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

A few years into his NFL profession, Antone Exum Jr confirmed up for coaching together with his nails and toes painted. “Individuals had been like: ‘Bro, what the fuck?’” he laughs now from his residence in Richmond, Virginia, his cropped turquoise hair accentuated by matching eye make-up. “They had been so shocked.” It quickly grew to become a daily prevalence, with Exum dubbed “the Dennis Rodman of soccer” 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 Espresso, as EXUM. “I don’t tie myself into anybody factor,” he says of his profession shift. “I wish to be as free as potential.”

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. Whilst his American soccer profession took off he’d typically entertain his teammates with sideline freestyle raps. “I bear in mind the proprietor of the crew 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 assumed they had been going to shun it as a result of I ought to have been specializing in soccer.”

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 change into 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 totally 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 lower from the 49ers roster in December 2019. “I like bringing the androgynous angle to all the things I do,” he says, citing one among his greatest inspirations, David Bowie (additionally the identify of his canine). “I like 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: ‘It’s essential to drop a single so you will get some buzz,’ however I’m already large in my very own head,” he smiles, earlier than shaking off the shackles of his previous 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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