Has Atlanta moved past trap music? Probably not, but for the first time in 15 years, things are starting to even back out. In the city of Atlanta, R&B is in a confident state and as a result, a renaissance is taking place. While most artists look to mimic the favored trap style, there’s an overflowing handful of divine singers who take pride in making something different. Behind the popular heartbreak, hymn-maker’s is an entire rookie class of talented artists who have patiently waited for their turn to be heard. And next in line, megaphone in hand, is East Atlanta’s own LXVE AFTR with a number of wicked stories he wants to tell.
A few years ago LXVE AFTR faced a challenging predicament. He had already gotten his car repoed, and also found himself sleeping in an abandoned car garage every night. With the $2,500 dollars of income tax he had coming in, he could’ve easily chosen to buy himself a cheap apartment instead of a Macbook and Pro Tools to support his music. But like most decisions in his life, he bet on himself and refused to let the dark times deter him from his vision. “I made that sacrifice of letting the car go, being homeless, and really hitting the ground because I knew where I was going,” he said.
Years later, LXVE AFTR has found himself exactly where he previously predicted; living better and in his pocket. He learned to reflect those testing experiences in his music and instead of being derailed, vowed to use his calling as an artist to create a platform to spread social wealth to the world as an example of black excellence. His first introduction to the world came in the form of two projects; Scary Timing Right Now and most recently, Wicked Love Stories. On Wicked Love Stories, he creates a cinematic experience of storytelling that will cause synesthesia as you get to know who he is and how he thinks. This was done both intentionally and successfully. “I’ve always wanted to make the album into a sonic movie, no visuals,” he said.
Now rebranded from his old self, LXVE AFTR is looking ahead to 2020 being his evolution year. But prior to the new journey, and just weeks after the release of Wicked Love Stories, LXVE AFTR chopped it up with TUC Magazine to talk about the creation of his newest project, pulling himself out of a dark time, his record label, the problem with society, and much more. Check it out below:
If you could use only one song to describe yourself to the masses of the world, which would it be and why?
I think of myself as a project artist, right? So I care about the album more than just a song. I care about how my albums or EP’s are structured and how each song transitions into the next song that gives you more of me. You can have all these small pieces, but all of the songs combined are the big image. If I had to pick one song I would probably go with “The Weekend” simply because I feel like that song is 100% me. It’s my natural voice. You know, there’s not too much modulation on it. Me as a person, I’m a huge sucker for romance and deep conversations. So “The Weekend” is definitely me in my pocket.
That’s actually one of my favorite songs on the project. How was “The Weekend” created?
A lot of my music comes from straight, true experiences and things that have been said in conversations. That song really came from an experience of kicking it with a friend. We were in my room just chilling. (I record in my room so there are a lot of vibe sessions.) The conversation was so deep and I thought it was insane. And of course, that vibe turned into one thing, and one thing turned into another. After the conversation, it turned into Netflix. After Netflix, it turned into her undressing and I was really just scoping her body out. Like, “Yo, on some serious shit? We gotta bless yo mama for this shit!” That song is really structured off of a true life experience of chilling and smoking. Real-life man, these are all real-life experiences. And then for the second verse of that song, I never really speak super vulgar when it comes to my sex life and stuff like that because I’m around so many women with my sisters and their friends. Because I’m around a lot of women, I hear the shit that women complain about. For the second verse, I wanted to do a verse that was strictly catering to a girl. The second verse is really me just making it poetic. The first verse is about how we could definitely take it sexually after the deep conversations. And the second verse is where I could just sit here and tell you how much I appreciate you and all of your efforts. I’m always cautious of creating something women could really appreciate.
That’s a sentiment that’s consistent in your music. First of all, you’re an excellent writer. So one thing that I’ve come to appreciate is how you describe the many stages of love and the way you look at love and life through a deeper lens because it’s always deeper than the surface people allow themselves to speak on. That’s what resonated with me, but what part of your artistry do you think resonates the most with your fans?
People resonate with the vulnerability of my music. From a woman’s perspective, they really like it because I can provide the inside thought of what men are like and the sensitive parts about them. In society, we’re raised to believe that “boys will be boys” and that if you cry, you’re not a man. They tell us things like, “Don’t be too nice to a woman.” So I give women perspective where they get to feel things. Like, “Yes, we got emotions. Yes, I was really in love with you and when we broke up, that shit really did kill me.” So it’s definitely the vulnerability aspect that trickles down to my persona and my appearance. When you see me, you will know that I’m a 100% regular human that just enjoys doing music. And I’ve taken what I like, how I dress, and how I keep myself to the shadows to create that vulnerability.
Atlanta obviously has a ton of different musical flavors. But what would you say makes the R&B scene in Atlanta significant?
The R&B landscape in Atlanta isn’t significant, just yet. But it’s definitely on the rise. Atlanta is still known for trap music and rap. So when you’re meeting these producers in Atlanta their beats are so trap-like. When I try to get them on a more R&B/melodic feel, they don’t know how to process it yet because they’re so focused on trap. But I say that it’s on the rise because you have artists like 6lack and Summer Walker coming out. The whole LVRN campaign is taking a group of R&B artists and exposing them for Atlanta. So it’s a perfect time to be an R&B artist. Right now I really feel like this is in my pocket and if I grind out the next couple of years, I guarantee that I’ll be there. There’s a glimpse of hope for R&B in Atlanta. We’re getting in our pockets, man, we’re getting in our bags. And that’s a blessing. Especially for us because a lot of times being an R&B artist in Atlanta, you’re doing shows with 20 other guys and all of these guys are rappers. You can easily feel like you’re going to bring the energy down. But I’ve come to find out in my shows that because I’m an R&B artist in a room full of rappers, I stand out so much more.
Your second project Wicked Love Stories dropped at the end of October. What was the creative process for this album?
A lot of different emotions and thought processes went into making that album. I had been working on the project immediately after I released Scary Timing Right Now. Scary Timing Right Now was me seeing where my sound and creativity was going. Once I knew where it was going, I started thinking of a name, how I would structure the tracklist, and what songs could I add to give it that little flavor. Scary Timing Right Now had this feeling of both singing and rapping. There were songs like “LVU”, where I had singing on the hook, but I was also rapping on it. And then there were records like “UpsEyed Dwn” where there was a conscious rap thing. On Wicked Love Stories I just focused on one sound. That’s why Wicked Love Stories is all singing. I’ve always wanted to make the album into a sonic movie, no visuals. When you hit play from start to finish, this thing sounds like a movie with the transitioning and the weird sounds that pop up to portray the darker moments.
I started watching more films and shows while creating Wicked Love Stories too. I really got into Euphoria and Snowfall. Euphoria is a true inspiration of Wicked Love Stories, from the cover art and the lighting to the music videos. We went into the whole creative process of Wicked Love Stories trying to make it emotional. I knew coming straight out the gate that I wanted it to be an emotional album because I felt like I didn’t give enough emotions on Scary Timing Right Now. I really started diving into myself when I was working on Wicked Love Stories. I went back and found some things that really bothered me in the world. Racism doesn’t bother me and greed doesn’t bother me because I can block that out. What bothers me is interactions with human beings. So I started thinking of stories like I’ve had with different women, whether they were heartbreak stories or being at the party smoking weed. I focused on how those emotions made me feel and started jotting those things down. And then everything just started coming together.
For each song I started writing, I would bounce them into iTunes to formulate the tracklist. I would purposely write the content and put it in the right slot. One of those songs is actually “The Fall”. At that time I did not have an intro to the album and I was thinking of making the very last track “Wicked Love Stories” But as I was listening to it, I realized that the poem was a minute long. For me to be an artist that not too many people know, I didn’t want to start the EP with a minute-long poem. That could’ve been detrimental. People’s attention span is short, so you have to either hit them with something super hot or super creative. That’s where “The Fall” came in, because I was listening to a lot of Sevdaliza. Her sound and visuals are just so far out of our century. I love how she puts everything together. I wanted to do something like that and I knew I could do something like that. I wanted something extremely creative, extremely different, but still had this perfect tempo and BPM where it feels like it’s energizing for some reason.
I was reading an interview you did before and you were talking about how you rebranded yourself. What did that rebranding look like?
A lot really changed in the rebranding; my name, my presence, me as a person, and also me as a business. When I was making Scary Timing Right Now, I did not have XVTC, I did not have the brand, I did not have my logo, I did not have my image, and I did not have my mission and what I stood for as an artist. I definitely became more business-oriented. I started paying attention to the music industry and realizing that we’re living in a world of streams. So I had to figure out what to do with streams and content. So I got my LLC and I got my logo trademarked. There was a rebranding with my style and personality as well. Last year when I released Scary Timing Right Now, I released it under the name XV. XV was a very dark time for me. I got that name after my mother had passed away back in 2015, and XV is the Roman numeral for 15. So I was calling myself 15 because I lost my mother in 2015. So much of how I branded myself then was very, very dark. I would wear all black, all of the time. And I would wear this gas mask. When people would go to my shows, all they would see is this mask. There was this disconnect between me as an artist and my fan base because they couldn’t connect with me.
A lot of my shit is about love, so we wanted my name to have love in it. We purposely spelled it “LXVE”. When I see that XV in there, it reminds me of 15 and it reminds me of that dark part of my life. But the name LXVE represents love. Within that dark aspect of myself, I’m also encompassed in love. Then I started thinking of everything that I’ve been through and I’m still here after all of this shit. That’s where the “AFTR” came from. It wasn’t until after loving myself that I became a better artist. Or after I went through this heartbreak of losing love, I became a better artist. That’s where the name LXVE AFTR came from and the whole rebranding.
You talk exactly how your music sounds, clear and in-depth.
Yeah man, I appreciate that too because I do a lot of self-reflecting. These past two years I’ve been reflecting. I’ve been taking everything that society trained me or programmed me to think about myself. I’ve been throwing it out and figuring out who I am. I’ve been thinking about people’s perspective more because I know that I’m a person who goes through shit, no matter how dope I look as an artist. I started looking at people like that too. Just because I see someone sitting in their Porsche at a red light doesn’t mean everything is good. But I’ll talk to them when I see them because I know we’re all going through shit. I definitely appreciate it because it took a very long time for me to get to this point. I wasn’t even the person that you’re talking to now, two years ago. If we did an interview two years ago, it’d be like the most boring interview ever.
Are there any specific experiences that drive the content and creation of your music?
Oh yeah, most definitely. It trickles back to a very dark part of my life. Two years ago I was going through it bad. I got evicted from my apartment and my car was in the process of getting repoed, so I had to make a decision. So I sat back and figured out how I was going to tap into my spirituality. I let the universe take the car. I told myself that when they took the car, I wasn’t going to run and get it back. Also, at the same time, I was dealing with being evicted. I was using that car to sleep in. So the car got repoed and I was homeless. I was trying to find places to sleep, sleeping in abandoned garages next to rat shit. I was digging into trash cans, finding canned goods that weren’t expired and bringing them back to my abandoned garage. I didn’t even have a can opener. I remember trying to open a can with my key from my old apartment and my hairbrush. Because no matter if I’m homeless or not, I’m gonna keep the waves in my head. I had my durag and my brush, still. So I was using the brush as a hammer to force the key into the can to open it up.
At the time there was a gas station 10 minutes away from me, walking distance. So every day I would go to that gas station to steal food because I didn’t have money on me. One day I got caught and an Indian guy came out of nowhere swinging this bat. I’m talking like, hall of fame baseball swinging. So he hits me, but he hits me on my watch. I still have that watch because that watch really saved my wrist from anything happening. I didn’t have insurance so if I broke something, I couldn’t have gone to the hospital. At that time all I could think about was music for some reason. This was all during like, February or March so it was still cold. But I knew I had tax money coming in. My friend had just got an apartment and I started sleeping on his couch. With the money coming in, I knew I could get a cheap apartment or I could upgrade my music system. I put the $2,500 toward the music and kept sleeping on the couch. Ever since then, music has grown because I made that sacrifice. I made that sacrifice of letting the car go, being homeless, and really hitting the ground because I knew where I was going. I bought myself a new iMac, I bought myself Pro Tools, I bought all my plug-ins that I needed to make music, and that’s when I started working on Scary Timing Right Now. I hit that ground and had gone days without eating. And that has led to me being LXVE AFTR, it led to me having my LLC, and it led to me turning XVTC into its own publishing company. I just had to grind it out man.
Who are some artists that you look up to?
I’m going to start off with my guy Kanye West. I’ve always been a Kanye West fan, but I didn’t start connecting to Kanye until 808s & Heartbreak. I love Kanye’s creativity and how he’s always thinking outside of the box, trying new things and sounds. The next person is Sevdaliza. Sonically, her sound and her visuals are out of the century. She’s too advanced for us right now. We’re in 2020 and she’s in 3020. The Weeknd is definitely a huge person. Now, I’m aware that a lot of my music sounds like The Weeknd and that’s who a lot of people compare me to. Back then I used to kind of get mad about it. But I’m looking back and I’m not even gonna lie, The Weeknd created such a dope sound around that House of Balloons time. That sound was so emotional, dark, and wicked; so perfect. And then he left it behind. So me being a business person, I know that there’s never anything new under the sun. Things are always recycled in a different way. And if there’s a market for something, a lot of business companies take it.
I’ve been through a lot of dark shit. I love that melodic and emotional music anyway. That’s what also led Wicked Love Stories. I pay a lot of homage to The Weeknd and once my name starts getting out there and he hears about me, I don’t want no beef or nothing like that. This is straight homage, my dude. He did something great and he left that market. And I just want to continue that, because that was his true authentic self.
I also know that The Weeknd is inspired by Michael Jackson. And Michael Jackson is also my inspiration. Michael Jackson is on my list because he taught me to sing in a super high pitch range. So seeing how me and The Weeknd are inspired by the same guy, I know my voice is always going to sound similar because we’re both trying to do the same thing.
And then last on my list is most definitely Sade. I’m a huge Sade fan. And that’s the reason why I opened up Scary Timing Right Now with a “Bullet Anonymous” which is a spin-off from “Bullet Proof Soul”. One reason why she’s on my list is because a lot of Sade records are heartbroken records. She pulls out these emotions where you really feel that shit. Sade’s heartbreak story is my heartbreak story; this is just the male version.
That makes a lot of sense. Of course you’re in your own lane, but you’re still a product of the artists you mentioned. You talked about rebranding earlier, and I noticed your second project was released under your own label. What would attract an artist to sign with you? What are you looking to accomplish with your label?
My label is based out of love and love for yourself. What XVTC actually stands for is why we went with the broken heart logo. X is a variable, it can mean anything. We want to keep that in the back pocket. The VTC stands for “visions that cure”. I leave the X open for other artists to fill out. You either create visions that cure or you support the visions that cure. The broken heart is always a constant reminder of that. As human beings in this world, we still have a lot to do. Sometimes we overstep the boundaries of humanity. It’s not fair to break someone’s back and pay them cheap money while you’re making millions and polluting the world because you’re stripping resources from it. You’re purposely keeping these people around for your benefit. Us as humans, we’re broken. And so that’s what the broken heart means. Until we solve those problems, the heart that’s a part of my label will never be closed.
But why would someone want to come and join? Because at my label nobody is more important than the other. Yes, I’m the founder of it. But if I have another artist that’s coming through, I look at them as if they’re me and I’m them. However you want to mold and shape yourself at XVTC, we’re going to give you that. We’re not going to try to and have creative control and tell you how to look or perform. We’re not going to try to make you into a mainstream artist because a lot of artists around here don’t want to be mainstream. They just want to know how they can make a business. These are the people that we’re targeting at XVTC. And I feel like that right there will speak in volumes.
How did you select the cover art for both of these projects?
I’m a huge fan of other artists and whatever shape or form that they come in. I love working with these people and giving them a chance to be a part of something that can potentially be great. One of my closest friends, Jaleel, has a girlfriend who’s an amazing artist. She drew the Scary Timing Right Now cover by hand, every detail. I wanted to make it emotional with a lot of meaning. I wanted to be drawn in the mask too. If you notice there’s a tree there and that tree branch is coming out of the ground, trying to catch me from falling off the cliff. But that tree also has the shape of a woman. The album is called Scary Timing Right Now because it just truly meant what I was going through at that time. There was so much darkness that you would think somebody would commit suicide if they were going through what I was going through. And so that cover symbolizes that. That tree is my mother, who was saying, “Do not give in. I know you’re in the dark period, but there’s so much that you don’t see about yourself that is untapped.”
And I freaking loved the moon. I feel like the moon and myself have a lot in common. It’s very bright, but it’s very chill and calm. On the very back of the cover and you’ll see that there’s a small light coming from the mountain and that’s supposed to be the sun. The sun is just about to come out. And that’s that potential that my mother knows that’s in me. The sun is basically saying, “The sun is just right over there over that cliff. Do not fall because it’s right over that cliff.” You have stars that are in the sky. The stars have eyes too because the star is also looking like, “You’re one of us. We just need you to open your eyes and freaking see it.” The bottom is just supposed to be like this dark world. I wanted to show people the world that I see. I see this dark and weird place that has white grass and a red river. That’s where that cover art design came from.
For Wicked Love Stories, I knew right out of the gate that this was something that I would market out in the U.K. first, and really tackle that crowd heavy. We designed something that had an electronic feel, incorporated with a broken heart behind it because in all cases, what I want to sell is an image. We have a bunch of mannequins laying in different positions. Each mannequin represents a story that I’ve experienced with different women. That’s why the title is called Wicked Love Stories. The mannequin idea was strictly my cover art designer’s idea and I just let him flow with it. The font selection was perfect, and how he had the tracklist on the front cover. I wanted to put all of the information right on the front cover because no one does that.
What I liked about The Weeknd’s covers is that they looked like a newspaper. He made his shit look like it’s a news printout. All of his covers are like that, and I want people to recognize when it’s a LXVE AFTR cover too. That’s where the styling of the image being in a CD case came from. When you see my covers, they are going to be in a CD case because who listens to CDs anymore? It gives you that nostalgia.
When talking about XVTC in another interview, you mentioned that racism and greed are killing the world. How do you reflect, or why do you chose not to reflect those sentiments in your music?
A lot of times we think about artists and what they stand for. Not every artist’s music has to be a clear indication of their political views. But they can show them in various ways. I’d much rather have people see me lead with my actions. My action is where you get the true, authentic me. I’m a very militant person, super pro-black, and I want to see my people rise up and become the best versions of ourselves. In my actions, you’ll always see that, even in my videos. I always like to make sure that the black image is the focal point. I want black dancers, I want a black artist, I want a black choreographer, I want a black director and things of that nature. So that’s how I lead. I’m out here in the street doing things. Even with the Rodney Reed case, I was so glad that I was a part of signing the petition to get the sentencing delayed. I lead with stuff like that.
But there will always be my gems. If you go back to Scary Timing Right Now, the last track “UpsEyed Dwn” is all about racism and greed. One of the things I talk about is liberation, black supremacy, and genocide in that song. I will always have those one or two songs where I come out and vocally say that I’m pissed off about a situation. I even talk about my mother’s experience as a black woman in that song. She never got a raise because the color of her skin wasn’t right. Every day when she came home, I would massage her feet at night. I would tell her, “Cry now, but get ready for the fight tomorrow.”
Even in “The Fall”, I talk about how mother earth is dying. That song is me figuring out how I can go out there, think about marriage, and start a family with my wife and kids when the earth that we’re living on is dying. If the earth is dying because we’ve upped her drive for resources, then how are we going to love each other as human beings? So some of this stuff will pop into the music. Our future kings and queens need to see black images in the media that are doing something for the community and for the culture.
What’s something you want to leave the people with?
Let the people know I just purchased me a harp because I grew up playing the harp as a child. I played from the very beginning of middle school all the way up until I graduated in high school. I used to be a part of the Urban Youth Harp Ensemble led by Elizabeth Remy.
I may not release another project in 2020. I call 2020 my evolution year. And the reason why I call it my evolution year is because I’m taking that step back from being a recording artist to actually get back to my artistry, which is learning how to play the harp again and taking vocal lessons to really strengthen my voice. In my performances, I want to be able to play the harp, do acapellas, cut my lead vocals out, and really let the crowd hear my voice. When I drop my next album in 2021, that shit is going to bang on all cylinders.