Anthony Ramos is no stranger to the spotlight. The 28-year-old actor and singer burst into public consciousness when he starred in off-Broadway and Broadway runs of “Hamilton” in 2015, spearheading the dual role of John Laurens and Philip Hamilton. Since then, Ramos has gone on to star in Spike Lee’s Netflix series “She’s Gotta Have It” and earn a supporting role in 2018’s “A Star Is Born.” Alongside his many acting projects, Ramos released his first solo EP, The Freedom EP, in 2018.
Ramos released his debut album, The Good & the Bad, on Oct. 25, shifting to the spotlight once again. Only this time, it’s one that forefronts the life of the artist — bringing some of his most personal narratives to longtime fans and new listeners alike.
“(The Freedom EP) was about what was happening around me, about how people closest to me in my life were reacting … as opposed to me, solely,” said Ramos in an interview with The Daily Californian, distinguishing between the broader social commentary of The Freedom EP and the personal narratives in The Good & the Bad. “So this is my first album — it has to be about me.”
Ramos argued that his debut serves as an essential introduction to his work as a solo artist. “This is a first date with the world, essentially. I was basically like, I gotta pull from everything that’s inspired me, all the pain,” he explained. “That’s the name of the album — The Good & the Bad. Pull from all the good and the bad in my life, and really talk about it.”
The emotional nature of the songwriting process is clear throughout The Good & the Bad, which reads as a collection of stories told from a single perspective. The album is grounded in pensive, reflective tracks such as “Dear Diary” and “Figure It Out,” which examine an individual’s mistakes and self-growth in the process of pursuing their larger goals. That’s not to say the album as a whole is somber — instead, it is peppered with smooth pop tracks like “Mind Over Matter” and “One More Hour,” which showcase Ramos’ skill as a compelling songwriter and vocalist.
Ramos described the structure of the album as a detailed character study, one reflecting moments in his own life and career. “(The character) writes this love letter to his home, and the people he loves, and the people who helped shape who he is today — and he goes through this journey,” Ramos said. “Then in the end, he comes back home.”
As much as this album serves as a homecoming for Ramos — who has an opportunity to reflect on some of his most personal moments — it was also a sharp departure from the homemade sound of The Freedom EP, which Ramos primarily wrote with a cohort of close friends. Working on The Good & the Bad with a much larger budget and a team of new collaborators gave Ramos an opportunity to branch out — and to also push himself to be more vulnerable and honest with songwriters he hadn’t previously met.
“It was amazing how, in those moments, you can find some beautiful things,” Ramos said of the album’s collaboration process. “Everyone’s just trying to get to know each other and then get the most honest story. It was a cool challenge, and I’m really happy that I leaned into that.”
Ramos also reflected on some of the influences that shaped his songwriting process on this album. While hip-hop, which Ramos listened to growing up, played a major role as a genre influence throughout the tracks — he found himself gravitating toward the work of Nashville-based singer-songwriter Ben Rector. “The way he tells stories heavily inspired the way I made this album,” Ramos said. “He has lyrics that are tangible lyrics, that you can understand. … I want my album to feel that way.”
While The Good & the Bad gives audiences a thorough, personal introduction to Ramos’ upcoming work as a solo artist, the ongoing album tour also gives audiences an inside look into the stories behind the songs.
“It’s one thing to listen to the record, but when you come to the show, I get to walk you through what was going through my mind when I wrote every song. I love to let you know what you’re about to hear,” Ramos explained. “I get to actually be in the same room as you. I get to feel your energy and you get to feel mine — there’s nothing like that to me.”
Whether it be through the album or the tour, The Good & the Bad serves as a poignant, skillful introduction to the musical stylings and sounds of one of the music industry’s emerging talents. Ramos is likely to be at the front of audiences’ minds for the next year — after completing his current tour, Ramos will be seen in the lead role of 2020’s “In the Heights,” a film adaptation of the hit stage musical of the same name. Until then, audiences will have plenty of material to experience from Ramos’ burgeoning, dynamic discography.
The Good & the Bad, a charming and superb introduction to Ramos’ solo musical career, has a plethora of ideas and themes which listeners can relate to their own lives — elements Ramos anticipates will leave lasting effects.
“I hope people open themselves up to learning something that they probably didn’t know about themselves before they listened to the album, or maybe something that they already knew but didn’t want to address,” Ramos said. “Hopefully this album can give people courage — if you want to dance, dance. If you want to cry, cry. If you want to laugh, laugh. Give yourself the liberty to do that.”
Anthony Ramos will be performing at San Francisco’s August Hall on Nov. 15.