Anthony Antoine - London 2 Atlanta: The Ultimate Collection (2013)

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    Although the major-label world of R&B has historically been closed to openly gay male artists, a small collective of out and proud, independent menfolk have bravely chartered same-sex matters in their music over the past 15 years. One of the most notable figures to do so is New Jersey-bred singer-rapper Anthony Antoine. Whether the subject be detecting the hidden "down-low" tendencies of a married man, living with pride and acknowledging individuality, or straight-up booty calls, the masculine-voiced performer explores the many facets of owning one's sexuality in a straight man's world.

    London 2 Atlanta: The Ultimate Collection gathers 19 selections from Anthony's two decades of recording thus far. The styles range from hip-house to jeep jams and melodic ballads to west coast R&B-funk. While limited production budgets likely prevented a few tracks from reaching their full potential, the majority of material here is striking in its versatility and authenticity. There's a marked contrast between the macho swagger of early-'90s tracks like "Gonna Do It Right Girl"—recorded before Anthony's coming-out—and the looser, sassier edge of "Run the World (Gayz)." Yet, there's also  a shared confidence and to-the-point style that consistently runs through his repertoire.

    Anthony shines his brightest, however, when he takes the subtle route. With the summery midtempo groove "Fairytales" he employs a classic, doo-wop-inspired approach to his delivery that finely complements the supple beats and guitar licks. Meanwhile, he keeps cool and collected throughout the intricate rhymes and fine-tuned phrasing of "The Down Low Song," a bumpin' ditty from 2004 on which he lists the most telling ways for suspecting wives to uncover their spouse's true sexual orientation. Adding jazzy nuances and a deeper, gutsier slant to his usually smooth style, he makes a convincing call for folks feeling trepidation to "come out and play" on "Ain't Nothin' but a Thang." "Ain't nothin' to it but to do it," he proffers on his first "out" recording, while borrowing a little bit of insight from En Vogue: "If we just free our minds, the rest will follow...and stand our ground when they're bein' shallow."

    On the slower side, Anthony makes the most lasting impression with "Secret Lover," a personable tune with a soulful melody and hearty vocal that brings to mind Tony Toni Tone'. Elsewhere, the sparing "My Settle Down Baby" falters with a melody and arrangement lacking in assertion; but the Prince-esque "Knock, Knock, Tap, Tap" entices with the juxtaposition of soothing sensuality and swaying rhythm.

    All in all, London 2 Atlanta is a solid statement from a distinctive artist on a meaningful mission. With variant moods, well-founded story lines, and adherent vocal performances, Anthony Antoine is a seasoned pro still waiting to be unearthed.

    by Justin Kantor