Anthony Antoine will never forget the first time he heard himself on the radio. Driving home with his uncle to visit his mom, an hour outside Philadelphia, the artist then known as Tony Mac was featured on the Top 20 Billboard Dance hit “Swing” with the Deff Boyz. That was 25 years ago and marked the beginning to Antoine’s ever-evolving artistry and activism.
“I moved to London in 1987 directly out of high school with the purpose of creating an exciting story for my life,” Antoine shares. Determined to find possibility far from well-worn collegiate and military paths, Antoine’s story includes working as a session vocalist and featured rapper before winning a singing competition performing Bobby Brown’s 1988 hit “My Prerogative.” The prize? A recording session with famed “19” producer Paul Hardcastle, and the awestruck artist’s first American radio airplay.
“That’s every musician’s dream—to hear your song played on the radio,” Antoine says openly. “I experienced [“Swing”] on London radio but it just wasn’t the same as hearing it at home.”
During his six-year London residency, Antoine became a recognizable part of the European dance scene and his music mirrored his life: girlfriends, getting engaged to his childhood sweetheart and fatherhood. But in 1993, three years after “Swing” became an international hit, Antoine began to struggle with his sexuality.
‘Ain’t nothin’ but a thang’
Over the next four years, Antoine took a break from music and moved back to the United States to focus on fatherhood and explore his sexual identity. His explorations set the stage for the artist’s resurrection as Antoine recorded his first “out” song, “Ain’t Nothin’ But A Thang.”
“It wasn’t until 1997 that I felt courage to sing and rap about [being out] in song,” Antoine confesses. “And I haven’t looked back. It’s my life and as a true artist, that’s what fuels my music.”
While “Thang” was never officially released until Antoine later re-recorded the demo for his 2012s “London 2 Atlanta: The Ultimate Collection,” the track served as a precursor to Antoine’s official musical coming out. First, Antoine needed to call Atlanta home.
Moving to Georgia in 1998, Antoine independently released a year later “Dante’s Got A Man, Too,” a gay man’s response to R&B princess Chante Moore’s 1999 hit “Chante’s Got a Man.”
“I am a huge Chante Moore fan and wanted to counter ‘Chante’s Got a Man’ with a release in which a man could sing equally as proud about the love in his life,’ Antoine reveals.
Before people even knew his name, the song ended up garnering play in many of Atlanta’s clubs. “I’d go to the club and folks would call me Dante—believing that was my name from the song,” Antoine jokes.
Loving his independent spirit
Over the next decade and a half, Antoine released a number of EPs including 1999s “Songs from My Closet” and a 2005 full-length album “Closets on Fire,” featuring preceding single “ASS.”
Reminiscent of Madonna’s “Justify My Love,” “ASS” praises the power of the posterior and while might not be considered explicit by today’s standards, in 2004 the track served not just as a sexual celebration but a celebration of Antoine’s independence, in both his personal and professional life.
Antoine dedicated “ASS” to “ . . . the independent music makers who do not allow ‘the machine’ of the music business to stifle our creativity and ‘the kids’—who scream for music about our lives and lifestyle.”
Partly inspired by Madonna—who Antoine admires as “not just a recording artist but a recording activist”—Antoine was recording music that mattered to him, for an audience that was not yet pandered to in the early 2000s. And while Antoine was chasing major label dreams in London, his newfound honesty was affecting his creativity in ways he never imagined.
“Had [a major label deal] happened then, I probably wouldn’t be the artist I am today,” Antoine says today. “I love being an independent artist. I can record whatever I like and release whatever songs I want. I can record a ballad one day and the next it could be a rock/rap track. I’ve recorded them all.”
HIV work ‘feeds my own spirit’
But music isn’t the only place that Antoine speaks his truth. Antoine was featured on the CNN special “In America” discussing being a gay parent with his daughter, has worked countless hours with Big Brothers Big Sisters of America, and works as a Senior Research Project Coordinator at Emory University, teaching a new CDC intervention (Couples HIV Testing & Counseling) to various AIDS service organizations & health departments.
“My work in HIV prevention and research feeds my own spirit,” Antoine says. “There are black gay men who slow me down to tell me that I was a part of helping to save their life.”
While it’s been three years since the release of new music, Antoine is currently working on a double-disc dance album tentatively titled “The Art of Dance,” which will feature both songs he has performed and others he’s produced, and hopes one day to record an album of Prince or Prince-written/Minneapolis sound covers.