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Premiere: A'Sean & J-Tone - "Take This Ride"

All throughout the last calendar year, many different hip-hop artists in Kansas City have been hard at work trying to carve out what they hope will be the city's new sound. The results have varied from disco and soul-sampling grooves to lush, futuristic soundscapes and several styles in-between. A'Sean and J-Tone are two young rappers who couldn't care less about creating one type of music and instead are striving for sheer quality.

A'Sean (born A'Sean Everette, formerly known as Izzy) and J-Tone (born Jacob Walton) have been rapping together for nearly five years now -- although the term "together" isn't completely accurate. The two lived down the block from each other in their freshman year of high school and exchanged numerous diss tracks recorded on their cell phones.

"We pressed 'Upload' with the passion of a thousand suns," recalls Walton, as Everette loses his composure from laughing so hard. "'Like yo, this diss track gon' be fire. He gon' hate this one. He might cry.'"

Which high school version of the two came out on top?

"Sean's been a better rapper than me for a long time up until recently," says Walton.

He doesn't believe that he has progressed to A'Sean's level yet, but does believe that he has made great strides in the last year.

Everette and Walton's first joint release came early in 2016 in the form of an EP called "[Explicit Content]." Along with their friend WontoN, they cranked out four songs of well-executed party rap. They stand by the quality of the project, still referring to it as one of the best local hip-hop releases of the year, but stress that they have evolved far beyond that particular style.

An [Explicit Content] set at Mills Record Company
"Earlier this year we did a mistake," says Everette. "We did an EP where we pretty much conformed to what the sound of today was and [have been] cringing at that ever since. On this project we was like, 'We're gon' tap into the lyrics.' ... It feels better when people tell you that they like it."

The two have also been mentored by veteran emcee Gee Watts, due to the fact that Walton has been working with Watts as a producer on his upcoming album "Caviart."

"I would consider me, A'Sean, and Gee Watts the executive producers of ["Take This Ride"]," says Walton. "He heard everything. He would tell us, 'Yo, you need to fix that, yo, take that out, yo, don't say that, say this...' And plus, as an influence, I will take the lessons and the skills that I learned from Gee to the grave. I will never, never ever decline as a rapper thanks to him."

Working with Watts wasn't always fun and games, however. The three rappers spent many long nights working on the songs. One session concluded at 6 A.M. one morning, with Walton and Everette passing out after finishing a track. In addition to the fatigue, Watts would even mock their work to their faces.

"I remember a phone conversation with him and I'm rapping, like really rapping my heart out and he hit me with, 'Stop rapping about how good you rap,'" says Everette. "Ever since I just been on this wave and I'm really in my bag and I'm so comfortable."

A'Sean at Mills Record Company
In recent months Watts has championed Walton's work and cited him as an artist who motivates him to up his game. Watts' tough love advice to Walton early on in the year though, was even more scathing than Everette's.

"He really said, 'You horrible,'" recounts Walton, as Everette again doubles over laughing. "And he said it like three different times, but worded it different. 'You horrible, maybe one of the worst in the city.' So yeah, that influences me."

Local fans who have followed the music of A'Sean and J-Tone closely are most likely well aware of the duo's talents. Videos float around YouTube featuring A'Sean battle rapping. J-Tone has whipped out his guitar at a show before and has played the trombone on another song.

"Sing My Song" is the first time J-Tone has formally released a song he played guitar on. It's also the first that he's sung on. He admits that his vocal track was initially meant to be a reference track for A'Sean's mother to sing, but he ended up growing to enjoy his own take after encouragement from those who listened.

The song opens with a slowed sample of Kool & The Gang's "Summer Madness." Everette then lays down one of his most visceral verses to date, filled with contempt for killer cops and a corrupt system. He may not be ready to leap into an R&B career quite yet, but Walton's passionate chorus vocals still blow those of most rapper-singers out of the water. Walton's soaring guitar track kicks in simultaneously and drives the entire heartfelt track home.

J-Tone grabs the guitar for a show at The Loop
If there is one cliche that sums up the work that Walton and Everette do together, it's "practice makes perfect." Nearly 50 beats were considered for the project. They then created 10 songs before cutting three for quality. ("Take This Intro" and "Take This Outro" were originally one six minute behemoth before being split in two).

"I put the pressure on [A'Sean] a couple months ago," says Walton. "He called and I'm like, 'Yo, write or record at least one hook, one melody a day.' From then to now, you can definitely see the growth."

The two feel strongly about artists who release all the music they create. Walton says he wrote five verses for one song on "Take This Ride."

"If you believe everything you write is ill, you should never rap," says Everette. "Never ... If you're just putting out everything that you write, you're probably putting out really bad music."

Everette and Walton take listeners on a tour of several different niches in popular hip-hop throughout "Take This Ride." "Be Me" and "Today" conjure up a gritty, '90s New York vibe. "Everyday" is a bouncy track in the vein of 2000s Atlanta pop rap acts like D4L and Dem Franchize Boyz. It's also one of the few songs on the project that features an actual chorus.

The list of influences behind "Take This Ride" read like a mixed bag, but through true dedication to their craft and a countless number of hours put into writing and practice, A'Sean and J-Tone have managed to create a project that sounds more natural than nearly any Kansas City release of 2016. This is what re-dedication sounds like.

Stream "Take This Ride" below.

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