Tone Royal

Tone Royal: “Alone” (feat. Daddy NAT)

When rappers claim to be “the best on the mic”, they’re talking about verbal skills, not their technical prowess with any specific equipment. Clearly that’s the case, since you’ll see those same people spend a whole set cupping the SM58 ’cause it turns out their mic technique actually sucks.

But in terms of intimate familiarity with spoken vocal performance, be it in the studio tracking voice overs, in the stadium making announcements, or onstage ripping up a show, few Central Texas figures rack up to the orator that is Ray Villarreal, better known as Tone Royal. Because between his home recording, sports work, and hip-hop side hustle there’s no such thing as an off-season for Tone. A slayer of sibilance and preventer of plosives, the San Antonio native also happens to have wealth in the ways of lyrical wordplay, as we’ve heard intermittently over the past decade.

On last Friday’s “Alone”, Tone Royal finds himself in good company with forlorn ’80s synths and a ’90s boom bap shuffle, not to mention Austin’s Daddy NAT gracing the hook with some sultry refrains. All in all, “Alone” would sound right at home in between Notorious B.I.G.’s “Juicy” and 2Pac’s “Only God Can Judge Me” thanks to those retro qualities, and yeah…Tone’s undying affinity for putting himself in front of the mic and unleashing the rhymes.

Tone Royal: “Nick at Nite”

If you’ve attended your fair share of hip-hop shows, this has happened to you at least once. You discover a new rapper, fall in love with their music, and seize an opportunity to see them live. But right after they take the stage, they inexplicably start cupping the mic, distorting their once-intelligible lyrics into gobbledygook. It can really put a damper on things, even when they’re clearly giving it their all. So when you watch a seasoned emcee prove their worth as a “mic controller” in what could’ve quickly become a garbled cacophony, it’s refreshing as hell.

Considering Ray Villareal’s various public-facing side hustles – as an esteemed stadium sports announcer (for NCAA, UT, and beyond), frequent Double Toasted Bites podcast contributor, or as an outspoken pal determined to buy a round of Buds for the whole bar – it makes sense that Tone Royal treats microphones with a lot of technical understanding and respect. Tomorrow night, the San Antonio-raised, Austin-based vocalist assumes the headlining throne for Empire Control Room’s all-ages “Slow Roasted” 4/20 showcase, preceded by openers MCs Unknown, Shrt_lyf, Daddy Nat, and ZC3, all alongside DJ Buck Rodgers.

This morning Tone Royal sparked up the anticipation with his first single since last August’s “I Hate You”. While the straight-laced often associate 3AM with the witching hour, lonely partakers of the herbal persuasion can relate to the red-eyed reflections and retro re-runs that reside shortly before the day’s first 4:20. Somewhere between a modern torch song and a blunt-rolling bop, Nick at Nite picks up where Passion Pit and Timmy Trumpet left off with a fresh interpolation of Mary O’Hara’s “Óró Mo Bháidín” baking under hazy sax in the background. Tone Royal’s trademark laid back swagger (on both the studio and live version of “Nick at Nite”) has us begging for a full-band full-length follow-up to 2018’s Late some time in the near future, but until then, we’re just fine with putting the remote in the freezer and letting the dial collect dust.