Obviously, there hasn’t been a feature film released on television this year that’s garnered as much attention as Lifetime’s Aaliyah: The Princess of R&B. Between, the One In A Million singer’s family voicing their animosity toward the project, Wendy William’s involvement and changes to leads, a polarizing public perception is the best a project like this could hope fore. Though many will most definitely tune in to learn new details on Aaliyah’s controversial relationship and short marriage to R Kelly, the film also focuses on her relationship with Dame Dash. The Roc-A-Fella co-founder would be the last person romantically involved with singer and emerging actress before being killed in a 2001 plane crash. 

Putting himself in the shoes of Mr. Poppington is Toronto-based actor/rapper Anthony Grant. If he isn’t auditioning for roles, he’s listening to beats and writing. A relative unknown outside of those with a penchant for Canadian television, Aaliyah: The Princess of R&B may be the film that ultimately pushes his career forward or backwards. Regardless, when the biopic airs people will undoubtedly be talking about him. 

Anthony Grant Reveals What Research He Did For The Role

HipHopDX: Aaliyah: The Princess of R&B features your role as Dame Dash. What kind research did you do to accurately portray the Roc-A-Fella co-founder? 

Anthony Grant: Great question! In every project that I do, there’s a lot of research that goes into basically finding a place of truth or point-of-reference. Dame Dash is a real person and not a character so that makes all the difference. What I tried to do is listen to where he was coming from. Keep the rah-rah stuff and let me see what you’re really trying to say. If you make sense, then I can relate to you. In his position, he’s a very knowledgeable guy and makes a lot of sense as far as his points and objections. That was real to me because I’m firm on standing for something. My research was the internet because I never got to meet him. Hopefully, we still can. I was looking for certain details like how he and Aaliyah walked together. Body language says a lot. They had a playful love that was real. Just listen to how he was affected by her death. As a person or human first, I know what that’s like to be affected by love. It’s never easy to portray someone who is real. It’s never an easy job so at least I could get exactly where they’re coming from. 

DX: You mentioned that you were a recording artist. How did you view Dash from an artist perspective in comparison to your thoughts on him now after stepping in his shoes?

Grant: That goes back to the point of reference in knowing that he comes from a Hip Hop background. Me being an artist and producer, understanding the hard work that it takes; that was very real to me. I know what it is to be in the studio and telling you what you can’t do. In respect to his lane in what he did with Roc-A-Fella and Jay-Z, it was real to me. 

DX: Dame spoke a lot this year about cultural appropriation in Hip Hop. Understanding your knowledge of him, where do you stand with what he said?

Grant: You know what? There’s a certain cut-off point and the reason why is because this movie is about the wonder and talented Aaliyah. Had this been a film about Dame, Jay-Z or the Roc-A-Fella empire, I’m sure it would have went to that level. This film features a unique twist on Dame that I’m sure people will see and appreciate. You get to see a different side of Dame Dash. A side that the media doesn’t show. As wonderful as Aaliyah was, she saw something special within this guy. The reason why I’m bringing that up is because I understand how he feels about the culture of Hip Hop. I get that one hundred percent. In this particular project right here, it made it real for me to say this. Regarding to the aggressive side of him, does he have a point in justifying why I would be upset while playing Dame? He’s saying yes, the culture is being diluted. I can agree with him to a certain extent. I can’t speak on his behalf but there is some justification in what he’s saying if I need to go there. There’s a scene in the film that represents the question of what are we doing for ourselves as black people. So seeing Dame talk about that does help in scenes like that. 

DX: Any particular video of Dame online help you get his full essence?

Grant: The videos that I watch most were the ones of him interacting with people; just his temperament. I wanted to fully utilize his energy in how he projected. Making the transition from that to being in a scene where it didn’t cause for that and putting everything together was very difficult. Again, getting a real sense of him. Well before this movie, looking at him and what he did for Roc-A-Fella, he’s a very confident dude. I’m a confident dude too. For me, one of the strongest things that I had to key into was the love. That was the hardest thing to find because anytime you type in Dash, it’s beef with this person or beef with that person. There are some videos where he talks about his feelings toward Aaliyah but most are the other things. I, more or less, needed to portray his loving side. I felt like I found enough of that and just the human in me. 

Anthony Grant Ruminates On The Industry Pushback & On Screen Chemistry 

DX:  Alexandra Shipp clearly has had immense pressure to perform as the lead. What was the chemistry like on set? 

Grant: She’s a lot of fun. She really is. I give her a lot of credit. When you ask me about how I feel about the role, it was pretty straightforward to me and was great. I can only imagine how much soul searching Shipp had to do when taking on this role as a professional. She’s very talented as an actress and singer along with being very funny. We would go into a scene and she would burst out into a song or something crazy. For me, I like people with a lot of good energy and she brings that to the table. It was a lot of fun.    

DX: The biopic has come with a lot of push-back. Most noticeably from Aaliyah’s family. Dame’s been relatively quiet about his thoughts about the film. Has anyone in your camp reached out? 

Grant: You’re right, he has been pretty quiet about it. The first thing I heard came along the lines of not knowing if he was even going to be in the movie or don’t quote me on this, the perception of him. Because he has been receiving some negative press in the media, he didn’t know if the film was going to clown him.If I could to speak to him I would say not at all. They were trying to find the beauty in the relationship. I hope he’s happy with what he sees. I’m confident in the work that I do. Personally, I’d love to sit down with him over coffee, beer or whatever. Out of respect, I would like to meet the person I’m portraying.

DX: Aaliyah’s relationship with Dame comes years after her controversial relationship with R Kelly. Did the film change your perspective on their relationship?

Grant: Honestly speaking, I didn’t tune into that. Even being on set, not all actors are going to be there. When you’re not shooting, you’re at home reading scripts or practicing. When you’re doing those scenes, I wasn’t apart of that. I didn’t have to worry about that because my focus was on Dame and Aaliyah’s relationship. I can’t really talk much on that. What I can say is that I know the gentleman that’s playing R Kelly and he’s very talented actor.

Anthony Grant Meditates On Where This Role May Take Him

DX: Do you think this role will help you as a recording artist? Do you think this could get you in trouble within the industry?

Grant: I would like to think not because just like anything, you get a request to audition for a role. It’s my job to show up, do what I do and hopefully allow things to work in my favor. With this job, as an actor and artist, our lives are out there. What that means is that you need a thick skin. Not everyone is going to like it. Some people may hate me and some may love me. To each his own. I always try to stay optimistic. As far as an artist I’m very true to my art and fortunately, I did a song called “Noticed Me.” It’s an edgy love record and it’s actually in the movie. I’m not too worried about the outcome. The twist is this. I have so much respect for Aaliyah and she was such a great talent. People are going to look at this project and see the story of a positive person. If you look at Aaliyah, she was a strong women that accomplished a lot in very little time. Even with that, she didn’t compromise. If you follow, Aaliyah’s career, she didn’t do it one bit. For me, that’s inspiring. I hope people can look at that and understand that nobody’s perfect. You find positivity in any type of situation.

DX: Is your goal with having your music featured in the movie to get more exposure in that realm? You’ve been recording music for a while now correct?

Grant: Yeah, I’ve had music make Top 40 in college radio three years in a row. I do this and I’ve  been finding the balance. I let God lead me and he’s given me an abundance of blessings. This is one of them. Exposure for people to see some of what I can do as a recording artist and actor. The beautiful thing is that it happened so organically. It wasn’t forced or anything. Everything worked out. I want to be heard across the world because the method behind my music is that at the end of the day, I want encourage people to live and be happy. It sounds very cliché, but it’s very easy to die. Humans are very fragile creatures. I feel like I can help people enjoy their lives. If I can do that through my music, I’ll do that and know it’s authentic.

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