In Snoop Dogg’s “Words Are Few” video, there’s a man with a curly wig and red beard who hits atmospheric notes. That man is B.Slade, formally known as Tonéx, and his credits as a vocalist, songwriter, and producer are all over Snoop Dogg’s Bible of Love album, which was released in March 2018 and debuted at no. 1 on the U.S. Gospel Albums chart.

Although he's long been vocal about embracing his gospel roots, the album was a departure for Snoop, and B.Slade played a significant role in guiding the sound of the album and its ultimate success.

“Words Are Few” is actually an old song, originally written, produced and performed by B.Slade on his 2003 double-disc underground album, Oak Park 92105 (under his former Tonéx moniker.) The project was released independently, between his major label studio albums, 02 in 2002 and 2004's Out the Box (which went platinum).

“A lot of people don’t know [Oak Park] was the sequel to ‘Pronounced Toe-Nay’ but the label didn’t want to put it out. It was too risque,” B.Slade remembers, referencing his 2000 major label debut.

While Pronounced Toe-Nay included a tortured rumination on getting high and having sex: “I can’t seem to behave because of the things my body craves,” Oak Park had surgical precision in its specificity of vices. B.Slade wanted to talk about the addictions that Christians feel too ashamed to discuss with their pastors. But his label, Verity/Sony, wasn’t having it. The label wanted Sunday morning songs, and not after church confessionals. Around this time, B.Slade remembers Verity making him submit 11 different versions of his sophomore follow-up album, 02 — a polished, yet relatively safe record.

“Following 02, I knew I wanted to do something more street. Like way more raw,” he said of beginning Oak Park recordings around 2001. “I had a little money in my pocket and I’m feeling very ambitious. I didn’t really care about what anybody had to say because I had enough money to take care of myself and if they didn’t like it, I was still going to be okay.”

I remember listening to "Words Are Few" 15 years ago on my Sony CD Walkman. I was a churchy high school kid with the sex drive of a wet paper bag, learning about the secret struggles of being a single, adult Christian. On Oak Park, an album he says he felt compelled to make in spite of the label's refusal to release it, B.Slade blends hip-hop and R&B, which bleeds into funk, folk, and nostalgic gospel. The album is named after B.Slade’s tight-knit southeast San Diego neighborhood. This is where he wrestled with the nebulous guilt of his private life conflicting with his public church persona. His cinematic storytelling weaved fictional and personal details to discuss struggling with pornography and masturbation, having a pregnancy scare, and smoking weed while afraid of Jesus coming back.

It’s not surprising that Oak Park is considered the first album by a Christian-based artist to have a parental advisory sticker. B.Slade was so ahead of his time that he prepared me for the spiritual questions I never knew I would have about my sexuality and mental health.

However, his transparency about his struggles came with detractors. In fact, when Snoop Dogg’s team reached out to B.Slade to help him work on his gospel album, he'd already essentially been blacklisted from the genre, after sharing in a 2009 interview that he's attracted to men. He dropped the Tonéx moniker completely in 2010, in favor of working on music as B.Slade. His revelation happened when he was at the top of the gospel world, and married to his ex-wife Yvette Graham in the mid-2000’s, before being cast to the bottom.

B. Slade’s gospel career as Tonéx died, and he almost did too.

“October 2010. I did contemplate an attempt at suicide but I thought about what it would do to people like you and people who love me,” B.Slade admitted during a lengthy phone conversation. “It shows a lot about my healing that I can even talk about this."

I listened with gratitude, knowing his music helped keep me alive while dealing with the fallout of two suicide attempts, including one this year. The church has become a place I mostly avoid out of fear I will be attacked for having chronic depression. But for B.Slade, church wounds happened on a much larger platform. He hasn’t listened to Oak Park in its entirety for years.

B.Slade spoke about Oak Park and its legacy 15 years after its initial release. He specifically remembers playing parts of the album for Snoop in the studio while prepping for Bible of Love, and the strong reaction it elicited from everyone in the room, particularly when he played the track "Pain," which also shows up on Snoop's album.

“Everybody is nodding their heads. I’m talking about gangstas," B.Slade remembers.

“Pain” is a sprawling jazz-driven driven ballad with sweeping strings and a triumphant organ closing. B.Slade’s voice sounds more expressive and nimble on Snoop Dogg’s album version as he sings, “Your weeping may endure for a night, but your joy comes in the morning...”

“If you can endure it and get to the other side—the way you talk, the way you sing, the way you deal with other people— you can’t be the same person,” he says.

The listening session at Snoop Dogg’s studio was an opportunity to christen him as a core component of Snoop Dogg’s gospel era.

“Snoop was sitting behind me the whole time and I didn’t even know it. And he was just like, '‘Everybody up in here says you the MVP of the entire music game right now,'" he remembers, falling into a Snoop impression. "I got people I was working with for 30 years that don’t ever get excited about nobody and they told me you the best in the game. You think I’m gonna let you be around and not have you on my team? No cuz, this right here is a whole movie. This how the movie gone open and this how the tour gonna open too.’”

Snoop Dogg was referring to his plans for Redemption of A Dogg, a touring musical that opened in Houston on October 5 and will continue hitting cities through March 2019.

In the time since he left gospel, B.Slade's career hasn't stalled, only switched directions. He’s a backing vocalist on Patti LaBelle’s tour, and has worked with a who’s who of legends, including Chaka Khan and B.Slade’s muse and mentor from afar, Janet Jackson. Continuing with his production and songwriting, he's worked on Faith's Incomparable album, and has penned songs for Elijah Blake and Sheila E. He also wrote and co-produced "I.R.S." by Angie Fischer.

Fifteen years after the release of Oak Park,  B.Slade still feels there’s still a vacuum of transparency in gospel music.

“There is no edgy," he says. "There is no [one] addressing these things. If I came out right now as Tonéx … it would change everything all over again.”

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