Anthony Ramos consistently asks himself one question upon signing onto a project: “How am I giving back to people?” The 28-year-old entertainer, who catapulted to stardom after playing in the original Broadway cast of Hamilton, is incredibly thoughtful about the art he releases into the world. This moral is palpable in his latest project: a recreation of the iconic song If You Want Me To Stay with fellow vocalist Ari Lennox. The powerhouse pair laid down a smooth rendition of the track, in partnership with The Main Street Alliance and Crown Royal, intent on raising awareness for a cause close to their hearts.
We caught up with Anthony to discuss this philanthropic venture, his groundbreaking upcoming projects and what it was like for him to stream Hamilton at home amidst a global pandemic.
HOLA!: First of all, we’ve been listening to your song Stop nonstop. How ironic is it that you release music about slowing down and then the entire world slows down?
Anthony Ramos: I wrote the song on March 3, flew home to New York on March 4 and then two weeks later the world stopped. And I was like, ‘this is bananas. I wrote a song about the time.’
I’m really trying to be conscientious of where my mind is at. It’s really a song about not going somewhere else before you have to get there. It’s in the lyrics. All the things I wish I knew how to do well.
Speaking of new songs, your collaboration with Crown Royal is beyond inspiring. Can you tell me a bit about the process of reimagining Sly and the Family Stone’s iconic song If You Want Me To Stay?
It was fire. When Crown hit me up about wanting to team up and do this, I was really excited. I felt like this was a dope way to have art intersect with things that matter to me. It’s always dope when art, and the things that you value in life, and the messages you want to put out into the world meet in the middle. This message of generosity, of giving.
Ari Lennox is so amazing... a voice like you wouldn’t believe. Witnessing her work live is a whole other vibe. In the booth we were having a dialogue. We basically got up in the studio that day and said, ‘yo just give us an hour or two to figure out the format of the song and how we’re gonna sing it.’ We put it together that day, which is wild. In a few hours. We sliced and diced and just started cutting vocals. There was so much love in the room.
Karena Evans is such an incredible director too. She’s so gifted and talented, and such a sweet human being. It was awesome. We got that whole song done in like a week.
Wow. And now people can give back simply by listening to and enjoying the song.
Stream the song! Stream it, stream it, stream it. Every time you stream the song you’re helping and giving back. You’re contributing to a business having a shot to stay open. That’s what you’re doing every time you stream the song, yo. Wash the dishes, go take out the trash - keep the song playing in the background! Listen to the song, but even put it on when you gotta leave the house - for people that aren’t concerned about their electric bill. You know what I’m saying? Keep it on rotate!
Do what he says! For every stream of the track, Crown Royal will be donating $1 (up to $500,000) to the Mainstreet Alliance to help support and save the beloved bars, stages and clubs in danger of closing due to the global pandemic.
Ari and I are also donating our artist royalties. Main Street Alliance they’re a nonprofit that helps small businesses stay open and right now they’re focusing on the bars, clubs and stages. As an artist, playing live that’s a part of our job, that’s a part of our livelihood, that’s a part of, I think, what keeps us alive, too. Being able to feel the energy, give to an audience and feel them feel back. That’s something we don’t have right now and these businesses are hurting because of it.
I love the message of ‘let me be myself’ in the song, too. Sly and the Family Stone always made a statement with their music. Is that something you’re cognizant of as well when picking projects?
We all want to make a living and we all need to keep the lights on and we all have dreams of having a house or nice vacations, whatever comes with financial gain... But as an artist, I feel like when your passion meets your purpose… we’ll always find where we need to be. Some people call it a spirit or a gut feeling, but you know when you’re walking in your purpose.
When I make art, I try to ask myself: ‘What’s the message I’m putting out in the world? What am I saying? How is this giving back to people? How am I serving?’ At the end of the day, I’m in the business of service. I serve people. That’s what I do. I make music so people can listen to it to hopefully feel something to inspire them to maybe do something. I’m cooking up this meal to serve to you. I ain’t trying to give you a bad meal. So I’m very cognizant of the ingredients I’m putting in each meal and what I’m giving back. That’s always in the back of my mind.
That’s so important.
I’m about to shoot a space movie. Nobody ever seen a Puerto Rican in space! The lead of a space sci-fi film. I wanted to do that. The movie’s about connection. These two people… They’re like the last two people on this planet. They’re trying to find each other. We can only hear her over the intercom. I’m talking to her the whole time. How real is that even right now in this time when it’s so hard to connect with people? The movie’s called Distant.
We can’t wait for that. Of course, you had a big movie come out while everyone was staying safe at home. It was such a bright spot for people amidst a dark time. Did watching Hamilton on Disney+ change the way you saw the story at all?
It didn’t change the way I felt about the show, but it made me appreciate that time even more. It made me appreciate the level of talent I was blessed to be on stage with. I was watching the movie like, ‘everybody in this movie is so good. This is crazy!’ It’s one of those things where you don’t even realize what you’re in until you step away from it and you see it. I can’t even believe I was a part of that.
I got mad emotional because I started thinking about all the stuff we went through as a cast. Doing the show Off-Broadway, Broadway… I was a part of that show for two and a half years. I was 23 when I joined that cast. My first Broadway show. It was such a big moment in my life. The biggest thing for me was watching it and being like ‘dang this is immortalized. This lives in the world forever.’ Such a blessing that this will outlive me.
Help Crown Royal support cultural and community landmarks and the people who make those venues special by streaming Anthony and Ari’s If You Want Me to Stay on all major platforms now!