Interview: Tony Sunshine: Terror Squad, Loyalty, and History
If you know anything about Tony Sunshine’s career, you’ll know he came up with Big Pun in the Terror Squad and had a handful of hit singles over the years but was never able to follow up with a debut album. The average music fan won’t always get a chance to see the politics going on behind the scenes that affect the career of artists and hinder them from releasing music. YouKnowIGotSoul got a chance to sit down with Tony Sunshine not only to uncover the mystery behind his career, but also to take us through some of the history behind his music. We also discuss his new label situation, how he plans to release his album on his own, and his new single “Downfall”.
YouKnowIGotSoul: Take us back to when you first originally met Big Pun and how he brought you into the Terror Squad?
Tony Sunshine: Well I wouldn’t say he brought me into the Terror Squad. Terror Squad was always a neighborhood family, some of us were older than others. I was sort of like the baby in the crew. Somewhere along the line, Pun came along and he started hanging out in the neighborhood, he came from a few blocks away, him and Cuban Link. I was always singing. Everybody in the neighborhood always knew me for singing and they would always come up to me and ask me to sing something; they used to call me “r&b”. Pun used to play basketball and all of that on the courts and he’d be around and nobody really knew that he rapped. I was already hanging out with [Fat] Joe. Joe used to take me with him to Relativity Records when Relativity was around and he used to take me with him to Video Music Box. I would go along to outdoor events with him and things like that. I was young, I was at a young age and my mother was really strict so I wasn’t really allowed to do too many things. I had a curfew and I had to be home at a certain time. I’m talking about I was like 12 or 13. As years went along, in the neighborhood, Pun, Cuban, Triple Seis, they had a crew called Full-A-Clipse. Joe was doing his own thing, he was working on the second album, Little Hec and Flex brought Pun to the attention of Joe. It took Joe some time to really take interest in what Pun was doing but Pun was hot. It was undeniable the skills that Pun had and nobody really knew that he would be able to pull the rabbit out of the hat. Pun jumped on Joe’s album, things got hot for him, he sorta blew up overnight, he got his deal. He always promised some of us in the hood that if he blew up, he would come back and put us on. He kept his word. As time went by, he blew up, he did his thing on his first album and he came to the hood looking for me. He told me to go with him on tour and I went with him, I became his hype man. I went all over the world with him and we started a production company ourselves called L.G.P. (“Latin’s Going Platinum”)/Foundation. During the process of that, Pun passed away. Joe sorta like took over the situation as far as me and Remy went, he took us under his wing and got us some deals and that’s pretty much it.
YouKnowIGotSoul: Take me back to some of your earliest recordings back when you were on the first Terror Squad album, and also on Big Pun’s “Yeaaah Baby” album and Cuban Link’s “24K” album.
Tony Sunshine: We’ll say the first Terror Squad album, I wasn’t really signed to Terror Squad yet. When we talk about Terror Squad like I said, we’re talkin about a neighborhood family, a group of guys that grew up together with a football team, a graffiti crew, a break dancing crew. Throughout the years it was numerous amounts of different things until it evolved into the music. I pretty much have always been a part of Terror Squad, I’m a product of that, but as far as being signed to the production company, that came years later. Now we did the first Terror Squad album, I wasn’t really on the cover of the album or was I really a part of any of the records but they allowed me to do a track on the album called “My Kinda Girls”. It was really provocative and sorta hardcore which wasn’t really what I wanted to do but at the present time I was open to do whatever I had to do to get myself heard and get people to notice my talents. So I did the record called “My Kinda Girls” and I was happy being a part of the album but it really wasn’t what I wanted to do. It wasn’t who Tony was, it wasn’t my preference of music. For a long time, that’s what people knew me as, the hardcore r&b singer. I grew up in the hood and I’m from the hood and I got a certain way I walk and talk and a certain way I was raised. At the end of the day, I’m an r&b singer, I’m a lover, not a fighter. Now that I’m making the music I want to make, it’s sort of been hard because it’s new to people’s ears. When I did the “She’s Like the Wind” record, I got a lot of love and a lot of good feedback, but I also got a lot of negative feedback because that’s not what the streets wanted me to do or expected. They were expecting more of a shoot em up, bang bang, Nate Dogg situation. I was pretty happy with the “She’s Like the Wind” record because I felt like I actually got a chance to let people hear my full potential and my talent, like “The kid can really sing, he’s not just the kid who sings hooks, he’s not just the guy from the Terror Squad hooks”. It’s been pretty hard breaking those barriers and making the transition into who I want to be, who I really am.
YouKnowIGotSoul: Over the years I always read articles where people were stating certain labels didn’t know what to do with you or what type of music to have come out from you. Do you think that has hindered you over your career?
Tony Sunshine: I think that the whole Terror Squad thing, just being the whole r&b singer within a hardcore rap group and not really being able to do what I wanted to do and how I wanted to be heard. Pretty much I was always directed what to do. I was always given an idea of what they wanted me to do so I never really got the chance to draw the picture I wanted to do.
YouKnowIGotSoul: I always wondered what type of music you preferred performing because I’ve heard you do pure r&b, reggaeton, street r&b, even rapping.
Tony Sunshine: I’m flexible, I’m not one sided. I’m not afraid to think outside the box and I’m not afraid to experiment with different types of music. I’m a music lover, I listen to all kinds of music, opera, classic; there’s no limit to what I can do when it comes to music. I always say that I’m not too fond of making hardcore records anymore. That’s not really who I am. Like I said, I come from the streets and yea I’ve had my share of troubles coming up and every now and then I get myself into a little trouble, everybody does. I’m an r&b singer, I like to sing soulful music, I like to sing songs that people can appreciate, I want to make timeless music, I want to make a classic album. For those people who are expecting the shoot em up bang bang r&b records, that’s not what I’m bringing to the table. I’m finally going to be able to bring Tony to the table. Not Tony Sunshine from the Terror Squad, just Tony. We might have a little something on the album for those people who need something to jam to while they’re driving, but I want to make heartfelt music. I want to show people that I really can sing and I’m really a musician, I’m not a made up artist. I’m not a dude that goes in the studio and uses all kinds of mechanical things on my vocals. I really can sing and that’s what I want to show the world. Being signed to these labels, I wouldn’t say that they didn’t know what to do with me, I would just say that a lot of politics got in the way, a lot of egos, a lot of people who just wanted to throw their weight around and show who the boss was. When you’re dealing with other people’s money, nobody wants to deal with a headache, nobody wants to feel like they’re investing in something and they’re not going to get back what they feel they deserve in return and I gotta respect that. I’ve had numerous amounts of deals, we’re talking almost nine major record deals. I’ve been signed to every company there is. If I wasn’t talented and I wasn’t here to make music… i’ve been blessed, God has blessed me, God has definitely blessed me and I’m definitely grateful. The situations keep coming. I guess that’s just a blessing from God when you’re a good person and you keep it real with those around you, God blesses you. I’ve been fortunate enough to lose a deal here, and gain another one two to three weeks later. I lose a deal over here due to politics, due to bad company and ego trips, and I’ll get another deal two to three months later. It’s sort of been like a pattern, every time my album gets ready to come out or is in the middle of being mixed and mastered, I’ll get a phone call from a label rep or even the CEO to come in and have a meeting. They’ll break down to me what the problem is and why they don’t want to deal with it. “Tony, we love you, we know you’re a talented individual, we know what you’re going to bring to the table, we know what you can do to the game, but is there any way possible that we can move forward without your company being involved.” You know I was always a loyal individual, so what I would do is just say “I appreciate you guys, thank you for everything, but I’m moving along with my family.” That sort of became a pattern to one day I just couldn’t take it anymore. I pretty much gave it my all, I stood loyal for a pretty long time until I finally couldn’t take it anymore. Here I am today finally on my own, finally being able to do what Tony wants to do. I hope the fans are ready for what I’m bringing to the table and I hope they’re happy with it because I’m giving it my all.
YouKnowIGotSoul: Before I talk more about your current situation, I just want to get a little more history from you. Take me back to 2002 after Pun had passed and your single “T.O.N.Y.” came out and you were on Fat Joe’s “Loyalty” album for four songs. Eventually “Grey Goose” came out and made a splash on the radio. Take me back to that era.
Tony Sunshine: I was living man. I had a crazy buzz, all kinds of great producers and companies were looking for me, I was getting money, I was living well. I was definitely appreciative and the pattern kicked in. “Grey Goose” was a great record for me because it gave me a chance to sing but it was also like a crossover street record. You could play it in the clubs, the girls liked it, the dudes loved it, but at the same time I had fun with it because I actually sang on that record. I sang on “T.O.N.Y.” too but that was a street record. Not to say that I didn’t enjoy that, but I’m just saying that it’s not really what I wanted to do. It’s kinda rough being in a lane where you classified as the Latino/hardcore/r&b singer and you don’t want to be looked at that way, you just want to be looked at as an r&b singer and a musician. I was sitting next to Pun when he was doing an interview and the interviewer asked him “Yo Pun, how do you feel being the Latino rapper?” Pun was like “Latino rapper? What do you mean? I’m a rapper. When you go to the record store to buy Biggie’s album, you don’t say ‘Let me get the Jamaican rapper’s album, when you go buy Usher’s album, you don’t say ‘Let me get the African American r&b singer’s album’”. That’s how he wanted to be looked at and that’s how I want to be looked at. At the time, it was kinda hard for me just being stuck in limbo. The record company didn’t know what to do, I was surrounded by bad company, I was forced to play the shadow all of the time. Then here, you’ve got Usher and you’ve got Justin Timberlake and you’ve got all of these great artists doing what I wanted to do and how I wanted to do it. I knew that that’s what I could do, I knew that I could go toe to toe with these dudes but I wasn’t able to because the label is telling me that’s not what they want from me. So what do you do? You do what you have to do in order to get in through the door and hope that you can get enough recognition to finally say “enough is enough, this is what I’m going to do now”. It’s been rough.
YouKnowIGotSoul: In the years following that, you had “Oh My God” which was a big single for you.
Tony Sunshine: I loved “Oh My God” as well, that was a great record for me because I actually got to sing on that as well. Puff was involved in the record and Puff loved the record, he was pushing to shoot the video. You know Puff is too busy for anybody so for Puff to even be on the record and then really be pushing to say “Yo this is a great record, I’ll even be involved in the video” was big for me. They were just taking so long, there was just so much bullshit involved and so many excuses and so much emotions running through my body and my mind was going crazy because I couldn’t understand. We had a great record, heavy rotation, people love it, let’s just shoot the video and let’s just run with it. It’s either now or never. That pretty much happened with every record I put out from “T.O.N.Y.” to “Grey Goose” to “Oh My God”. We had a great record but no video and no follow up. What were we doing? Pretty much every label I signed to I made sure that I gave them great music even though my heart wasn’t fully into it, but I made sure that I gave it my all anyway to make sure that they were happy. I made it my business to go in the studio and work and make sure that work was done. Any label that you will go to and speak about Tony, they will tell you that “Yo the kid is awesome, he works, it’s not like he’s a lazy kid.” Never shot the video, never had a follow up.
YouKnowIGotSoul: Another song I heard around that time was the song you had with R. Kelly “Everywhere I Go”. Was that from that same period?
Tony Sunshine: Yea, that was when I was signed to Jive.
YouKnowIGotSoul: Was that a song you’d say was the style you liked?
Tony Sunshine: Pretty much R. Kelly is one of my idols. I think that he’s such an incredible artist, he’s one of the greats regardless of what his personal life is like. I supported him 100% when everyone was kicking him down, I love R. Kelly, I’ve got all of his albums, I study him. Again, I was excited to know that we were going to Chicago to meet with him and I was going to sit down with one of my idols and get a record from him. It didn’t happen that way. We went to Chicago, we went to the Chocolate Factory, and Kelly is a busy dude, he writes for a lot of people and he’s got his own career. He was pretty much busy and he wasn’t able to come down and meet with us. We spent two days in Chicago waiting on him and never got to really sit with him at that time and pick a record myself or give him an idea of what I wanted to do. I didn’t pick the record, but I heard through the grapevine that Kelly had said that this was it, this was a magical record, this is what people want to hear right now, this is hot. I went ahead and recorded the joint and it was leaked out and never really got put out. It’s not even mixed or mastered, it’s just somebody leaked it out. A lot of people ask for the record, they think it’s a great record. I think the whole idea of being able to record a record that R. Kelly wrote is highly appreciated, I’m grateful and I thank God that I got to record a record that a musical genius wrote. How many individuals can say that? Was I happy with the record? I can’t say that. I’m grateful and I’m honored, but I wasn’t happy with the record because I wanted one of them baby making love joints. I wanted to sing. If Kelly was going to write me a record, I wanted to smash it, that was it. It wasn’t it. Then I recorded the record, then about three weeks later I’m watching BET, and I hear these young kids, I forgot their name [ATL], and Kelly had wrote them a record. The record was so similar, the wordplay and the melody and surrounded by pretty girls, it was crazy to me. Not only was it a record that I didn’t want to record, but it was a record that was so similar to something that he had given somebody else. Again, I was honored and grateful and I thank God for that, but it was like “Wow”.
YouKnowIGotSoul: Then a few years later you had “She’s Like the Wind” with Lumidee.
Tony Sunshine: I was ecstatic with “She’s Like the Wind”. That was a record I was extremely happy with. When the idea was presented to me by Lumidee and her management, I was ecstatic, I was extremely happy with the record because I was able to perform on that record and show my talent. A lot of things were edited from that record. I wasn’t able to go to the mixdown because I was recording my album and also on tour with Joe, going back and forth. The record is crazy, I was happy with the record and the mix, I just felt like a lot of things that I did on the record shouldn’t have been edited performance wise. That’s a record for me that I was extremely happy with and I feel like it was a highlight in my career. I’m grateful that Lumidee brought that to the table. TVT treated me good, they paid me well for the record, we did the Spanish version, they paid me well for that, we did the video, they treated me well for that. TVT was the last label I was going to sign to. We sat down, that was when Steve Gottleib had it, they were on fire, they had Pitbull and a lot of different artists doing big things. Right before TVT folded, we sat down and we spoke. Steve Gottleib made it clear that he did some research, he sat with all of the companies I was with and he was the one that actually opened my eyes to the pattern that was going on with my career. He was like “You know I don’t want to deal with this, I’m ready to give you whatever you want, I think you’re that talented, I’ll go after whoever you want me to go after, but you have to sign directly to us, you gotta make a decision whether you wanna keep going through the pattern or you wanna sign to this company and you want to move on with your career.” While I was going through the motions and trying to make up my mind on what I was going to do, TVT actually folded. It was sort of like a blessing, at the same time it was a curse. What I did was I signed to an indie, UBO (Urban Box Office) and again it’s like a curse. The album is getting ready to be mixed and mastered and they folded. It’s just crazy, my career has just been like out of control. I get a deal, due to politics and the nonsense that goes on behind the scenes and things that are out of your reach, things that you’re not capable of controlling, the deal goes sour, God blesses me with another situation and that situation goes sour. Either due to bad politics and bad business, the situation doesn’t go the way it’s supposed to, or the label folds. My first deal at Loud, they folded. Jive was bad politics. Epic was bad politics. UBO folded. TVT folded. Finally we are here, CutZone/Riot Town which is my company as well as my partners. I’m finally going to be able to do what I want to do, how I want to do it. This time if it doesn’t work out, I can’t point the finger at anybody else but me. This time it will be my fault.
YouKnowIGotSoul: Another situation I wanted to ask you about is a couple of years back when you signed onto Ruff Ryders Management and you had the single “Say Hey” with Swizz Beatz. What was that whole situation?
Tony Sunshine: Working with them was great, they’re good people. Dee is a good dude. Working with the Ruff Ryders was good. I really didn’t sign to Ruff Ryders, it was Left Field Entertainment. Ruff Ryders was affiliated and I got to work with Swizz and I also recorded out of the Ruff Ryders studio and I was also around some of the Ruff Ryders artists. Pretty much you’ve gotta look at it like this, we all came up together. Coming up it was Roc-A-Fella, Ruff Ryders and Terror Squad in my era. We were always all on tour together, we slept in the same hotels and we shared the same stages. These are people that I’ve been around for a numerous amount of years, I feel like we’re family. Sometimes you gotta do what you gotta do for you. I can say for the majority of my career, I’ve always put everybody else before me. I’ve always done what was good for everybody else. I’ve always thought about everybody else’s feelings and how everybody else’s life was going to be if I didn’t do what I needed to do for the company. I want to be loyal and want to keep it real, that’s my thing. I feel like at the end of the day when I wake up in the morning, I can look at myself in the mirror and know that I’m a man and I keep it real with those individuals around me. I keep my word and I do what I say I’m going to do until I feel like you’re not doing what you’ve got to do. I hate broken promises man. I’m not saying that they gave me any broken promises, I’m just speaking in general. That’s what it is, my career has just been full of broken promises and bad politics and bullshit. Here I am today, basically trying to be Tony, just trying to reach out to the fans and the people that have been standing by me and have been loyal and patiently waiting for Tony. I promise and solemnly swear that I’m going to give you my all. I’m not going to give you 100%, I’m not going to give you 150%, I’m going to give you 200%. I’m going to give you who I am and just hope for the best and pray that the fans embrace it. This time I’m doing Tony.
YouKnowIGotSoul: Talk about the new single you’ve got out “Downfall” and talk about when we can expect the new album.
Tony Sunshine: “Downfall” you can get on iTunes. You can get more info about the record on my Twitter or Facebook, TonySunshine858 on both. That’s a record that I felt I had to get off of my chest, pretty much all of the things I’ve been going through. There’s a point in my life where I made a lot of mistakes dealing with myself. I had to correct them, I had to get up and be a man and say “You’re not doing the right thing, you’re killing yourself.” I made some mistakes and I did things that I shouldn’t be doing, but I’m only human. Experimenting with a little bit of this and a little bit of that and I found myself in a dark place where I didn’t want to be anymore and I had to climb out of that hole and I’m still climbing out. But I’m only human. I’ve been through a lot in my career and I’ve just been through a lot in life in general. I’m not using that as an excuse to say this is why I did what I did or I’m doing what I’m doing, but this record here is just a metaphor for those individuals who’ve been through similar situations are going to catch onto what I’m speaking about. It’s just a metaphor for anyone out there who’s been in an abusive relationship or had alcohol or drug problems or just a downfall period. I want to be the voice and show you that we can get out of that. This is just a metaphor for those who can’t speak for themselves or are afraid. The record is entitled “Downfall” and I love the record. It came from the heart and hopefully everyone else loved the record.
YouKnowIGotSoul: Anything you’d like to add?
Tony Sunshine: To all of the fans out there, I love yall, thank you for being patient. Like I said, I’m going to try my best to give yall me, Tony Sunshine, Top of New York.