Local Current Blog

With smartphone-blue and Auto-Tune, tony the scribe deciphers “mixed messages”

Leave it to tony the scribe. To create music that examines the intersections of romantic longing and technology. To convert a suit of armor into a device that makes fissures glow. And to make it catchy.

A resident of Minneapolis, tony is a rapper, writer, and organizer, and he works alongside producer ICETEP in Killstreak. He values emotion over authority; honesty over posturing. He last released a project in June 2016, dropping solo EP mixed blood.

tony’s new song “mixed messages” is the title track off an upcoming project, a four-song EP that drops February 15 with a release show at Icehouse (Sarah White, Andrew Broder, and Minnie Blanco open). In the cover art, his body bathes in smartphone-blue light. On the files, his voice soaks in Auto-Tune of the same hue.

While typing up a draft of this post, I sat across from a friend in a coffee shop. I paused the song to hear her talk about a recent date — but she quickly picked up where “mixed messages” left off, explaining that an app hadn’t delivered a note she sent someone. By this point, it’s turned into a joke with the person on the other end.

It’s so gratifying to see pop culture address the everyday foibles, hiccups, and fears technology piques in modern relationships. There’s the Tinder episode of Master of None, basically all of Insecure, and now, “mixed messages” — with three more songs (including a Dessa cover) to come.

Here’s tony on how he conceptualized “mixed messages,” what Auto-Tune brings to this EP, and how his new project relates to his previous work.

Cecilia Johnson: I know you listen to a lot of T-Pain and Kanye. Was that one reason for the Auto-Tune on this track?

tony the scribe: The entire EP is actually really heavy on the vocal effects. I think there’s two reasons for that: First one is exactly what you said. I’ve been fascinated by the depths of emotion you can get out of Auto-Tune since I was listening to T-Pain and 808s and Heartbreak in middle school, and that fascination has only grown deeper in the last few years. So often Auto-Tune is used to make things intended to make you feel invincible — I’m interested in what it can do to make you feel vulnerable. Second one is more conceptual — to me, the EP is about how longing and technology intersect, how things like ghosting, read receipts, and OkCupid affect the way we love (or don’t) each other. Auto-Tune seemed like a natural tool to explore that.

In the song, it sounds like you’re talking about mixed messages in a romantic context. What else is behind that title and topic?

A big part of it is the romantic context, but also the technology. I can’t get the idea of literal messages out of my head; sending a text, but it getting lost on the way to the recipient, or having someone think you mean something other than what you do. So often we f— up the most basic aspects of communicating with each other — especially in romantic relationships. You would think that accessibility and technology would make that better, but I’m not at all sure it does. I’m not Charlie Brooker [creator of Black Mirror]; I don’t necessarily think it’s going to lead to the ruin of all intimacy, either. But it definitely complicates things. I also think performance and projection of gender affect communication in deep and unrelenting ways, and I think a lot about how, as traditional gender roles are dissolving, we’re all getting mixed messages about what it means to be masculine or feminine.

In what way is mixed messages a sequel to your last EP, mixed blood?

So many parts of myself are mixed — my race, my family, my influences, my feelings. It feels good to acknowledge that in my work. But you’re right, I’m definitely thinking of it as a sequel. mixed blood felt like it was very introverted, very self-oriented. This one pulls back a bit, to see what happens when another person enters the picture. Stylistically, they’re completely different — mixed blood is minimalist boom bap, mixed messages is heavily effected R&B. But I feel like both are heavily lyrical, anxiety-ridden, and vulnerable as I could make them. And if you play mixed blood straight into mixed messages, I feel like it’s telling one story.