Anthony Charles Williams II was once a gospel star. Performing under the name Tonéx, he’s been nominated for two Grammys and won six Stellar Awards, the industry’s most prestigious honor. His stirring 2004 hit “Make Me Over” is a gospel favorite.
But the gospel industry turned its back on Tonéx when he publicly came out as gay in 2009. Lately, the eclectic singer / songwriter / producer has been staking out a niche in the world of secular pop music, incorporating Michael Jackson’s polished style and Kanye West’s bloated egotism into a new persona, B.Slade.
While Tonéx exuded a cool-headed confidence on his 2000 breakthrough debut, Pronounced Toe-Nay, B.Slade is over-the-top on Stealth, the follow-up to last year’s Diesel. In fact, he goes so far as to herald his reinvention in messianic terms: “I hear the thunder rumbling / I smell a storm coming / This ain’t a comeback / Homie, it’s the second coming,” he boasts in “Prolegomenon…,” Stealth’s bombastic second track.
With his undeniable talents, B.Slade has earned the right to be a little pompous. He shows off his supple voice on the swooning, sorrowful slow jam “Dumb Bunny” and channels both Jackson and Prince with blistering dance-floor bangers like “Not Effective” and “Ordinary.” Sassy and defiant, he reserves plenty of bile for his detractors. “Why must you fantasize about my little private life?” he sings over the title track’s hard-driving electro-funk.
Perhaps Stealth’s most telling track, however, is “Prolegomenon…” By casually tossing around a fancy euphemism for the word “preface,” B.Slade makes it clear that he has ambitious plans in store: “This ain’t my hottest joint / it’s just my prolegomenon.” But you have to wonder: What is B.Slade trying to prove? After all, even without all that unnecessary bluster, he’s clearly still quite brilliant.