Ryan Toby Reflects on 'Sister Act 2' and Teases New Music on the Horizon

30 years after his breakout role in the cult classic "Sister Act 2," actor, singer, and songwriter Ryan Toby is ready to step up to the mic again. He talks to BET about his music career and upcoming projects.

In 1993, while still navigating the halls of high school, Ryan Toby snagged a role that would change his life forever. His portrayal of the socially conscious teen Wesley Glen Ahmal James in "Sister Act 2: Back in the Habit" shot him to stardom and earned him a devoted fan base that’s been going strong for three decades.

Last week, Whoopi Goldberg thrilled “The View” audience with a special 30th-anniversary reunion of the St. Francis Academy choir. The cast, especially Toby, proved their vocal chops are as sharp as ever.

“People have these deep-rooted memories of growing up and watching the movie. And in my mind, my memory was like, I was petrified the whole time because it was work,” Toby told BET. “There was nothing emotional about it. It was work. And it was my first time. All I could tell myself was, ‘Don't mess up. Stand on your mark. Make sure you hit that note.’”

His portrayal of the socially conscious teen Wesley Glen Ahmal James in Sister Act 2: Back in the Habit

The reunion show was a trip down memory lane, with everyone eagerly anticipating Toby's iconic rendition of “Oh Happy Day,” especially that one unforgettable note. The audience was treated to a matured voice, polished by years in the music industry, proving he’s still got it. Their joy and satisfaction were palpable. Post-reunion, Toby has been swamped with interviews and launched a social media challenge to silence the critics doubting his ability to hit that note as he did in his teens.

“Once people immortalize you in their mind from what they are used to and what they remember, they have so many memories connected to it,” Toby said reflecting on that famous note.

Taking it in stride, Toby dared his fans to hit the note themselves. Spoiler: many have tried, and even more have failed. Check out his Instagram stories for a good laugh.

Though “Sister Act 2” is now a beloved cult classic, Toby recalled it being a box office dud at first. The film only gained popularity when it hit television screens. Toby wasn’t an overnight sensation; he was a kid from Willingboro, NJ, dreaming of becoming the next Tevin Campbell. After the movie, he dabbled in acting on TV and off-Broadway. His big break came six years later, thanks to DJ Jazzy Jeff and his production company, A Touch of Jazz.

Whoopi Goldberg Reunites With 'Sister Act 2' Cast on 'The View'

“Jeff was like, ‘Yo, we could try to put a project together for you and get you a deal.’ So, I started working on music. In the interim, Jeff was like, ‘Hey, I got so-and-so coming into town, you want to write for them?’ I said sure,” Toby recalls. Jeff also offered him a shot at writing a TV theme song, and soon enough, more writing gigs rolled in.

“Jeff introduced me to the life of a songwriter. And I just owe him the world for that because it just changed my whole trajectory,” he said. Toby’s pen game led him to work with stars like Will Smith, Usher, Jill Scott, Musiq Soulchild, Mary J. Blige, Justin Bieber, and more.

Despite his success as a songwriter, Toby never abandoned his dream of being an R&B singer. This dream eventually blossomed into City High, guided by Wyclef Jean, whom Toby met through Lauryn Hill, his “Sister Act 2” co-star.

As the story goes, Toby connected with Robbie Pardlo, a fellow high schooler from New Jersey signed to Jean’s label, Booga Basement. Initially, Toby wrote for Robbie, but Wyclef recognized Toby's singing talent and suggested they form a group.

“I went over and I signed with Wyclef and Jerry Wonder. Robbie and I initially were City High. It was a duo. And we just had Claudette (Ortiz) just singing on choruses. But when Wyclef and them heard her, they were like who's the girl singing on the hook? They met her, they fell in love with her. And they were like, we should be the new Fugees,” Toby explained.

City High's debut album made waves, debuting at #34 on the Billboard 200 and earning Gold certification within months. Their first single, "What Would You Do?," shot to number 8 on the Billboard Hot 100 and snagged a Grammy nomination.

Although a second album never materialized, Toby continued honing his craft. During the COVID pandemic, he released 10 volumes of Songs for the Lockdown. Now, buoyed by the “Sister Act 2” reunion, he’s ready to drop new music after a global sabbatical.

“I've been traveling the world since December. I left LA and just started like buying one way tickets around the world. I was in Colombia for two months. And I was in Thailand and Bali for a while. Then I went to Africa for two months. And I was stockpiling songs. I take my little portable studio microphone with me so I can record wherever. And then I ended up with three albums worth of music. So I was like, all right, I'm gonna put an album out,” he said. His new album, Passport, dropping Friday, June 14, celebrates his recent travels.

From teen star to seasoned musician, Ryan Toby continues to embrace his journey with humility and pride.

“I've been in the music industry for 30 years. I've done a lot. I've been a part of some iconic things. I'm getting recognized for things I did 30 years later. Like it's crazy to me. But I just feel really honored and humbled by that.”

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