Tony Touch has dropped some legendary mixtapes over his two-decade-plus career. After his three-part 50 MC’s series during the late '90s and Piece Maker I and II that dropped in 2000 and 2004, respectfully, the mega DJ, producer and occasional rhymer has worked with some pretty major artists. Touch is set to release Piece Maker 3 (50 MC's Reunion) on July 9, which will double as Toca's 100th mixtape—that's right, triple digits—but this tape is no ordinary project. This time around, he's infused his two mixtape brands, Piece Maker and 50 MC's, into one huge project. "I feel there is a really strong demand for it, so I thought the Piece Maker III was perfect right now," he said. "People are thirsty for some real rap shit, more substance, lyrical content and beats that have that authentic New York sound."

Tony Toca's storied background in hip-hop culture began with him as a b-boy in the early '80s and has encompassed contributions from a collection of celebrated lyricists ranging from both old and new generations over the many years that have followed. On this new project, you get to hear tracks with collaborations from artists such as Busta Rhymes, M.O.P., Sean Price, Black Thought, The LOX, Raekwon, Ghostface Killah, Action Bronson, Twista, Bun B, KRS-One, Fat Joe, Redman, N.O.R.E, Slaughterhouse and Eminem. The DJ—whose real name is Joseph Anthony Hernandez—swung by the XXL offices to discuss his new project, the history behind his mixtape series, why he chose to drop a tape now and his favorite artist that he's worked with over the years.—Emmanuel Maduakolam (@ECM_LP)

XXL: I just want to get a short background on you for the young people who may not know your history in hip-hop.

Tony Touch: I started putting out mixtapes here in New York in the early '90s, ’91, ’92. It wasn’t until ’96 that I did my first 50 MC’s mixtape. It was actually my 50th hip-hop tape, so I presented it as an anniversary tape. It was pretty groundbreaking, opened up a lot of doors for me, and [I got] a lot of notoriety off of that. [It] featured artists like KRS and Onyx and Boot Camp Clik and stuff like that. Guru was on the first one as well. So once that came out, that’s when the ball started rolling, [I] started getting booked overseas and everything just took off. Everything stems from the mixtape movement.

My mixtapes are always numbered so it’s easy for people to follow and keep up in case they were missing any volumes. So when I got to no. 50, that became the first 50 MC’s—mixtape no. 50. And ironically this is actually my 100th mixtape as well.

Oh wow.

That’s how I’m presenting it as well. It’s mixtape 100, the Piece Maker III, Return of the 50 MC’s—there were actually three titles to this project. And the inspiration again just comes from, you know, grassroots hip-hop, the New York sound. I took it back to the original, the whole cypher, MCs just getting together, spitting, just straight lyrics. I got a radio show on Shade 45 every Tuesday, been there for about eight years, [and] I’m always getting artists to come up and freestyle on the show every week, and people seem to be into it. We throw them up on YouTube, every year we do the best of’s, and the response has been great, so I felt people are into that whole thing. Like when BET does their BET Awards, the cyphers [are] the most anticipated part of the show. People just want to see motherfuckers freestyling, going hard, spitting. It’s been eight years with the station, and shout out to Eminem and Paul Rosenberg and those guys, I secured that and it’s been full speed ever since.

One of the campaigns I did for this mixtape was, 50 days prior to the album dropping, I committed to virally dropping 50 webisodes, small 5-10 minute clips of footage I collected over the years. I was a camcorder fanatic since the early ’90s, and I documented a lot of my sessions and studio with guys and tours and shit. I’m posting 50 webisodes for the 50 MCs, [and] we’re about halfway there, with 25-26 days until the album comes out. You can kind of catch the timeline of my come-up with all these artists I work with.

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With the mixtape, you felt like hip-hop was ready to come back to a deep lyrics, hardcore, really nitty-gritty tape?

It’s totally against the grain of what’s happening now; there is a demand for people who just want to hear lyrics instead of hooks. Now everything on the radio is all centered around choruses and hooks, and I just went the other direction. I tried to be a little different with what’s happening, and my career has never really been built on radio hits anyway, so it’s not like I’m going out of my lane. People know me for that underground, gritty rap stuff, so I just stayed in my lane with that.

You have Rah Digga, Busta, M.O.P., Too $hort, Action Bronson, Willie The Kid; how was it collecting all the artists for this tape?

It took [the] longest out of any project I’ve ever done, whether it was the Piece Maker albums or 50 MC’s; it took me almost two years to put together. It was a little time consuming but not difficult. Just getting the right beats and, you know, as far as the artists are concerned, I maintained relationships with everyone through the years, whether it’s touring with them or them coming to my radio [show]—it’s not like I popped up out of the blue five years later calling people. I kept my relationships pretty intact. When it was time to put it together, cooperation was incredible, everybody just wanted to be involved, so it’s great.

Back when I was doing 50 MC’s or Piece Maker projects, it was a little more first come, first serve, whoever I could round up at the moment. This one was a little more targeting certain people, so [I] had to wait on their schedules. It’s a different time now because everybody’s traveling, so a lot of stuff was done [virtually], like sending beats to people, it wasn’t as much in the studio like I used to be with folks. A lot of it was done, “Here’s the beat, send it back,” that kind of thing.

How much fun was it making this album?

It was fun because I took my time with it. I knew how I wanted it to come off, so it was fun. Probably not as fun as some of the other ones because again, back in the day it was more you and the artist in the studio connecting, and nowadays, to get 50 MCs to do that is pretty tough with everyone’s schedules and tours and their itineraries. So, it was fun, [but] I can't say it was as fun. But the results—definitely, exactly where I wanted them to be.

You got a favorite track on there?

I try to go in and out of different zones—some of it might be slow, some of it might be a little faster, some hardcore, some consciousness. [There’s] something in it for everybody, so I couldn’t really pick a favorite. I would say that it’s always for me an honor to have KRS on anything I do, so I would say that if I had to pick something [as a] favorite, it would be just having my favorite artist on there. KRS means a lot to me, being that I’m a big fan of his.

That goes right to my next question. Would you say that’s your favorite memory during the process, recording with KRS-One?

He’s left the strongest impressions with me. Just his whole demeanor, his whole history and longevity and his relevance—it’s always been intriguing to me, and it’s always been an honor working with him. I’ve had the opportunity to DJ for him on the road, so [he’s] definitely my top [MC].

What inspired you with this artwork? It’s like Wu-Tang mixed with Anime mixed with New Age.

All the original 50 MC’s mixtapes had animation on them. They were all cartoon characters-kind of covers. So I went back to that element and also [was] just inspired by the whole comic book movement and with the success of The Avengers and shit like that. That movie played a part too, the whole Avengers theme, people coming together, so I went with that.

These 25 songs look epic. I can’t wait to listen to it. “A Queen’s Thing” was a crazy track.

Yeah, that was a big deal because the track definitely defines the album a bit. It’s got the new school and the old school together—G. Rap, who has worked with me in the past, and Action Bronson, the new blood right now.