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Published: Friday, 2/29/2008

'The Drug Years' puts fresh spin on hip-hop

BY ROD LOCKWOOD
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Toddx
<br>
<img src=http://www.toledoblade.com/graphics/icons/audio.gif> <b><font color=red>LISTEN: </b></font color=red> <a href=" /assets/mpg/TO40250228.MP3" target="_blank "><b>Down to Earth</b></a> by Toddx, featuring Chavar Dontae
<br>
<img src=http://www.toledoblade.com/assets/gif/weblink_icon.gif> <b><font color=red>VIEW</b></font color=red>: <a href=" http://www.myspace.com/toddxx" target="_blank "><b>Toddx MySpace page</b></a>

Toddx <br> <img src=http://www.toledoblade.com/graphics/icons/audio.gif> <b><font color=red>LISTEN: </b></font color=red> <a href=" /assets/mpg/TO40250228.MP3" target="_blank "><b>Down to Earth</b></a> by Toddx, featuring Chavar Dontae <br> <img src=http://www.toledoblade.com/assets/gif/weblink_icon.gif> <b><font color=red>VIEW</b></font color=red>: <a href=" http://www.myspace.com/toddxx" target="_blank "><b>Toddx MySpace page</b></a>
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Ten years worth of painful perfectionism booms out of the speakers when Toddx's "The Drug Years" plays.

A decade of breaking down beats to their most elemental form, finding the math of hip-hop where the syllables land just right within the musical form, and then putting it all back together as something fresh and unique - that's "The Drug Years."

A decade. Not that long, unless you're 26, and then it qualifies as almost a lifetime.

And consider this: he's a white guy from Toledo by way of Little Rock who doesn't exactly fit the hip-hop stereotypes. Todd Yarberry understands what's at stake on his first CD: not only does he have to impress himself, but he also has to make sure he doesn't come across as phony.

"Being me and trying to do hip-hop is a tricky task," he said from his West Toledo home. "I can't come across as something I'm not because people will smell that out. I've got to be real, but it's got to be done in a cool way."

And he knows the temptation will be to label him in a way that isn't accurate based on his appearance and the fact he uses live instruments for many of the songs rather than samples.

"I know people are going to mix up this record and think I'm a rock rapper or stuff like that, which is not the case. It's hip-hop."

Yarberry, a graduate of Penta Career Center and the Art Institute of Pittsburgh, spent 40 hours a week for about six months honing "The Drug Years" into an impressively diverse and organic sounding hip-hop/rap disc. Yarberry and his creative partner, Elliot Simon, didn't just find beats on a computer, they made their own by recording live drummers in the studio and then sampling them. They played bass, keyboards, and some guitar, and worked the synths to give the CD more of band sound than the sterile laboratory vibe of so much hip-hop.

"You can feel it a lot better when it's live and it was actually played and you can feel the room that it was in," he said.

The disc was made at the Strawberry Fields Recording Studio in Swanton, where Yarberry worked as an engineer. It's a follow-up to a CD that Yarberry made, but never officially released, called "The Toddx Files."

He said his perfectionism got in the way of putting out the "Files" disc because he recorded some of the songs at the Hit Factory studio in New York and was unhappy with the result. "I was self-conscious about it and I was like, I can do better than this," he said.

So Yarberry went to work on "The Drug Years," the title of which is more conceptual than literal, he said, and is a reflection of the release's old-school vibe.

"I wanted a modern day hip-hop album, but I wanted it kind of vintage, and 'the drug years' is the nickname for the '70s, you know what I mean?" he said. "I wanted it to be like a '70s rock flavor with a modern day hip-hop feel."

The disc reflects a strong pop sensibility as well, with tracks like "Role Play" and "Down to Earth" featuring muscular hooks and plenty of catchy melodies. Those qualities are reflected in Yarberry's musical tastes, which are diverse and include such artists as The Beatles and Steely Dan.

Hip-hop isn't high on his personal playlist.

"It's the same old stuff; I'm not hearing anything new. There are people doing new stuff and keeping it fresh, but the majority of the stuff just sounds manufactured to me and I'm not buying it."

The owner of a graphic design company who released "The Drug Years" on a label he and Simon created called Eighteen Hundred, Yarberry said he plans to start playing shows and touring to support the CD. He's scheduled to perform March 28 at Frankie's Inner City in East Toledo, with a band backing him.

Expect a set that will be uniquely Toddx.

"It's my theory on the way that you've got to come across. You can't come across as something you're not. I don't want to hear some dude rapping like he's black. I don't want to hear that, I want to hear you."

"The Drug Years" is available at Ramalama Records and Culture Clash Records in Toledo and at numerous Web sites that sell CDs and MP3s.

Contact Rod Lockwood at: rlockwood@theblade.com

or 419-724-6159.



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