In Brian Coleman’s liner notes for the 2010 Get On Down reissue of Common’s Resurrection, producer No I.D. (aka Dion Wilson) talked about his early collaborator, the Twilite Tone, who was also Common’s DJ. Specifically he credited Tone, born Anthony Khan, for helping catalyze the growth of Chicago’s hip-hop community in the late 80s and early 90s: “Tone was a house DJ, too, and he took what he got from the house scene and started his own hip-hop scene,” No I.D. said. Some of Tone’s creative partners from those days have since become household names: No I.D. is an executive vice president for the Capitol Music Group, where he gave Jay-Z’s career a kick in the pants by serving as an executive producer on 2017’s 4:44, while Common is the only Oscar winner to perform at the 2020 Democratic National Convention and play a critical role in John Wick 2. Tone’s influence on pop culture has been a little more under the radar: in 2017, for instance, he coproduced Humanz, the first album in seven years from animated pop supergroup Gorillaz.
The Twilite Tone’s diverse contributions to that polymorphous record foreshadow the genre-crossing fluidity of his new solo debut, The Clearing (Stones Throw). In a recent interview for Gary Suarez’s hip-hop newsletter, Cabbages, he explained that he prefers to say his music “transcends genre.” Tone’s approach dovetails with that of Chicago’s beat scene, whose adherents refract sounds from across pop history through a hip-hop lens. Before the pandemic, Tone regularly spun records around Chicago with other open-minded, omnivorous DJs, including local nightlife leader and DJ Dave Mata, who connected him to Stones Throw founder Peanut Butter Wolf. Tone’s even-keeled but animated production work on The Clearing enlivens its most relaxed moments and smooths the edges of its loudest passages. He delicately transforms the sparse adult-contemporary piano melody at the heart of “Baby Steps” by layering on rococo percussion and funk bass, and his restraint makes the song’s florid awakening arrive with a euphoric kick. v