Seen Tonex lately? You’ll have more luck finding him as B Slade, waving a rainbow striped flag at a Gay Pride parade than testifying in church circles.
Crossing over in more ways than one, the entertainer has dead bolted his life as a minister and re-emerged as a recording activist with “Diesel,” his first pop/soul release (which he says is inspired by the “hoodspah” that enabled strong Black men to do what they like).
Tonex was to Gospel music, what Lady Gaga is to pop — an ingeniously talented, flamboyant provocateur. In 2009 he confirmed suspicions about his sexually ambiguous image, coming out on a nationally aired TV show. In so doing perhaps he became the first well-known openly gay gospel artist and like Gaga believes homosexuals are “born this way.”
ESSENCE.com talks to the artist about his more-than-unconventional stance on sexuality and how this newly embraced freedom has influenced his new persona:
ESSENCE.com: Is your gospel career a thing of the past?
B SLADE: When it comes to the genre, yes. Unfortunately I was pigeonholed into that genre even though I felt that gospel music could very much so cross over to mainstream. Formidably and exclusively, yeah that part is over. There will always be a spiritual core to what I do and you will still feel that light and that love in my pop and soul music.
ESSENCE.com: What about your fans?
B SLADE: Some crossed over with me. I think because they connect with the truth and even if they don’t understand everything. That’s one thing they can always bank on with me is I’m going to present truth and courage and objectivity.
ESSENCE.com: How is B Slade different from Tonex?
B SLADE: B Slade is a recording activist. Tonex was more of just a recording artist. I think that the people’s interests were at both brands heart, but the represent the culmination of raw art, audacity and hard work. This brand represents the essence of the Black Sheep, the person who pretty much has all the odds against him, that phoenix rising aura about them.
ESSENCE.com: Since you’ve become openly gay, have you experienced more or less freedom?
B SLADE: I will say more. I think the interesting notion is that people kind of knew. It’s just as long as it wasn’t confirmed I was deemed okay. It’s just when you bring confirmation to some things, then it becomes controversial. It’s interesting to see people coming up to me and apologizing for the way the handles the whole coming out process, how they turned their backs or initially reacted.
ESSENCE.com: You’ve been married before as a straight man, would you marry again as a gay man?
B SLADE: I wouldn’t say it’s not an option. I think that love is for everyone
“Diesel,” by B Slade, the artist formerly known as Tonex is in stores now.