By Carol Ozemhoya
Most music artists today shy away from social issues when presenting their music, especially the young ones and those that are coming out for the first time. Not Antonique Smith. With her debut track, “Hold Up – Wait A Minute,” she is boldly making a statement on what is going on in the world today. Her reward? A Grammy nomination alongside industry veterans the likes of Kem, Lalah Hathaway and Marsha Ambrosius in the Traditional R&B Performance category.
Radio is also picking up the track. In just a couple of weeks, it’s hit the top 30 on Billboard.
Check out the video, which was directed by accomplished actor Larenz Tate, and you’ll see her dynamic style, stunning voice and a story line that is universal. The New Jersey native says the lyrics of the song are as much about a woman’s confidence as it is about people waking up to the injustices going on around us. “Hold Up – Wait A Minute!” she belts out in her Broadway bold and colorful style.
Indeed, Smith is not your conventional pop, hip-hop or R&B artist. She is a veteran of Broadway (“Rent”), television and film (she played Faith Evans in the biopic “Notorious”) who has decided to take her talent to the streets.
Using her connections with other entertainment stars – Lance Gross, Larenz Tate and “Vine” star King Bach – and an acumen for business, she put together the video and song using money she raised from Kickstarter. “We raised more than $50,000 in 30 days,” she tells us in an exclusive interview. “It was amazing. We had some ideas of what we wanted to do, but once things started to happen, it just had its own flow. There are great rewards for people who contributed to the campaign, such as recording a song with me… like Karaoke style. Or they get to come to a movie set with me… come to a performance. Hang out with me. People from all over the world kicked in – perfect strangers, friends and family, people from Broadway. The contributions were from $1 to $10,000.”
The move from acting to singing, Smith says, was a smooth one. She points out the success of several contemporary artists that carry both torches, such as Jennifer Lopez and Jamie Foxx. “Acting helps me emote my songs. It helps me touch people more. It helps me connect with people.”
She adds that being nominated with the likes of Kem, Lalah and Marsha was a stamp of approval that the move to singing was the right one. “It’s unreal. I have been dreaming of this moment since I was a little girl. It’s like a fairy tale dream. I am getting recognized as an artist.”
The single will be followed up by an album in the coming months called “Love Is Everything,” a though-provoking mix of ballads, pop shots and dance tunes with strong messages. “It’s all the good things and experiences of love. All the self-love – my own personal experiences. A guy using my money to go see another girl. The social situation – the Michael Brown and Eric Garner situations – it’s like “Hold Up! Wait A Minute!” These are all things that make us feel powerless. But we have to wait a minute and get together and put our foot down. Elevating love – I believe we can elevate each other. I feel like when we talk about female confidence, we don’t have to talk about male bashing – the truth is we need each other. I want to share with everybody. I want to get some people thinking. I want to touch people and I want to help people.”
Smith is dead serious about inspiring people to work for a better world. She will also be heard on the album “Home,” a project presented by the Hip Hop Caucus to raise awareness about climate change and “expand the climate movement.” She recorded a version of Marvin Gaye’s “Mercy Mercy Me,” which serves as the album’s lead single. The collection is currently up for pre-order and is available on iTunes with additional contributions from Common, Ne-Yo and Elle Varner.
Even with a limited budget, Smith’s work has attracted some of the best producers and songwriters in the biz to work with her on the project, a testament to her talent. Her own album, “Everything Is Love,” will be released via independent label 9:23 Music Group and boasts production from Toby Gad (Beyoncé, Fergie), Danja (Justin Timberlake, Usher), Jukebox (Willow Smith, Eve) and the elusive icon Dr. Dre.