Drawing comparisons to groundbreaking artists like Jason Kay – frontman for Jamiraquoi – and discovered by multi-talented superstar Pras, Dante Thomas exudes the wisdom of sub-’70’s old school soul with the young-gun swagger of the new breed of R&B singers taking over pop. On Fly, the first album for Pras’ appropriately named Rat Pack label, Dante’s hypnotic vocal style wraps itself around intricate rhythms and sonically tethered basslines carefully sculpted by sought after producer Vada Nobles (Lauryn Hill).
Destined to become one of the ‘essential’ albums of 2001, the disc also relies on the 23 year old singer’s gift for interpreting a lyric, as he imbues songs like Miss California, and the title track Fly, with the kind of charismatic depth that only the best R&B singers possess. “When I was younger I was always listening to Stevie Wonder, Donnie Hathaway, singers like that,” says Dante. “I had this friend who was also into music. One day he told me: ‘You want to sing like those cats? Go listen to what they listen to. Then you’ll be a singer.'”
Born in Salt Lake City, Utah, Dante bought a bus ticket to New York City soon after graduating high school to pursue his dream of being a singer. “I didn’t know anybody. I slept in the bus station my first night there.” He soon entered a safehouse for kids trying to make a go of it in ruff n’ ready New York. “I would look for a job and also be trying to get my career going on the side.”
But New York was also a wake-up call for Dante. “I made progress, then I’d find I was losing myself a bit.” He eventually made his way back to Utah. “I was thinking about giving it all up. You know, getting an electrician’s job like all my friends.”
It was only when his manager had enlisted some more connections in New York that Dante reconsidered. “I went back for one more try. We decided to take our demo around again. One night we decided to go to this New York recording studio, The Hit Factory. Pras happened to be there. He was with Vada Nobles. My manager wanted Pras to listen to the tape, but he said he had to go out.”
Pras promised Dante’s manager he’d listen to their demo when he returned. They waited six hours. When Pras finally did come back, he was so impressed with their patience he listened to the songs. “He said he wanted to do something together, and for us to call his assistant about making a time to meet. But this was my moment, and you never know what could happen if you let a chance slip away. I knew I couldn’t let the opportunity pass. I started busting a Stevie Wonder song right there.” Needless to say, Pras was impressed enough to begin working with Dante that same evening. “He played us Miss California, and said ‘let’s cut it right now.’ The version on the album is the exact same version we laid down that night.”
Dante also was able to flex some other talents on the new album, sharing the writing duties on Fly with Pras. “Pras had given me the music and said ‘go home and write what you feel.’ A lot of the song is preaching to myself. Searching my insecurities, my own prejudices. The entire experience of working with him and Vada was wonderful.”
But Dante realizes that a one-in-a-million story like his could easily have gone the other way. “But no matter where you end up, you have got to be true to yourself. I could still be in Utah. I’d have an OK job, maybe some kids. They’d be saying; ‘Daddy is a good church singer.’ And that would be all right with me too.”