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Turning Up The Heat: A Conversation With Dayton’s Hottest Hip-Hop Duo

K. Carter and TINO - Safe Money

Collaborations are always something special in the music world. Whether its artist that you think are really similar, or artists from completely different genres, combining two separate talents can lead to some incredible results.

This is even more true in the local music scene. People know these artist, people have been going to their shows for years, and they aren’t just super stars that show up for arena shows once a year. These artists are part of the community.

So, when two Dayton, Ohio heavy hitters, Tino and K Carter, announced they would be releasing a six song EP together, expectations were high. These are both rappers that can move units and fill venues on their own, to have them come together is huge for Dayton.

The result was Safe Money, an EP that dropped exclusively on Bandcamp for a month and was then released to all streaming sites on April 30. The album was released a few hours earlier than expected, because Tino was taken to the hospital with COVID-19 on the night of the release. The reaction has already been incredibly positive, and the community has been supporting the album in all ways they can, from a merch pop up at Toxic Brewery in Dayton, to pushing the EP to number 2 on Bandcamp’s Ohio hip hop charts within days of it dropping.

I recently had the pleasure of sitting down with the duo (via video call) to get the scoop on how this collaboration happened, an insight into the writing process, and what the future holds for the group.

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So, how have you been feeling since then? Because you were in the hospital when the album dropped, you actually had to drop it early.

Tino: Yeah, so we had to drop the album a few hours early because I was like “I can’t let Kevin down, its all on me to upload to Bandcamp, cause he doesn’t have one set up.” My girls like “you temperature has reached a hundred and three for third day consecutively and you’ve had a fever for eight days, it’s time for you to go into the ER” and I was like, I guess I’ll go and so I hit upload and it was like 8 o’clock and then I found myself in the ER at midnight, getting pumped  full of fluids and watching my resting heart rate at a hundred and thirty beats per minute, but like still trying to promote the album from my bed. They let people know “Hey, it’s out, its midnight, Safe Money as arrived.”

K Carter: I told him not to worry about it but you know Tino, he’s going to do it anyway. [Laughs]

So, how has the reception to the album been?

Tino: It was thirty days (last week), we hit the thirty-day mark, we did the little pop up, we moved over $800 worth of merchandise (that day), off of not even performing. Some people showed up and thought it was a show.

K Carter: Yeah, people thought we were gonna perform yesterday. For three hours. [Laughs]

Tino: But that day, I mean, if it’s a testament to how the album run has been, it’s been incredible. People have been very receptive to the collaboration. I haven’t heard, no one has told me, “I don’t think this works.” Like, it’s been “Hey, we need more of this.”

K Carter: Yeah, it was interesting. I know for me personally because you know, I’ve learned so much from Tino, but I never do merch or anything like that. So, seeing that and like being around that, we just set up a table, we started at one, people were there at 12:45. And they’re buying everything! Everything we have on the table, they’re buying it. And just for the love and because they love the album, they liked our style, that it was unreal to me. And then, to make that much money off of it, you know I just I couldn’t believe it.

The response of people from the album after they listen to it and everything like that it’s been crazy. I have not heard anything negative. You know it’s just, it’s crazy man. It lets you know that we did the right thing by doing it for sure.

K. Carter and TINO – Way I Feel

And this was with the album not being on Spotify for the first month, it was exclusive to Bandcamp until Friday, April 30. What lead to the decision to drop it on Bandcamp before it went up on the rest of the services?

K Carter: That was all Tino’s genius decision.

Tino: [Laughs] Over the pandemic I’ve been realizing that like, people really want a chance to support the things that they care about, especially since they’ve been at home. I feel like, I know the pandemic has adversely affected some people, but some people’s life has just transitioned from, not being in an office space, to be at the same job but from home.

I mean, when you’re not traveling, you cutting down on your commute, cause when you’re not out eating at lunch or whatever at your job, going to the Raising Cane’s or whatever for your job, you’re saving money. And people have had like some extra money during this pandemic, and people want to look for things that they care about to support.

And so I decided with Past Due, the album I released last year, I wanted to give people a chance, and see how this worked out, give people a chance, who wanted to support to album, a month ahead of time, the opportunity to own the album, before it hits streaming sites. And those people really showed up during that time. So I was like, okay, this is the way to do it because like, I can put it on streaming and okay, let’s say it goes crazy. It still won’t generate the amount of revenue. And by go crazy. I mean let’s say each track got a thousand plays. So we’re talking about a six track album, getting 6,000 plays.

K Carter: Then we made 40 bucks if that happens. [Laughs]

Tino: And one of the reasons we did it is because if we did a simultaneous release, people would just go, “Oh well I got Spotify already. I’m not going to go through the hassle of going through Bandcamp.” So the release, it gives the people who wanted to support an opportunity to have the music to themselves for a whole month ahead of time. So, they may transition to listening to it over on Spotify because it’s a lot easier to throw it in the playlist or something like that for the summer, but they got a chance to get value out of it, that a person who didn’t put the money behind it, did not.

Also, see, after a certain amount of plays, Bandcamp locks you out. You can listen to the album maybe four or five times but after that it’s like okay it’s time to open your heart and your wallet to the artist at this point.

K Carter: So I know on my end like Tino said, I don’t have a Bandcamp. So, from all my albums that’s been out, it’s always been streaming: Spotify, Tidal, Apple. Because my thing was, I’m trying to get it out to as many people as I can, how can I spread it the best way I can? I knew nothing about Bandcamp. So I was never… I was always expecting not to really make money because with those services, you don’t get paid off a lot of plays. So I’m always releasing albums in the past expecting not to make any money.

So when he did the Bandcamp thing, he had the idea about it, I was like, “Well, I’m all for it, if somebody bought one album it’ll be more than what I made off streaming.” So also, I saw how Bandcamp has a name your own price situation and I was like, oh, I love that. Because those who support, they may pay 20 dollars, somebody may pay, whatever it is, doesn’t matter. But seeing the name your own price for it, put how you feel the project is and so I know me personally now, from here on out, I’m about to set me up a Bandcamp account, I’m going Bandcamp. I’m doing this now.

But you know, like Tino said, me learning his marketing skills and his marketing genius is just, it’s been helpful for me. So I’m riding that wave. I’m about to go to Bandcamp and start releasing my stuff on there and doing the exact same thing we did for Safe Money.

And you guys were the number two album on Bandcamp after the album dropped. What was it like to check those charts and see that kind of response so quickly?

Tino: It was awesome just to know that people were actually out there supporting, going to buy the album and that excitement around people wanting to purchase the album. It was actually giving me strength when I was in the hospital. (Laughs) I was like, “Man, we got stuff to do out here. We cannot let this Covid beat us. There’s people out here who really love what it is that you do. So, we got to get up out this way because we’re number two, in Ohio, in all of Ohio.”

In Dayton, we were number one after like two days because there was like Dopamines‘ (punk rock band from Cincinnati, OH) album that was beating us out. And, at one point, I think we did get the number one. Because we were right behind Illogic (Columbus hip hop MC). So we were like one and two with Illogic. And he’s a legend in Ohio.

K Carter: I know me, I don’t know much about Bandcamp. So when I saw that we was number two, and number one, this was just an amazement, seeing that people actually rock with it. You know, they actually liked it. So I was ecstatic. I was like a little kid in a candy store so I was super happy.

Tino: Yeah, and people always go with like the stream numbers and they don’t even pay attention to Bandcamp, (but) Bandcamp keeps track of streams too. And in the first weekend or week or so, it had done like three thousand streams on there.

You guys did a pop up at Toxic Brew Company down in Dayton with some merch and physical albums, what led to that?

Tino: So one of the owners of Toxic Brew, he is in a band called The Nightbeast, which is the biggest band in Dayton. They don’t like to say it like that, but they’re the biggest band in Dayton and they play like Rover Fest in front of like thousands of people and stuff like that. They’re a big deal. And I’ve actually done a collaboration with them, on their new album Actually, which just came out. I thanked them for giving us two weeks before they took over the city because their album came out April 16 and I was like, “Thanks for giving us a two-week window where people could just talk about Safe Money as a collaboration.” (Laughs)

But I’m actually featured on an album. So I went to Tyler, and he let us actually shoot the music video for the title track, Safe Money, on the roof of Toxic Brewery. He’s the homie, we’ve been friends for years and so it was it was really nothing for them to let us do the pop up there and be able to be out on the patio where we felt like we were more socially distant on a patio and also we had the opportunity to be in that sunshine cause yesterday was amazing.

K. Carter and TINO – Safe Money


So what led to this, what led to this collaboration? Because on one hand you have a guy that raps about like baseball and the Buckeyes and things like that. And then on the other you have a guy who, on his last album did a track where he raps over Mr. Roboto by Styx. How did how did this come about?

Tino: Well, the things that you talked about, like first of all, Kevin didn’t know who Styx was when he heard that. He heard the song for the first time at like 34-years-old, and was like, “I don’t know what this is but I want to sample it.”

K Carter: No. So I first heard the song… I had never heard the original song, right? When I heard it was Jimmy Fallon, doing the lip sync battle… He did a lip-sync of that song and I was like, “Oh, this is fire, who is this?” And I had to look it up and find it was Styx. And I thought okay, now I want to do a song with it.

Tino: So, I know Styx. I know what the song was before. It was on Jimmy Fallon. And this guy himself is an athlete and so, he understands like rappin’ about the Buckeye, I mean he understands football. We’ve always been like orbiting each other’s like universe as artists in general and the scene. Like, for the most part, his music is fairly clean, all of my stuff is is absolutely clean. So when you had to put the explicit lyrics advisory on there, my fans, even at the merch table, they were like, “I didn’t know what to expect, once I seen the explicit parental advisory on here.” And then Kevin starts off the whole track like Rick Ross did the first time, you heard him a Port of Miami “Who the F you think you’re F’n with I’m the F’n boss.” And I heard that and I said, “Ohh man, my momma can’t listen to this Kev!” (Laughs)

K Carter: (Laughs) Listen man, even with that. It’s like he said, I’m fairly clean, right? Like, you’ve heard it so, like, throughout the whole thing, I said, maybe two words, out of six songs. But like I said, when it comes to me and Tino, we’ve always been in each other’s space. Either I see him perform or he see me perform and that mutual respect of, “This guy’s good, this guy, he knows what he’s doing, he has talent,” has always been there and it started growing into a friendship from there. And like I said, this album is the first time we’ve ever worked on music together. We’ve never worked on music together at all until this album

Tino: Nah I was just a fan first.

K Carter: Yeah we were just fans of each other. And so we attended another friend of ours, named Eman, we attended his listening party and we were just there to listen to music and everything like that for his album. So, we ended up going to the car and just sharing songs. Songs off of my K Carter’s New Album release stuff off of his stuff and we just playing songs back and forth and it was like, “Man, we should do a song together, you know, might as well. We got the same vibe.”

And I don’t know what led to it but it was like well you know what, let’s just do it. Let’s do a whole album or EP together and see how the city likes it. Because separately me and Tino are very well known in the city. Like he has his core fans that have my core fans separately. We can pack out a place. We can, you know, sell out everything like we’ve both done it plenty of times. But together with how well we are known in the city as well as giving back to the city, being part of the community, like nobody was really expecting us to get together like this. And we kind of kept it on the hush for a while because we wanted to surprise that these two hip-hop artists, who is about the city is coming together to do some project like this. So once we had that idea it just it just works from there and it just snowballed into something great.

So you’re both solo artists. When you usually write, is it something you do by yourself or is it something you like to collaborate with other people on, and what was it like doing all the writing together for this project?

Tino: So over the last two years, I’ve kind of been opening my process up to more artists. I normally I record in Columbus, at Dreamcatcher Studio. So I go up there and I’ve been working with Rizzo and like he’s not just a guy who presses the button and records and then he stops and mixes and masters it. He gives you great input like “Okay, maybe you should do this like a conversation,” or “How about try to hit this note.” But working with him has made me go, okay, I need to open my process up more.

So when I do collaborate with artists I’m trying to get their input on how they want to approach a track. Instead of being the guy who completely does a track and then there’s a space for that artist and I’m like, “Okay here’s the space, this is the concept.” I wanted it to be a communal process instead of it being you just adding your idea or your spark to what it is that I’ve already constructed around it. And I feel like that we took that into the Safe Money writing process a lot more. None of this stuff had true form to it and we kind of shaped it together, back and forth.

K Carter: Yeah, and I know me, I was always the person that just wrote by himself. Now sometimes in the studio my producer, Dre, sometime my dude Sonny or my girl Val would come in and they’d be like, “Yo, sing this part” or “Hold this note here.” But from a lyricist perspective, it was always just me, and they would always tell me stuff like rap offbeat a little bit here and do this and do that. But being with Tino was kind of my first time actually, you know, collaborating and bouncing ideas off each other which was dope.

It was never difficult for me to do, it was it just new to me. Because there would be moments where I would write something and Tino be like, “So what do you mean by this? Because it has to be a meaning, every line has to mean something.” Which is dope to have me think like that and be like, “You know what? You right.”

So I go back in, I redo it, we get what we have, you know? So it was cool with that because it’s good to get questioned on, “What does this mean?” Because there’d be situations where I’d say this means that, and he would say, “But you know the song is about blah, blah blah.” So I’m like. Alright cool, let me switch it. And then maybe some stuff where Tino would ask what do you mean by this, and I tell him and he’d say “Okay, cool! Yeah, yeah, that makes sense.” And that whole experience was just awesome

That’s awesome. You mentioned the music video earlier, I know you also just announced the video for Mimosas. Are there any other videos planned or just those two?

K Carter: Me personally, I want to shoot a video of every song we’ve done, you know? I’m a video man. I love shooting videos, so I’ve got plenty of them. So I have no issues. I got ideas for every single song we’ve done. So as long as Tino is willing, we’ll do a video for all of them.

Tino: That’s one of the things I’ve learned from him is the video aspect of it cause normally, I shoot very few and far between with the music videos. But I’ve learned the value of it just from the from that that release of the Safe Money video release. Because, I mean, that thing got thousands of plays in just a few days just because people were excited to even see the collaboration, the first taste of that collaboration because we drop that like two weeks before the week before the album.

K. Carter and TINO – Mimosas

Now, with this album, was there a pressure you felt, coming at the tail end of a year with no live music, that you felt you needed to elevate anything or was it just being able to get in the studio and have a good time?

K Carter: You know it was a little of both. It was definitely fun. And like I said, the reason why it was fun is because, you know, me and Tino have a chemistry outside of music now. It seems weird because we met through music, but our chemistry is beyond that, if that makes sense. You know, we’re actually friends, if music was never a thing, me and Tino are friends. So that was always there so recording and doing songs with your friend that, you know, has no ego like Tino, I don’t ever say this to him, but he’s the freaking nicest person I think I’ve ever met my life.

So it was easy and just easy to work with, right? Um, so it was definitely fun, but there was a little bit of pressure. Not any pressure that had to do with 2020 or anything like that. It’s the pressure of this is our first time doing this. Its almost like an artist with your first release like, this one gotta work, you know? Because I want this to work, but I want people to receive it the way that we put our heart into it or whatever. And so I know for me personally as pressure on that and because like you said, the way we are separately, we’re kind of like two different artists in a way. But will this work putting it together, so there was pressure on seeing if that could work. But I’m happy we did it but I felt a little bit of both.

Tino: On my end. I feel like I don’t know. It was like, the writing process of it was so easy for me and like just bouncing ideas off of Kevin like that alleviated a lot of the pressure for me because like, normally I think, “Well how do I start this album?” or “What is the concept of the song? What’s the first bar here?” But I didn’t really have any of that writer’s block or anxiety that comes with the starting or creation of a song, because like he would have an idea and then like I could either build off of that or maybe the first line of something came real quick.

Like in Opulence, I had that hook, that “Get up out of here” that was always there, but I never knew what to write around that song. And then he came in with the idea of like, okay maybe we do it like this, and I was like, “Oh that’s perfect.” And when I finished that part and the beat switch hits, then we go into this like, Rick Ross, opulent flex mode. And so that part was simple for me. The only thing I feel pressure towards is the follow-up, because like the reception of the first one was so crazy, it’s like, “How you follow that up?” Especially being a duo.

Normally with me like as a solo artist, you can change it up a little bit because you don’t want to box yourself in. But man, I feel like Safe Money has to, like, expand and be a bigger thing and I’m worried about that. That’s where I feel the pressure in that in that aspect.

K Carter: And I agreed with him on that with that pressure right there because you got think, the reception we’re getting, off of just six songs, just six songs we did, you know, the reception for that has been crazy. So whenever we get back in the booth to another one, which we will, by the way, I don’t know if you knew that Tino. (Laughs) But whenever we do that, now there’s expectations.

Tino: It’s like, “Yeah, how do you top Mimosas?” Like people go crazy for Mimosas! Like Tyler was in the bar and he had several people come up to him and ask him, while he was working, “Who is this playing?” …while that song was playing. Including a guy I know, who I thought listened to the album, but he obviously did not (Laughs).

Image credit: TINO Facebook page

What was the expectation going into this project? Did you expect it to become a multiple release project or did you just want to do the first one and see what happens?

Tino: I mean, the first verse that I have on the album was our attempt to answer that “Is this one and done baby, who knows? Appreciate it while you can, you’re gettin the best from two pros.” We didn’t know if it was gonna work. But I feel like when we recorded it, that’s when we knew there was no way for us to not do another one. Like, even if wasn’t as well received as it has been, to us the music was magic when we were listening to it back in the studio, just rough mixes and stuff. It was like, “Oh, this is something right here.”

K Carter: I’m kind of the same with Tino. I think I went into it a little earlier thinking that, but I knew while writing with him, I wanted to do another one because of how easy it was; because of how he pushed me to become a better artist, to write differently, write better. For me, the studio session was just icing on the cake for it and like he said, we were thinking about how would the city receive this. But me personally, after the studio session, it wasn’t about that. It was about, what we just did was dope, and I wanted to do more of that. That was dope. And we were there like eight hours. And, I mean, we was writing, we rappin’, we laughin’, jokin’… just a great eight hours.

Tino: And this man was just coming off of gallstone surgery, and he was still in there laughing and rapping. And he was going to call off that day, because he was in so much pain. And he was like, “Nah, I’m not gonna let Tino down like that.” And he toughed it out. I watched him get out the car and I thought, “Oh nah bro, you can’t do this, it’s taking you 30 seconds to get up out your car seat!” But he toughed it out like a real champion. So I mean, his verses, the verses that he kicked on there, was while he’s in pain.

K Carter: Yeah, so I did a lot of one takes, so I didn’t really go back and do anything else. So what you heard was what I put in, in the studios. And, it was a key moment for me as an artist, as a person, and as a friend to Tino, as well. Because I knew how important it was, and I don’t want to let him down. Now Tino was already ready, saying “I’ll go in there and just knock mine out, and you come back, we can go back whenever you’re ready.” But I want this experience of us doing it together. At least first. If something happens in the future, then maybe, but at least this first experience, I wanted it to be something we do together.

So, I had to tough it out man. And even after I would rap and I go sit down, it was just pain, you know, because it’s all my stomach. So, every movement was pain, but once he said record, I had to suck it up.

Do either of you guys have any new solo stuff coming out or is the attention on Safe Money for right now.

K Carter: I’m about 70 percent done with my next solo album. So the one I just released and the next two after that are all kind of themed together, like a trilogy. So I’m already working on that and I’m hoping to be done with that by the end of summer, early fall.

Tino: On my end, I’ve got a band that I play with, Sidekick Complex, we’re probably gonna drop that EP at some point this year, as well as the full-length solo album that I’ve had done since 2019. But when the world went crazy I was like, “Well I don’t want to put this out, because I want to do a show.”

But I’ve come to realize over this time, it’s not necessary to have an album release show if you have support there, because we cleaned up on merch the other day, and I’ve never made nearly as much off of merch at a show as I did during that pop-up. So it’s just about finding innovative ways to get people excited about it. So I don’t want to sit on music that I could be putting out and then moving on from and then creating the next thing. So definitely going to put that out. And then I’m also working on two other EPs, one of which will also be dropping probably in the fall because it’s got a fall feel to it. So this year is going to be the most prolific year from me, as far as releases.

And have you played any live shows since things have slowly opened back up or are you just waiting for the Safe Money shows?

K Carter: I have a band as well called The Pack, and we performed at Tender Mercy last year. I’ve done a couple of live streams, just trying to find a way to still put music out there but also get people to see me so I’ve been trying to do some live streams. The biggest thing coming up will be For Dayton, By Dayton (a free, family-friendly community concert on June 12, 2021).

Tino: I haven’t done anything live. It’s weird with hip hop. Because hip hop has a certain energy, and it not something that I want to do where people have to sit at a table to experience it. I just want that vibe where we’re all together, so I’m just kind of waiting until we can get back to that. I have some shows that are tentative in the fall, but I’m really in “wait and see” mode, because I want to get back to doing things like they should be done.

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Safe Money can be found on all streaming services. If you’d like to purchase some merch or a physical copy of the EP, it’s available on Tino’s Bandcamp page.

Tino and K Carter will be performing together on Friday, May 14 at CD 92.9’s Big Room Bar live stream, and they will also be at the For Dayton, By Dayton Festival, a free, family-friendly community concert, the festival is organized by K Carter and highlights music, art, and culture from Dayton, Ohio. The festival will be June 12, 2021.

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