Antone Exum: why the ‘Dennis Rodman of the NFL’ turned to surrealist pop


A few years into his NFL career, Antone Exum Jr confirmed up for coaching together with his nails and toes painted. “People were like: ‘Bro, what the fuck?’” he laughs now from his dwelling in Richmond, Virginia, his cropped turquoise hair accentuated by matching eye make-up. “They were so shocked.” It quickly turned an everyday incidence, with Exum dubbed “the Dennis Rodman of football” in honour of his outre fashion.

Now the 29-year-old former security for the San Francisco 49ers has switched focus to music and is about to drop his surreal, genre-blending debut album, Xardinal Coffee, as EXUM. “I don’t tie myself into any one thing,” he says of his profession shift. “I want to be as free as possible.”

Music first began to rival Exum’s childhood obsession with sport – basketball was additionally an early profession choice – in his early teenagers, by way of notepads crammed with poetry and lyrics. Even as his American soccer profession took off he’d usually entertain his teammates with sideline freestyle raps. “I remember the owner of the team grabbed me and was like: ‘Hey, I heard your music, that’s cool, you never know where this thing can go,’” he says. “I thought they were going to shun it because I should have been focusing on football.”

After an harm ended his 2016 season together with his first employers the Minnesota Vikings early, Exum began recording songs, earlier than connecting with Norwegian producer Erik Samkopf in 2018 and dealing in between video games on what would turn out to be his debut. Their distant collaboration noticed songs fired off throughout continents with barely a phrase spoken. “I was emailing him demos over beats I found on YouTube, then he’d strip the music out and produce over the lyrics,” he says.

It lends the album a dream-like, collage texture, assisted each by atmosphere (the low-slung rap creeper Wolves Eat Wolves was recorded in the darkish), and prescribed drugs (Portabella Mushroom’s eerie paranoia was impressed by a magic mushroom journey). In the clever video for brand new wave lead single Dark Kept Secret, Exum leans absolutely into his artwork, dancing on a large blue star earlier than sporting a skirt whereas sitting on a horse. It’s a far cry from the hyper-masculine NFL world, which he left behind after being reduce from the 49ers roster in December 2019. “I love bringing the androgynous attitude to everything I do,” he says, citing one of his largest inspirations, David Bowie (additionally the title of his canine). “I love open sexuality. [Societal norms] don’t matter to me.”

And if he had his approach there could be no singles, simply album after album. “It’s like: ‘You need to drop a single so you can get some buzz,’ but I’m already massive in my own head,” he smiles, earlier than shaking off the shackles of his previous life. “I take no form. The only thing I resonate with is the essence of me.”

Dark Kept Secret is out now



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