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A Weirdo From memphis





Photographed by Bethany Reid Goodman


For as long as he can remember, Memphis rapper AWFM has had a deep-seedeed passion for music that he found difficult to articulate. In this piece, he shares his journey of self-discovery and the trials and tribulations of turning a dream into a reality.



For most of my childhood we lived off of Mount Moriah, at The Trails Apartments, I'm not sure if you know where those are. But if you grew up around there, then you know exactly where I’m talking about.


I definitely didn't make music as a kid. But, I was very lucky to have an open-minded mom. She never made me listen to gospel or anything like that.


Most of my earliest memories are around music. As soon as I could talk I’d ask to turn on the radio. I’d just listen to rap and sing along with every song. From the jump I was a music lover.


The first CD I ever had was Tupac’s Greatest Hits. My mom went out and bought it for me the day he died. I remember her saying, ‘You’ve got to listen to this.’ Which I always thought was pretty cool for her to do.


Not long after that, I remember TLC’s ‘No Scrubs’ blew up. I really wanted that CD, ‘FanMail,’ and I remember her taking me to the store to get it, but brand new it was $13.99 instead of $9.99. So, she got me the ‘Crazy, Sexy, Cool,’ cassette tape instead.



I ended up getting ‘FanMail,’ that Christmas when it went of sale.


By the time I was seven, I had my own CD player, which a lot of kids at that age really didn’t have any interest in.


I remember the first two CDs I bought with my own money: ‘Stankonia’ by OutKast and Limp Bizkit’s ‘Chocolate Starfish and the Hot Dog Flavored Water.’


It’s crazy to think about how music used to be. You had to pursue a device to even play these physical discs.


But at the same time I don't know. It's funny. The way I’ve always listened to music feels similar to how streaming seems today. You find a pocket and get sucked in. I don’t think I listened to the second half of Tupac’s ‘Greatest Hits’ until I was 28. It took me 22 years to stop repeating the first half.


Looking back, I think I had the bug in my stomach to make music throughout all of college. I just didn't know what that itch was. But, I’d have a lot of angst when I would go to shows. It just made me feel uncomfortable, even though I was having a good time.

Looking back, I think I had the bug in my stomach to make music throughout all of college. I just didn't know what that itch was. But, I’d have a lot of angst when I would go to shows. It just made me feel uncomfortable, even though I was having a good time.


I just remember always walking back and forth from the bar to the performance area and back again — pacing.


The first big show I ever went to, and I think ‘big’ might be overselling it, was s Childing Gambino (Donald Glover) at the New Daisey in 2011. I still feel so lucky to have gotten that experience, because he definitely wasn’t who he is now. ‘Camp,’ hadn’t come out. He was more famous as the guy from ‘Community.’ But, he wasn’t really a superstar yet.


There were maybe a couple hundred people there. It was a super dope, intimate setting. And even afterwards, he stood out in front of the venue for like 20 minutes having casual conversations with fans.


But even as approachable as he was, I just couldn‘t bring myself to talk to him.


I remember feeling like I wanted to say something more deep. I just felt connected to him. I felt like I needed to let him know something that I didn’t even know about myself. But, the moment passed. I felt weird, and I didn’t even know why. So, I thought about it.


I realized I was unhappy. I was in college for computer engineering and I hated it.


The further I went in the program, the rougher it got. In the tech path, they’re preparing you to have a job. So, they're kind of teaching you immediate skills to go work at like an MLGW office, or something like that. Sometimes, I wish I had gone more down that route instead of the actual engineering path, which is more abstract and creativity based.


The route I chose did some job-preparation, but really they’re trying to make you good enough to maybe develop the ‘next big thing.’ If you’re great, you might end up in Silicon Valley, working at some big tech company. And, if you’re really great you might even develop your own start up someday.


But you know, the path I chose really felt like I was trying to pursue a career in the NBA. We’re all really good college ballers, and we’d all gotten a lot farther than a lot of people had, but the next step is a big one.


But around that time in my life, I remember looking to my left and to my right at my peers being like, ‘They have what it takes. They’re going to make it. But not me.’


School just really overwhelmed me. Any money I was making from these part time jobs I was working, started to disappear on all kinds of shit. I just became really depressed and I started to think about dropping out more and more. I started to wonder what the point of anything was. I definitely was on some, ‘Do I even want to be alive?’, levels of depression.


In the middle of everything, I just had an urge to get away.


Back then Tyler the Creator had only just started going solo from Odd Future, and was on tour supporting Kid Cudi with a relatively unknown Logic.


I remember them announcing they were playing in Columbus, Ohio. I took the rest of my refund money and bought two plane tickets to Columbus.


I had never seen Tyler live. And throughout college he became a major inspiration in my life. I remember thinking, ‘You know, maybe now's the time to just get this surreal experience.’


So I went with my friend Chris Hogan. It was my first time ever flying. The turbulence was crazy. But like I said, I didn't care what happened. Other people were freaking out. Babies were crying. But I looked out the window and came to terms that if this is it, then that’s cool, but I really want to make it to this show, and we did.


The show was in a baseball stadium, and was packed with people my age. When I would have conversations with them, it felt like I had been talking to these people forever. It was really just a wonderful sensation. It was like the conversations I was having on Twitter, but in person. Everybody was super pumped about my opinions. I felt heard — seen.


At this time Tyler was a bit more palatable than he had been. I remember when I first started listening to him people thought that I was worshiping the devil.


Anyway, the show just blew me away. I still felt the same angst I had been feeling, but it had been redirected.


When I left the show something clicked. I realized I didn't want to be in the crowd, I wanted to be on that stage. The transfer of energy from that show opened my eyes. The whole crowd was on the same page. They were all there for the same reason, and we’re building this community, this image. I realized I didn’t want to just be a part of that. I wanted to be giving it out too.

When I left the show something clicked. I realized I didn't want to be in the crowd, I wanted to be on that stage. The transfer of energy from that show opened my eyes. The whole crowd was on the same page. They were all there for the same reason, and we’re building this community, this image. I realized I didn’t want to just be a part of that. I wanted to be giving it out too.


I came back home completely broke. I was still going to college, but I knew what I wanted to do.


From that point on, everything was about becoming a great rapper. I started studying the genre and the rappers themselves. Because I wasn’t just a huge fan of the art form, but the branding, curation and planning it takes to get your art seen by the world.


Sometime after I’d gotten back from Ohio, I was listening to a song called ‘Kill’ by Earl Sweatshirt. I was still trying to figure out what my name was going to be. One day it just hit me.I was listening to that song, and there is this line in the song, “Just watch, I'mma kill 'em all. Just watch, off 'em.”


And it just hit like a lightning bolt. ‘Off’em.’ Somebody had just told me, use a line from a verse of one of your favorite songs as your name, and it just came together.


“Off’em”


‘‘AWFM.”


“A Weirdo From Memphis.”


I couldn’t believe it had just zapped into my head like that, I had to Google it to make sure I didn’t rip it off somebody else.


I remember watching A$AP Rocky blow up. He went from a hundred facebook fans to a super star. I was studying all those steps. I was taking notes on how to convey sincerity and authenticity in a way that grabs onto people.


It seemed like the people that were making it were in their own universe, and I was just looking in from the outside. But I really wanted to be a part of it.



School was a struggle, especially the further along I got, but I got through and ended up getting a job at International Paper. I knew I'd need money to try and make this happen. And it takes a lot of money to record, get publicity, the gear, and so on.


So, I spent everything I made to make it happen, whether it was recording time, or clothes, or paying blogs to listen to my music and hopefully write a piece about it.


When I graduated in 2015, I immediately hit the ground running with music. I started recording wherever I could. I was rapping in living rooms and working with whoever would record me.


I played my first show in September 2015 at the old Crosstown Arts, on Cleveland across the street from the Concourse where it is now. I had seen a few shows there and I really wanted to stand out.


Normally it was hard to see who was performing because it was just a flat floor, no stage. I remember thinking, ‘How do I fix this? How can I engage with this crowd?’


So I pulled out a chair into the middle of the room and stood on top of it for the entire show. I guess that left a memorable impression on Kid Maestro who was in the crowd that night. He ended up telling IMAKEMADBEATS about it, who was looking for some new talent for UNAPOLOGETIC.


By that December, Skip Fearless, who I had been recording with for a few years, booked a session with IMAKEMADBEATS.


He told me he had a few beats he was recording up there that he wanted me to rap on one of the songs for him. He had three hours booked and said I could record one of my songs too, if I’d rap for him on his.


As I was walking up, the very first thing I noticed was a MF DOOM Vinyl next to the doorway. Until that point, my only experience with MF DOOM was me showing him to friends. I had never met somebody who was already bumping him.


When I walked in I knew it was different from anywhere I’d recorded before. This wasn’t some trapped down, smoked out living room. This was a real studio. Anyway, I recorded those songs, and IMAKEMADBEATS reached out to me and said, ‘You know if you ever want to record here man, you’re more than welcome to come back.’


At the same time I was getting really frustrated with this rabbit hole of rapping over MF DOOM beats, and other people’s songs.


When I listen to my hero’s shit, it makes me feel great. When I listened to mine, I felt like, yes, I had technically made some rap, but it lacked real sustainability or good replayability.


So I'm studying and realized I really needed an original production. So I’m going through the motions of figuring out song structure and texture.


So I’m planning on recording a song called, ‘ Everybody Fucks Everybody,’ and the living room dude flakes. I really needed to record that song that day, so I could record the music video for it the next day.


Since I was out of options, I hit up MAD, and that really kicked off the relationship with UNAPOLOGETIC. I kept recording there the first half of 2016, and eventually they pulled me in inclusively. They asked if instead of paying for recording time, what if I started working for them from a development perspective.


At this point I’m still working at International Paper from 7AM to 5PM. After I’d get off, I’d immediately go to the studio until 3 in the morning. Then I’d wake up, and do it all again.


I was making multiple songs with KID of varying quality, and I was just trying to figure out how to make music in this intensified studio environment, while also seeing if I could withstand the pressure of having essentially two full time jobs.


By December 2016, I officially joined UNAPOLOGETIC. From there things started moving forward. We started growing the roster, the team, the merchandise, the visuals, the sounds. We started building up this machine. A lot of us started to make names for ourselves around that time.



In May of 2019 I did this show called, ‘The Red Show,’ and there were several hundred people who showed up. So I started gearing up to quit my day job, and try to take music to the next level.


I started getting more shows and bigger crowds and more interest in my work. I started talking to potential sponsors about a country-wide tour with MonoNeon.


I thought, ‘Yo, that definitely sounds healthy enough for me to quit my job for.’ So we set it up to start in March. I quit my job that January of 2020.


Well, the world shut down.


The pandemic ruined my life.


We hadn't done a single show, I hadn't garnered a single fan, outside of my normal fan base. A lot of artists survived the pandemic by having fans they could sell stuff to, and expanding that fan base was a big part of why I wanted to do this tour.


I didn’t get a chance to develop my streams to where they’re actually sending you a monthly check. To this day, I think I’m more popular as an enigma to observe than people buying into me for my music, you know, mainly because my best stuff hasn't been released. It was all supposed to be released after I’d doubled my fan base by touring and getting the momentum to where my music would actually be appreciated.


If the pandemic had happened six months later, it would have been a totally different story, but it is what it is.


Anyway, I tried to get my job back, but before I left I think I had just gotten popular enough, or at least recognizable enough, that people were pulling me to the side at work asking if I made music, asking if I played shows after I left the office. So when I quit, I really think upper management thought that me playing music was unprofessional and marked me as unhirable in the files or something, because they wouldn’t hire me back.


Regardless, I had half a decade of computer engineering experience and could not find a job anywhere.


Since I had quit my job, I couldn’t collect unemployment. So I did what a lot of people did during the pandemic, and started Door Dashing just to stay alive.


One day while I was delivering food I got in an argument with my girlfriend over facetime. I learned that she was most likely cheating on me. She told me she was going to fight her ex’s ex, which I just felt seemed a little too passionate for a suburban girl. Anyway, I had left my car running because normally this only takes a couple seconds, but I was distracted by this conversation and stood in the front yard of this house for just a moment too long, trying to put together this situation. Suddenly, someone on the street yelled, ‘Is that your car?’ I looked over my shoulder and these two guys in masks jumped in my car and sped off.


If you are tough enough to not be broken by your circumstances, then whatever happens on the other side of it is normally volcanic.To anybody that reads this, keep an eye out. Life just feels more likely than it ever has..

It was just a really really ugly situation, and I was just left super vulnerable. So at this point I had quit my job, the tour had gotten canceled, I lost my girlfriend, my car and now my new job because i couldn’t get around.


I don’t know, but I really believe if I had been on the other side of that tour, with healthy fans, COVID would have been a lot easier to navigate. I just remember seeing people who had at least some sort of supportive, built-in fan base getting to spend all day creating new original content for their fan base, and allowing their followers a deeper peek into the process than you would normally see.


But you know, my fan base was still like corn kernels that haven't popped yet.


At times, I’d be like, ‘I should get a little momentum going myself, man.’ But you know, things were really dark that whole time. But as rough as things have been, I don't really regret any of it because I think it heightened the potency of being ‘A Weirdo from Memphis’ for sure.


It’s added a darkness that I think is really valuable.


And I’ve been able to tell that people have been resonating and relating to my most recent music. If you are tough enough to not be broken by your circumstances, then whatever happens on the other side of it is normally volcanic.To anybody that reads this, keep an eye out. Life just feels more likely than it ever has.



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