The Year of Weird(o)

Story by Katie Kelly

Photo by Jackson Hendrix

“I am not you, bitch I am me,” is the resounding declaration made within the first 3 seconds of A Weirdo From Memphis’ single “Polo.” The statement and delivery is riveting, not just because of the boldness, but because you’re left with the unmistakable feeling that this is the truth and not some sort of superficial proclamation. The Memphis rapper is not you or me and truthfully, he never wants to be. A Weirdo From Memphis (AWFM) is wholly and unapologetically himself and this year he’s about to reintroduce you, dear listeners, to exactly who that is.

Music, and hip-hop specifically, has been a constant in AWFM’s life for as long as he can remember. “I’ve been into rap since I could talk. I was very lucky to have a mom that didn’t make us go to church or like listen to gospel all day. Back then, there were only two stations for rap on the radio. I remember being in the car seat and if I didn’t like the song on one station, I would ask my mom to switch it to the other station,” he recalls. “It’s funny, I think this is a good example of you should be very careful what you show your kids, because when you think they’re not absorbing, they are. Rap became a love for me,” he says laughing.

Despite the prominence of rap in AWFM’s life, it wasn’t something he felt comfortable sharing as he grew up. Confronted with the “aggressiveness of Memphis,” he often found himself being bullied in school. “The more I was pushed around, the more I started to, I guess, try to be as normal as possible, and just do whatever to be in the background. And normal wasn’t telling people you’re trying to be a rapper.”

Suppressing something meant to shine, however, can only last for so long. He enrolled at the University of Memphis for software engineering in 2010, still confident that rap was just a passion and not a career. But while in college, AWFM started going to more concerts, and each time he noticed something: a gnawing, growing discomfort. Instead of enjoying the show, he’d pace back and forth, back and forth. It was almost as if the more he surrounded himself with music, the more it became painfully clear – this was the life he was meant to have.

By 2013, his discontentedness was unmistakable. “I was really recognizing, like, yo, I am not meant to be an engineer. I took all of my money and I flew to go see Tyler, the Creator in Columbus. It wasn’t even his tour, he was the opening act for Kid Cudi,” AWFM tells me. It was here, at a baseball field turned venue in Ohio, that everything sort of aligned.

“I’m just looking at this baseball field full of kids who listen to the same stuff as me, who know the same obscure rappers as me…normally I only see and feel these things looking through the box that is my phone, so it was completely different to experience this in person. Even though I had never seen these people, it just felt like being amongst some sort of family. It was like we were sharing souls for a second and in the midst of that I realized ‘oh, I don’t want to be down HERE, I want to be up THERE.’”

AWFM returned to Memphis following this experience reinvigorated, albeit broke (“I spent all my money on that concert. Man, what an outrageous decision” he says laughing). He jumped headfirst into rapping, initially writing over MF DOOM instrumentals and recording in friends’ makeshift studios. Eventually after a few years of this, he met a producer named Skip Fearless who wanted to introduce AWFM to another local producer. “He was like, ‘I just booked time with this very dope producer named IMAKEMADBEATS, you should come through and we can record the song you’ve been working on.’”

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Instantly, AWFM felt a comfortability with Unapologetic that he hadn’t at other studios before. “This is my first time in a place that felt professional and where everybody was serious. Everybody wasn’t, like, smoked out and drunk. It just felt like people who get it and people who want a lot more for themselves.” Once immersed in this world, AWFM didn’t want to leave. With the blessing of IMAKEMADBEATS, he started booking sessions all the time, even if he didn’t have a song written. “I would pull up to the studio six hours early and park around the corner and write, just to make sure I had something to go in with,” he recounts.

Once officially joining Unapologetic, things flowed for AWFM until the entire world essentially stopped at the top of 2020. Right before the pandemic hit, AWFM quit his 9-5 job in IT to make music full time. He was set to go on tour around the US and drop a string of new releases, but Covid changed all of that. The shows were cancelled and his music was put on hold. “That moment was traumatizing. I put everything on the line for that, and then absolutely nothing came from it. So, what really changed my art was the lack of resources after.”

In the wake of the pandemic, it became increasingly difficult for AWFM to find a “traditional” job to replace the one he had left prior. Instead, he took to other forms of revenue like Door Dash or Uber Eats. “I was really unable to get corporate work anymore. I’m out here in the streets delivering food and that’s where I start seeing people get murdered every other week. I came face to face with mortality and I came face to face with failure. It’s not like the homeless people are 15, you know, they’re 46. They have glory days they reminisce on, and then whatever went wrong went wrong and it never went right again. There were moments where it definitely felt like I was headed down the same path.”

It’s a profound sentiment, but this level of cognizance isn’t new for AWFM. If you delve into his lyrics, you see he presents his personal world (and the world at large) with the acute awareness that other artists dream of. There is no sugarcoating in his songs and honestly, thank God for that. Instead, his music is something more important: his music is reality. Just like life, his music is at times dark and depressing, and other times it’s triumphant and celebratory. And he’s able to seamlessly tell all these different stories because, like we’ve already established, at his core AWFM is not you or me – he is completely AWFM.

“I feel like focusing so much on curation will have you never releasing anything at all, you know?” he tells me when we talk about his plans for 2024. So far this year he’s already released two massive singles, the aforementioned “Polo” and his latest, the RXKNephew-assisted “Hysteria.” Both tracks feature menacing production courtesy of Unapologetic producer CmaJor over which AWFM layers his signature “ugly truth.” In addition to the new music, AWFM is also dropping new t-shirts and other merchandise through Unapologetic’s Garments division. Oh yea, and he’s also going on a multi-city tour with fellow Unapologetic artists PreauXX, CmaJor, and Kid Maestro dubbed The Weirdly LuXXurious Tour.

He’s got a lot of things in the pipeline for 2024, because after everything he’s been through, he knows one thing to be true of his music: “I can’t keep waiting for the right moment to release something, because that may never come. I feel like now I have to put out art because I don’t know how long I’m gonna be here.” It might sound morbid, but it’s real. Where most artists try to put a filter on these dark, uncomfortable thoughts in an effort to make them prettier, AWFM doesn’t. It’s what makes him a once in a lifetime type of artist that I hope everyone has the chance to listen to.

As I leave the studio after our interview, AWFM throws one last curveball my way. “Oh also, I’m halfway done with a gospel EP,” he says nonchalantly. “It’ll of course be my version of gospel.” I don’t doubt for a second that if there’s one artist to make gospel music their own, it’ll be A Weirdo From Memphis.

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