With this week's debut of his Tommy Boy coming-out party, "The Piece Maker," the self-professed "Taino Turntable Terrorist" is armed and ready to set the world on fire with his party-starting jams. To street-centric clubgoers, mix-tape collectors and hip-hop heads, the MC/DJ/B-boy/remixer/producer is already part of their program. Now it's time for the rest of the world to get in Touch.
It's payoff time for Tony Touch, now that years of hard work and relentless self-promotion have brought his formidable talents to the forefront. His street cred is rock-solid. His music-industry might continues to grow, with top-name artists begging for his Touch.
So what makes the Terrorist tick?
"I am full-blooded Taino Puerto Rican," says Touch, 30, of his colorful heritage. "Puerto Rican people are made up of Taino Indian, African and Spaniards. ... We're a mixed people. So on the album you see me representing, not that I'm Puerto Rican, but that I'm Indian. We're a lost people ... a lot of Puerto Ricans don't even realize they have Indian background, you know? I'm trying to bring that to life."
In proud celebration, Touch wears a traditional Taino headdress and facepaint on the cover of The Piece Maker. It is a tasteful nod to his rich history. "I feel that it's my responsibility to raise awareness that we're not extinct," he says.
And he is for real: Touch has already released in Puerto Rico a handful of successful albums of Spanish reggae on his own Touch Entertainment label, including "Guatauba," which teamed five of the biggest names in the genre. "That's the music coming from the island," he says of the emerging format.
Orlando got its first taste of Touch -- a.k.a. Joseph Anthony Hernandez -- in 1984, when the Brooklyn-born and -raised 15-year-old relocated here, bringing with him breakdance skills learned on the streets and clubs of New York. "We were one of the first party-throwers out there," says Touch. "We used to rent out the banquet rooms at the Roadway Inn on O.B.T. ... all the different hotels throughout the city, back in '85."
Though Touch now resides in New York, he still has strong ties to his "second home," including co-ownership in Nelquan's Touch, a "hip-hop barbershop" on North Goldenrod Road. And he still makes visits to local nightclubs, like Volcano.
"I was basically one of the first B-boys out there," Touch says about his early backspin, uprock and boogie days. "One of the clubs taking off was Electric Avenue on Amelia Street. That was the hip-hop spot back in the days. I used to be up in there breakin'. We had crews back then, Night Force and HBO [Home Boys Only]. I started off B-boying out there, then I was part of a group called IROC Nasty -- I was the emcee of the group."
Touch, who by day attended Evans High School, later graduating from West Orange and attending Valencia Community College, quickly established himself as one of the top MCs on the local scene. Eventually, IROC Nasty drifted apart, leaving Touch time to explore his new love: the turntables. "I had a friend of mine lend me some turntables ... after that it was over, man, I let it go."
He again started to throw his own parties in 1986, which eventually landed him a high-profile DJ gig at Pandemonium skating rink in Pine Hills. Touch's nonstop efforts paid off with spot radio appearances on long-gone pop-radio outlet BJ105-FM, among others.
Armed with his newfound DJ skills, Touch headed back to New York in winter 1987. Once there, he got a job at a bank and an on-the-side gig road-managing acts like The Cover Girls. After a few years, Touch unleashed his first mix tape, "Rap #1." (He still numbers his mix tapes so "you will know what you missed if you are a collector.") From there, the mix tapes took off and the DJ gigs started rolling in. He was a full-time DJ by 1991. Touch credits his world domination to his time spent in New York, "the mecca of everything."
"People come to New York, they buy [my mix tape] and take it back to wherever they're from," says the street-savvy beat-keeper. "Mix tapes ... DJs ... play an important role in the streets regarding breaking new music -- we are like the middleman between the streets and the record labels."
By 1996, the Don of the decks had accumulated so much street cred that he could assemble 50 top-name DJs to perform freestyles on his landmark mix-tape trilogy, 50 Emcees: Power Cypha Pt. 1, 2 and 3 (available at www.tonytouch.com). The unprecedented nature of the project took the underground by storm, forced the industry to take notice and quickly cemented Touch's status as a legend among hip-hop circles.
About two years ago, Touch unleashed the self-financed Rican-Struction EP, on his own imprint. The disc, which featured contributions from DJ Muggs and P.F. Cuttin', highlighted Touch's still-formidable MC skills, which appeared only occasionally on his mix tapes. "It was like my reintroduction to the world as an MC," says Touch of his bilingual joint.
Lyrical junkies reacted well to Touch's solid, party-friendly flow: The record sold nearly 15,000 copies. Another ground-breaking project was "The Five Deadly Venoms of Brooklyn" cassette, a jazz-style showcase of turntable wizardry that saw Touch teaming up with DJs Premier, Evil Dee, Mister Cee and P.F. Cuttin'.
On "The Piece Maker," Touch grabs the mike a few times, but his rhymes are easily overshadowed by those of his guests, a parade of A-list MCs, producers and DJs. Rather, the CD stands as a monument to Touch's relentless networking. A project of this magnitude could have easily been a disaster, but with Touch at the helm, it is a flawless -- and funky -- hip-hop hooray of the highest order.
The off-the-hook disc -- a joint venture between Touch Entertainment and the major imprint Tommy Boy -- plays like a favorite mix tape, one loaded with all-new, original material by heavy-hitters like Eminem, Cypress Hill, Wu-Tang Clan, Gang Starr, Kid Capri, KRS-One, Big Daddy Kane, Mobb Deep and the late Big Pun, among many others.
Keeping with his groundbreaking ways, "The Piece Maker" is the first of its kind to offer consumers interactivity with PCDJ's Phat Player software. The technology allows Tony's fans to remix tracks and act as a cyber DJ.
Tony Touch, always on top, always ahead of the pack.
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