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Lathan Warlick Interview: How a brush with death inspired his music's message of 'God, Love and Unity'
Maxim talks to the artist blending Rap, Country - and a whole lot of positivity
Hi Lathan! Thanks so much for taking the time out to chat today. I loved your recent My Way EP, it's full of some awesome Country collaborations. What inspired you to choose Country music as the collaborative focus for this EP?
God gave me the vision of ‘God, Love and Unity’, so in order to push that vision I started to know God more and I started to love people more, and as far as the unity goes, I had to start working with people who didn’t look like me. I remember doing ‘Over Yonder’ with Matt Stell, and then RaeLynn DMed me and said, ‘Look, I love this song, is there any way we could get in the studio?’. So we created ‘Roots’, then after that, Florida Georgia Line’s Tyler Hubbard hit me up and we connected. He introduced me to Lauren Alaina, Russell Dickerson, and everybody else who was on the EP. It was like a chain reaction - I take no credit for what God did with that whole thing.
I wanted to ask you about ‘It’s OK to Cry’, which has a great message of not being afraid to be vulnerable. Have you experienced the stigma surrounding men’s mental health, and if so, how did you overcome this expectation to bottle up emotions?
Definitely, you know how it is - growing up there’s the stereotype of ‘Real men don’t cry’ and ‘If you're a real man, you’re big, you’re boastful, you beat your chest, you’re masculine.’ I remember seeing my daddy cry, and that let me know that it’s definitely okay to cry. Crying is the way to release things our body has built up. A lot of times, after you cry, you start to feel a little better. When you’re holding that stuff in, it has to go somewhere, and that leaks off into you saying, ‘I can’t do this mentally’, and then you start to say, ‘I can’t do this physically’. It was on my heart so much to release that song to let people know it’s okay to be in that state, and to be down and to be sad, but that there's a way to get up afterwards. Just because you’re here, it doesn’t mean you have to stay here. That helped me out mentally - even though a lot of people hear this song and thank me for it, in reality it helped me out a lot.
In the past, you’ve called yourself a ‘positive artist’, and even when you’re documenting a difficult experience, there’s always an underlying optimism there. How has your faith helped you to always see the silver linings?
Being connected and having a relationship with God - that’s the one thing that helped me to build music like this. Now that I understand God and I understand Christ, it’s like I’m trying to help people understand who he is through my music. Since I’m helping people in this way, it’s coming out as real and raw. It’s not so much coming out as, ‘Hey, you need to get to know Jesus’, it’s coming out a lot more as, ‘Hey, I understand that you’re going through stuff in life, but let’s turn a leaf over’. You don’t have to go through what you’re going through, life could be so different. We’re going through enough negativity in life today. I want to be that person that whenever you hear about anything I did, or even just hear my name, there’s going to be something positive out of it. I also want my music to be something everybody can listen to. I don’t have to talk badly about women or even cuss in my lyrics. Whenever you hear it, it’s going to be positive and good music.
On ‘Gotta Be God’ you mention your near-death experience. After you'd gone through that, was there an immediate sense of ‘Okay, this is God’, or did it take a little more time and reflection to feel this?
I remember seeing some guys in the club that had a problem with some of the people I was with. They started walking towards one of them and tried to get something started - I immediately grabbed him and started walking him out of the door. As I was walking out, I felt a hard push in my back. When I turned around it looked like everyone in the club was fighting. I’m trying to gather the guys I came with, but then I noticed two guys walking up to us, and as they did that, everyone around them started scattering. I thought, well, if everyone is running, then I’d better run too! I remember looking back and my team had gone, so now I’m standing there by myself. I remember looking back and seeing these two guys were starting to chase me, and because I’m looking back I run right into a brick wall.
I turn around and see the two guys standing right there beside me. One guy pulled out a 45 caliber pistol and points it right in my face. His friend was telling him, ‘Go ahead and shoot him! You gotta earn your stripes’. I remember looking up, and I said, ‘God, if you’re real, then just help me out of this situation.’ I didn’t have so much of a relationship with God at that point, but I can always remember my Grandma saying if I was ever in a time of need to just call on Him. The guy looked at me, looked at his friend, and then looked back at me - and he pulled the trigger. When he pulled the trigger, the gun clicked, and then the guy standing beside him took the gun out of his hand and said, ‘You don’t know what you’re doing, let me do it.’ As soon as he cocked the gun back, a bullet ejected out of the gun - then a car hit the corner and the lights scared the guys off.
At that moment, it didn’t really register that I’d asked for help from God - none of that clicked in my mind until I started walking off. That’s when I had my first encounter where I felt the power of the Holy Spirit. I hadn’t ever experienced that before. It was miraculous.
On your 2016 EP, ‘Street Rev’, there’s a really moving song, ‘Time Don’t Wait’, which is about losing a friend, and navigating feelings of guilt in the grieving process. What advice would you give to someone that might going through something similar?
That was about my first cousin. He had just gotten out of jail, and I was helping him out the whole time in jail, sending him money. A guy that didn’t even know him shot him. When I heard the whole thing, it really hit me, because that night he’d gotten in touch to say that things didn’t feel right. But it was like 2:30am, so I thought I’d just call him back in the morning. That’s why I made this song, because time didn’t wait on me to call him and he lost his life. For anyone else going through that, of course you’re going to need some time to go through this phase. But at the same time, you can’t grieve like you don’t have hope. I was grieving like there was no hope. I was thinking that after this, it’s always gonna be bad, and I’ll always be mad at somebody. But I would encourage people, when they go through something like this, to always understand that it’s gonna get greater later. There’s a purpose for everything, even what happened to my family - I started making music after that, and started preaching to the streets that just because you grew up here, it doesn’t mean you have to live this kind of life. Just because my cousin died like this, it doesn’t mean other people have to go through this too. With his death, let me help somebody else. When you go through stuff in life, God uses it to help you get to another level and help you reach other people. The majority of the time, it’s not even about you, it’s about helping somebody else along the way.
That’s really incredible that you’ve turned the traumatic experiences you’ve had into beacons of light to help other people.
For sure. But I’m telling you, man, I’m not a perfect person - that wasn’t my first reaction to the tragedy. My first reaction was, ‘Who did it, where they at, let’s get the guys together and do something about it.' But the Holy Spirit was like, ‘I haven’t brought you from way over there to over here, for you to just go back there.’ That was another reality check for me.
"I don’t have to talk badly about women or cuss in my lyrics. Whenever you hear it, it’s going to be good, positive music."
Your mantra is “do different, be different”. What’s the meaning behind this?
When you grow up in an impoverished neighbourhood, like I did, when that’s all you see and know, that’s what you’re going to gravitate towards in life, because you’re comfortable staying in that situation. But once you do different, you become different, meaning if you change your environment and do something outside of your comfort zone, you get to be different. I moved all the way over to Virginia, and when I got there, I knew then that life was so much more than where I was in that neighbourhood. I thought, ‘I don’t want to be the same person I was yesterday - today is a new day.’
You were a welder for a number of years before making the plunge in December 2020 to pursue music full-time. What advice would you have for anyone else considering a career change that might be perceived as high-risk or unorthodox?
It’s like anything we do in life, if we’re used to doing it 24/7, we’re not ready to make the jump to do something different. You lay down at night, you get back up in the morning, you have your routine. It’s a cycle. Once God started opening the door with music, I was still at first thinking, ‘I don’t want to do that and take those opportunities’, because I was so comfortable with the railroad - I’d been working there for nine years. Then I just started following the things that God wanted me to do - and now I get to do music full-time. This is for anybody out there - if you ever start to question what you want to do, continue to seek God on it, continue to seek Christ on it. Even if you don’t immediately find what you’re supposed to be doing, His grace and mercy aren’t gonna let you fall. I had to have that in my mind - even if music’s not what I’m supposed to be doing, I’m gonna take that leap of faith. Once you take that step, God acknowledges that, and now His grace and mercy are gonna cover you because you took that leap of faith. But people are afraid to do that because they’re afraid to fail, and we shouldn’t be, because if you trust God and believe in God, you understand that you will never fail. If this doesn’t work out, another door will be opened for something else.
Your positive energy is infectious - I feel uplifted just from spending this time with you!
Like I said earlier, we go through enough negativity just in one day. I’ve seen enough death and junk in my life. Life is like a vapour, just like it says in the Bible. So everyday, I’m gonna be up here - everyday. Even when something’s trying to bring me down, I remind myself - let me uplift myself. If nobody else is going to uplift myself, let me uplift my own self.
A question we ask all our interviewees is to name their favourite three songs with a theme of mental health. What are your choices?
1. 'Gotta Be God' - Lathan Warlick feat. Russell Dickerson
2. 'In His Hands' - Lathan Warlick feat. Lauren Alaina
3. 'It’s OK to Cry' - Lathan Warlick
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