Professor Toon
with Made of Oak, Tab-One, Ace Henderson & Ace Apollo

Friday, Jan. 22, 8:30 p.m.
723 Rigsbee Ave., Durham

It’s a little before noon on a Friday, and Kurrell Rice is slumped over in a chair in the lobby of WUNC-FM, sinking deep into its cushions. In an hour, the Durham rapper, better known as Professor Toon, will field questions from Frank Stasio on The State of Things and even perform a few songs from his debut LP, Take Notes.

But for now, Toon eavesdrops on an off-air conversation between Stasio and UNC-Chapel Hill professor Kenneth Janken, another of the day’s guests. Stasio is busily familiarizing himself with Janken’s new book, The Wilmington Ten: Violence, Injustice, and the Rise of Black Politics in the 1970s. Stasio quotes a passage: “The river is choked with bodies,” he says, referencing the African-Americans believed to have been murdered and dumped in the Cape Fear River during the race riots of 1898.

“Text that to me,” Toon tells me. He wants to revisit the morose phrase for a future rap line.

On air at last, Toon describes Take Notes as a cross between a sermon and a party. It’s a hard-edged, largely guest-free album, devoid of the kind of big hooks that might land him on radio stations known more for rap segments than talk shows. Toon tells Stasio that one of his collaboratorsthe producer Made of Oak, or Nick Sanborn of the pop duo Sylvan Essohas even dubbed this “dark trap music.”

“That’s to distinguish it from ‘von Trapp music,’” Stasio jokes.

Toon pretends to get the Sound of Music reference, but he doesn’t. Later in the interview, Toon returns the favor by saying “ball is life.” This time, it’s Stasio who plays along.

“But that’s a whole ‘nother conversation,” Toon continues, unfazed. “Music and my former athletic abilitiesthat’s what soothes me, man. It’s almost like meditation.”

Toon refers to his athletic prowess in the past tense, but sportsmanship remains an integral part of his existenceand, in some ways, his budding career. He’s coached women’s wrestling, and these days during pickup basketball games, he’s called “Spidey” for his nimble nature.

The nickname also applies to his off-the-court savvy. He has the ability to keep his hands in many places at once, weaving a web of unlikely connections. That ability to network has made Toon an unlikely area favorite, positioning him as the Triangle’s next potential rap riser. From Stasio’s show to the domain of corporate benefactors, from festival main stages to indie producer music videos, Toon continues to go places where few other local rappers dare to venture. Now, he hopes, Take Notes can take him farther.

The chemistry didn’t always come so easily.