11 Aug INDIE ARTIST NDUKA PREPARES FOR LOUD FUTURE
I imagine the way I feel about new indie music (or new to me) indie music is similar to the way a fashion icon feels when slipping into a trendy new pair of tailored pants or a foodie feels about taste testing a spicy new fusion dish before anyone else. A rush takes hold, and I’m eclipsed by some sort of artistic euphoria. I guess it’s also kind of like the feeling you get post-workout – all those endorphins flirting with your brain and making you feel high. If you’re anything like me, you’re constantly in your music app of choice, dragging songs into playlists to provoke certain moods or to simply survive the day. Because I’m actively searching for (craving, really) the best new indie, I often find it; or, in some cases, it finds me. This time it hit me hard, though. I didn’t just discover a repeat-worthy EP or a breakout musician, I discovered a young legend. (And I don’t type that lightly.)
Named by his Nigerian father, NDUKA means ‘life is more precious than wealth’ in Igbo. Ever since he was a little boy, NDUKA had to live by that mantra. To this day, he acknowledges it as the main reason fans feel his music is so life-giving. I’m DEFINITELY one of those fans, and NDUKA’s debut five-song EP, Never Been Scared, has been in heavy rotation in my headphones from my first listen a few months ago. The serious, determined, deep alternative rock grind of “Keep Movin’” spoke to me on an almost subconscious level. It’s achieved anthem status in my world. (If you need to battle procrastination, finally make some changes for the better, or do both, I SWEAR it’s a fail-safe.) With lyrics like, “This destiny is roaring like a lion. This leaning tower of excuse is finally crumbling,” and, “Got these dreams trapped in my head. Get up, get out, and keep movin’. Won’t let nobody live my life instead,” it’s no wonder I find myself looping the track whenever I need a firm kick in the pants.
Each song on the Never Been Scared EP reveals yet another side of NDUKA’s artistic capabilities and a different glimpse into the most intimate parts of his past, where decisiveness meets expression and tenacity dances with sweetness. (Listening links provided below. ALL five tracks will be discussed in detail by NDUKA in the Q & A.)
Speaking with NDUKA changed my life. (Seriously.) His commitment to openness and his instant ability to connect in a meaningful way to address not only his art, but also the purpose and reason behind it, strengthened my convictions toward My Multi-Track Mind and my other writing endeavors. Whether you want to call him an old soul, a young sage, or a young legend (as I have), you really can’t write off his character as anything close to ordinary. (Trust me. You’ll see once you delve deeper into this post.)
In this interview, you’ll learn: how a biomedical internship pushed NDUKA towards live performance; all about his debut EP, Never Been Scared; why he sees one fan’s comment as a message from the universe; how he defines his sound and how that sound is evolving; when we can expect the release of his much-anticipated sophomore EP, Loud Future; why he’s fighting to eradicate sexism; what he considers his greatest failure and how he overcame it; which artists he’s currently listening to; and what he likes best about connecting with fans on social media. (Also, be sure to check out NDUKA’s Spotify playlist: the LOUD.FUTURE. It’s the last link in this post and your ticket for an electric voyage. If you don’t dance to it, we can’t be friends.)
The conversation from our interview is chronicled below in a pure Q & A format.
Q & A:
Can you describe the moment you KNEW you wanted to be a musician?
NDUKA: My family is a big musical family. I started singing in church when I was five years old. Since then, music has always been a part of my life. My cousins were older, like seven/eight years older, and ALL of them sang. They’d be singing harmonies in their house, but they would never let me sing ‘cause I was the little kid. I’d say, “Oh! I can sing! I can hold it,” and then I’d hold these harmonies real quiet to myself.
In college, I was a biomedical engineering major. When I went to my internship in Cincinnati, Ohio, it was SO COLD. And when I was there, I grew kind of sad. I had been working towards this engineering degree even since I was in high school, with all the specific classes I had to take. During my internship, I knew I didn’t really want to do that. I worked twelve hour days and performed well. I liked the research side of things, but it didn’t agree with my personality – to be in a building every day and know what I would be doing on the next day from the day before kind of through me off. So, while I was there, I started gigging out and playing drums, and that’s where I really started from: playing drums first, since I had played them in marching band. I played at a whole bunch of local pubs. But then, my friends were like, “Yo! You gotta to sing, too!”
The first song I sang was “Let’s Get It On”, and I’ll never forget there were all these drunk people grindin’ and movin’ and shakin’. Man, I love how you can come into a place and switch people’s mindsets in a cool and healthy environment. I was doing that, but I was also still singing at church, too. It was same idea. For me, there wasn’t a difference. It was just me with a mic in my hand, whether it was helping people worship or helping people have fun. It just started happening faster and faster. I started playing drums for people, but I hated being BEHIND people. When you say it out loud, it sounds like you’re an egotistical narcissist, but it was very humble. I know what to say to make this person feel better. I can look into the crowd, and FEEL the audience and know how to say it. Even though I was hella shy in my personal life, I wasn’t shy on stage. It was SO weird.
When I came back from that internship, I started dabbling into home recording, and it took off from there. It was so funny, because all of my best, closest friends while I was in college, even though I was an engineering major, ALL of them were music majors. Basically, they would talk about things and I would be learning and quietly picking it up, since I had been a science kid my whole life. Music was IN me, and when I started putting the pieces together, I knew I was supposed to do this.
I’ve been following you on Instagram and LOVE seeing all your show related posts. What do you like most about performing live?
NDUKA: This is the thing: it is the fulfillment of what I do in my mind on a weekly or daily basis. I literally have whole shows in my head. I have transitions of talks between songs all planned out. To be at a show is in an interesting thing. It’s the fulfillment of what I’ve already been at in my dreams. To be in front of people singing is something I cannot explain. It’s so humbling and so cool. Sometimes, I like attention, and I like to feel like I can literally connect with all these people in three to five minutes. I get to impart part of my self – or how I think or how I feel. I’m always all about, People have to better, People have to see life, People have to smile – that energy SINKS into other people, and it’s the best way to impact somebody.
To sing your songs, and then to hear people singing your songs back to you – is incredible. I’m an emotional person – what you see is what you get. So, being in that moment, I could tear up, and I have to make sure I don’t tear up and mess up the set. I’m so appreciative of people vibing with me and being able to feel so free. Being free is a big part of who I am. As adults, you know what you are supposed to do when you are back at your childlike state. When I was five, I could sing in front of all my family. I could tell them stories for days. I actually have video recordings of me telling them elaborate stories. I used to have my own printing press, so I could make my books out of cardboard. We’d put binders and book covers on them. To tell stories and get to do that with music – it’s something that gives me chills. And I don’t take it lightly.
What is the weirdest or craziest thing a fan has said to you to date?
NDUKA: This actually happened at a show in Atlanta. A person that came to the show, not for me, but for the artist that was headlining, said, “BROoo. Your music is A-MAZ-ING. You have such a LOUD future.” And I was like, Wait? Wait? What? Because, you know, he was drinking. And I made him repeat what he said three times, and I was like, that’s it! If I had to use two words to describe myself as an artist or a creative type it would be: loud future. So, my next EP is about to be called Loud Future. What was weird, was that I was literally looking for the title. And it was so cool that he said that right after I got off stage – like a message from the universe. I remember it being really loud inside the venue but really quiet when he spoke those words to me. That’s definitely been the weirdest in a good way.
Tell us about your Never Been Scared EP. Can you provide some insight into each of the five songs which appear on the EP (“Bout to Blow”, “Keep Movin'”, “Dear Mom, Hello Dad”, “Never Been Scared”, and “Be Free”) and then address the EP as a whole?
NDUKA: Never Been Scared is my first EP. It’s like a sampler – a ballsy, ‘I’m going to create music you don’t expect me to’ EP. It moves in this kind of rockish, alternative way, because I was determined that I wasn’t going to use auto-tone. I wanted to prove that I could sing. Some of it sounds a little retro. It doesn’t use any of the modern sounds like 808s or digital sounds. I just wanted to write good music. It moves in this ‘kid from Memphis, Tennessee’ way. There’s a lot of music in Memphis period, and there’s a lot of different genres.
You go from this singer-songwriter image with “Be Free” to this rock, organ heavy, distorted guitar sounding “Never Been Scared” to “Dear Mom, Hello Dad”, which is just straight-up Memphis. I’m going to show you I can sing just like Otis Redding and Sam Cooke – you know, that straight up sixties vibe. “Keep Movin’” was about this dark place that I was in; it has a more electrocution kind of alternative style. And then the first song on the EP, “’Bout To Blow”, I wrote three years prior. I was looking for a first song and used it, since I was looking to have five songs on the EP. I was so far removed from “Bout to Blow” by then; but, what it does, if you listen to all the songs in sequence is tell a story.
Here’s a little piece of that story:
“’Bout to Blow” – I have this dream, and in it I am living the life that I want to live. I’m on the stages and I’m traveling, and I’ve actually had some of these dreams, for real, where I’m traveling from state to state performing in front of big audiences.
In the second song, “Keep Movin’”, I wake up from that dream. “Wake up, saying the same old prayer, sick and tired of living when I’m sleeping” – in this one, I’m in a depressed state, because I’m tired of only living the life I want when I’m in my dreams. I remember that time in my life when I was in the living room, no one else was there, and I was just staring at the wall, thinking, Yo! Something has to budge…something has to budge. Two months later, I decided to move to Nashville. And that’s the thing, “Keep Movin’ – get up, get out, and keep movin’” – that’s literally me telling myself: If you see this, and you see it like you see it, it’s not going to make sense to anyone else but you. I don’t know how the money is going to come, but the fact is, if you put your hands to the plow, it will actually happen. It only happens when you’re moving. Enough of us are on a journey – whether it’s an artistic one, and entrepreneurial one, or a relationship one – and the things that you feel compared to what you actually see don’t usually line up at first. If you dream it, feel it, and say it, it might be something you need to go after.
How would you describe your sound? (You do not need to use typical genre tags.)
NDUKA: For the Never Been Scared EP, the sound is more of my live sound – the full foundations of everything I have musically. It’s a timeless sound. If I played it anywhere in the world with drums, guitar, and bass it will be transferrable.
Whereas the sound I am going for in this next EP, Loud Future, is the second layer of my sound: more electronic based with a live instrumentation mindset. It’s the bridge between two extremes: live and electronic/digital music. I live in the space between those two. So, imagine Gary Clark Jr. meets Ne-Yo meets Solange meets Petite Noir.
Because we are younger, we understand hip hop and how it sounds, new pop music and how it sounds, but we’re also not too young remember what it was like to go to a live show and see a whole band play or to go out with friends on the weekend and see live music. This new sound, on the upcoming Loud Future EP is in the middle of that, and it capitalizes on all of the sonics within that I’ve heard. It’s going to take you from Memphis to Nashville to Atlanta to London to Lagos, Nigeria. These are all places that I represent, places I have lived in, and places that are a part of me.
I’ll say that the newer stuff coming out is genre-less and more like a soundtrack; or, what I like to call a soundscape. It tells a story in different genres. It’s so hard for me to write one genre, and you even see that with my first EP. Yeah, you can listen to all those songs singularly, but you can also listen to them all together as more of a project and get a whole different feel. I wanted to make sure that when I put out music, you understand it’s a project, and not a whole bunch of singles. It’s a work that’s meant to be listened to in its entirety. It’s a sonic visual.
What keeps you focused on your art?
NDUKA: The world I live in. I’m a kid from Memphis, a black kid from Memphis – you see a lot of things. I’m an immigrant kid, too. I was raised in an immigrant household. My parents didn’t come from money, so they worked their way up through school and professions. I understand all these connections and intersections between people. And people think they’re so different, but what they don’t realize is that they are so SIMILAR. They’re so the same, it’s just different cultural expressions of the same basic premises. As an artist, what keeps me going, is realizing, If I don’t say it, who will? If I don’t speak the world I see in my head, how can I get mad at anyone else for regurgitating what they keep hearing? It’s that right there and this creativity and understanding of what art is.
I believe art is prophetic in a sense. It’s not just a skill – it’s utilizing a skill in order to say something. I always say there’s a difference between a skills person and an artist. They can both use the same medium of creativity, but the difference lies in whether you ask the questions or just say that it’s good. Art is an outward expression of what we feel like on the inside. If we don’t have anything to say on the inside, we can’t expect the creativity part to say anything. But, if we have something to say and it’s bottled up, we have to get it out.
We all want to enjoy life, but if you are not fighting for life, you are not living. Living is an active process, not a passive experience. If you want to live your purpose, you have to choose that life and you have to live it daily. When I tell you about when I was a young kid realizing that I was an artist – it wasn’t about the medium. I am an artist. I am art. The way I think, the way I move, the way I interact with people. I have this thing, where, I like to laugh/smile, so if I’m taking a picture I laugh. I do it so you can fully see who I am. In a secondary way, it allows people to laugh, too. I don’t think people get enough chances to laugh for no reason.
I believe that everything is in us that allows us to be our full self. And I just hope through the music and through my life, how I move – that people will see something different and think, Maybe I can try this. As a kid, I remember seeing things that made me question things. I was curious in a healthy way. I want to be a catalyst for other people.
Where do you feel most inspired to create music and why?
NDUKA: I feel most inspired to create art around other people who are creating art. I would try to write at my house, but it would never work until AFTER I had the inspiration. When I’m at a show and or when I’m around people making art, vibrations happen and things start clicking.
Also, when I look at trees. The motif in a lot of my music is trees. I love trees – I love to look at them, especially in the summertime when all the branches are full. The whole back side of where we stay is full of trees. In the morning, if I take a shower around seven or eight, you see the birds just falling out of the trees trying to fly back up after falling off the branches.
Another place I get a lot of inspiration is when I’m driving. It’s interesting, my phone is the place where I write a lot of songs now. I get so nervous I’m going to lose my voice memos. That’s is how I write now. It’s hard for me to sit in one place unless I’m really focused.
Exercising helps as well. When I finally exercise, and I’m finished with it, I’m inspired to write. I get home, get a guitar in my hands, and then it comes out. In high school, I played football and took part in musical theater, and my dad always told me, “If you want to get your brain right and get your blood flowing, you have to go and work out.” If I work out, I always know I’ll be taking something creative back with me.
And, SLEEPING, too. If I’m in the middle of a song, and I can’t get it out, the song starts writing itself in my dreams. Then, as soon as I get up, I start writing it down.
Can you share any stories with us about your journey as a musician?
NDUKA: I have a LOT of stories – let me think of one. The big story that draws on inspiration for me is growing up. I was hella intelligent. My teachers would say I was so brilliant but so bad. I’d have all A’s in academics but all U’s in conduct. I remember being in grade school. In 4th grade, I basically spent the whole year in the Principal’s office. I would come to school and have to go see the Assistant Principal to do my work. At that time, my pops was teaching me high level algebra, but I was in fourth grade. Even to this day, numbers and science is BOOM to me. I remember that kids in my class wanted to fight me, because they thought my getting the highest grade meant I was trying to show off. I was bullied so much as a child with a Nigerian last name. I remember being my own team a lot of the time. I had friends from afar, but I remember never being able to fit in.
It’s so important for me to tell, because a lot of people now see this lovable side of me, see me with so much energy, and see me as refined, but my father was one of the few people in my life. He was the most important, because he was there every day telling me that I would be this. That this was going to be my future. Before all of this made sense, he’s been the one person saying what I was since the time I was born. And it’s so interesting because when you learn about the relationship between me and my dad, sometimes it struggles now. And, you know, that good part is so, so beautiful, but it’s also filled with some rough stuff, too. It’s literally a real story – there’s a good and a bad to the same relationship.
Love is love, but for me as a being, it taught me through the struggles that I sometimes have to step back. It’s interesting to have so much love, but also to have so much heartbreak between a father and a son. But, I can close my eyes right now, and remember him telling me what I was going to be when I was nine. He had this vision, even of the relationship I’m in right now, and he knew who I was going to be with. And it’s not a story that people are used to hearing. That’s why I live in the middle. I’ve literally learned from both sides: I’ve learned from the good and the bad. I’ve learned from the real and the fairy tale. I get to live my life in this realistic optimism.
When can we get our ears on the NEW Loud Future EP?
NDUKA: The timeframe for the Loud Future EP is this Fall. We’ll be releasing two songs first – they will be completely opposite to each other – that’s what we are working towards. Recently, I’ve been telling people I’ve had a sexual awakening, and some people really get uncomfortable with that. And the reality is, sex is more than intercourse – it’s a thing of identity. It helps you move.
Within the last year and a half, I’ve just wanted to feel free to tell people ALL about me, every part. Sex is a big deal to me – I enjoy it, not just sex, but having an opportunity to connect to a beautiful woman inside and out, and have this communication where you are talking without talking. 90% of communication is nonverbal. The body is always talking. During a sexual experience, from flirting through all the bases, the body is communicating.
And, the second part of this is: connecting me back to my respect for women. My whole life, I have really tried as a guy in this world. As a guy you are either a recovering misogynist or an active misogynist – it’s all based on our world – what we have been taught that is actually not the truth. Going through college, I had to realize that even if I think I don’t do this on a recurring basis, there’s always that one time, and I need to address that one time, and realize I wasn’t supposed to do it like that. Men and women are equal in being but different in how they come to the same conclusion. We are not the same, but we are both equal. We come to the middle point with different perspectives, but that’s a great thing. It is balance.
If you want to know something about me, it’s balance. It’s bridge. This new Loud Future EP is that. It sounds like it’s about sex, but it’s much bigger when you start listening to the fullness of it. I believe the one thing we need to eradicate is sexism, because if we eradicate sexism, no other ‘ism can last. If I have to work to realize to get you to realize the mother you came out of is just as important as you are, there’s an issue. You could live your whole life avoiding whole demographics, but we all have women and men in our lives. Every son came from a mother – the idea of the son is not sOn but sUn. SO, these beacons of light that we think we are as men sometimes came from something. And if that came from something, what does it say about where it came from? That’s technically a greater sun than even you.
Inside the Loud Future EP, I get to talk about the fullness of me. The thing behind me – it’s not just me, but me feeling something coming through me. And I get to embody it in this way: I’m the mouthpiece for all of this – the women in my life, my guy friends, all this help – the reason I am who I am, from the dog I just touched to the people I see. All have played a part in my development.
Between interview questions, I spoke with NDUKA about my book series, and my fear of finally releasing the first book later this year. He shared yet another AWESOME story and some wise words regarding fear of failure:
NDUKA: It’s okay. There’s almost this freedom in the release. Going back to talking about children: you know how scared of falling adults are? I was walking the other day and saw these two grown women fall, and it was like an ORDEAL. They kept touching each other to make sure they were okay, and then they spent all this time trying to figure out what they had tripped on. Little children don’t fall like that. Kids fall and get right back up. They might dust themselves off and cry a little bit, but they get up and do exactly what they were doing before.
I feel like I’ve failed the biggest I’ve EVER failed in front of people the first time I played an acoustic guitar at a show. It was SO BAD. Nashville is like guitar nation – EVERYONE plays guitar. I rented one from Guitar Center, because I really wanted to have the acoustic show. When I got up there, I asked, “How many of y’all have had a dream?” And NOBODY answered, so it already started BAD. I began playing, and if you’ve played long enough, you know when the chord doesn’t sound its best. I knew it was bad in my head.
My friend, god bless her soul, gave me her take on it afterwards, and she said, “OH MY GOSH, it was SOOOOO GOOD!” That’s the moment I realized my friend was tone deaf. So then, I started thinking, Maybe I was just overreacting? But, when I saw the recording, I had to STOP the video within twenty seconds, because I couldn’t watch it AND I couldn’t believe it. Did I really just perform this? OH MY GOD!
I had already been performing with bands and doing tribute shows as a singer, and I felt SO terrible. Recently, a year and a half later, I was invited to play the SAME show: just me and an acoustic guitar. And I said, “Yeah, I got you.” And when I tell you, in my thirty/forty-five minute set I had people singing and in love with it, I realized, I could have made a decision two years ago to just stop. I could have been a great singer with a band. Now, I’m a great singer with a band, but I can also just be here alone with my guitar. I’M THANKFUL.
Don’t distract yourself. Focus on what you’re good at and what you like. When I did that second show, everyone was wowed, but I still remember sitting up on that same stage the first time and how embarrassed I was afterwards to show my face. If you’re scared to do something you want to do, you should probably do it. Sometimes you don’t realize you can do something until AFTER you do it.
What artists are you currently listening to?
NDUKA: Petite Noir (He’s out of South Africa, but he also travels to Paris); a friend of mine, Frēwuhn (She’s very dope and alternative); Uri Grey (I just met her a little while ago in Atlanta, and I was blown away by her songwriting); and R.LUM.R (He’s so cool, because he uses the electronics style, too, but he started with classical music. It’s amazing to hear his range and how he sings – it’s light years ahead).
Because of the different parts of my being, I have to have all of these things sonic-wise. I can’t just live in one space or another. I listen to Kelsey Onwuzuruigbo. (She’s a classical contemporary artist that moves in and out of jazz and classical music.) I’m also listening to The New Respects. (They’re a rock group out of Franklin, Tennessee.) Man, I listen to SO much music. Michael Kiwanuka; Sampha; Kendrick Lamar; J. Cole; and Alabama Shakes.
A lot of the people I’m listening to appear on my Spotify playlist (the last link in this post). I’m appreciative that artists are allowed to have these differing perspectives right now, because the audience allows them to. The musicians can say what they see, whether it’s good or bad.
Recently, I started listening to Tank and the Bangas. (They just released this video called “Quick”, and the perspective in that video is just: MAN!) Another artist I like is Nao. (She’s from London.) I also listen to a lot of NPR Tiny Desk stuff, too, and one of my goals is make it on there. It’s so inspiring.
You have a great social media presence! What do you like best about connecting with your fans on social media?
NDUKA: I think the best thing is the ability to receive other perspectives instantly. I’ve posted music that I initially thought people may not have liked and then found out that they really do. It’s also another way, within seconds, to get people to understand who you are. I have a lot of sides to me; and, to be able to capture those in a picture is great. I love memories, but I don’t like living in the past. I literally will look at my own Instagram, and it acts as my monument of proof. When I have doubts about who I am, that is my proof. An artist cannot call himself an artist. People have to call them artists.
Unfortunately, in the music industry you have to have a LARGE presence. I’m trying to show people something that they may never have seen. I have people all over the world looking and sharing with their friends. In my mind, I’m still just a little kid making music. And I love colors and I love art, so I like the picture aspect of social media.
I’m trying to show people different things on different platforms, since I respect their attention. On Twitter, I talk about the struggle and things I say to myself. On Instagram, I post things that I think are cool or colorful – a picture speaks a thousand words. On Facebook, I post things that are representative of me. And On InstaSnaps, I post about me living this crazy life every day.
My goal, as I grow, is to still be able to connect with people in a full and real way. To show I acknowledge and appreciate their presence. Without supporters, none of this happens. This is not me, this is US – we found each other. I want to sing your stories, and I want to write from your perspective.
I JUST received my first piece of fan art – An artist created this abstract of me playing guitar and singing and I was SO WOWED. She said she had been in a creative block then heard “Never Been Scared” and just started drawing. I will never take that for granted.
I wish that everyone could get this feeling in whatever capacity they move in – whatever their profession may be. Not only are my bills getting paid, but I am also able to connect with people and leave something GREATER than myself. And I’m thankful. To interact with supporters and with people who have never listened and to have them say they are blown away is phenomenal. If the world could interact with more people like this, we would have less drama. Every person in this world is a real person; they just don’t always get to showcase that.
Shout-outs: Are there any people you would like to thank and / or draw our attention to?
NDUKA: I’m ALWAYS thankful for my mentors. There’s this poet named Abyss who pulled me under his wing when I came to Atlanta. Likewise, Mike Hicks pulled me under his wing when I arrived in Nashville. Chantae Cann, another great artist, gave me a list of open mics to stop through, and introduced me to lots of people at each of them. All of these people had never technically heard me perform live before helping me. I’m grateful for their support.
My family is such a big thing! In college, I had to write a paper about who inspires me, and I chose to write about my sister. Her name is Ayinna, which means ‘Daddy’s precious daughter’ in Igbo. Ayinna’s tenacity is mind-blowing. When I was nine, my mom went into coma. Ayinna was only one. I remember holding my mom that day, and never being able to talk to her again. My dad stopped everything to take care of my mom while she was in coma for three and a half years, and then she passed away. My sister has never known what her mother sounds like. I made a promise to my mom in my head that I would take care of Ayinna, and I did. My sister changed the way I think about everything. The way I interact with women. The way the world sees her. The way she sees herself. I remember, my brother and I bought Ayinna her first pair of high heels from Wet Seal when she was fourteen. She has and continues to inspire me SO MUCH.
My brother, Akoma, and I are like two giants moving. His name means ‘perseverance’ in Igbo. We clash at times, but the care that he has – I LOVE IT. My brother and I lived through some very rough times growing up, but we would sit there DREAMING about the future. We had these ideas and we would talk about all of these high level things. I was nine and he was six, and we’d be talking about God, race relations, politics, sports, and who we wanted to be in our future lives. When I look back, I think: where did we GET that from? That time didn’t have as much of a negative sting on it as it could have BECAUSE of my brother. I didn’t have to go through it by myself. We went through it together. Many times, he’s received the brunt of my anger. I’m grateful for his forgiveness, and he’s taught me how to forgive. He’s a GIANT to me in many ways. I’m so thankful for him.
My Aunt Betty – she was the lady that took in everybody’s children. She was my mom’s third oldest sister, and her heart was made for children. The same year my mother went into coma, my other aunt passed away. In the same summer, within a month of each other, she took care of my baby cousin AND the three of us, plus her own four children. She helped my dad so much by watching us, so he could take a break. And it was so easy for her. That was her purpose. She had such a smile, and she still doesn’t even look like she’s aged. She could talk to you, really listen to you, and give you SO much advice. Aunt Betty was one of the earliest supporters of my music pursuits when I decided to give up biomedical engineering. She told me, “Go do it!” Even now to this day, she still says, “Go do it!”
And Kelsey Onwuzuruigbo, my BEST FRIEND since 8th grade. We met each other in concert band. She played French horn and I played percussion. I’ve lived my whole life with her. She’s an artist, too, and she writes songs with me. Some of the songs on the Never Been Scared EP were written by her, too. She’s lived life with me. She was the first person I told that my mom passed away. All she does is push me. When I’m tired, she tells me, “Alright. Take a break, but you gotta keep movin’.” She’s a HUGE part of my life – my best friend, confidant, and partner.
If you want to know who I am, look at the people around me. When I moved to Nashville, I had planned to just live in my car until I figured it out. When my homie, John Baldwin, found out, he told me, “Nah, bro. You’re not doing that. You’re coming to live with me.” He let me move in, helped with everything, and made me push forward.
John Kinnard, my best friend in California, has been trying to get me to come out for a visit. He’s one of the first people I met in college that I could be my FULL self with – the deep side, the goofy side, the wretched side, the shy side, the outgoing side, and the family side. He’s one of the first people outside of my immediate family that I can say I’ve really connected with. And we still talk a lot today.
Matthew Best is another close friend of mine. He helps me stay grounded. We don’t agree on everything, but he’s a person who has DEFINITELY embedded some things into my life.
Whitney Burton is like a mother AND a friend to me. I’m so thankful for her. She’s been a person that never thought that I was weird. I’m a feeler – I’m so intuitive. I feel everything, and I gotta feel it. And she always says, “yeah…go ahead.”
Lastly, my mother: Tannie. That woman – she’s not here, but I still feel her. She was a singer, too. There are times when I’m singing, and I’ve felt like I heard her singing, too. My voice does something that reminds me of her. Sometimes, I wake up feeling like a little kid missing my mom. I’m a grown man, just balling, but it never gets easier in that sense. In one of my songs, “Dear Mom, Hello Dad”, I say “It’s been a while since I last seen you smile, boys become men, but I’m still your child. These tears stream down like rainy Saturdays,” and so the idea is like, Man, I know what it feels like to hug my aunt now that I’m a grown up, but I don’t know what it feels like to hug my mom. That place will never be filled by her; but, thankfully, the way the universe works and the way that I have allowed myself to think helps me realize that that space will be filled by a lot of people.
There’s so many men and women that have given me a great experience. It’s almost like everybody was a mother of mine. No one person has had a greater impact than another. If I have forgotten a name, I didn’t mean to. All of you are in my mind and I am SO THANKFUL.
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