Part I: The Past
As we forge ahead into the next millenium, the face of Gospel is being transformed in front of our very eyes. While new decades have brought us new faces and occasionally fading fads, the new millenium is destined to make a lasting impact on this genre. While the '90's made folks like Fred Hammond, Kirk Franklin , and Hezekiah Walker Gospel mainstays, the 21st century is poised to usher in new household names. One of those personalities is an artist known as Tonéx.
Tonéx splashed into the public eye at this year's Stellar Awards after one of the most memorable and energetic performances in Stellar history. It was a performance that sent tremors throughout the industry. In fact, his recent performance resume is reminiscent of a seasoned Gospel veteran. In less than a year's time, he has performed at the Gospel Music Workshop of America (GMWA), Stellar Awards, Bobby Jones Gospel, and the pre-Grammy Gospel Show. He's become Gospel's hottest topic of conversation and is the most sought after "free agent" perhaps in Gospel music history.
However, Tonéx is quick to remind you that he is NOT your everyday overnight success story. "Some folks think that Tonéx just popped up out of nowhere," states Tonéx. "I didn't. I've been playing and singing all of my life. I've been doing this professionally since I was 11 but it took me 12 years to secure my first deal."
And that deal was indeed not easy to come by. As difficult as some may find it, Tonéx was initially rejected by many of the labels that are currently warring over him. For one reason or another, the record labels wouldn't sign him. Undaunted, he created his own label known as MSS Destiny and actually started selling albums from the back of his car. Tonéx's first deal came with a small record label, Rescue Records. "I was doing some background vocals on the Eternal Funk project from Unity Klan when Big-J asked me if I was signed yet.
He was pretty shocked that I hadn't been signed and proceeded to introduce me to Rescue Records," states the 23-year-old artist. His days at Rescue would produce the nationally -released project, Pronounced toe-nay. However, it's availability (or lack thereof) would spawn one of the most intriguing industry situations in recent memory. "It was really a crazy situation. [Rescue] didn't expect the album to do very well because it was a debut album from a black male solo artist. As a result, the record company only ordered 7,000 copies of the project. Those were gone in less than a week. Afterwards, there was an order for 30,000 more copies of the project to be distributed. Rescue couldn't keep up with the order so they pulled the project," says Tonéx.
After realizing that Rescue couldn't keep up with the demands for the project, there was an attempt made by the label to form a partnership with the newly formed Tommy Boy Gospel label. On several occasions this deal came close to becoming a reality but the deal fell through. Consequently, Tonéx began looking for greener pastures. While he hoped things with Rescue would work out, he understood that there was a message that America needed to hear. In addition, he realized that he didn't want his project to be separated from his own label. As a result, he broke away from Rescue and formed a joint venture with Tommy Boy Gospel.
His trying ordeal was not yet over. Apparently, unknown to Tonéx, the president of Rescue Records began to negotiate on another front. "I didn't know it at the time, but [the president of Rescue] had been talking to Zomba (the parent company of Verity Records) in an attempt to strike up a deal. Apparently, he went and sold the masters from Pronounced toe-nay to Zomba. So here I had signed a deal with Tommy Boy Gospel yet the masters to my project are at Zomba. Sounds like a problem, huh?" admits Tonéx.
While the record companies were in perhaps the largest bidding war ever over an artist without an available release, Tonéx was encouraged by all of the trials of this aspect. "It's pretty apparent that the devil realizes how awesome the project is. I'm encouraged because I realize that there is definitely an audience out there for the project and there are still some folks whom this project has to reach," Tonéx proclaims. "God is setting this project up for its re-release. It's pretty obvious that God has His hand on my life and my career. So many doors have opened for me. I mean think about it. I've now performed at GMWA, the Stellars, the pre-Grammy Gospel show, and the Bobby Jones show, and my album isn't even available. God has used this project to open many doors for me."
Indeed the album has introduced Tonéx to fields and areas once foreign to him and Gospel music. While the project is difficult to find at the moment, it has somehow found its way into some interesting territory. Mainstream artists from Ginuwine to Timbaland to The Artist have all been found rocking Tonéx. "We've figured that the album has gone 'bootleg platinum," admits Tonéx humorously. "It's pretty funny considering that even I don't have a copy of my album."
As for the apparent label controversy, Tonéx knows where he stands. While it was recently stated that Tonéx was a part of the Verity Records roster, Tonéx sings a different tune. "As far as I am aware, I am a Tommy Boy artist. Verity jumped the gun when they said that I was signed with them. I must re-sign with Zomba before I can be considered a Verity artist", Tonéx confesses. So where does all of this leave the project, Pronounced toe-nay? "If all goes well, the album will be re-released in April. The deal looks like it will see the album released domestically by Tommy Boy and internationally by Zomba. Not bad for an album that I made in my bedroom, huh?"
Continued... The World According to Tonéx, Part II: The Future
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