heard Big Greg’s voice in the background… I got about 5 calls that night, and maybe 15 text messages… people on Myspace were requesting it, but it didn’t last long, I think they played it maybe two or three more weeks…somebody requested it by phone and they were actually told NO! Well, I never expected to blow up off of it, but I wanted to see how far I had really come with myself as an artist. After that I got more and more serious about doing it for real, and not just for fun anymore…
SayWhatNews: What inspires you?
T-No: Life inspires me. The people I’m around, the things I go through and do, what I see, how I feel, what I think… my personality brings a lot of these songs out of me…I’m a flirt, I love women, I’m goofy sometimes, I’m sarcastic sometimes, sometimes just get straight serious, sometimes I just want people to hear my thoughts and see what kind of man I am…get to know me, cause I’m not really talkative at first in person, I’m an observant kind of guy, I don’t get socially aggressive, that isn’t the approach you want to have out here, no matter what you doing.
A smart man sits back and watches before he makes his moves, a dummy jumps out there not knowing and gets his self done up, you know. Just being me is all I try to be…a lot of people worry about image; I say image is nothing, doing me is everything!
SayWhatNews: What sets T-No apart from all the other rappers?
T-No: T-No wants to bring that untouched feel back into rap. I want to make people think when they listen to my music, grasp onto what I’m saying and why I’m saying it. A lot of rappers just want a quick hit song, or they want to get a media alias for themselves. I just want ya’ll to listen to me as a person, laugh wit me, sit wit me, talk wit me, think back wit me, that’s the kind of music I want to give.
I put my personality into my music, that’s where my creativity and my topics come from. Music never gives you the whole person, no matter how you put it together. Media is bashing rap right now about all the bad in it, but what reporter or newspaper writer is out there listening to these dudes’ whole CD? NONE! They just grab a quick easy-to-see negative about it and roll with it all the way over they careers…some of these dudes aren’t the type of guys you think they are, or the type of guy the media make them out to be…I rap, yeah, but I’m human, I put my pants on the same way everybody else do…I’m not above you, I’m not bigger than anybody else, this is just one part of me, and if you aren’t trying to know it all, don’t worry about a portion of it!
SayWhatNews: Alright then. I feel that!!!!!!! Which Rapper would you love to battle in a free-style battle?
T-No: Myself, I never really been a good free-style, I got lucky a few times, but I can’t think that fast on the go,(LAUGHS) plus my brain is always working on too much, I always got something going on in the back of my mind!
SayWhatNews: Why did you leave the group Cash Connection to start a solo career?
T-No: Too much petty stuff really, from both ends. I don’t know how everybody looks at it because nobody else tried to tell me or ask me what the deal was…that’s part of why I left. People think one thing about what you do, and they get this little idea in their own head that it’s about something else other than what it’s really about. It wasn’t anything against nobody really, everything just fell off.
I went about it too fast, but in the end going’ solo would have still been my decision. It’s a detailed story that you might laugh at, or be confused about. It’s also some talk about it going on, but all I’m a say is, the person you are becomes irrelevant once people only think about the person they really think you are and never tell you because they stuck on their own thoughts. Like I said, it’ll confuse you. The only ones thinking about it now is the ones who aint doing’ nothing’…
SayWhatNews: T-No you were the opening act for the rap group Shop Boyz; how did that come to be? Tell us how surreal it was.
T-No: That was my last Cash Connection performance… that was probably the best performance we had, other than a song getting’ skipped by the DJ. I think around that time, people knew the name and heard more about us, it was a last minute thing that came up so nobody knew we were performing…but we still drew people to the stage once we came on… seeing’ everybody come together to enjoy each other’s time and not just down somebody entirely is the kind of thing I like seeing’.
When I hit that stage I want everybody to know I’m up there for them, not against them…I’m from the streets just like ya’ll, I want money just like ya’ll, I’m a be real no matter what, just like ya’ll… I honestly didn’t want to do it at first when I heard about it, but at the same time I did. It was a money matter for me, but it came out a win situation for everybody. A couple people said we had more people at the stage than the Shop Boyz, I don’t know. But it’s more shocking’ knowing’ that you in a group and people really know YOUR name, not just what group you in, when you go out and hit the clubs…Big Greg really started my name-spreading’ and I think that’s why some DJ’s know my name and not just who I was with…
SayWhatNews: Which Rapper or Singer would you love to collaborate with on a project?
T-No: I got a mix of artists I like right now .Some are past favorites, some new favorites…I don’t have a favorite artist but there are artist that have a majority of music I like from them. Project Pat, Ludacris, Plies, Field Mob, Akon, TI, David Banner, UGK (R.I.P. Pimp C), 8-Ball & MJG, B.G., Juvenile, Chamillionaire, I got a lot “right now” and “back then” artists that I would like to work with…but those are probably the biggest names that come up.
SayWhatNews: Your on a road trip and you can only bring 1 CD; which CD?
T-No: Hmmm, Field Mob’s “Ashy To Classy”, Young Jeezy’s “Thug Motivation 101”, or Ludacris’ “Word Of Mouf”, probably one of them.
SayWhatNews: Can you cook? If so, what’s your specialty dish?
T-No: Grilled cheese (LAUGHS) I’m still learning!
SayWhatNews: What’s in the future for T-No?
T-No: Don’t know, things go up and down with me usually…I got a show in Indianapolis that don’t got a date yet, I was supposed to do it December 6th, but we had some last minute complications come up, and right now I’m pretty messed up so I couldn’t get there on my own… but it’s still coming. I actually got people there waiting for me to come do my thing, and it’ll be my first time performing outside of Cincinnati.
I’m putting’ my Press Kit together…to send to some labels and maybe some publicists…I like doing’ the interview thing…I’m working’ on more tracks, trying to find some different producers, looking to network and see where I can find some real management, and promotion. Cincinnati is known for bad business cause everybody wants money, but they always want more money than you really need to be giving’ them…But that’s how the business is period. For any updates you can always check www.myspace.com/tno513 to see what’s up wit me. Ain’t no telling’, I’m just going to keep being myself and doing what it is that I do…I’m not in competition, not trying to beat nobody to anything or be on top of something…I just want to have fun with this music and express myself and put something in people’s ears that they been missing’ for a while….reality!