Bullhead*ded emcee Che Bong gets personal on new record 

click to enlarge Bullhead*ded emcee Che Bong: Raising the bar for Colorado Springs hip-hop. - BRADLEY FLORA
  • Bradley Flora
  • Bullhead*ded emcee Che Bong: Raising the bar for Colorado Springs hip-hop.
Che Bong, aka Toney Wren, is no stranger to collaboration, having performed onstage with fellow Bullhead*ded colleagues Zetfree and Nato more times than all other Colorado Springs hip-hop crews combined.

Not surprisingly, the two emcees also make appearances on Che Bong’s sophomore album, Telescope to the Heavens, which will be released Jan. 30 on the newly launched Found*ded label. Also on-board are A Black Day’s Milogic, Clydesdale Entertainment’s Reflecshaun, Wren’s Hiatus partner Ibe Hustles, DJ Prominent, and other local hip-hop luminaries.

All that said, Telescope to the Heavens is clearly Wren’s show, an engagingly melodic collection that combines the emcee’s resonant baritone, skillful flow and soulful samples into a psychedelicized hip-hop gem. The album is light years ahead of his 2011 debut Sleeping While You’re Awake, and arguably raises the bar for the Springs hip-hop scene in 2018.

On the eve of his CD release show, we caught up with the emcee to talk about psilocybin, Bullhead*ded, hip-hop influences, and his grandfather’s preaching.

Indy: When we interviewed you six years ago for the first album, you talked about how diverse your influences are, which didn’t necessarily come through on that record. This one, on the other hand, is much more eclectic and adventurous. What changed?

Che Bong: I think that my comfortability with myself changed. When you’re trying to introduce yourself to other people — at least for me — you kind of want to show the right things. Especially when you’re coming out with a debut album. But with this new album, I really didn’t care about that. I was just trying to appease myself, ultimately, so I didn’t stay in the parameters of what I thought people were going to like or anything. I just did my own thing.

What do you feel were the riskiest moves on it?

I’d say the singing — being a little bit more melodic — as well as exposing myself on songs like “Rust” and “El Momento,” which are about just being vulnerable and reflecting on past relationships and the choices that you make in your life.
I’m curious about the gospel on the album’s closing track, which you attributed to “Elder Tony Strickland.” Who is that and what’s he preaching about.

My granddad, who passed two years ago, was a pastor. I’d never really had a strong relationship with him, but he’s always been very influential to me. When he passed, I wasn’t able to be there. My mom and my dad went, but I was unable to go. And so my mom ended up bringing back an audio CD of his last sermon. I kind of wanted to do something to make him live forever, if you will. And so I was really inspired to put him in that little outro, just so people could kind of get to know my granddad and see where I get some of my quirkiness from, and my words, as well. I thought that it was a pretty cool sermon and relevant to the landscape that we’re in right now.

How does it relate to that landscape?

Well, I personally think it would be the division, all that stuff going on with the president. But then there’s also this jadedness that a lot of us Americans have. We kind of have this unappreciative vibe that we’re pushing out, you know what I mean? We want more, bigger, better, badder. And I think that my granddad was speaking on a lot of those things.

Who were some of the early hip-hop influences that are now finding their way into your music?

Man, from back in the day, I would say there’s some Big Daddy Kane in there. There is definitely some Rakim, as far as the straightforward delivery. I’d like to think that there is a little bit of Murs influence, as far as new-school guys. Maybe even a little André 3000, you know? Yeah, that’s what I’m thinking.

What are your favorite rhymes on this record?

Favorite rhymes… Well, I’ve got one on “Kiyoga,” which I wrote while I was thinking about psychedelics: “I’ve got these altered thoughts with these closed-eye visuals / Been known to treat the heart, the spiritual, let me give it to you.” It was just kind of talking about psilocybin and mushrooms and stuff like that.

Which you’ve never done, right? I know I haven’t.

[Laughter] Yeah, you know, I went through a phase where I was doing that for a little bit.

I also need to know about the song “Kalisto.” I’m pretty sure that’s not about the WWE wrestler.

So, in my own studies, Calisto [actual spelling] is a moon outside of Jupiter that had an ice crust on the outside and water inside. And theoretically this moon could support life. So the lyric “take you to Kalisto” is about being frustrated and struggling here on earth, with all its modern-day problems, and maybe we could just fly away and go to this other place and just start anew.

A couple of tracks on the album feature Zetfree, and I know Nato also did some production on it. So even though this is a solo project, it seems like you still wanted to have that collaborative element.

Well, these are my guys, you know what I mean, they’re my creative collective. I don’t really want to call it a Bullhead*ded project, because I did a lot of this on my own. But I still had to have them on the album.

So when someone goes to a Che Bong show, what will they experience that’s different from Bullhead*ded, apart from there being two-thirds fewer emcees?

I’d like to think that my energy is way different than what Bullhead*ded’s is. I think that I’m a little more introspective, a little more soulful, I’m kind of toned-down a few notches when it comes to Bullhead*ded antics and stuff. My soul and R&B influences don’t necessarily get to shine through with Bullhead*ded.

One last question: If the version of you who did the first album were to hear the new album, what would surprise him?

Oh wow! I think that what would surprise the old Che Bong would be my openness, my willingness to do a little bit more singing and showcase my influences. Yeah, I definitely think that my writing has gotten a little bit better. I’ve had a little bit more fun with this as well, and so I think that the old Che Bong would say to the new Che Bong, “Good darn job with progressing and not staying in that same zone as Sleeping While You’re Awake,” you know?

So the old Che Bong used the word “darn”?

Heck yeah!


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