City Paper is not for tourists
Antonio “Tony Redz” Lovett was best known as a radio personality on WPGC 95.5 FM and as a rapper, both with and without the highly popular bounce beat band TCB. He was best loved for his tireless work on behalf of his community.
He died last month at age 45 due to a heart attack. That his death reverberated in so many cultural realms is a testament to the multiple roles he played: in go-go as the second mic rapper for TCB, in hip-hop as an independent rapper, in theater as a comic actor, and in radio for nearly 20 years as he presided over WPGC’s top-rated Street Squad Radio and then his own nightly show.
“He had a great hustle; his whole purpose, his whole movement was to push local music,” says rapper Calvin “Killa Cal” Henry, who collaborated with Tony Redz on “The Go-Go Show” and other tracks. “He was plugged into everything, and he helped people with exposure by getting them on the radio. He loved his city, he loved where he came from. We have truly lost one of our own.”
Tony Redz called his brand “Mr. 24/7,” because the hustle never stopped. A stylish dresser with an easy laugh, he radiated the kind of infectious energy that lights up a party. Raasan Fuller, head of R&G Entertainment and manager of Backyard Band and its bandleader Anwan “Big G” Glover, regularly tapped Tony Redz to host events. “He was a household name, a great dad, a great and loyal friend to many, many people, and a natural born entertainer, so it’s innate,” says Fuller, who hosted Street Squad Radio with Tony Redz in the early 2000s along with Phil “Big Pheezy” Perry and Tyrone “Freaky Ty” Wade. “And you know what I love most? He’s versatile. Tony Redz could host an event with kids, he could host an event in the ghetto, and he could host an event for all middle-aged white people and always get the same response.”
DJ Rico Scott first met Tony Redz in the late ’90s, when they both worked at WPGC. “His energy would definitely make you step up your game,” he says. “He really was a voice for the community, somebody who didn’t have to know you to love you. He was all about helping out independent artists and giving back to certain communities.”
Growing up in and around Southeast D.C., Tony Redz attended several high schools before graduating from Springbrook High School in Silver Spring. For several years, he studied acting at Howard Community College and the University of the District of Columbia while immersing himself in go-go culture. He performed with Pure Elegance, Optimystic Tribe, Rare Essence, and other go-go groups before joining TCB.
Most go-go bands have three front-line microphones: Number one is for the band’s lead talker, number two is for the rapper, and number three is for the vocalist. The second mic job is like a hype man, but much more. “He was a super spark plug,” says TCB percussionist A’Luvly AKA Luv. “Thinking about recent shows we did in Atlanta and LA, he just commands everybody with that energy. He makes everybody feel untouchable.”
Tony Redz brought that intensity to every project, and there was always a lot going on. He was the guy to hit up if you were looking for airplay, the guy who could connect you with a music label, the guy who would throw together a fundraiser faster than most folks eat lunch, the guy who would organize a back-to-school drive in the heavy heat of August and stay until the very end.
While he focused on rapping, Tony Redz was also a multi-instrumentalist who played drums over the years at various local churches. But he wasn’t a go-go drummer. Several people in the go-go community recall a night several years ago at the Ibiza club, when Junkyard Band’s drummer missed a show that activist Ron Moten had put together with Junkyard, Backyard, and Experience Unlimited. “Tony Redz jumps on the drums playing with Junkyard, and if you didn’t know, you’d be like, ‘this is all right.’ But if you was in go-go, you’d be like, ‘oh, my god,’” Moten says. “He got us through the night, and he lived up to his name as Mr. 24/7, always figuring a way to lend his hand to the community. He was always there for the less fortunate, and trying to pull people to work together. That’s who he was. People like him, Big G, Lil Chris from TOB, they were doing it before it was popular.”
Members of TCB credit Tony Redz for helping Elgin “Bo” Miller hold the band together after the 2013 death of bandleader and bounce beat innovator Reginald “Polo” Burwell. “Tony Redz stepping up to Bo’s position when Bo stepped into Polo’s position happened at a time when everyone was required to step up,” TCB manager Rome Curtis says. “It was a level of energy like, ‘I’m gonna do whatever it takes to keep this bounce beat alive.’”
In 2014, Tony Redz was promoted to become a full-time night show personality on WPGC, fulfilling a lifelong dream. “Go-go, that’s where he’s from, but his ambitions were in radio,” former TCB co-manager Darrin “X” Frazier says. “He was on the number one radio station in his hometown, and not many people can say that.”
While his WPGC commitments meant less time for TCB, Tony Redz focused his attention on boosting area artists with the DMV Spotlight, his show’s most popular feature. “With his position, he was able to lift the culture,” Curtis says. “He was one of the top influencers here in D.C., and not just for the music culture, but also local clothing businesses, food businesses, and organizations wanting to meet consumer needs on a mainstream level.”
To the best of his ability, Tony Redz supported local artists in an era when most commercial radio has seemed to disregard area talent. “Nobody in radio was doing what Tony Redz was doing,” TCB keyboard player Goldie Hefner says.
Theater producer Lovail Long Sr. was one of many who enjoyed watching Tony Redz rise. “I went from seeing him passing out flyers, doing street promotions, to being the number one show on PGC,” Long says. “He learned the grassroots marketing situation, and he used that to give the youngsters a platform for their music to be heard.”
Tony Redz performed in two of Long’s theatrical productions, The Giz and Da Golden Girlz. In The Giz, Tony Redz played WB, the wisecracking sidekick of the Dottie/Dorothy character. Long recalls that, early on, Tony Redz had him worried. “The first two rehearsals, he was terrible,” he says. “We were all thinking, ‘he can’t read,’ but nobody wanted to correct him, because he was Tony Redz. We couldn’t understand what was going on.” It turned out that Tony Redz had simply neglected to bring his glasses.
For an encore production of The Giz slated for 2021, WB will be renamed Tony Redz. “The last time he texted was after our last show on February 8th, and he wrote, ‘thank you brother for letting me be part of the dream,’” Long says. “I never had the chance to tell him he’s one of the few that helped me with my dream.”
Tony Redz was a devoted family man whose vices were Red Bull and red Blow Pops, and he was known for his style: coordinating socks, shoes, jacket, and hat. “He had a real nice hat game, some bedazzled hats,” TCB bassist Johnny “Groove” Worth says.
Groove remembers the late night when his car died after a show at Fast Eddie’s in Camp Springs. “Tony brought me all the way to Montgomery County, and he lived back in Prince George’s County,” he says. “That’s the kind of person he was. And all the knowledge he attained over the years, he would give that to you in five minutes.”
Friends point out that his fame as a radio host eclipsed his own career as a rapper, but Tony Redz never seemed to mind. “A lot of people don’t know he was a very talented solo artist before he was on the radio,” Killa Cal says. “His style was very smooth, very lyrical, very energetic.”
In the early 2000s, Tony Redz regularly joined Rare Essence on stage Sunday nights at the Classics in Camp Springs to perform additional verses he wrote for “Work That Thang.” Rare Essence bandleader and guitarist Andre “Whiteboy” Johnson recalls those nights: “His performance was one of the highlights of that song, because of the energy he brought and the originality in his verses,” he says.
“He was one of the best freestyle rappers in the city,” TCB drummer Zae Alston says. “Tony was speaking some real stuff as a fighter for the community.”
Tony Redz lived up to his words offstage, speaking at area schools and volunteering for community youth movements. “We’d visit schools and Tony would tell the students to stay out of trouble and stop the violence. He tried to give them a better insight on life,” Hefner says. “He was a leader and a legend. He was a bounce beat king.”
In 2019, Tony Redz left WPGC deeply disappointed, but resumed regular performances with TCB. He also connected with local rapper Fatz Da Big Fella to start a video blog, Da Big News, praised by The DMV Daily as, “Filled with clever satire about black issues, highlights on entrepreneurs, discussion about various subjects in Urban culture, and a signature ‘DMV flair.’” One recent episode featured a “Battle of the Snickerdoodles,” pitting mall cookies from the Shops at Iverson against those from the Centre at Forestville.
“He was a local legend, he had the charisma, and he put on the struggle of the independent artist. That’s the same thing we did with the show,” Fatz DaBigFella says. “We found hidden gems in entertainment, fashion, and food, and were shining a light on them.”
Several days after he learned of Tony Redz’ passing, area filmmaker James Mitchell compiled a video tribute, one of several that have shown up on YouTube. “If you look on YouTube, you’ll see hundreds of video clips of him helping somebody,” Mitchell says. “I took the time to just look back and say, ‘Why don’t I just be that one person to do something for him.’”