Now seems like the time for a locally based Russian rapper to come up with some rhymes about Moscow election scams. But Anton Romashev, who performs locally as Tonik Slam, won’t be.
“It’s not that I don’t want to get political,” says Romashev. “It’s just not safe. It might affect my ability to go back to my own country. History tells us that people who speak truth to power usually end up dead.”
His “White Russian” song, for example, is about a cannabis product called Moonrock promoted by former Dogg Pound rapper Kurupt, who recorded a few tracks with Tonik. “Can’t lie from time to time I’m still sippin this vodka/ Wit Dirty OG’z improved my ebonics/ High off Moonrocks enjoyed cosmonautics.”
“I learned how to speak English through hip-hop,” Romashev says about his early years in Yekaterinburg in the Ural Mountains. “When I first came here through an English-speaking school program I already knew English from Eminem, Tupac, and Snoop Dogg. I didn’t understand everything they said but I was gravitated to it by their passion…. When I started rapping [at age nine] it was looked down on in Russia. I did my first performance at school at 14. I always had the baggiest jeans at school. My teachers and principal told me all the time I didn’t look appropriate.”
He says sneakers are hard to find in Russia.
“Rarely can you find good Nikes or Jordans. My very first day in America I went to a sneaker store called Shiekh. I met this dude and we started to hang out. He introduced me to other friends who rapped. When I first came here I had no friends and no family.”
That led to Romashev eventually hooking up with Justin Watson whose Jay Wat Productions helped him record two Tonik Slam albums, Hell-a-Code and Tha Kemistry!!
He says hip-hop is still not featured on Russian radio or TV. But, thanks to the internet, “…hip-hop is much more accepted now in Russia. But what’s being played now I call ‘trap’ music. It’s not true rap. It’s a mix of genres.”
Romashev is on a student visa studying at the Art Institute in Mission Valley. “This is my sixth trip here. I first came to the States in 2006 and I’ve been coming back for short stays every two or three years. I’ve been here for more than a year this time.”
He hopes that once he gets his audio-production degree he can find a job that may allow him to stay.
5526 El Cajon Boulevard, College Area
“The music industry is much more developed here than in Russia. Music is what I want to do for life. There are more opportunities to be successful. But I know after I graduate it will be pretty hard for me to actually stay here and live.”
Tonik Slam appears August 19 at the XO Bar (behind the Lucky Lady Casino) on El Cajon Boulevard.