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It’s easy to spot the photo of DJ 2-Tone Jones in the grid of framed snapshots on display at the Common Share Tavern. Among photos of tipsy girls wearing toothy smiles and dudes taking body shots off random torsos, he’s the guy too focused on his turntables to be distracted by the camera’s flash. For the 27-year-old LeDroit Park resident, it’s a portrait of him in his comfort zone.
“That’s the one place I get to play whatever I like,” 2-Tone (aka Lester Wallace) says of the venue that hosts his monthly “Artz & Craftz” night. “My ideal crowd is one that isn’t quick to turn their head when they hear something they haven’t heard before.”
On Feb. 7, the Adams Morgan dive bar will also host the release party for 2-Tone’s latest mix tape, Black Gold, a collaboration with Nigerian-born MC-producer Wale Oyejide (not to be confused with emerging local rapper Wale). The idea behind the mix is simple enough: Take some of the most popular hits on urban radio and run the a cappella vocal tracks over the energetic, percussive rhythms of Afrobeat.
“I’ve always been a fan of rare groove, funk and soul, but when I first started picking up on Afrobeat, I thought, This is it,” 2-Tone says. “It gives [the song] a completely different feel.” The mashups on Black Gold throw a passel of recent radio staples into a moodier, funkier light: Nas spits over fluid West African guitar riffs, Kelis gets bossy to a skittery beat, and Lil’ Jon guzzles Patrón from his pimp cup at Fela Kuti’s shrine.
For 2-Tone, the mix tape evokes something that he strives for in all of his work: the meshing of disparate musical ideas. “I think it helps bridge the gap between independent underground music with mainstream music,” he says. “I’m not a big fan of everything on the radio—but if they tweaked this or that, it could appeal across the board to both communities.”
Of the 18 tracks on Black Gold, perhaps none proves that point as strongly as the mix of Yung Joc’s “It’s Goin’ Down.” Boastful and brazen in its original form, the 2006 summer jam sounds almost plaintive in 2-Tone’s hands as he drapes the Georgia rapper’s drawl over a loping track Oyejide created from samples and original live instrumentation.
“I still think the original is a garbage song,” 2-Tone says. “But I started to enjoy hearing the lyrics over the Wale track.”
2-Tone and Oyejide met years ago while attending Morehouse College in Atlanta. Upon graduating in 2001, 2-Tone moved to D.C. to pursue a graduate degree in international affairs. He stayed in touch with another Morehouse buddy, Chris Craft, who was starting a record label. These days, both 2-Tone and Oyejide record for Craft’s Shaman Work Recordings.
“He’s a musician,” Oyejide says in praise of 2-Tone’s skills. “A lot of people in hip-hop—from DJs to producers to MCs—are not too aware of musicianship and songwriting itself. I have tons of respect for him.”
He’s also a teacher, a nonprofit worker, and an Internet radio jock. When he isn’t teaching DJ classes at District charter school Sun Ra’s Academy, 2-Tone’s putting in hours with a nonprofit organization called Words, Beats, and Life Incorporated—an after-school program at Benning Park Recreational Center. Once a month he hosts an Internet radio show on the Japanese Web site samurai.fm, co-hosted by Craft. “With our first show,” he says, “within 24 hours we had gotten different e-mails from other radio sites asking to syndicate our [program].” Unfortunately, he adds, “[w]ith Chris’ and my schedule, it’s hard for us to find time to link up together.”
Indeed—between the five to 10 gigs 2-Tone gets each month, his regular job, and all his extracurricular activities—it’s a wonder that the vinyl-only DJ’s head isn’t constantly spinning like one of the wax records he insists on using during his live sets. If time management is an issue in his professional life, however, the same can’t be said for his onstage performances.
“The best thing for DJs about Afrobeat [is]…on average, the songs are, like, six to 10 minutes,” 2-Tone says. “It definitely helps give me a break.”