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Album Review

For no reason, some stars at the peak of their careers seemed programmed to self-destruct. The rock world is filled with such senseless acts; in the comedy world, Dave Chappelle is a shining example, an immensely popular comedian who inexplicably threw his career away. And then there's Tonex, the ferociously talented singer-producer who was the doyen of the gospel world. After releasing two magnificent studio albums and a breathtaking live set, in 2006 Tonex bizarrely burned all his bridges, stormed out on his label Verity, and scathingly condemned the entire scene and its top artists. The following year, he was back with Oak Park 921'06, released on his own Nureau Ink label. The sprawling epic explored both Tonex's own roots as well as societal problems across two CDs. Now the Syntax label has compressed the set down to a more manageable single disc, comprising 16 of the most uplifting tracks. Inevitably, shearing the set of many of the more thought-provoking and soul-searching numbers somewhat emasculates the album. However, it also clarifies and accentuates Tonex's powerful, spiritual messages, while also capturing the eclectic sound of the set. Opening the album with the lavish hip-hop pop of "Now" was a particularly astute choice. Its gorgeous vocal sample "What do I do now, could we start again," hints at an apology and an attempt to rebuild those burnt bridges. It also offers a bit of an explanation for how the artist's life went so wrong. His spiritual crisis is better described on "Out the Game," a song haunted by mournful winds and evocative Spanish guitars. The intimate, introspective "Anthony" delves deeper, as Tonex looks into the mirror not in an act of self-affirmation, but one of contrition. He brutally tears down his own pretentious ego, leading to true repentance and the emergence of a better person, "now twice humble, admit it when I stumble."

As any believer will tell you, the road to righteousness is a rough one, which Tonex confirms on "Fail U," a blistering Christian rocker that takes inspiration from Robert Plant, Queen, and the Lord of course. But by stumbling, Tonex has finally learned it's not about him, but the Lord, as he eloquently explains on "You." Not all are ready to see the light though, and so on "holy-NESS" Tonex stops preaching to the choir, and goes toe to toe with the club scene, hitting them hard with hip-hop beats, powerful female gospel vocals, and a sermon laced with humor. Skipping deftly across musical genres — blues, gospel, hip-hop, and R&B, the singer preaches God's love, the many gifts He will bestow on the faithful, and the guidance He can provide. "Yes" is Tonex's epistle, a rich R&B love letter to the Lord himself. The album ends on a high note with the upbeat "HUP!," an irresistible gospel club raver. Seen through the prism of this set, Tonex appears to have made peace with himself, whether the gospel scene will grant him forgiveness is still to be seen. Syntax certainly hopes so, offering up a glorious set of love and spiritual rebirth.


Born: 16 May 1975

Genre: Christian & Gospel

Years Active: '90s, '00s

Singer/songwriter, producer, and youth leader Tonex was unafraid to rock the waves in contemporary Christian music, for his musical antics have been compared to the likes of Prince. His brash combination of gospel and R&B was first introduced on the Verity Records compilation WOW Gospel 2000. In September 2000, Tonex made his solo debut...
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Oak Park: 92105, Tonéx
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