Tony Shhnow’s latest project Plug Motivation wastes no time getting started. Thumping 808s boom right out of the gate and ethereal synths swirl, punctuating the rapper’s return to the sounds of ‘plugg’; a rap subgenre that trades the menacing atmosphere of trap for blissful, otherworldly orchestration. Tony tackles the sounds plugg producers like Mexikodro, Bear1Boss, and CashCache with ease, floating through an array of straightforward bar frenzies on every track.
This vibe is a stark contrast from Reflexions, his acclaimed project from earlier this year. But if you’ve come across Tony Shhnow at all, you instantly know that this is a common thread throughout his consistent release schedule. He’s always looking at ways to expand as he continues to propel his position as an independent, self-built artist forward. Reflexions was dedicated to introspection, Plug Motivation aims to inspire audiences to seize the day. What brings his varied approach together is his pursuit of spitting game, intending to educate every pundit who presses play.
To delve deeper into this project, Tony Shhnow joined me on Zoom to talk through the escapism of plugg, how music can educate, and why he’s in no rush to be a poster boy.
Right out the gate, Plug Motivations starkly contrasts the introspection of Reflexions. How do you tap back into the mindset of making something more straightforward?
Artists like Young Dro and Zaytoven have always inspired me, so that’s where most of my music derives from. Reflexions was just me trying to expand my sound, so I treated this one as a return to my roots.
How do you think the creative process differs between the two?
Reflexions came from me travelling the country and seeing what was happening around me. It was just my way of expressing how I felt about it all, whereas Plug Motivation is just natural, and was way more fun to make. I would just wake up and begin making songs immediately. I really just sat and lived with this music the whole time.
The project finds you delving into the sounds of plugg music, a subgenre you’ve helped popularise over the years. What is it about the sounds of plugg producers like Mexikodro that inspire you?
It speaks to me. I feel like music is a setting, and plugg sounds like what you hear when you’re sitting in the trap. It even sounds like waking up to go to your job; it is music that makes you want to make money. That is the one thing I like doing the most, and that’s why this type of music is the easiest for me to do.
Something I’ve always appreciated about subgenres like trap and drill is that the music feels like a way for artists to escape the harsh realities of the environment they live in. What do you think differs about the escape plugg provides?
It’s different because the escape is almost like bliss; it’s peaceful. I feel like a lot of those other subgenres kind of glorify a certain lifestyle, whereas I feel like plugg is the brighter side. It references the harder times, but it doesn’t glorify them. The message is always making that money.
You’ve talked about your love for mixtapes like Gucci Mane’s Trap God and Lil Wayne’s No Ceilings in past interviews. How would you describe the escapism these projects provided you?
It felt like they were speaking about the things I was seeing every day. Before that, I was listening to N.W.A, Tupac, and Outkast. Outside of Outkast, no one was from where I’m from, and while I fuck with Outkast, they weren’t really talking about the things I was seeing. Hearing stuff like Trap God I think made me more conscious because I wasn’t grasping the music of Outkast and songs like ‘Bombs Over Baghdad’ before. Listening to artists like Gucci Mane, Shawty Lo, T.I, and Jeezy just hit me.
On the topic of becoming more conscious, I love how you use your music to educate and inspire your audience, motivating them to seize the day. When did you realise music could be a platform for learning?
I want to say it was maybe Jay Z’s 4:44. I know Nipsey has some of that in his music as well, but I feel like 4:44 was the first time I really noticed it. He was talking about investments and shit; it changed my perspective on every rapper period. Because Jay was at the top, but kicking game for everyone. Those themes are something that I know the people around me and my OGs have wanted me to communicate in my music as well.
One of the terms I used to hear relating to 4:44 that I love is ‘Grown Man Rap’.
I love that because I’m a grown man, you feel me? I’m not one of these young dudes! I ain’t saying I don’t fuck with the young dudes, but some of them are on some bullshit! I want to get money, I want to have a family, and I want to live the American dream.
You’re building to the American dream as an independent artist, releasing consistently and on your terms. How did you learn to avoid the pitfalls of music’s corporate aspects?
There’s honestly so much information out there that it’s not something I can really brag about. I feel like it’s almost inexcusable not to do it this way now. It’s something that I got from people around me being in my ear, and the blueprints created by rappers like Nipsey Hussle, Curren$y and Larry June. Even just being on the block and having money before rap made it clear that I don’t want to jump the gun. I could already throw money in the club; I had already been in foreign cars and travelled across the country. So people coming to me with that shit now is not impressive. I’m here to change the culture and people’s mindsets; I want to inspire. I’m here for the long run, and I’m going to keep working.
I’ve seen you profess your love for the Future mixtape Astronaut Status, which is a project I came across when I was 14 and has since felt like it’s an unappreciated gem. Do you ever worry that your contributions to the game will be the same in the sense that they’re important, but not often referenced?
I actually like that! I like going somewhere outside of Atlanta, and being the only person in the room that knows Astronaut Status. I like knowing that I can put you on, and be the guy that introduces you to new music. I like that for my fans as well, and it’s partially why I drop the way I do. My publicists are the only reason people know I’m dropping sometimes because I’ll just make music and drop the same day. I want my fans to be the ones to put you on to that new Tony Shhnow, fresh off the block. I love that feeling of discovery within that scenario because that’s how people like you and me fell in love with music.
Is it better to be the unsung legend, as opposed to the poster boy?
Don’t get me wrong, we fuck with the poster boy, but the other dude is usually him, and he getting money too. He doesn’t have to do the same things the poster boy does, and being the centre of attention is something that can weigh on your mind. Some people don’t realise what comes with being that type of artist, so I’m in no rush to assume that position.
Lastly, my man, the rapper MAVI recently told me that he views rap as the “literary metaphor he’s using to change black existence.” Is rap the end goal for you, or is it a device for bigger things?
Rap is the tool for sure. Initially, before I fell in love with rapping, I merely viewed it as a stepping stone that benefits me. But then I realised how I could use it, and how I can educate and inspire people. That’s when I realised that the utility of rap isn’t just for me, but for everybody.