Anthony Charles Williams II
(born in San Diego
), better known by his stage name TONEX
(pronounced "toe-nay"), is an American singer
, and preacher
. He goes by various names and aliases, but his primary stage name of choice has been "Tonex" over the years. In 2008, he underwent a name change by adopting a new spelling for his previous name, "TON3X". His albums are currently being released under this new spelling of his name.
Tonex is a profilic artist, having released several hundred songs on 24 albums over a span of just 14 years, while producing several others for both gospel and secular artists alike. He has won six Stellar Awards, a GMA Award, and received a Grammy nomination for Best Soul Gospel Album for his 2004 gold album, Out The Box.
Known more for his gospel recordings, his musical efforts have been known to blend a smorgasbord of styles, including pop, r&b, jazz, soul, funk, hip hop, rock, latin, electro, punk and trance, just to name a few. His primary influences include Stevie Wonder, Billy Joel, Prince, Michael Jackson, Walter Hawkins, Shirley Caesar, and Janet Jackson. His distinct sound and eclectic style of music led him to give his music its own genre per se, calling it "Nureau".
Born in 1975, Tonex grew up in the San Diego, California area. His father, Dr. Anthony Williams, was Senior Pastor and District Elder in the Truth Apostolic Community Church in suburban Spring Valley, and his mother was also a minister. Tonex's real name is Anthony Charles Williams II and he was the youngest of the Williams' six boys. Gospel music was the preferred choice at home, but other sounds made their way into Tonex's environment. His father played saxophone for James Brown and Jackie Wilson, his mother sang in various girl groups, and his older brothers sneaked funk
recordings into the house. By age 10, Tonex had recorded an album of his own at home. Deciding early on a musical career, he took the name "Tonex" by the time he was 13, sometimes spelling it "Tonéx".
On the small San Diego labels Rajah and MSS, he released a pair of albums while still in his teens. The title of the first one, Silent 'X' 516: The Self Confrontation
, gave a foretaste of the young artist's restless creativity. In 1995, Tonex released a second independent album called Damage
, which was only released on cassette tape and is currently out of print. In 1996, Tonex provided vocals and production work for an album, Eternal Funk
, by the San Diego contemporary gospel trio Unity Klan. His varied skills--singing, songwriting, production, and the creative vision to conceptualize an album as a whole--attracted attention in the music industry, just as they had for Prince
two decades earlier. Unity Klan recorded for the Rescue label, and Tonex signed with that label for his 1997 release, Pronounced Toe-Nay
Rescue was still a small label, and Pronounced Toe-Nay was issued in a limited production run and distributed mostly from the back of Tonex's car. Young gospel fans, however, quickly caught on to the innovative variety of music on Pronounced Toe-Nay. The album's producer, T. Boy, was an alter ego of Tonex himself. The album was divided by style into seven sections: hip-hop/rap, retro/funk, the future, jazz, mellow grooves, soul/gospel, and bonus tracks. In the recordings of Kirk Franklin and others, hip-hop had previously made inroads into gospel music, but this kind of wild eclectic mix was completely new. At the time, the digital reproduction of music was in its infancy, and rare copies of the album became prized possessions. Pronounced Toe-Nay garnered the attention of the producers at the 14th Annual Stellar Awards and placed him on the billing, and that performance by Tonex made such a bold statement and had such an impact, it has been compared to the impact Michael Jackson made on the Motown 25th Anniversary Special back in 1983 when he introduced the moonwalk to the world.
Pronounced Toe-Nay Re-Release
By this time, national labels had come calling. Tonex was signed to an unusual three-way deal that affiliated him with the successful and growing gospel label Verity, the pop imprint Zomba, and the durable hip-hop label Tommy Boy. Tonex made his national debut with a re-release of his most successful independent album Pronounced Toe-Nay
in 2000. His first high-profile television appearance was performing a medley of "Trinity" & "One Good Reason" on the Stellar Awards
, which was a coup as Tonéx was a relative unknown at the time. He has dubbed his particular genre-spanning musical style "nureau.
Upon its release, Pronounced Toe-Nay bore 5 different record label logos: Rescue Records, the independent label that originally released the album; MSS Records, Tonéx's then-active vanity imprint label; Tommy Boy Gospel, the label to which Tonéx was signed as an artist; Verity Records, the label to which his independent label Rescue Records sold his album's masters; and Jive Records, the mainstream umbrella over Verity Records. All of the material was produced, arranged, composed and performed by Tonex, with guest appearances from his mother E.B. Williams, and the rapper Big J.
Taking note of his immense talent, some executives wanted to develop Tonex's talents in a secular direction, but he turned them down and kept to religious themes. "There are a lot of people who do similar things to what I do in R&B but I wanted to use gospel lyrics," he explained in an interview quoted on the Sphinx Management Web site. "I address issues that many other Christian artists don't address. For instance, in a sexual context, I don't sing about what I'm going to do to a woman. I sing about what I've already experienced and the pain that it caused me. So, on a song like 'Taxi,' I'm talking about the downside of premarital sex, but it's still a pop song."
While he worked on his sophomore national release, Tonex contributed 3 original tracks to The Hostile Takeover, a Tommy Boy collection of songs by other new gospel artists.
After going through numerous revisions, the album O2
was released in 2002. According to Tonex, the title of his second album referred to the year of release, to the element oxygen, and to the album's status as his second major recording. O2
matched the stylistic eclecticism of Pronounced Toe-Nay
, with each track diverging completely from the one before. The album spawned a major Christian radio hit in "God Has Not 4Got", a Stellar Award-winning song that displayed Tonex's ability to create traditional choral gospel music as well as innovative pop fusions. USA TODAY gave it 3 stars (3 out of 4). The music video for the single "Bout A Thang" received heavy rotation on BET and MTV Australia, and featured energetic hip-hop dance and an urban image not usually associated with Gospel artists.O2
also featured a love song, "You", directed toward Tonex's former wife Yvette, a vocalist who at times went by the name Ms. Tonex.
Becoming known to the wider contemporary Christian music community as a result of several music industry awards and award nominations, Tonex went on tour with contemporary gospel artists Trin-i-Tee 5:7 and Men of Standard after the release of O2. Tonex was moved up from opening act to headliner as audiences reacted enthusiastically to his music and his high falsetto voice. He performed once more at the Stellar Awards early in 2004 and won several awards.
Even though O2 brought him more mainstream success, Tonex said that this album was not what he had in mind for release. In an interview with The Addicted website, Tonex states, "although O2 came 2 years after Pronounced Toe-Nay, it was not, and I repeat not, the original album I turned in, nor was it the album that I wanted the public to hear. That's a whole other story."
Although he had reached gospel superstardom by the time O2
was released, Tonex continued to release independent projects that showcased even more of his versatile creativity. In 2000, he released Circu$$
, an album which was mainly comprised of songs aimed at attacking record labels and unfair practices in the record industry, in essence labelling the whole industry a "circuss". He also released Nureau Ink Orphans
as a free download thru a Soundclick.com webpage in that same year.
In 2003, he released his most sprawling collections of underground work at that time. Figure Of Speech and Protranslutionary were released and are currently out of print. Figure Of Speech was a rock/experimental album which was released under the pseudonym "The O'ryn Project", while "Protranslutionary" featured his Christian radio hit "God Has Not 4Got" and a guest appearance by his mother E.B. Williams on the song "The River".
Later that same year, Oak Park 92105 was released on his now defunct Nureau Underground website. According to Tonex, it was this album that he intended to release after Pronounced Toe-Nay, and not O2. "Oak Park was the sequel to Pronounced Toe-Nay", says Tonex in an interview with The Addicted website. "Oak Park was supposed to come out August 19th 2003. The label was afraid of it. So basically all of my throw away albums by the label always end up being heralded as my greatest artistic achievements. Oak Park was the album where that same diaryesque approach that Pronounced Toe-Nay had blossomed."
Lauded as a preeminent masterpiece by fans and critics alike, Oak Park 92105 was a double album featuring 24 songs that mainly dealt with Tonex's life growing up in the Oak Park community nestled in the eastern tip of southeast San Diego, California. It was eventually re-released on iTunes in 2006 with some new songs, however, the album didn't come without controversy, as Tonex opted to include a "parental advisory: explicit lyrics" notice on the front cover of the album, making it the first album by a Christian-based artist to carry the notice. Tonex said the "explicit lyrics" notice is not a result of "cussing" on a record but rather content that "might be a little too deep for children."
Out The Box
His 2004 double CD Out The Box
earned him the most widespread acclaim so far. Divided into segments ranging from traditional gospel and praise anthems to splashes of urban dance, rock, and hip-hop, the ambitious Out The Box
was a sprawling double disc set with 36 tracks, which included innovative intros, interludes, and a number of studio tracks. The supporting cast included a 10-piece band, 4 dancers, a 16-voice ensemble, and a 40-voice choir. Notable guest appearances on the album included Kirk Franklin
, who plays piano in the live version of "God Has Not 4Got" and appears as an artist on "Since Jesus Came", and former Prince
percussionist Sheila E
, who appears on the latin-flavored "Todos Juntos".
Out The Box debuted at #1 on the Billboard Magazine Top Gospel Album Chart in September 2004, appeared on Billboard’s Top 200 and Top R&B Chart, was #5 on the Contemporary Christian Chart, and to date has sold over 500,000 copies. He also netted a Grammy nomination for Best Soul Gospel Album the following year, and had another bonafide Christian radio hit with the ballad "Make Me Over". In 2005, Tonéx won a total of six Stellar Awards including "Artist of the Year" for Out The Box.
Controversy and turbulence
As quickly as his fame grew, his career was dealt several crushing blows in 2004, and the years following. In July 2004, his father passed away, forcing him to take on the responsibility of becoming senior pastor of their family's church in his stead. He also divorced his wife of 5 years, Yvette Williams (née Graham). Also, Verity Records sued Tonéx for one million dollars citing breach of contract. Subsequently, Tonéx announced that he would retire from the Gospel music industry, frustrated by politics and mistreatment. Following the announcement, Kirk Franklin
posted a personal blog on his own website sympathizing with the artist feeling "the weight of an industry that is only built to make money, not heal broken souls."
In March 2007, a reconciliation with Zomba Label Group was announced, which would be a joint venture for his Nureau Ink label. The deal was struck under the auspices of new Zomba president Jazzy Jordan (who has previously guided the careers of R. Kelly and Salt-N-Pepa). With a new record deal under his belt, he was preparing to release a double disc set titled Stereotype: Steel & Velvet, which was slated to be released on September 11, 2007, and was purportedly supposed to do for his career what Thriller did for Michael Jackson and what Purple Rain did for Prince. However, in June 2007, another split with Zomba was announced, due to his leaking of the vitriolic and profanity-laden song "The Naked Truth", along with several similarly themed blogs and videos. Tonex faced much scrutiny within the conservative Gospel arena for the explicit language and the angry tone of the song and the ensuing blogs and videos that followed. The scrutiny led him to adopt a new alias, "Black Maverick", around this time, and he also abruptly closed down his myspace page for several months before resurfacing on the website in January 2008.
The planned release date for Stereotype: Steel & Velvet on September 11, 2007 came and went, with an apology on YouTube referencing the album without specifying any details. The album was later released on his Myspace page to his fans for listening only.
Amidst the controversy and turmoil that has shadowed his career since 2004, Tonex has continued releasing music on iTunes
through his independent label "Nureau Ink". Among those releases are two remix albums, Remyx: Pronounced Ree-mix
and Ain't Remyx
, and the two-disc set Oak Park 92105
, previously only available through underground websites. A special version of Oak Park
was given limited release in the Christian market and re-titled Oak Park 921'o6
featuring a new single, "Fail U". A smooth jazz
album titled The London Letters
was also released during this time.
Since the beginning of 2008, he has released 6 independent albums. T.Bizzy: The Album was released in February under his hip hop and production alias, T.Bizzy, and features Tonex as a rapper on all songs. A remix album of the song "Banganyn" from the T.Bizzy album was also released on the same day. T.R.O.N. (The Ryders Of Nureaumerica) was released some months later, and featured songs from artists currently under the auspices of Tonex's record label "Nureau Ink", including two tracks solely featuring Tonex. The Naked Truth was released June 6, 2008, one year to the date of when he released the song "The Naked Truth", which was the track solely responsible for his split with the Zomba Label Group and his pariah status in the Christian and Gospel music community. According to a YouTube video made by Tonex, this album was the "closing of an era" from 1993 to 2008, and was the last album to use the "TONEX" spelling of his stage name.
In August 2008, he released his first album under the new spelling of his name, TON3X, titled Bapost.o.g.i.c.. The titled is derived from combining the names of 3 main Christian evangelical denominations: "Baptist", "Apostolic", and "C.O.G.I.C." (Church Of God In Christ). This set focuses on spiritual unity and oneness within the Christian religion. In September, he released a 6-track EP titled Rainbow.
He is currently releasing most of his work at his official store.
TV & Movie Soundtracks
Tonex produced the opening song for the hit TV Show "One on One", "Off We Go" on Sony Pictures J-LO/Ben Affleck film "Gigli", HBO Films "Prison Song" starring Q-Tip and Mary J. Blige, and produced a song for BET Films original movie "The Walk". The track "The Good Song 2005", a remake of the song "The Good Song" off of his mainstream debut album Pronounced Toe-Nay
, was included on the soundtrack of the movie XXX: State Of The Union
starring Ice Cube
Tonex has been seen on various BET programs, TBN, NBC, CBS, ABC, Motown Live, Hollywood Access, Soul Train, TV One, and Showtime at the Apollo. Additionally, he has appeared publications such as Billboard, USA Today, Ebony, Jet, Right On, Vibe, Sister 2 Sister, Upscale, Essence, VesselVibe, Entertainment Weekly, and BlackBeat Magazine.
Along with the many changes made by Tonex in 2008, a foray into acting became part of his long list of achievements. In September 2008, he played the role of James "Thunder" Early in a San Diego production of the Broadway
. Later in 2008 and early 2009, Tonex will play the part of "ROLIN" in Princess & The Black Eyed Pea
at the Lyceum Theater in San Diego.
Tonéx is known for his unpredictable image. His appearance has included extremely conservative suits with close cropped hair, outlandish, flamboyant garb with feather boas, fur coats, punk-inspired multi-colored hairstyles, Sanjaya
-like headpieces, Stevie Wonder
-style dreadlocks and also platform shoes, that brought to mind the "glam" rock bands of the 1970s and 1980s. His image raised eyebrows in the conservative gospel and contemporary Christian music communities, and Tonex eventually took the sharper edges off his look for a short time. But he made no apologies. "It wasn't me trying to make a statement; I've always been different," he told George Varga of the San Diego Union-Tribune. "And it really worked. Out of church, people are always asking me what my tattoos mean."
According to Tonex's myspace
page, he is now under the umbrella of the newly formed Battery Records, a label imprint of Sony BMG.
- 1997: "Personal Jesus"
- 1999: "One Sunday Morning"/"For The Life Of Me"
- 1999: "Mad"
- 2000: "Personal Jesus"
- 2002: "Bout A Thang"
- 2002: "That's When"
- 2002: "God Has Not 4Got"
- 2004: "Doesn't Really Matter"
- 2004: "Make Me Over"
- 2004: "Since Jesus Came" / "Todos Juntos"
- 2006: "Banganyn"
- 2006: "Fail U"
- 2007: "Joy"
GMA Award (formerly known as Dove Awards)
- 2003: Urban Album of the Year for Souljahz's The Fault Is History (Warner Bros.)Stellar Awards
- 2003: Rap/Hip Hop Gospel CD of the Year for O2
- 2005: Artist of the Year for Out The Box
- 2005: Song of the Year for "Make Me Over"
- 2005: Contemporary Male Vocalist of the Year for Out The Box
- 2005: Contemporary CD of the Year for Out The Box
- 2005: Urban/Inspirational Performance of the Year for Out The Box
- 2005: Rap/Hip Hop Gospel CD of the Year for "Thank Q" from Out The Box