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I was raised by a man who was raised by San Diego. In 2000, I lived hundreds of miles away in a placeless place called Greensboro, North Carolina. I was 13-years-old watching Showtime at the Apollo back when Steve Harvey said “Show ya love!” before every Apollo contestant and celebrity guest.

B.Slade, then known as the urban gospel artist Tonéx, looked like he was high. Or maybe zoned out. Or maybe really creative. His silky locs cascaded around the mic stand. He wore one of those huge coats like a pimp in a blaxploitation movie.

The organ runs, dragging bassline, and snare hits let me know Tonéx was about to bring the funk. He sang “Personal Jesus” with a tone that sounded like sweat, childhood trauma, and late nights calling on the name of Jesus. Though it was obvious he naturally had a lithe tenor voice, he was also a squaller who can turn his voice into a loud, harsh rasp that signifies he’s a top tier church singer full of the anointing.

Just the phrase, “Personal Jesus,” sounded heretic. Jesus was essentially our pastor’s Jesus. To democratize Jesus and say I should know him personally beyond my pastor’s interpretation seemed revolutionary. I bought Tonéx’s mainstream debut album, Pronounced Toe-nay, within the next 24 hours, or so I remember.

“He sound like he just woke up,” my cousin said of Tonéx while “Personal Jesus” played at the Christian bookstore.

I ignored her statement and waited for the cashier to put my CD in the bag.

Pronounced Toe-nay was one of the first albums I bought independently of my mom, who forced me to listen to only gospel music. Fortunately, my mom’s taste in contemporary gospel overlapped with mines. One of our favorite gospel artists, Helen Baylor, sang of being delivered from a seedy life as a secular singer. She prepared me for what I would hear on Pronounced Toe-Nay.

There were songs like “Why?” that had tortured ruminations on getting high and having sex: “I can’t seem to behave because of the things my body craves.”

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