Anthony Antoine is a true renaissance man. An outspoken artist, writer and educator, you may know him as one-third of Adodi Muse, the Atlanta-based, black gay poets ensemble. Today, the Newark NJ-native has returned to his first love of music, and is getting rave reviews for releasing his first full-length CD, Closets on Fire.
In an era where its typical to hear hip-hop artists and many others claim to "keep it real," Anthony's extremely personal effort sets the bar. His album celebrates sexuality and empowerment, and encourages the listener to chart their own path, and dance to overcome adversity. Meanwhile, singles like "Ass" and "Bare" explore a raw sexuality that is only hinted by many other artists. Besides from being highly entertaining, Anthony Antoine is an inspiration to many. He's earned the nickname The Prince of Edutainment.
Closets on Fire is an love letter to the great singer-songwriters of the 80s and 90s, fitting because that's where Anthony got his start in music. Anthony moved to London at the tender age of 17 and became a top session vocalist, and then an artist in his own right. Anthony worked with some of London's best, such as Paul Hardcastle, who produced the Billboard Top 20 hit "19" and Anthony 's first single, "Swing" by The Deff Boyz featured Anthony as "Tony Mac." Along the way, young Anthony toured Europe with C & C Music Factory, saw his videos in heavy rotation on MTV .. and at the height of his success, he gave it all up, returned to the States, and begin his journey out of the closet. Since then, he's worked with everyone, from opening for Kelly Price to cutting a single with American Idol's Jennifer Hudson. Closets on Fire was released this summer, but it's been 18 years in the making. You can listen to and purchase Closets on Fire at Anthony's site, or at CDBaby.
Rod: I'm listening to your album now, and the first thing that comes to mind is a concept album from the 70s or 80s. You're very comfortable with both ballads and uptempo—it’s all there.
Anthony: That's a compliment to me because I love the concept albums from the 80s. I'm a huge 80s music fan. Janet Jackson's Control album was the ultimate and a huge start to many concept albums to follow.
Anthony: That’s funny because I'm a huge Tony Terry fan. His voice is just great - a vocal acrobat. But I've wanted to do music since I moved to London in 1987.
Anthony: Some parts of the dream never died. The fact that I've wanted to record a full length CD for so long, that's the concept album coming to play in 2005. There’s a song for every year that this was my dream, from 1987 to now. There are 18 songs.
Rod: Let's go back to London, where it all began. It’s 1987, Reagan is in the White House, Eric B. & Rakim are big … and you decide to leave for London. Why?
Anthony: We talk ourselves out of so many things. At that age, you don't process as much as you do when you get older. It was far away, it just sounded cool. I just wanted to be far away from home. I wanted to sound like I was going so place. You know, everyone would say some college, or the military; I would proudly say what no one else was saying, LONDON.
Rod: How did you jump off into session work and meet Paul Hardcastle?
Anthony: That was during the Terence Trent D'Arby days. I used to go to a place called The Fridge where Jazzie from Soul II Soul played. I met Paul Hardcastle by singing “My Perogative” in a talent show. First, I recorded under the name Tony Mac. Then, as Truth Anthony. Then came full circle with using my real first and middle name, Anthony Antoine. I was doing session vocals for folks in London and everyone wanted me to rap, the American in London thing.
Rod: They liked your American accent?
Anthony: Oh yea. So I did it to make a dollar, or, should I say, a pound. I wasn't always into the music that I was doing so I would use a different name.
Rod: I was reading an interview with Jocelyn Brown—who, incidentally—lives in London now. She said the same thing; in the beginning, some of the music was, well, bad. But your Tony Mac track had some traction.
Anthony: Yeah, it did. We were we touring, we worked with another female artist, Lonnie Gordon—
Rod: Oh, c’mon, I know her. “Bad Mood” and “Happening All Over Again.”
Anthony: You know Lonnie?
Rod: Those songs were classics. Anthems. She used to sing at XL, she’s incredible, we hung out a few times. Also during your London years, you worked with acid jazz legend Ronny Jordan, right? Who, I believe, cut an album with my very favorite group the Brand New Heavies. As you can see, I totally love London soul.
Anthony: Ronny and I shared a producer and he wanted me to write a rap to a beat. I actually sang the chorus, too, but he used his sister on the chorus—which was cool because she laced that track perfectly. That track was validation to keep at it, too, because technically, it was my third hit song in London.
Rod: You were becoming quite popular …
Anthony: I had videos on MTV, peeps would recognize me on the streets, I didn't pay for clubs or so many other benefits. It’s so cool to have your video played on MTV, or someone hearing your music without your playing it for them. That’s the best. I was walking to lunch the other day and someone passed by me in the car and they were playing my song. I thought for sure it was someone I knew but getting a look at them, I didn't have a clue who it was. That's such reward
Rod: Back to Closets on Fire. We mentioned Terence Trent D’Arby. Your “Bare” has him written all over it.
Anthony: Wow, you’re taking me back. Ah yeah, some folks have said Prince about that song. "Bare" is just an abstract song. I wanted to try something different, that's me, I will never be locked into doing one type of music. That’s one of the pleasures of being independent. Like if Janet wanted to record an Anita Baker ballad, they would look at her like she was crazy.
Rod: It would be a bit much for radio play, right? We’re talking about sex without condoms, about going bareback.
Anthony: For sure, but you know that.
Rod: But your set up is very political…
Anthony: The truth of it is that I've been doing HIV prevention for 6 years. I would dare someone to challenge me on the concept of someone choosing to have sex without a condom for one night. That’s the same decision-making process that it takes to "choose" to use a condom on the regular.
Rod: Sure, isn’t the goal of HIV-education to allow people to have all the facts and then make an informed decision?
Anthony: Phrases like "just say no" didn't work for drugs or unprotected sex. That's the concept of "Bare" because so many people want to turn up their noses at what happens all day, every day. It’s trying to get folks to think outside of the box when it comes to prevention, because obviously some of the efforts are not working.
Rod: I know exactly what you mean. It’s denial. There was a post on my weblog last week regarding drug use and HIV. It’s a huge factor, but, those stories never seem to resonate with people. It’s like everyone’s head is in the sand.
[Brief pause while Anthony Antoine puts his daughter to bed. He returns.]
Anthony: Sorry, I had to say good night to my daughter.
Rod: That brings us to the topic of your sexuality. What happened? Obviously, you weren’t always out. You’ve been with women, you have a daughter … The typical path would have been to keep your sexuality quiet, and become a huge star. You had all the connections, opening for C&C Music Factory and other big names.
Anthony: Yeah, but I would have been so unhappy. Coming out is an ongoing process, but it first opened in ’93 when I returned to the States. I crashed about the music business for a moment and began to connect with a desire to be myself. Twelve years later, I'm totally different than I thought I would ever be.
Rod: Closets on Fire is your first full-length CD, right? It has all the different parts of you?
Anthony: Yeah, it’s my first full length. I've done six singles before now. There's a lot on the CD. Don’t give me 18 songs and make them all the same. Closets on Fire is my celebration of being independent with the freedom to record whatever I want. So when I wanted to record a ballad, I did. When I wanted to rap, I did that. When I wanted to dance, I danced in the studio making the music that I wanted to make.
Rod: Your album was released in June, so it's still brand new. Did you write and produce everything?
Anthony: I wrote and produced on like 15 of the 18 tracks. I wrote all the lyrics, but three of the songs, I had no real input on the music.
Rod: How is that?
Anthony: Well, my producer Jimmy George is also a songwriter and I wanted to give him some space on the CD.
Rod: I read where “Curiosity and the Hennessy” was your fave track?
Anthony: “Curiosity and the Hennessy” was my idea. I had a loop in mind that I wanted to use, but left Jimmy to do the rest. I sang him the melody and he moved on it.
Rod: There’s such a wealth of material here. For instance, “Dontueva” has such a 80s/90s, west coast, Dr. Dre sound. Strong bass, great hook, strong instrumentation.
Anthony: “Dontueva” … I’m so proud of that song because it featured Craig Washington, my mentor and dear friend here in the ATL, and my friend in the game of independent music. Also Tim'm West, who is a part of the group DeepDickollective and a solo artist on his own right.
Rod: His voice is GREAT. He’s really giving you Cornel West on that track. Its a hot song, political and rap yet uptempo.
Anthony: What we did, Tim’m sent his track to me as an MP3. He gave me feedback on the mix and we worked it that way.
Anthony: Peeps have said that it is angry, but it’s deeper than anger. It’s triumphant. That’s the way it feels to me. It’s the emotion after the anger when you've succeeded. It’s very fuck you, like, “I got this handled and there's nothing you can do to hold me back.”
Rod: I don’t see it as angry. It’s very … cathartic. Very CNN, we’re here, listen up.
Anthony: Oh totally. But you know, different experiences move you to feel songs differently.
Rod: Definitely, perception is framed by experience. What was your inspiration for “Secret Lover”? It’s like part Boyz II Men ballad, part Aretha from the Atlantic years.
Anthony: I usually write from my perspective, but that song is about someone else's story. It’s about a guy having an affair with a married man. That was the foundation, and the hope of writing like some of the Babyface songs back in the day. But I hear Babyface singing this song in my head.
Rod: Not your story?
Anthony: Nah, the thought of being in a relationship with a married man does nothing for me. It’s so unattractive. A man confident and comfortable in his skin, especially his sexuality is so attractive to me. It’s similar to the men who have no problem discussing being a bottom, or being penetrated. That's so attractive to me.
Rod: Explain that.
Anthony: In public spaces, so many people assert to being a "top" when we know otherwise. It’s like, someone has to be getting done in order for a top to exist. But everyone wants to be a top.
Rod: Or claims.
Anthony: We can't all be tops, LOL!
Rod: Tell me about it.
Anthony: It says something about your being able to place yourself on the hot seat of what people may think about you—good or bad—and still assert your truth, even changing the perceptions. That’s sexy.
Rod: Talking about sex and penetration … the “Ass” maxi single was quite clever, a throwback to the Euro dance scene. Few American artists release maxi singles any longer, unless as an import. Which mix did you like the most, and why?
Anthony: I loved the Booty mix of the song, probably because of the Prince throw-back section at the end. But it's hard because I think the Whiteboi-Got-Ass mix sounds like the white gay club mixes that you hear, I believe it capture the sound perfectly.
Rod: It’s a hot track, trust me, I grew up in Chicago in the 80s, I know all about the music. Speaking of that track, let me ask, you're not bothered by saying “faggot” or “nigga” like so many other black gay men? The words have taken a life of their own.
Anthony: Nah, faggot and nigga are in my vocab.
Rod: They don’t bother me either. I feel like you have to own words. Can’t let them run you, you know?
Anthony: Embrace the words and reduce the sting.
Rod: Exactly, exactly. What feeling do you want people to walk away with, after hearing your music?
Anthony: That good music is good music regardless of the artist’s sexuality. That there's a kick ass independent artist in Anthony Antoine, that should be put on far more than he is. I didn't compromise the quality of the songs or music because I'm on a little to no budget.
Rod: Well, that’s certainly not the impression, that the music was shortchanged. Before we go, let me ask you about Adodi Muse, also on your CD. I've always been a huge fan of performance, from Laurie Anderson all the way to street improve.
Anthony: I am a huge fan of Adodi Muse. If I were not in the group, I would be a huge fan of these guys. Duncan and Malik are simply the best, the best at performing, writing, just simply the best. I love Adodi and what they mean to my life and so man others.
Rod: Well, you're one of the few doing it now. Like PoMo Afro Homo was years ago.
Anthony: Yes, I keep hearing so much about PoMo. But never saw them.
Rod: You would have loved them. Very revolutionary. Very in-your-face.
Anthony: That’s Adodi, just revolutionary.
Rod: So let’s remind folk, where can they hear and purchase your music?
Anthony: Is that it?
Rod: That’s it. Finally, right?