At just 26 years old, Bushwick native and New Utrecht graduate Anthony Ramos is already proving to be a triple threat.
The local celebrity – known worldwide as the originator of both John Laurens and Philip Hamilton in Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Grammy-Award winning musical phenomenon “Hamilton” and, most recently, for his role as an eccentric Mars Blackmon in the Spike Lee-steered Netflix series “She’s Gotta Have It” – has spent the better part of the still-young New Year promoting his music.
Nearly a decade after accidentally auditioning for his first musical during his junior year of high school (he thought it was a talent show) and just months after his small-screen debut, Ramos released his first-ever EP on Saturday, January 20.
Its release date – the one-year anniversary of President Donald Trump’s inauguration – reflects both the album’s title and its most prevalent theme: “Freedom.”
“This record is my love letter to the country,” Ramos said, stressing that, while there’s only one name on the record, its contents – from the lyrics and instrumentals to the synths and production – reflect way more than just one voice.
“We started writing it the day after the election,” Ramos explained. “My writing partner Will Wells and I, we got together and we were gonna write a song with this amazing producer, Zach Golden, who co-produced the entire record with Wells – we were gonna write something else but what had happened was weighing so heavy on everyone’s hearts.
“Of course there was shock but, even deeper than that, I’d never seen so much division in my life,” he said. “Not like that.”
What followed, Ramos said, were extreme feelings on both sides – emotions he and his team were able to channel into the EP. “There was so much excitement on one side and so much sadness and sorrow on the other,” he said. “I was like, ‘Yo, this country is about to be at war with each other.’ The only way I knew how to react was to use this outlet I’ve been given.”
The album’s title track was the first to be written.
“The title track is about questioning freedom and what it actually means to people,” Ramos said. “When we were writing it, we were asking ourselves, have we been free in our minds this whole time? Sure, we’re physically free – we can say what we want and do what we want to an extent – but it got us all thinking, are we actually free in our spirits or have we just been coasting this whole time?”
The answer, Ramos said, is entirely up for interpretation.
“I would never say freedom means X, Y or Z,” he said. “This song is about asking somebody what freedom means to them and, below the surface, it’s about my relationship – be it with this place, or this person, or this thing – that I thought I knew but I actually don’t.”
The tracks that follow touch on the highs and lows America has long faced, tying together clashing themes like hope, anger, chaos and unity.
“The second song, ‘Common Ground,’ is about not giving up on someone or something – it’s like, I know there’s chaos happening but as far as I’m concerned, I love you, let’s make our way back to common ground,” Ramos said.
The third track, like the album itself, stemmed from a gut feeling similar to that of the project’s inception. “‘That’s another one that, my boy Will and I were gonna work on something else, until our friend Adam Hanson came in and said, ‘There’s been a bombing in Manchester at an Ariana Grande concert.’
“We couldn’t focus. We said to ourselves, we’ve gotta write about this,” Ramos said, adding that the song and its title – “When the Bell Tolls” – explores what it means to die, and “what could possibly be going through someone’s mind when their life is leaving them.”
The five-minute track – complete with heavy synths and crushing crescendos – starts and ends with the sound of breathing, its climax a massive instrumental-only bridge Ramos feels encapsulates the vision of one’s spirit leaving the body. “Zach is a genius,” he said. “I told him what I was thinking and he just brought it to life.”
As a means to bring the listener back down (by suggestion of his girlfriend, fellow Hamilton alum and actress Jasmine Cephas Jones), Ramos included a song called “Prayer” – an acoustic, mostly a capella track meant to bring listeners to a quiet place and mirror the acts of meditation and prayer – to serve as “the calm before the last song,” a 3:49 minute conclusion called “Alright.”
“‘Alright’ is a song that says, we’re gonna be all right,” Ramos said. “Come put your hand on my shoulder, don’t fall apart. This song is my call to the world to say, don’t give up on yourselves, don’t give up on other people, don’t give up on life – we’re gonna be all right.”
Released independently (“We didn’t want anyone or anything getting in the way of making the most honest album possible”), “Freedom” has already been well received.
With over a quarter-million streams so far on Spotify alone (the singer says the EP will be available on all platforms Saturday, January 27), Ramos is proud of both the record and its response. “I’m just humbled and super excited,” he said. “We hope that these songs will reach as many people for as long and as far as possible.”
After all, Ramos said, “We can’t have a nation without one another.”