Anthony Ramos on Life After 'Hamilton,' Working With Spike Lee, and His Political New Music

Anthony Ramos
Marzena Szymanska

Anthony Ramos

Since finishing his star-making turn in Hamilton (in the dual roles of John Laurens and Philip Hamilton), Anthony Ramos has been a busy man: he recently had an arc on Will and Grace, and his upcoming projects include the highly-anticipated, Bradley Cooper-directed A Star is Born with Lady Gaga; next summer's Godzilla: King of the Monsters; and the upcoming Spike Lee Netflix series She’s Gotta Have It.

Amidst all that, the Brooklyn native is also prepping his debut as a solo artist. Over the course of three months, inspired by the outcome of the 2016 presidential election, Ramos locked himself in a Los Angeles studio, recording a set of thoughtful songs relating to the state of the country in the intervening year.

Ahead of their release on Friday (the first anniversary of election day), Billboard exclusively premieres two of those tracks — the reflective “Freedom” and hopeful “Common Ground" (Ramos' EP will drop on the first anniversary of President Trump’s inauguration in January). Here, Ramos discusses life since Hamilton, working with Cooper and how he funneled his political rage into song.

I’m sure you had a lot of options post-Hamilton. Why tackle this music project?

This was really about me challenging myself to take chances. When I told my agents and my manager I wanted three months off (to work on music), at first I think they were kind of like, “What?” But I’ve been feeling heavy. We started writing “Freedom” a day after election day. It turned into a passion project after that; I knew if I didn’t finish it now I never would and I would have always wished it had come out. Look, I could have written a regular pop song that sounds like anything on the radio, or I can write something that means a lot and really step out. I don’t know if I’m hearing anything that sounds like these songs, which can be a blessing or a curse. Who knows? People can love it or people won’t, but it means a lot to me.

Did Lin-Manuel Miranda’s writing and the subject matter of Hamilton inspire you to tackle your music in such a personal and political way?

It was a mixture of doing Hamilton and working with Spike [Lee]. Spike is the type of person who doesn’t follow a rule in the book and has really been doing it his own way his entire career. I’m doing these projects that mean so much to these people who created them, but what am I creating that means so much to me?

As an artist, you can work to make money or you can be an artist who thinks about their legacy. I think legacy is much more important than making money, which is why I needed to work on this music. [After the election], what motivated me, I guess, was the shock that most people felt, thinking it was going to go one way and it went another. And then this outrage… Am I going to sit there and have the mentality of whatever happens, happens? There was so much to write about, that to not do something almost felt like a crime. 

You worked on these tracks with producer Will Wells, who’s worked with Logic and Pentatonix. How did you join forces?

Will worked on the Hamilton cast recording, doing some of the production. One day I sang one of my bits on stage and and he pulled me to the side: “Yo, Ant. Have you ever worked on a record before?” He was like, “Not for nothing, bro. Everyone here’s special. But you….” I said thanks and shrugged it off. But that thought process kept boiling inside of me. Since then we started our own record company, Whole Team Winnin LLC. It’s about our entire team and providing a platform for our enormously talented friends to do what they love and to shine. 

You’re also a part of Miranda’s “Almost Like Praying" charity single. How did you get involved?

As soon as this went down in Puerto Rico, I had sent him a text saying, “I don’t know what you’re doing or what your father [the consultant and activist Luis Miranda] is doing, but I’d love to help out.” Lin texted me and said, “I got this track and I want you to jump on it. I’m gonna have you singing with Marc Anthony and J Lo.” I got in the studio by the end of that week and I spent an hour on it. I’m so happy it’s doing well, it’s so important.

You also recently shot A Star Is Born. What can you tell me about that project?

I play Stefani [Germanotta, a.k.a. Lady Gaga]’s best friend, Ramon. (Laughs) I can’t call her “Gaga” — I worked with her for two and half months! This is Bradley’s directorial debut, and he’s one of the most focused filmmakers I ever had the privilege to work with. He’s all about making it better; he’s a beast.