EQUIPPED WITH PEACEFUL MINDS AND A POSITIVE, COLLABORATIVE MESSAGE, TANG SAUCE AND SELF SUFFICE ARE LOOKING TO HEAT UP THE SUMMER WITH THE MATURITY TOUR.
INTERVIEW BY ONYEKA OBIOCHA
PHOTOGRAPHY BY JOSHUA JENKINS
Ony: How did you end up becoming the Tang Sauce that everyone knows and loves? Tell us a little more about yourself and where you grew up.
Tang: Basically, I started off in Hartford and then I moved to Windsor. I went to Sage Park [Middle School], JFK [John F. Kennedy Elementary School], and Annie Fisher [Elementary School] if anybody knows what those schools are. After that, I went to high school in Manchester, then I moved back to Hartford. As far as like my name goes [and] the way that started [was] me and my friends from middle school used to watch a lot of Dave Chappelle and there was this one skit that was about Wu-Tang. We went and took that and we’d run around school with shirts with the Wu-Tang symbol. There’d be a big group of us and we’d just walk around like we were Wu-Tang. That died down once I got to high school, but I was still repping it pretty hard. So everybody just started calling me Wu-Tang, like, “Wu-Tang” this and “Wu-Tang” that. So I held that down. That went with me throughout high school.
Then after high school, I started hanging out with another group of friends – these cats from West Hartford named XL – and they just got it down to “Tang”. I guess it was easier to say. Then we used to dance and do a whole bunch of stuff. It was kind of like a bunch of different things we did. We’d have rappers underneath the XL umbrella. We’d have graphic designers [and] dancers like myself -- all kinds of stuff. My boy Duce -- who is a rapper [and] I think it was after one of these photoshoots we did - where he was like, “Tang’s got the sauce!” Like my “flavor”. So they just started calling me Tang Sauce from then on out, since about 2010.
Ony: So you were still doing all of that and working with all of those other kinds of people as a collective in high school. You knew then that you were going to be an entertainer.
Tang: Well, not really. I was just doing it. I started rapping in like 2010, after I got out of high school. But I’ve been dancing for over a decade now. So back then, my thing was [break dancing]. I didn’t want to go to school. I didn’t want to do homework. I just wanted to [break dance] all day. I also played my horn. I’ve been playing my horn for about 15 years now, which came before dance, but yeah. It was just all dance all day. When it really became a passion is when I started to rap. I just found rap. It was kind of like ‘breaking’ with the creation process, but it took a hell of a lot less energy and I knew that I could do it for a really long time. I know for my music, I’m going to be doing this for the rest of my life. I just found that and that’s just when it really became a passion. I wrote this on my third day rapping: I rapped over “This is How We Do It” by Montell Jordan – you could probably find the video somewhere online – and I spit a verse. I knew from that third day that it was my passion. I’ve been trucking at it ever since. Both of my parents are artists as well. My mom sings in this group called Women of the Cross. You guys may or may not have heard of them. They perform in Hartford and shit like that.
Ony: Is that like a gospel choir or something?
Tang: Yeah, yeah. It’s four ladies and they do acapella music. So I was exposed to melodies, harmonies and stuff like that really early on. I used to go to their practices. I used to be like my mom’s shadow. Everywhere she would go, I would go. Then I grew up in this church called The Salvation Army, which is mostly like brass band-heavy. So I was exposed to a different kind of music.
Ony: Is that the one in East Hartford?
Tang: I think there’s one in East Hartford, off of one of those streets, I wish that I could remember the name exactly. The one I grew up in was in the North End of Hartford. They had like a little brass band, a little prayer ensemble. So I learned all of that kind of music and stuff like that. And then my dad is Joe Young, who actually released Diamond Ruff – the first feature length film out of Hartford. He premiered that at the Bushnell about two years ago and that was huge. The main theater was packed. It was crazy. So I was raised with some of his influence, too. I always saw my dad throughout my life just grind. He really just gives his whole life to his grind. That’s straight up what this man does. When I started rapping, he definitely impacted me.
Ony: Do you have any siblings or anything?
Tang: Yeah, a couple. I got my brother, James, this dude with a beard that everybody knows because he’s always with me. He’s just a real cool dude. Then I got my brother Kyle Young, who raps and some people might now as well. And I got a sister Paige Young who sings and she’s on Pandora – you can check her out. She just started singing like a year and a half ago and she’s already shutting it down.
Ony: What are you: the middle child, the third child?
Tang: On my dad’s side, I’m the middle child and on my mom’s side, I’m the baby.
Ony: So it’s crazy growing up in such a musical household, right? It’s like, this is the path you’re supposed to go on.
Ony: We already can tell that at a young age, you wanted to do music. But then, how does that translate into your message now of always knowing you’re going to have a positive influence in your music? Or, how did that develop?
Tang: OK, wow. This guy next to me [Suffice] really had a lot to do with that. First thing’s first: my mom raised me like this. She said, “I only raise gentlemen". So at 18, I was like a gentleman in training [laughs]. So that definitely had a lot to do with that. She always raised me to just be polite, try to be humble and understanding. She always raised those morals into me. But I mean, even with that, when you’re young, you kind of rebel against a lot of what your parents are saying. So when I first started rapping, I was swearing, I was saying a whole bunch of ridiculous things. And that actually led me to an open mic that this guy over here used to host.
Ony: Tell me more about this man to your right.
Tang: Yeah, yeah! With me, I have this great mentor. The rap poet, legendary, Manhattan Nights-droppin, more albums coming, Self Suffice. The rap poet with me right now. This cat is a very, very positive role model, teacher and activist in and out of the Hartford community so he’s definitely somebody to be respected.
Ony: So then, you were cursing and carrying on and then you met Self Suffice?
Tang: Yeah. I met Self Suffice, who like me, doesn’t swear in his music. I had seen him around for years doing the whole dance thing. I had seen him perform at Charter Oak [and] different hip-hop fests or what-have-you. And I never thought I would actually get up with him like that. Then he was hosting an open mic and you see him and think, “Oh, ok. This is the cat that used to be dancing, now he’s starting to rap”. I saw him again at this gallery that Art Space was hosting and I was with Mama Tang, and she kind of asked Suffice to take me under his wing and teach me the tools of the trade and different ways to advance through the arts, you know?
Suffice: She did it in a very subtle, 'mom' way. And being down with [Zulu Nation], I’m always noticing people and I’m willing to give advice, you know? But I’m just super busy. And someone was like, “Yo. He needs a mentor..” And I was like, I don’t do the b-boying anymore. Even though I mentor little b-boy moves, I’m not actually the b-boy mentor. But rapping? Yes. And [people] were like [Tangsauce] is so talented and I’m like, “You’re right. He’s going to get converted into like the Darth Vader. He’s going to be like the storm trooper out here”. You see people that are super talented early on, and brilliant and then they don’t have any [platforms] where they can do that, so they almost unconsciously make a decision like, that must not be what works.
So when we were at the Art Space event, here’s how his mom subtly did it. She was like, “Yeah, he’s always rapping really fast all of time! Just da-da-da-da-daa and I keep telling Jeremy to slow it down so that people can understand you”. And then I was understanding and having compassion but getting the whole 360 of it, I was like, “You should actually be very proud of him. Because most rappers right now are rapping really slowly, they’re dumbing it down a lot, and it’s representing that hip hop culture is slow and stupid”. It’s racking up that idea of us -- of Black culture, of just human culture in general -- that that’s what hip hop is. So it does make sense to be clear, and it does make sense to know who your audience is. But this is what I told her that day, I said, “He has a lot of time. He’s young, he’s starting. I’m sure there will be songs he does that are slow. But for now, I think we should actually encourage him to do that because most people are not going to”.
That’s why you gotta follow your destiny. Because if you follow your destiny, that’s gonna open up the gate for other people to follow their destiny. And that’s gonna open up the gate for someone else. It’s a domino effect that just rolls on out. People are starting to take that power into their own hands, you know? It’s not like, “Fuck, I want to do a show tonight, damn.” It’s like, “I want to run a show tonight.”
Ony: Yeah. And what year was that?
Tang: That was back in 2010.
Suffice: Now if you go back to the music then, compared to now, you’ll get how relevant this was even more. I feel like because of the work we’ve been doing, or at least partially because of us, if you listen now, there’s a lot of lyricism that came back. There was a moment around 2010 where we were worried. Is hip hop even gonna be known as a range of style of voices, or not? You see what I’m saying? So she was doing the mom thing and I was like, “Yes. I’m with you. I’m with the growth of this star. But it’s a long-term thing”. And my thing is to make sure that he just gets to know that nothing you do is “bad” as an artist. Just know your range. To make sure that he knows his range. Don’t just stick to this particular range.
Ony: So from there, 6 years of developing musically, what really honed you as an artist? Who’d you look to visually through their music and how they moved? Who had you say “I’m going to take a little bit of this and a little bit of that” and got you to build your whole brand and artistry around that?
Tang: Well when I started rapping, my main influences and my favorite rappers were Buckshot and Lil Wayne, which is like from two different sides of the spectrum. But I love all of that. I love Buckshot because for me, I grew up playing jazz. So I can appreciate the “jazzy” styles of Buckshot. His delivery is almost melodic. But then you got Lil Wayne who’s just so creative with his rhymes and flow.
Ony: And people forget: “Mixtape Weezy” was your favorite rapper at the time.
Tang: No Ceilings?!
Ony: My first mixtape I ever got from the barber shop, I threw it in the Acura, and it was No Ceilings. Don’t play. It’s still like one of the best joints on deck. And that will always be a classic! I just had to make that clear.
Tang: *claps hands*
Ony: Old school Weezy was it.
Tang: I’ll never forget his verses on “Ice Cream Paint Job”.
Ony: Even that beat, breh. Yo, he was hopping on people’s beats crazy.
Tang: He is so original. Like, no one is spitting like Weezy. He brought so much uniqueness.
Ony: He did, he did.
Tang: I can’t even emphasize it enough. He is a beast. You can’t not see that. Do not sleep on Weezy.
Ony: OK, so Buckshot and Weezy.
Tang: So like I said, I played some jazz, so I also got some Charlie Parker influence [and] some Soul Train. I’ve had like that Wynton Marsalis in me. Then I was playing stuff like Carnival of Venus on my horn too, so I had some of those old school, classical compositions inside of me – rhythmically as well. But then at the same time, I checked out some artists like Tyga. He had this one triplet flow that I kind of adopted early on.
Ony: Oh, wow.
Tang: You know, once you see Weezy and you see YMCMB, and you think, “OK, who’s under this YMCMB umbrella?”
Tang: You got a bunch of different cats. So I checked out a little bit of Tyga, and before I started spitting, a couple of my homies around the way were like, “Oh yeah, Tyga’s a beast” and what-have-you.
Ony: Wow, wow, wow.
Tang: So I was like, my boys fuck with him heavy, I gotta listen to him. And there was this cat called Carlo Prody. I think he goes by [that name] now. And this cat had crazy freestyle. [He's] from here in Hartford, too. Just the nastiest freestyle. So to that degree, a lot of people around me inspired me and helped me hone, you know? When I see Suffice doing his thing, I’m like, 'Damn, that’s fresh. I wanna freestyle.' When I see Arien selling out shows at Real Art Ways, I’m like, 'I gotta step my game up!'
Suffice: That’s the thing: he’s already active. The fact that he was calling himself Wu-Tang, I was like, 'Ok'. Again, it’s a time where it can go either way. It’s like, 'Ok, you respect Wu-Tang.' And this is before they punched Joe Budden or whatever. I’m like, this young dude knows about other things. He’s not just into what’s on the radio.
Tang: Exactly. We used to listen to Wu-Tang heavy.
Suffice: He was the one at the time doing when most people forgot that b-boying was a part of the hip hop culture. So these are things that made me be like, “It’s my fault if I’m not involved with him”. He’s reaching beyond just his block.
Tang: I’ve always been an alternative, outcast. [laughs]
Ony: That’s really dope. So then even from that, I want to transition because that’s so interesting for you to say that as an artist. Anytime I talk to artists from around here, I feel like they don’t understand. Like, you compare yourself to other people and not through the artistry, but really just respect the movement. Try to be a part of that and build that. And before I even get into that, I want you to speak on the artistry and the artists’ community in Hartford. Because I see some beautiful things, but I would love to see it from your perspective.
Tang: We’re fucking building right now! Everybody is smashing it – from Pedro having the Hasta Manana release and Real Art Ways having to accommodate them for how many people came through. And then like I said, Arien doing his thing and outdoing himself every time. From The Projector Series, to Black Boy Jungle. And then you have Brittany Crush stepping up and doing her thing in New York. There’s just so much going on right now in the arts scene. We just did this show in Keney Park and a lot of people out here got that stigma like, “Oh, that’s the North End. That’s scary.” When in reality, Keney Park is a beautiful park. And we came through to do Nightfall –
Suffice: And it was a beautiful thing.
Tang: We had a whole bunch of people, even from suburban areas, come through.
Ony: Which is wild, especially for Keney Park, after dark.
Tang: Yeah! And it was all Gucci. It was all fine. So I’m like, yo, everybody around the arts scene right now in Hartford is just super-killing it and I just want to support. I feel like what’s happening is people are starting to value the people that are around them, so the phrase is really true: Hartford has it. We’re out here. We have everything you need. We just need to start supporting ourselves.
Suffice: At that time though, it had not been like that. So, that’s another reason why I was like, “Yes, I want to support this.” Because there was people not going to each other’s shows. There was actually serious violence. If you look back on the history of Hartford beyond the 10 years, up to that point, people were getting shot. It was a point where if you go to a hip hop show, there’s going to be violence.
One of the main things I was doing was doing shows where you are supposed to be together. So it wasn’t for granted. We definitely had to work to get that. We had to bring people together, and we had to squash beefs because it was dangerous. So every moment that you do your thing and you continue doing that, it means a lot because if you look at the context of what Hartford was, you say to yourself, “I can really change things.”
Ony: I think the first time I really, truly understood the power of art, especially the musical arts and community in Hartford, was when Jeff and I went to your show at EightSixty. Especially after everything that happened in the year. And I remember talking to Pepe and all of these dudes leading up to it, and everyone was so excited because they knew the energy that was gonna be in that building was gonna be nothing but love. Even I knew that.
I think before that, I went to the b-boy show and I was like, “OK, yeah, this was cool.” I remember I was so late – I had just gotten back from New Haven. And Jeff and I had just went in there and from us just hearing it from outside, I was like, “Oh, wow. This is real live..” And then going in and just seeing someone’s mom in EightSixty.
Ony: I was like, "What the fuck." You got real people just coming out here to show love in EightSixty. I mean, you know what I’m talking about, EightSixty was on the brink of not being there anymore. So to have people there really vibing, I was like “Yo, what is going on right now? Is this Hartford? Is this EightSixty? Could really a matter of months change the way people perceive a space?” To go from like “Ugh, nah” to “Wow, this is beautiful” just from bringing people together, that was amazing.
Suffice: That is what hip hop is to me. That’s what a lot of people don’t understand. They think that a lot of us are entertainers, which a lot of us are, but that’s not what I do, or else I wouldn’t be doing this anymore. There was serious violence when hip hop was made. And people to this day -- I still don’t think that society gets that you can’t really stop fights. You don’t stop anger and violence and these things. You have to have something else instead of that. You know? There’s never been a fight stopped in history.
Suffice: You just have something else that’s more important than a fight. So that’s why we do it. And when I see how these shows happen, it’s like an album release. It’s not like a show. It’s us continuing to curate the way life is supposed to be so that these other things don’t happen. Because when you don’t have art, when you don’t have dance and when you don’t have people expressing, that’s when these other things happen.
Ony: If there’s a cultural void in the community, only evil will fill that void.
Ony: I think that’s why I’m so passionate about having conversations like this and talking and working with the wonderful people like Trashion Fashion, and like Arien, because they’re in a situation we’re just giving people opportunities to do what they want to do in a city that they love. And that’s it.
Suffice: Yeah, don’t pull up on me later like, “There’s going to be a fight.” yadda-yadda. It’s corny to me – I don’t think that everyone gets it – when people run up and always want us to stop a problem. I’m thinking, where are you when we’re out here doing positive things? Why are you always only showing up when there’s potential negative around?
Ony: Let’s speak about that for a little bit. So, with the violence that we’re constantly seeing on the North End, and then with Hartford’s ability – shown ability and proven ability – to get things done when they want to get it done. Like, we’ve seen that if they want to get something done, they’ll close the doors and get it done, right? Now we know that on the community level, arts and Hartford is a beautiful thing – we’re boots on the ground, we see them and we support them – but on a higher level, how can people come to you guys and say, “OK, you know what? We need help here, we need help there. How can we support you when there’s not an issue?” What do arts in Hartford need to keep going forward?
Tang: Yeah, we just need people to start coming through to events, keeping involved, telling friends, you know?
Suffice: The Maturity Tour.
Ony: Talk a little bit about The Maturity Tour.
Tang: We’re organizing it right now. Right now, I’m focused on getting the next Maturity Tour album release party poppin in Springfield. I performed on a couple of different occasions there and its mad love. I performed at the Springfield jazz and Roots Festival and it was mad dope. I could talk about that all day. Massachusetts been showin some love. So I’m organizing that. I’m trying to use Maturity as a platform to establish myself in the tristate area more. Eventually, through the whole east coast, I’ll be able to do more music videos, reviews, get as many people as I can, get on as many blogs as I can, as many Facebook groups as I can.
Suffice: Honestly, if people don’t come out to those events, that’s when it’s going to be the next time for a brutality event or someone dies or some health issue comes up. We’re always very popular during Black History Month because honestly, this is preventing those kinds of things from happening. I feel like we have to ask: do people want to violence happening at these events? Is that what it is? Why aren’t people seeing that curating is spreading love? That’s what I want. It’s not a competition. We’re bringing out the best in each other.
Tang: I saw this quote the other day that said, “Collaboration - not competition - is the answer.” I think that’s so true, yo. And that’s one thing I think is changing, going back to your other question. I feel like we’re not combating anymore. We’re collaborating.
When I had my album release party, I saw that Jo Bo was having his album release party on the same night. I could’ve tried to shut them down, but that was not what I wanted to do. What I wanted to do was be like, “How can I make this a good situation for the both of us?” So basically what happened was at my event, I was going to do it at night. But Pep wanted it to be earlier in the day, so I was like, "You know what? I’m going to do my event earlier in the day, then the after party is going to be Jo Bo’s album release party." And we had it crackin' the whole night.
Ony: The whole night.
Suffice: I don’t know about y’all, but when I got the text, I was like, 'One question: the time says 9 [pm]? That’s early. We’ll see how that goes.' But it was poppin'.
Suffice: I wanna do shows at 5pm from now on!
Ony: Yeah, and I was late. Shit, it was still early.
Suffice: Exactly! But it was live. And Jo worked well with everyone. When people think, “Wow, I can help you and help myself?” That’s perfect.
Tang: Yes, I had some people take really good initiative because when you organize an event around yourself, rather than just go to an event and play, it’s two completely different shows. If I go to a show and my speakers are already set up, play for 15 minutes, I’m Gucci. But when you organize a whole party or show around yourself? And you’re booking other artists, writing up contracts, communicating with people and getting people to come down, while at the same time still working your 9 to 5? That takes so much effort and I learned that from the party. I had people really step up and really take an initiative.
One person that really took an initiative and really helped my night was Arien. G-Money from Hot 93.7 was supposed to come down and host the whole entire night, but he showed up like two hours late. But in the meantime, Arien took the initiative to help me host which was like the biggest burden off of my shoulders. He knows what it’s like to organize an event around yourself and how much effort that takes.
Suffice: This might be a tangent, but I think we have to realize that sometimes, people want to help out.
Ony: Like, they genuinely find their purpose, and their being, and their value in helping other people. And now you see a lot more of that because before, those people just didn’t have the opportunity to help out, you know what I mean? Now they’re like, “Bet. I can help people out. This is how I want to show my support.”
Tang: It’s so great that we’re able to provide that opportunity. That’s why you gotta follow your destiny. Because if you follow your destiny, that’s gonna open up the gate for other people to follow their destiny. And that’s gonna open up the gate for someone else. It’s a domino effect that just rolls on out. People are starting to take that power into their own hands, you know? It’s not like, “Fuck, I want to do a show tonight, damn.” It’s like, “I want to run a show tonight.” The future is looking so bright right now. It’s incredible, man. I’m really looking forward to it.
Ony: One thing I also want to talk about is the aspect of the business of art. Can you talk a little more about what that’s like trying to form your own brand and trying to write music and get yourself on tour, etc.
Tang: Oh my God, yo. It’s so much. It’s mentally exhausting. First of all, if you want to do a show out in New York, and you’re just an independent artist, there’s a couple different ways to go about it. There’s one way where you’re just looking up places, making that call, and trying to organize a day with them, and trying to get up with people, and trying to set up a meeting. Yo. That is the most mentally taxing thing, especially when you have to manage other people’s schedules and things like that? Oh my.
Suffice: I’ve been to places all over the world and in some parts of America, and wherever I go - including New York - people always have this “grass is greener” mentality. So they feel like if they just reach out to someone in New York, or in L.A, or something, it’s just going to be easy. So that’s what they’re doing: they’re behaving differently than how they would in their own neighborhoods. It’s who you know, what can you do to build a relationship, and then it starts to open. But people are still running around doing that other stuff all of the time.
Tang: Just get it where you live. That’s where you get that degree of creativity and originality from because you’re putting together people that may or may not have met, otherwise. You’re making something new.
Suffice: And if you wait until you go to New York or whatever, and try to get put on from then, you got other people looking at the footage like, “OK? You did a show there…”
Ony: “And it wasn’t even all that lit…”
Ony: Just to say that they did a show in New York. It could be in Hartford, shut down, and a dope ass venue and then from there, go to where you need to go. I think why I like working with building businesses in Connecticut is because there’s really no one else out here doing what the top brass of people are doing out here. So you can carve a really, really nice lane for yourself and then from there, hook the people up and now we have a Connecticut movement.
It’s like, as much as we fuck with Wayne, you fucked with that group of people that he fucked with. So if Tang gets put on, then it’s Arien and Self Suffice and Trashion Fashion and all of these people. Same thing Quest did in Philly.
Tang: I just re-posted that video.
Ony: And that’s so real. If you get it where you stay, then that’s really how you build something.
Tang: Yeah. That’s foundation.
Suffice: I want people to know that this stuff works. It definitely doesn’t work a lot, but that’s because people aren’t ‘working it’ right. Stop confusing things not working out with things not working. It can work. But when we’re beefing with each other and jealous and all of that, it doesn’t work. That’s not how it works.
Tang: Exactly. Always stay in your lane. Always keep building.
Ony: Where can we see Tang Sauce coming up next?
Tang: I’m going to keep on grinding. I’m carving it to a certain degree – like I have my 30 year plan. But I mean, these next two years is just going to be building. Getting myself more known, releasing more material for people to listen to, working with more acts, and just expanding. It’s going to be like what you see now, but on a bigger level.
I still want to be organizing my shows, I still want to be making my music the way that I want to make my music, doing my art the way I want to do my art, sometimes I want to dance and sometimes I want to play the guitar. Whatever. I just want to be doing what I’m doing, just on a bigger level.