Beliefnet
This album might be called the Second Coming of Tonex. Originally recorded and released on Rescue Records in 1997 with minimal exposure, "Pronounced Toe-nay" is back on the shelves courtesy of a joint venture between Verity/Jive Records and the hip-hop mavens at Tommy Boy Records. In recent years, music fans have become used to compilations and DJ re-mixes that record labels can release with minimum investment in production costs and maximum return on their talent roster. A straight re-release, asking consumers to take another look with no value added: That takes guts.

But then you need guts to pull off a name like Tonex, especially if you're going to require people to--yo, ahem--drop the "x." Fortunately, our man does it with style. And style is the driving characteristic of "Pronounced Toe-nay." Don't get me wrong: Tonex has something to say, but sometimes that takes a backseat to a production that cradles Tonex's voice as it drips, lilts, and crackles over tracks that studiously reference Stevie Wonder, Prince, Wyclef Jean, and a host of other gospel, pop, and R&B icons.

"Pronounced Toe-nay" is ambitiously categorized into six main sections, each highlighting a specific genre: hip-hop/rap, retro/funk, the future, jazz, mellow grooves, and soul/gospel. Not many performers could manage an album of this sprawl, and it is a testament to Tonex's talent as a songwriter and vocal technician that the CD doesn't collapse upon itself.

The title track and accompanying remix, "p.t. 2001," are a brief introduction to the flow and phrasing that have established Tonex as a controversial figure in Christian circles. Rhymes like "I'll be popping caps in demons as-pirin/I know you're drooling off my beats here's a napkin," and "I got the drug for the East and the West Coast, I got the new kind of blunt called the Holy Ghost," have earned him, by conservative critics standards, "bad boy" status.

That attitude has garnered him the support of fans that appreciate his street-level honesty. Tonex is at his peak when he's either dropping the funk on tracks like "One Good Reason" or when he's sharing the imperfections and insecurities that make him human. He's done drugs, he's had sex, and he tells us all about it. Not because he wants us to do the same things he's done, but because he wants us to learn from his mistakes. "Taxi" talks about his mistake of having pre-marital sex: "A love that was pure, you see, was changed through iniquity. I guess things will never be the same."

Yeah, he's preaching, but not from a superior position. On "Why?" the acknowledgment of weakness is also the singer's strength. The song is a smoky request for Jesus' forgiveness on the jazz tip.

Mysteriously, Track 19 is untitled. But it is one of the most singularly moving tracks on the CD. The chorus ebbs and recedes over a ponderous beat as Tonex preaches about repentance and salvation.

A little more guts would have prompted Tonex to boil these wide-ranging, multi-category cuts down to their essence and re-re-release "Pronounced Toe-nay" as a stronger, tighter, album. Until that happens, you'll have to skip around to find the phat tracks, but you'll be glad you did.

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