Since the dawn of time, humans have had designated storytellers. They’re the people charged with recounting the myths and legends of a group, of keeping track of history, and of entertaining and guiding those who listen. How has this endured over thousands and thousands of years, and how are these people chosen? It’s because some people are born to be storytellers. They possess relentless energy, a mind for language, and the ingenuity to craft a story. Their lives and experiences shape what stories are told and in what format they go out, but at the end of the day, they are storytellers. With his relentless flow, fantastic live shows, and strong skills as a wordsmith that are displayed on his mixtape Take Note, Durham, North Carolina rapper Professor Toon is a modern-day storyteller.

Storytelling requires material, and Toon has a lot from his upbringing. He moved from Baltimore to Durham as a child and endured through a childhood littered with hardship. He first began creating music in school, writing diss tracks about other students. It wasn’t until slightly later though that Toon realized music could be something more than a hobby. “Not until after I went and got my GED did I know that music was something I could pursue,” Toon reveals. A friend encouraged him to put some focus andenergy into it, two things that Toon possesses in nearly unlimited quantities.

Toon omits no details when he raps. Take a stroll through Take Notes, and you will come out the other side knowing the journey Toon went on and the hardships he has overcome. For Toon, that’s the only way to write music. “The music’s not going to touch people the same unless it’s real,” Toon says. He further explains that he makes a lot of eye contact while performing and wants people to see the truth in his music in his eyes.

Part of Toon’s relentless energy in his live shows comes from the physicality cultivated while he was pursuing a dream career in basketball. Toon also spent much of his youth and upbringing watching professional wrestling, and while he explains that he doesn’t connect that with his show, he can very easily see how others might. For Toon, the show must go on. Shortly before we spoke to him, Toon injured his ankle, but still went up and performed with all his usual energy at a show a few days later.

As you read this, Take Note is sitting on Professor Toon’s Bandcamp with “name your price” sitting next to the download link. Why release the tape for free? There are a few reasons. The first, which Toon admits with a chuckle, is that it was just easier to put the tape out free of charge. But relating back to his passion for storytelling, there are deeper reasons as well.

“I’m not always trying to charge you,” he says. “If you walk into a bar like ‘Can I tell you a story?’ and he says ‘Yeah’ and buys you a round of drinks, you don’t say ‘Before I tell you this story, I’m gonna need $9.99.’” As Toon puts it, there are people out there that might need to hear his story that aren’t in the position to spend money on it. He also believes that bringing a fan in with free music is much more likely to generate someone who will pay money for a show down the line.

With a new project, Fresh Water, set for release in January 2018, Professor Toon is a man on the rise. Speaking to him and hearing the same fire in his voice that comes through in his music, it’s not hard to imagine a performer with so much relentless drive taking the music world by storm. Professor Toon still has stories to tell, and it’s well worth it for you to listen

 *A version of this interview first ran in the current print issue of Substream Magazine, on stands now and available through our online store!