Grown Folks Music had the pleasure of speaking with the young queen and one to watch– Antonique Smith. The actress (you may remember her portrayal of Faith Evans in the movie Notorious) and Grammy-nominated singer talked with us about her new EP: Love Is Everything, how she notoriously (pun intended) got to play Faith Evans and her passion for activism. Read below and enjoy.
GFM: I hope you don’t mind me taking it back a bit because this is an introduction to you for many of the Grown Folks. Those who would know you probably would know you from your portrayal of Faith Evans in the movie Notorious. Talk about that role. How did you get that role?
AS: I knew it was going to be my role in my heart when I found about the audition. I was like, ‘Aww man, that’s my role.’ I used practice singing to Faith in my bedroom growing up. I loved all the characters. I was a fan of everybody in the movie. So, I just thought that I was going to walk in there and they were going to be like, ‘Oh there’s Faith.’ It didn’t really happen like that. I had to really fight for it… literally.
The director wanted some of the girls at the time who were more famous and he had his eye set on two different actresses. When I came in I wore a green sweat suit and I had my hair in a bun. I don’t know why I did that, but for me I felt like I was coming like a clean palate so that they could see whatever they needed to see. They was the opposite of what I shoulda did, ’cause what he saw was, ‘Oh, she’s not sexy enough.’ I had two auditions. He was feeling like I wasn’t sexy enough. Everybody thought that my auditions themselves– my acting and my singing was great– but he just didn’t see the vision.
The producer and the casting director did, so they called me and they were like, ‘Look we need you to come back in. We’re going to put you on tape. We want you to look sexy. Bring your hair down. Throw some more make up on. [Have your] lip gloss poppin’. Put some tight jeans on [and] some heels… look sexy.’ I came back and did the same audition– just looking better and he loved it.
Then, he brought me in for my final audition which was a chemistry test. I did a chemistry test with Jamal [Woolard], who was playing Biggie and I did a chemistry test with the girls playing [Lil’] Kim. One of the girls, she did not end up getting the role, but they had us do an improv. They said, ‘We’re not going to give y’all specific lines, but here’s the situation: Faith, you’re going to go confront Kim about sleeping with Biggie. She’s at work, you’re going to go to her job and confront her. Boom. Go!’ We just start pretending and I come up to her. I don’t even know what I said, but she started popping her fingers all in my face and giving me all this attitude stuff. I’m from East Orange, New Jersey right, so I kind of lost it and I ended up pushing her across the room. It all happened so fast and I was like, ‘Oh my God.’ I felt bad because I had really pushed her, but the room was going crazy. They loved it. They thought that was crazy. That’s when the director said he knew I was Faith– when I pushed the girl across the room. So, I literally fought for the role. It’s really an honor. It’s an honor to be a part of Biggie’s legacy.
GFM: Was it hard to play a real person?
AS: There was some absolute pressure there because everybody knew her. She was famous. She was an iconic R&B diva. It was nerve wrecking for me because I knew that the comparisons were gonna be so easy. More recently you’ve seen the memes on Instagram of how people will go at you really bad if they don’t like your portrayal of somebody. I was nervous that people weren’t gonna really receive it. But, thank God I was able to talk to her. She answered all the hard questions. She gave me the back story. She told me, ‘Me and Big really loved each other. That’s what I want the everybody to know… how much we loved each other.’ I went back to the director and he added some scenes and some stuff to make sure that love was there. When the movie came out [and] I still to this day get love from that movie… so much love. It was a blessing.
GFM: I know you got love from Nas. He shouted you out in a song [Nasty]. That’s mad love [when] you get put in lyrics.
AS: [Laughs] Absolutely, and that was a really dope line too. That was really dope lyric.
GFM: In addition to that movie, you’ve also starred on Broadway, so you’re acting career has some momentum. Was it just simply time now to develop the music side of things with this EP?
AS: Yes, absolutely. I was on Broadway first. Then, I did Notorious and a few other movies. When I met my manager Darryl Farmer, he was like, ‘It’s time for you to do your music’. I wanted to do music first. I actually ended up doing acting because somebody heard me sing and asked to be my agent and started sending me on acting jobs. Acting kind of came to me while my heart was trying to do music the entire time. But it wasn’t until I met Darryl that it became possible because he was willing to sacrifice and really to give to the project in a way that nobody else had ever been.
We first did a Kickstarter [campaign]. I’m on his independent label–923 Music Group– and we first did a Kickstarter before anybody knew what it was. It was in 2012. People were like, ‘Kickstarter, what’s that?’ We were explaining to people what it was and we were actually asking them for money for the same time. I don’t like asking people for anything, especially money, so it was his faith in it that made it go. I was like, ‘I don’t want to do this.’ He was like, ‘No, we can do this.’ We did it and we raised over $50,000 in 30 days from my fans and my supporters which is crazy– especially at that time. I was the first African American artist to do that. Then, we did “Hold Up Wait A Minute” and he began to sacrifice and put his own money into the project and we ended up getting nominated for a Grammy last year– Best traditional R&B Performance. It’s unbelievable, especially since that was my first single as an independent artist. That’s kind of unheard of and really a blessing. It paid off taking that time away from acting at that point and saying, ‘Okay, let’s focus on music.’ It really paid off in a huge way and now the EP is out, which my first body of work. My new is single is “All We Really Have Is Now”.
GFM: The single, “All We Really Have Is Now”, was co-written by Emeli Sande [and Toby Gad]. How did you come to get that song? How did you come to work with her? Or, were you given the song?
AS: I was given the song. I’m friends with Toby Gad. Toby Gad did “If I Were A Boy” for Beyonce’, “Big Girls Don’t Cry” for Fergie, and “All Of Me” with John Legend, so he’s like [the] beautiful-ballad king. I’ve been friends with him for a long time. We’ve done other songs together, but it wasn’t until he played me this one that I was like, ‘I love this song!’ It was a song that he had already written with Emeli. It was just a blessing that he let me have it. He could’ve given the song to anybody. It’s such a beautiful song so I’m really honored that he gave it to me.
It’s such an emotional song for me, because we all go through this [thing] where we’re not focusing on the moment. We’re more worried about what we don’t have or what we’re trying to get. Or, [we’re] comparing ourselves to other people, or thinking about the past and who hurt us instead of focusing on what it is we have right now or who is in our life right now that we love. We tend to sometimes give the silent treatment, or we’ll be mad over petty stuff when none of that really matters. The song says, ‘The future’s just a promise that may change with the weather. The past is just a photo book. All we really have is now.’ I had a little listening session when the EP first came out and I actually cried while it was playing because it really touches me. It’s something that almost everyday we need to remind ourselves of. In some area or some moment of the day, we’re going to get lost in the future thinking about what we’re trying to get, or what we don’t have, or being upset about what we wish things were, or thinking about the past instead of appreciating right now. Man, that song is a blessing. It’s my new single and people have responded to it. I had one person say after they heard it, ‘I’m about to call my brother right now and tell him I love him.’ It really is that heavy. Tomorrow is not promised. So, you’ve gotta really appreciate right now. All we really have is now.
GFM: When I listened to the EP, it has a mixture of soul and pop in my opinion. Is that the direction you’ll take for debut album?
AS: The album is going to be the full-length version of Love Is Everything. I like to call my sound, pop soul with a Hip-Hop appeal to it. I was inspired by Whitney Houston, Celine Dion and Aretha Franklin. I love the big-voiced divas. I sang in church so that’s how I sing. I was obsessed with Mary J. Blige. I thought she was just so cool. Her passion and her pain in her music– you could just feel her. She was so real. I love that. I love Hip-Hop. I love Michael Jackson, Prince, Stevie Wonder and Marvin Gaye. You can hear in my music the fusion of the things that I loved and the things that I practiced. If you combine all those things, that is what my sound is.
[About] Love Is Everything— overall, the overarching message is that if there was more in this world, a lot of these crazy things going on wouldn’t be happening. This whole Black Lives Matter movement wouldn’t be necessary if there was more love in the world, because people wouldn’t be getting killed unarmed in the street. There’s so many other things [like] all of the human rights violations going on all over the world, [especially] this thing going on in Flint [Michigan]. I was just in Flint and we’re testing the water. These people have been drinking this water since 2014… for two years… and we come in and find more toxic chemicals than government is talking about. It’s a major cover up. That kind of stuff– poisoning an entire city because they are poor and black and who cares according to the government– or that governor in particular. Love would keep that stuff from happening. Love would be more important than the greed that makes a lot of these horrible things in the world go on.
“Got What I Need”
Then, you have more details where each song is like a different experience of love. “Got What I Need”– I call that the song for the kings. The ballers have got a lot of songs. The ballers don’t need no more songs. They get celebrated enough, but the kings are the regular guys. They’re out there working hard. They’re loving their woman, they’re being good to their woman. They’re just regular dudes working hard. They are the ones that need a song, so I say “Got What I Need” is for the kings because it’s saying, ‘Ain’t got a lot of money, but you know how to please. Can I get a lil’ mo’?’ So that’s for the kings.
“Take A Chance”
The next song on the EP is “Take A Chance”. We’ve all been afraid in a relationship. Once you’ve been hurt, you’re afraid. But, you really do have to just be vulnerable, open up and take a chance.
“Hold Up Wait A Minute”
“Hold Up Wait A Minute” is [about] self-love. Take your power back, put your foot down for whatever the injustice is. When I was performing Hold Up Wait A Minute all over the country I would talk about Trayvon Martin, Mike Brown and Eric Garner. It was crazy too, as i was performing the song it would be more people to add to the list, which was so sad and so unbelievable. Whatever the situation is that you’re facing, it could be small, but whatever it is… hold up wait a minute. My “Hold Up Wait A Minute” moment was [when] the guy that I was dating was using my money… my money… to got see another woman. Hold up wait a minute. That’s self-love because when you have a large amount of love for yourself then you won’t allow some of those things to happen. You fight back against them. You shut it down.
“Higher” [is] the song that was curated by Dr. Dre. We got the track from Dre and we wrote the song. I’m not going to get on the guys too hard, but guys, sometimes y’all are afraid to commit. When we can feel that energy of y’all being afraid to commit we start to ask all the wrong questions like, ‘Oh my God. Where is this going? Are you seeing other people? Are we exclusive? What’s our future? What are our goals?’ All of these questions and y’all just disappear on us, which is not what we’re trying to do, but that is what happens. So “Higher” is what you say to a guy to make him look at you different and make him want a commitment. The song says, ‘Don’t you worry, I’m not trying to change you. I won’t chase you. I’m only trying to elevate you higher if you let your guard down.’
“All We Really Have Is Now”
“All We Really Have Is Now” is the next song on the EP and I just talked about that. We’ve gotta focus on the moment because tomorrow’s not promised. My grandmother always says, ‘Give people their roses while they can still smell them.’ So that’s how we need to live everyday.
“Here Comes The Sun”
The last song on the EP is a cover of a Beatles’ song called “Here’s Comes The Sun”. That song is a song that I had the honor of singing for the Pope on the National Mall in D.C. where Martin Luther King, Jr. gave the “I Have A Dream” speech. It was for the Pope’s private rally last year when he was in the U.S. I sang it all over the country actually at rallies. I was [travelling] around the country with the Hip-Hop Caucus. I’m an activist. That’s why I was in Flint too. I was around the country telling people about the pollution in their air and in their water. That’s why they have cancer, asthma and heart disease. People don’t know this. They don’t know that’s why they’re getting sick. I lost a lot of people in my family recently to cancer. It’s because we grew up near a power plant. Among other things, now we’re just finding out that there’s lead in the school system in their water fountains. There’s a lot of stuff going on all over the country that’s just like Flint but less obvious. Flint is a very obvious situation. It’s very blatant. Everything else around the country is more covert. They are covertly poisoning people. People are living next door to people working with hazmat suits. Well if you have a hazmat suit on, then why am I 200 feet away from you and I don’t need a hazmat suit? “Here Comes The Sun” — it’s like an ode to solar power. The sun is sitting up in the sky, bidding us to use it. If we use the sun and use less oil and all of these more polluting energy sources, then we could power our homes and our cars and we could live a great life without anybody getting sick and anybody dying. “Here Comes The Sun” is a hopeful, beautiful ode to the sun. That’s my little activist moment at the end of the EP [laughs].
GFM: I was intrigued when I learned that you have a passion for activism. You’ve talked about it throughout the interview. You’ve touched on different issues, but talk specifically about your desire to use your platform and your voice for certain causes.
AS: I feel purpose I feel like it’s what I’m supposed to be doing. I feel like helping people and saving people’s lives and bring awareness to people that are under attack or they’re being literally poisoned and dying and letting them know why finally… that to me there’s something more purposeful about that than just entertaining people. I’ve always enjoyed entertaining people and I still do, but I feel purpose when I’m using my gift for activism.
My next project as an actress is even that [about activism]. I’m going to be on a show called Shots Fired. It’s a show on Fox. We haven’t started shooting yet, but it’s written, directed and produced by Gina Prince-Bythewood and Reggie Rock Bythewood. Gina Prince-Bythewood did Love & Basketball— one of my favorite movies. Sanaa Lathan is going to be starring on the show. It has a Black Lives Matter connotation. When I tell you that this show is going to be powerful and so hard-hitting… it’s gonna move people and hopefully help further this movement of change that we’re all on. On all levels I want everything I do to touch people, to help people, make people think, to bless people and help create change in some way.
GFM: What is your definition of Grown Folks Music?
AS: When I think of Grown Folks Music, I think of soul. I think of the two-step. I think of sexy, mature music. For some reason I think of chillin’ and groovin’. Grown folks music is cool and chilled, because when you grow up all of that extra turn up… nobody’s trying to do all of that. We’re chillin’ [laughs].
Connect with Antonique Smith
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