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Tonex - (a.k.a. BSlade) Stereotype (Collector’s Edition) (2011)

     

Tonex - (a.k.a. BSlade) Stereotype (Collector’s Edition) (2011)

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He's on his fourth name and eighth project release in just nine months, four full-length albums of which were released in just the last five months. Tonex a.k.a. Ton3x a.k.a. Brian Slade a.k.a. BSlade has been undergoing an astonishing transformation in the last couple of years, from a suited-up gospel singer to an outrageous  glam rocked secular artist (with still plenty of gospel thrown into the mix). He's also gone from being a highly scrutinized heterosexual artist lyrically flirting with suggestions of sexual identity struggle on songs like "Feelings" and his megahit, "Make Me Over," to someone openly and unapologetically bisexual in his romantic interests. But, throughout all of these changes, the 100-plus songs released over the last nine months reveal that Tonex hasn't lost an iota of his musical genius. If anything, his creative expression has found new frontiers of sound, feelings, topics and imagery to explore. Of those new releases (Dawn O' The Unicorn: The Mixtape, Dancefloor Arsonist: The Jack5on Magic Mixtape, gospOp, Kaleidoscope, Brilliant Catastrophe (beta), Brilliant Catastrophe (alpha), Puttin' in werQ/Sunset), Stereotype may be the most dynamic and artistically daring, if the most in need of editing to mine all its too apparent greatness.

Gospel and R&B star Tonex is a GMA and multi-Stellar Award winner and a multi-Dove and Grammy Award nominee who has written, produced, and performed on a whopping 24 releases over 14 years. The birth of his alter-ego, Brian Slade, began in June 2010 in NYC's Greenhouse coinciding with the release of his Dawn O' The Unicorn: The Mixtape. Both releases unleashed a glam pop, funk, hip hop and definitely more dance music-oriented Tonex. The persona borrowed heavily from the other-worldly glam rock iconography of Sylvester, David Bowie, and the Velvet Goldmine, artists for whom outrageous gender bending coupled with over-the-top vocal performances of brazen grandiosity and bold musicality won over music enthusiasts and legions of cultural misfits. In his aim to resurrect the visuals and kinetic performances of these early icons, BSlade has been largely successful in his recent packaging and sold-out live shows. His edgy wigs/weaves are decidedly female and often sporting a white skunk streak. His through-the-rafters church wails and soprano peaks are outside the box of what is considered traditionally masculine (particular for a Black male in R&B and gospel). His gear is tight and accented with all the accoutrements of Vegas meets space couture meets streetwalker. Throughout the ample BSlade catalog and in his show, the slang is all urban, both gay "ballroom" scene and conversely street corner thug, when not street corner preacher-sometimes intentionally blurring these distinctions.

Unlike Bowie's ilk, musically, Tonex is only as alternative as one's politics and musical tastes are hard right conservative. Lyrically there are anti-war and pro-environment warning poetics and plenty of inspirational tomes about identity, self-acceptance, and surviving "Black Sheep" status. However, musically, the palette BSlade consistently pulls from has strong, even highly referential roots in traditional Black musical genres-from electrosoul and Chicago house to PIR and Motown soul-with only the occasional, if highly competent, nod to ‘70s rock and ‘90s hip hop. Further, threaded throughout most of his contemporary material-sometimes underlying and at times overt-is still the fundamentalist message that Jesus Christ is the answer and a relationship with God the only way to salvation. The artist's uneasy marriage of conservative religious messaging with progressive, alternative presentations and liberal use of street language has invited fundamentalist calls of heresy and even music critic claims of musical "schizophrenia" when presented with Tonex and BSlade's material.

Still, what makes Tonex and his various personas endlessly interesting  isn't the controversy his imaging, theology, and life drama courts, but how he sews all these different, seemingly disparate sounds, genres, musical and theological influences into something fresh and uniquely his own-when at its best. In message and music, Tonex's work can be as messy and conflicting and still at times as beautifully harmonious as we are. On Stereotype, both the brilliant and the catastrophic-and, when well executed,  the beauty these tensions can create-sit among this twenty-song, ‘70s music inspired project.

An example of the homage occasionally paid here to the Jackson family's musical legacy is"Sonshine: 1971." On the standout there are no less than four wholly different musical transitions in its first 60 seconds, starting with a wall of sound of blaring horns, tambourines, bass and choral wails before sliding into Usher "OMG" pop morphing into a late era, soothing MJ smooth soul interlude before going full throttle into a wholly satisfying Jackson 5 (read: The Corporation) production on a re-imagined hook from the Broadway musical "Hair": "Let the sonshine/Let the sonshine in..." The "son" isn't a typo, itself making a sly plea for letting God's son "in" to fix a world of ills laid out in the multi-layered cut, from suicidal ideation to environmental disasters. In arrangement, the song's chorus uses stacked, old-school gospel harmonies, having sopranos and altos aiming for the heavens and tenors and baritones delivering a floor that's rarely heard in pop, while Tonex's tenor to contralto goes for the gold of the son. The song is epic in sound and ambitious in intention, the hook infectious and maybe even hindered by all the era-jumping transitions that came before it, and yet the overall effect is every bit as exhilarating and inspiring as the artist intended.

Other songs follow this winning formula of mashing the old and new. "Make U Happy" interpolates a DJ scratched David Cassidy obscure 1972 classic of "I Just Want to Make You Happy" for a renewed saint's testimony about and promise-filled apology to God. "Hurting Each Other: 1975" returns BSlade's love of the Carpenter's sampling, this time the 1972 hit single "Hurting Each Other," for a sensitive and inquisitive meditation on the pain humans - particularly self-professed Christians of different denominations - cause one another. Minnie Riperton's "Perfect Angel" provides the soundtrack for the secular "Dancin," a silky stepper's groove. Rufus meets Parliament on the funk of "Good Song: 1978," which is as intricate in arrangement and musical transitions as "Sonshine: 1971," breaking into a jazz bridge and even some oddly appropriate yodeling at one point, but far more direct in its optimistic message and drum tight in execution. The sweetly soulful "All That I Am" owes much to the folksy soft rock sounds of Harry Nilsson and Seals & Croft. The jumpin' "Baby, What'cha Gonna Do: 1979" hints at Janet Jackson's "Love Will Never Do Without You" but defies gravity by cleverly using a voguer's chant to pattern its staccato phrasing, intergalactic effects, and a closing run worthy Karen Clark-Sheard. Middle Eastern instruments merge with ‘90s doo wop R&B to a delectable effect on the jingly "Prayin' 4 U" and converge again with Southwestern flavors on "Walla Walla Bing Bing," a modern square dance rebuking the inane lyrics, but appealing beats dominating the charts. Clumsier in its genre blending is "Contagious," a "universal love" message song that begins with smooth jazz ala Al Jarreau before jarringly and repeatedly bursting into an Elton John psychedelic Broadway circus that annoyingly disrupts the ease of the song's groove and appealing message.

Stereotype's genius is hampered by songs strikingly mundane in comparison and competent fillers that samples less but are parties previously heard from in the Tonex catalog. Speaking against conformity, "Blend: 1977" adds a plaintive acoustic guitar in place of the spare percussions of the original from the Grammy-nominated Unspoken for results that reference Nirvana more than classic rock. Likewise with the early grunge feel of "Blairtree Road," a call for tolerance originally debuting on the infamous Naked Truth Mixtape, which is only minutely altered by a vinyl-playing static effect. Returning to the project's ‘70s tribute are the SalSoul Orchestra guitar and bassline overlays to the NYC club hit, "Get Over You," for a "gagatha kristie" remix of the house jam dominating gay clubs across the Eastern seaboard. These fare well compared to the utterly forgettable "Hair," "Steel & Velvet," "Come & Go," "The Things You Do," "Silly Philly"...just far too much filler for one album. Perhaps worse than these underlings is the meandering, too calculated, and dare we say presumptuous "God...," a song that attempts and fails at matching the choral opuses of Stevie Wonder or Richard Smallwood, the cut's most obvious reference points.

Of course, self-penning, playing, and producing or co-producing over 100 songs over eight releases (as T.Boy, sometimes with producer Akira Shelton) ensures some clunkers in the bunch. If we call Stereotype the Brilliant Catastrophe (three), the elimination of filler and redundancies throughout this otherwise phenomenal Brilliant Catastrophe trio of material at any other time would have resulted in an astonishing run of wholly classic hit albums on par with the ‘70s virtuoso project runs of Rufus, Stevie Wonder, Donny Hathaway, Marvin Gaye and like. The clear need for stronger editorial hands making an impression on both song selection and in the occasionally chaotic productions doesn't take anything away from a central truth: Anthony Charles Williams II (a.k.a. you name it) is one of the unsung musical geniuses of this generation, and if he weren't still keeping such a notable foot in gospel and were not a Black, openly bisexual man, the world would celebrate his undeniable talents far more than his relative obscurity now suggests.  This assertion may be a stereotype of its own, but one listen to the Brilliant Catastrophe trio and comparing the best of its ambitious contents to any other top-selling Black R&B, gospel, and maybe even pop albums today will prove it nonetheless true. Recommended.

By L. Michael Gipson

Comments

Great review. I want to hear

Great review. I want to hear this

Wow, this smells like a very

Wow, this smells like a very good press release rather than an album review. I still don't understand for the life of me how ST can review an underground digitual mixtape from a regenerate, displaced gospel singer competiting for Adam Lambert's fame and Maroon 5 can't even get a bio. Go ahead, cast the first stone at me.

J Matthew Cobb
ST Contributing Writer

Did you know that Tonex was

Did you know that Tonex was the most popular artist on SoulTracks, from a traffic standpoint, for over a year back around 2006? He has a big fan base among our readers, most of whom probably don't know about what he's doing now. This updates them. Covering Tonex's new release has nothing to do with the quality of Maroon 5; I like their newest album a lot. I also like Willie Nelson, Mingus, and Rogers & Hammerstein. It is all about bringing the most relevant album reviews to our audience based on what we think will interest them and what they've shown that they like. Time and time again, our readers express interest in adult soul, crossover Gospel and vocal jazz.

Our reviews of Rihanna, Bruno Mars, Chris Brown, John Mayer, etc., even though closer to R&B than Maroon 5, generated almost no interest from our readers, even though they had #1 hits. My guess is that Maroon 5 falls into that same category.

We are limited on the site to create the 12-20 most relevant music reviews to our readers based on what we think they will like. We try to make sure each review is relevant and gets enough time on the front page. We also pay our reviewers for everything they write, which is not the case with many other websites, so we budget to make sure when we pay for a review it is one we think our readers will care about.

I understand that you disagree with our conclusions, but you're basing it on your opinion of what is good music, not on any information about our readers and what they've told us interests them, or by what fits SoulTracks' stated niche.

Fantastic review/article on

Fantastic review/article on BSLADE/TONEX. I made my own collection of faves from Stereotype and Unicorn and think it is the greatest album since...hmmm...Prince's Sign of The Times! He is now my new fave male artist...his music lifts me like Chaka...his voice is so full of divine energy & joy...and i'm so glad he is strong enough to be all that he is and not make himself smaller than God intended just to fit into the choruses of mediocrity.

L. Michael Gipson I'm only

L. Michael Gipson
I'm only going to correct one of the errors in your assessment/inference, J. Tonex's album is for sale for $20, so it's no mixtape. The difference is simply this: is it available for sale as a commercial release. In fact all of the albums that were originally released as free mixtapes cost at least $10 now. It was strategy. The strategy to create buzz then charge worked for Tonex/BSlade. We're talking/debating about him now, are we not?

Honoring Good Work Is Never A Mistake,
Michael

BSLADE is actually a great

BSLADE is actually a great study in being an independent artist and how to promote your work when you don't have a major label's staff behind you. Those artists don't really need a review b/c they can be found anywhere. I suspect people come here to find what they cant find elsewhere and/or to weed out the truly musical in the mainstream.

No, we're not debating a

No, we're not debating a thing. I am just one person and I write for SoulTracks. Just that simple. What the people want is an entirely different thing, and I have no power or control over that. You can correct one OR all of the errors in my short paragraph/assessment, if you want.

I'm just not a fan...anymore..of Tonex/B.Slade/Pastor N*on/T.Bizzy or whatever he calls himself these days. Just that simple.

Simply Simple,
J Matt

I am a fan and a producer of

I am a fan and a producer of the entertainment arts. Films, Music, plays, comedy. I enjoy fully intelligent, well crafted,well thought out, critical appraisals of creative endeavors within the aforementioned endeavors. For the most part Soul Tracks tends to provide that and remain above the fray of today's "look at ME now" blogsphere. I hope it remains such even though a few recent entries have me a bit concerned. I can't recall Nat Hentoff going at Robert Hilburn. or Nelson George or Greg Tate, Robert Christgau or Jon Pareles going at each other with personal vendettas that are not about educating or informing the readers. I can't imagine Gail Mitchell now or J R Reynolds or Havelock Nelson in the past seeming calling Billboard magazine in a letter to the editor seemingly because an article they wanted to appear didn't. The C that should be used here is critical appraisals not Cat fight.

I'm reading some terrible

I'm reading some terrible comments about BSlade /aka Tonex. You may feel that some of it is merited, and is your truth. I'm a fan of the young man's music no matter what name he records under. It is still the soul and spirit of Anthony Williams & I really get him and feel him. We have choices and I've decided to purchase everything I can get my hand on that he has recorded because he is a talented man, and it works for me. Shouldn't really be calling him degenrate!

There are people who like his music, and those who don't but that should be each individuals choice, and don't try to send us to hell because we support the man.Thanks to those who have an unbiased opinion and are only trying to give us what we want as we'll find it any way. Bslade is doing a very good job of self-promotion.

As far as the Adam Lambert comparison Anthony was using his voice this way long before Adam Lambert was introduced to the general public. I enjoy SoulTracks & even though you guys disagree you still get it in.Wink