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

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A few years into his NFL career, Antone Exum Jr confirmed up for coaching along with his nails and toes painted. “Individuals have been like: ‘Bro, what the fuck?’” he laughs now from his house in Richmond, Virginia, his cropped turquoise hair accentuated by matching eye make-up. “They have been so shocked.” It quickly grew to become a daily prevalence, with Exum dubbed “the Dennis Rodman of soccer” in honour of his outre model.

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 Espresso, as EXUM. “I don’t tie myself into anybody factor,” he says of his profession shift. “I wish to be as free as attainable.”

Music first began to rival Exum’s childhood obsession with sport – basketball was additionally an early profession choice – in his early teenagers, through notepads stuffed with poetry and lyrics. At the same time as his American soccer profession took off he’d typically entertain his teammates with sideline freestyle raps. “I keep in mind the proprietor of the workforce grabbed me and was like: ‘Hey, I heard your music, that’s cool, you by no means know the place this factor can go,’” he says. “I believed they have been going to shun it as a result of I ought to have been specializing in soccer.”

After an damage ended his 2016 season along 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 grow to be his debut. Their distant collaboration noticed songs fired off throughout continents with barely a phrase spoken. “I used to be emailing him demos over beats I discovered 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 at nighttime), and prescription drugs (Portabella Mushroom’s eerie paranoia was impressed by a magic mushroom journey). Within the clever video for brand spanking new wave lead single Darkish Stored Secret, Exum leans absolutely into his artwork, dancing on an enormous 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 really like bringing the androgynous angle to every thing I do,” he says, citing considered one of his largest inspirations, David Bowie (additionally the identify of his canine). “I really like open sexuality. [Societal norms] don’t matter to me.”

And if he had his means there could be no singles, simply album after album. “It’s like: ‘You’ll want to drop a single so you may get some buzz,’ however I’m already huge in my very own head,” he smiles, earlier than shaking off the shackles of his outdated life. “I take no type. The one factor I resonate with is the essence of me.”

Darkish Stored Secret is out now

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