Meet the Musician: Tabi Bonney

The DC-raised emcee talks to “The Washingtonian” ahead of his Black Cat show this Friday.

By: Marcus Dowling

Photograph by Kyle Gustafson.

The roar of approval Tabi Bonney hears when he proclaims, “I’m from DC” while performing “Beat Rock” still amazes the hip-hop veteran. “It’s crazy, but I appreciate it,” Bonney says. “The world respects my hometown—and that’s wonderful.” Bonney comes to Black Cat this Friday for a hometown gig, showcasing tracks from his most recent album, 2011’s The Summer Years, and continuing his effort to maintain his local roots while increasing his international profile.

Bonney, the son of Afrofunk artist Itadi Bonney, was born in the West African nation of Togo but grew up in the District, drawing inspiration from what he describes as “the percussive vibe and raw culture of go-go,” particularly acts such as Rare Essence. “I loved the vibe of DC music,” Bonney says. “I wanted in. I didn’t know it was going to be through rap, but it ended up that way.” While in college, Bonney started the group Organized Rhyme (not to be confused with the better-known Tom Green–helmed Canadian rap group of the same name), which segued into his first album, A Fly Guy’s Theme, released in 2006.

After nearly a decade performing, Bonney remains an independent emcee, touring nationally. He also founded fashion line Bonney Runway and production company Cool Kids Forever Films, which has directed videos for fellow DC artist Wale, among others. Bonney recently collaborated with ex–Roc-A-Fella exec and hip-hop heavyweight Damon Dash on Dash’s DD172 media collective, an incubator for new artistic talent, resulting in some critically acclaimed mixtapes. “It’s wonderful,” Bonney says of working with Dash. “Damon works with me because he’s a fan.”

Not just adept at rhyming words, Bonney is also a man of letters. A graduate of Florida A&M University, he received his bachelor’s degree after successfully completing the school’s undergraduate biology/pre-med program, and also earned a master’s degree from the same school in biology and secondary education. But music, the local hip-hop scene in particular, is his first priority. “When I started my career, there weren’t too many other emcees who toured nationally,” Bonney says. “Wale was the only other one. So to get out and be able to succeed at rapping—it’s great to know that my success has had such a positive effect on so many others.”

Bonney recently cemented his local connections when he became a District homeowner, buying a house on Capitol Hill. “There’s nowhere like DC,” he says. “I’ve toured worldwide, and nothing compares to it.”

Tabi Bonney performs at the Black Cat this Friday, January 13. Tickets ($15) are available through Black Cat’s Web site.