Front + Center is Rated R&B’s artist discovery series, putting new and emerging R&B singers at the center of your attention.
ike many traditional R&B singers, Tone Stith’s introduction to music came from the church. The New Jersey native credits his mother for getting him acquainted with gospel, which helped develop his voice as a singer.
“She’s the one who taught me how to sing. She was singing in church before I was singing in church,” Stith tells Rated R&B over a Zoom call in early March. “She would take me to her choir rehearsals every Saturday. I was always listening to her [and] mimicking everything she would do. That helped me so much with understanding music and the process of just falling in love with it.”
Stith’s involvement in church also helped shape his musicality. “I was just around music. It definitely triggered something in me, and having that background in church helped me understand music in a different type of way.”
Voice isn’t the only instrument he knows. The well-rounded musician also plays the drums, piano and guitar. Even though he started playing the drums at age three and is the first instrument he “fell in love with,” it’s the guitar that occupies a big part of his heart.
“Now that I’m older and I’m on my sixth year playing guitar, I would probably pick guitar over drums because it’s almost like singing at the same time. You can make your guitar sing notes, which is mind-blowing to me,” he explains.
Although Stith acknowledges he has “lots to learn with the guitar,” his impressive skills can be heard on “Devotion,” a standalone single he dropped in fall 2020. It was his first song release since his Good Company EP (2018), which included appearances from Swae Lee, Quavo and Ty Dolla $ign.
While recording “Devotion,” Stith and his team knew right then that they wanted that song to break his musical silence. “We all were like, ‘There’s something special going on with this song right here.’ We were like, ‘Let’s just put ‘Devotion’ out for it to be the newest song that I dropped in two years and to put it out there for the fans.’”
In February, Stith released “FWM” as the proper lead single and title track to his new project, which is out now. The single artwork shows Stith sitting in an old-fashioned room with his guitar by his side. The moody banger, which he says “felt different than any other songs” he’s made, isn’t about an instrument, though.
“The inspiration came from many nights of being in the club and being around parties. There’s always people in the club that you see that try too hard and just doing the most. It came from all the times that I’ve been in the club. It’s just been chill for me. I’ve never done too much. I have a good time, but the energy always seems to just gravitate to wherever I’m at.”
He adds, “When I was writing the song, I was just thinking about how a lot of people talk about flexing in a club, but they don’t talk about, ‘Yo. I’m being cool and everybody is just gravitating towards me. I’m not doing much, but it’s also a good time.’”
In addition to “FWM,” the EP includes the follow-up track “Like The First Time,” which was co-written by now Grammy and Oscar-winning songwriter Tiara Thomas, a close collaborator to H.E.R. Speaking of H.E.R., she also appears on the track “When You Love Someone.”
In our interview with Stith, the rising act dives into select songs on the EP, talks about his musical bond with H.E.R., why he chooses to invest in Bitcoin and offers his opinion on the debate about male R&B artists slacking.
Your EP is titled FWM, which stands for F*ck With Me. What’s the significance behind the title?
I feel like I’m older now. I’m 25 and I feel like it’s a different side of me. I want to show everybody that you’ve heard of me before, but now it’s really time to f*ck with me pretty much.
You teamed up with H.E.R. for “When You Love Someone,” which samples Donell Jones’ classic “Where I Wanna Be.” How did that all come about?
It was H.E.R.’s song first. She was working in a studio where we were working, in another room. I guess on the way there, she talked to [our manager] Jeff [Robinson], saying like, “Yo, I got this song for Tone. I want to play the song for Tone and see what he thinks about it.” She came in and played the track. I was hooked from the sample, for sure. The way she approached it — because she wrote all of it — and the delivery on it just had me at the jump.
This isn’t the first time you two worked together. You opened up for H.E.R. on tour and collaborated on her “Could’ve Been (Remix).” Can you talk more about your musical relationship with H.E.R., besides sharing the same management?
Doing the remix was actually before I met anybody on the team [and] before I met H.E.R. They picked me for the remix, which is crazy because then I ended up going on tour with her. I think the most that I take away from working with [H.E.R.] is she’s so authentic and so organic. Her performances, the way she carries herself, it’s all real and genuine. I’ve taken a lot of performance tips from H.E.R. Last year was the first time we ever worked together in the studio. Cutting the song that she wrote was an honor. It taught me how particular she was with her music, which showed me how particular I needed to be with my music.
You also teamed up with your peer Lonr. on “Keep It Real.” It’s definitely a bop. What was your experience like working with him?
We’ve known each other for about two years now. He’s amazing. I love his approach to writing. It’s very natural and nothing is forced. That studio session was great. It started based off a conversation about life and where we’re at now.
You released two solo projects Can We Talk (2017) and Good Company (2018). How would you compare FWM to those previous works?
At the time, it was more of a rush type of feeling, even for myself, because I was like, “I need to get music out. I need to get music out.” It’s always been like that since the group (SJ3) ended. It was like I needed people to know what I’m on. So, those projects, I kind of just put things out there. With [FWM], I took two years off from putting out music. That helped me find myself and get more in tune with myself.
When people listen to the EP, what do you want them to get out of it?
This is a new introduction. For the people that have heard it, this is a re-introduction. This is different than what I’ve done before. For the new people, now is the time to f*ck with me. Now is the time to get on the train because we’re about to take off and we’re going to keep going. After this project, we plan to release several more. The next few years is just going to be a whole ton of music coming out.
You often tweet about Bitcoin and the stock market. From a singer/songwriter’s perspective, can you elaborate on the importance of income streams?
I love the music industry. It’s a blessing. But when it comes to checks, they don’t come fluently. It’s not like your every day, nine to five, where you can get a check every two weeks. You never really know when your next check is coming. So it’s very important for artists out there to take the money they have and make multiple streams of income. You don’t want to keep all your eggs in one basket.
There have been some discussions on social media about how male R&B singers are slacking compared to what women are doing. What’s your take?
I love where music is at right now. I love that for women right now. They’ve pretty much taken over everything, not just R&B but rap, which is great. I think that was very much needed because before that, of course, you had your Rihanna’s and Beyoncé’s, but it was a lot more male artists. I think they’re setting that blueprint for us males to step it up and really come back even stronger. I’m just excited about where music is going. I feel like more musicality is coming back to music.