Anthony Ramos walks down the street, mask over his chin, as he strums his guitar, playing for anyone who happens to walk by this particular part of Bushwick in Brooklyn, the neighborhood where the 28-year-old singer, dancer and actor grew up. The words he sings are an instruction — a suggestion — to pause and create some space in between the constant go, go, go of life. “I wrote Stop on March 3rd,” he tells American Songwriter. “It was the last song I wrote during a two-month writing trip in LA before I came back home.” Two weeks later, the entire country, and the world, very much did that – it stopped.
[This story originally appeared on American Songwriter]
“This song wasn’t even about this time,” says Ramos. “It was about my personal life. I was having a really hard time just stopping, being still, being present. It’s all in the lyrics,” he continues, before dropping the first verse of the song:
Sometimes I wish my life was like a photograph
Double tap the good ones and just Photoshop the bad
Put ’em in my wallet, in my pocket, if I need ’em, then I got ‘em
But life don’t work like that
Sometimes I feel like I’m in Nikes on a track
Even when my feet are up, my mind is runnin’ fast
When I’m home, I get impatient, when I’m gone, I kinda hate it
‘Cause my life works like that
Sunsets and open water
Skies full of technicolor
Beauty right in front of you
There’s so much to discover if you…
“That’s what the song is about,” he says, explaining how he wrote it for himself, as he struggled with focusing on the moments in his life, day-to-day. “I’d be washing the dishes, thinking about what I’m doing in 30 minutes or I’d be chilling with my girl, watching a television show and not even paying attention to it, ‘cause I’m thinking about what happened yesterday or what I have to do tomorrow.”
Stop, breathe it in for the moment
Stop, give it a minute and you’ll own it
Stop, only just begun
Soon it’ll be almost over so just
Stop, see what comes into focus
Stop, it’s kind of crazy what you’ll notice
Stop, like a setting sun
Soon it’ll be almost over
When the global pandemic first set in, with lockdowns rolling out in different cities, Ramos, whose career had been on a steady rise — from Hamilton to She’s Gotta Have It and A Star is Born — found himself with the time he needed to put the lyrics of the song into practice. “I got a call that the movie I was doing was postponed. I was supposed to go out to Hungary, and then the world was shutting down, the borders closing. And I’m like, ‘wow, dang, this song feels even more applicable to not only my life but what’s happening in the world.’ ”
Up until March this year, Ramos, who almost gave up on his career before he landed the duel part of John Laurens and Philip Hamilton in the cultural phenomenon that is Hamilton, had been on a non-stop ride, moving from one project to another. More acting parts came his way, including the lead role in the upcoming movie version of In the Heights, while he released his own music, first through an EP called Freedom, then last year’s The Good and the Bad. Stop is part of a new collection of songs for his next album, which is due out in 2021 — most of which he wrote in LA. Up until March this year, Ramos hadn’t been home much.
“I’ve had the opportunity to just be here, be present, in the home that I worked so hard to have. You work so hard for certain things but you don’t get to enjoy them. You want to have a great relationship with your partner, and you find somebody that’s good, but then you just don’t make time to be with them. You work hard to have a beautiful home, work hard to buy that car that you love that you never get to enjoy ‘cause you’re always on planes. I feel like this time has given me perspective. I was working so hard before this, but I’m trying to work smarter,” he says.
The enforced hiatus has had an impact on his songwriting process too, in the way Ramos writes, but also the kinds of pauses and breaks he incorporates into tracks, like the literal split-second gap before the chorus that happens on Stop. “When I first started writing, I’d write these long verses; I’d have so much to say, like, ’how do we put everything we want to say in this,?’ Sometimes there’s so much going on in a song you don’t have a moment to digest it. It’s like eating your food so fast you don’t even get to taste it.” Then he started playing around with melodies and literal stops — “bells and whistles.” It’s something he’d tried out before, on the track When the Bell Tolls, off 2018’s Freedom EP, but now is exploring more; giving songs their own room to breathe. “What do we do when we hear a bell? We stop for a second in our minds, ‘Where is that coming from? What does it signify?’” he says.
Through the director of the music video for Stop, Ramos met one of the many people who lost their jobs during the pandemic. The “mini music film” that accompanies Stop features Anthony Payne, a hair groomer, who set up shop on sidewalks and cut people’s hair for donations that he’d give to various charities supporting the Black Lives Matter movement. “Anthony is one of those people who really stopped and took the time to ask themselves, ‘How can I serve? I know my circumstances are such, but how can I use them to benefit my community?’”
Since it was released a week ago, the song has also taken on an another layer of resonance too — with the urgent need to end racism in America. “As a result of us stopping and seeing moments as they happen, it’s harder to ignore things that are problematic, that are right in front of our faces. You have to pay attention. You see a video of a man being suffocated for 8 mins and 46 seconds —how can you ignore that? You can’t, especially right now, especially with everyone in front of their TVs and phones,” he says. “It’s a blessing to have a sense of stillness and to process information and figure out how we’re going to react to those moments that feel wrong or feel like they don’t align with the betterment of humanity. This is the time.”