by Myles Tiessen
It’s not easy to reflect on the little details that make up our day-to-day life. We’re often rushing through our day, going from one thing to the next in a frantic fashion. We also don’t often like to look back on our past for fear of embarrassment, discomfort, or something else entirely. Rumination can feel like an isolating and arduous activity.
So why then does Anthony OKS make it seem so damn easy?
On his new EP In The Garden, Anthony (Sannie) effortlessly dances around issues that have plagued his mind for ages. It’s a six-song EP that displays Anthony’s ability to shift his lyrical flow, storytelling, and style to create something that sounds lush and full of songs that are both nostalgic for times past and optimistic for the future. Anthony effortlessly moseys his way through an ethereal garden – stopping to smell the roses that represent his isolation, family, and promise for a better life.
“Not to be cliche, but with the isolation and lockdown, there was a longing for community and family,” says Anthony as we talked over the phone during a break in his soundcheck for his show later that night.
That unification of family wasn’t meant as hyperbole or intended to be exclusive. His father’s large family linked Anthony to people he didn’t know existed. During the pandemic, he was connected to at least 30 new family members. “That got me thinking about my parent’s stories and [throughout lockdown] there was a lot of time to think about people in my life and new relationships I want to form, my relationship with my partner- all exciting things, but very emotional.”
Anthony directly links these emotions to the new way he approached writing In The Garden. With more signing and a focus on hooks, In The Garden is approachable and filled with poetically crafted metaphors expressed in creative new ways. “I’m not a trained singer, so some of the parts I sing might sound a little raw, but I think they sound better that way.” Whether it be singing or rapping, Anthony brings the same vitality, celebrating his prosperity and tribulations.
The sound of In The Garden is loose and carefree- incorporating jazz, samples, and exciting features, including one from the Winnipeg-based Begonia, into a beautifully coloured theatrical-sounding project. Rhyming over beats created by paalsh, Anthony’s approach to lyrical expression has shifted on this project.
As he discusses his creative process, Anthony’s humility shows. He talks in metaphors almost as much as he does literally, and he is innately aware of his faults.
“Even though this is my project, I’m still a team [player]. I never try to control things I’m not a master at. I can make the music for sure. I have an eye for imagery and design, but I’m not a designer, I’m not a producer, I’m not a label, I’m not a lot of things.”
By allowing himself to recognize and let go of the trappings, he can provide space for his strengths to grow and shine.
After all, this collaborative approach has been incredibly successful for Anthony. As a founding member of the hip-hop group The Lytics, he is no stranger to letting others take the lead.
“It’s nice to have other eyes on things because you can get pretty comfortable with one or two great ideas, but when you have another person you’re working with on something specific, you can lean on them.”
Collaboration is a significant factor in how In The Garden came to fruition, but Anthony’s ability to canvas his own mind and reflect on his experiences in unique and compelling ways is what thematically exalts the EP.
On one of the EP’s stand-out tracks, “All About You,” he experiments with self-deprecation as a way to promote emotional growth. The second-person narration begins with a self-made hero, “Starring in your own motion picture/ You the lead, you the victor/ In the edit room, you try to find a way to look bigger./ Re-write your parts, so you come across a bit sicker/ No team, no familia.”
With its all too smooth beat and dream-like guitar hook, the song lulls you into an illusory meditation reminiscent of some of J Dilla’s best work. Before long, the goliath-sized protagonist implodes under his own weight and is left to reflect on his life.
“Only here for some time and then we go/ Life will keep on moving — with or without you/ So be sure to spread your love man, make it known./ Yea, Don’t make this life about yourself/Don’t make it all about you.”
The platitudes found on “All About You” serve as mantras for Anthony while working on In The Garden.
While reflecting on the inspirations for this project, he spoke of family and loved ones. “Aside from music, [inspirations were] conversations I was having – understanding my relationship a little better and thinking back on the trials and tribulation regarding my relationship and how it’s blossomed over the years.”
There are several songs on In The Garden that reflect on family. In particular, “Boy From Freetown” recounts the story of his father’s journey from Sierra Leone to Canada, and “Line of Fire” is about fighting depression with the power of brotherhood and music.
On “Line of Fire,” he raps with tunnel vision over a machine gun-like snare drum, saying, “I lost some years when I was younger, My soul was deprived/ I lost some smiles when I was weaker, I wasn’t alive/ countless nights I stayed up thinking bout stress in my life.”
Despite the melancholy lyrics and sonically dark production, Anthony maintains that “Line of Fire” is about hope. “I’m talking about the things we [as brothers] thought of and dreamed of as kids and what kinds of things we wanted to make realities.”
The bond formed with his brothers is documented throughout In The Garden and is clearly influential to how he views himself as a musician. “There are a few things I’ve realized have given me purpose; music, family relations, things you may take for granted at the moment, but when you have a little bit of time to sit down with your thoughts, you realize ‘oh shit’ these things are very important to me, and I should cherish them and write about them.”
Anthony has the ability to absorb and process a remarkable amount of stimuli around him. Even though we spoke over the phone, he remained attentive and alert. “Quarantine made me pay attention to the finer details of everything; what I was eating, what music I was listening to, what I was talking about with my friends, family, my partner, future plans and memories. Drifting off [thinking] about playing shows with The Lytics and how that made me feel. I just stopped and thought about everything and what everything meant up until now and what the future holds.”
Listening to Anthony sing and rap his way through a beautifully crafted album is a rewarding and captivating experience. Most likely because In The Garden is reflective of his innate ability to stop, listen closely, and think. It’s full of hopeful and sincere songs about finding his place within his ever-developing family.