RICHMOND, Va. -- Before he was a standout football player at Deep Run High School in Glen Allen, Virginia Tech, and the NFL -- Antone Exum was rapping.
One of his earliest memories from grade school was performing for his father who had a prophetic reaction to his son's song.
"I remember taking my dad into the back room, down the hall, and performing a rap I had written," Exum recalled. "He said 'well you've got the voice for it son.'"
Exum, 30, has been writing for as long as he's been running. He jots down notes and lines, as soon as they come to him, for future use in his music.
But as Exum grew, football came first.
"One of my personalities is to go all the way with things, especially if I'm in love with them. I was definitely in love with football," he said. "I think that I need to put my attention, a good amount of my attention, to this sport if I would like to go as far as I want to go."
Exum earned all ACC honors as a Virginia Tech Hokie.
He was drafted in the 2014 NFL Draft and played six years in the NFL, first with the Minnesota Vikings and later the San Francisco 49ers.
He played his last game on December 29, 2019.
When he was fairly certain his playing days were behind him and music would be his future, a routine medical procedure resulted in a not-so-routine health scare.
His heart stopped while on the operating table. Doctors were able to revive Exum and provide him with a second chance.
"You can't really be scared of anything else after something like that happens," Exum said. "It solidified where I was going at the time and what I was doing. I knew 100 percent that I was doing the right thing, that this is something special that's happening right now and that I need to follow this with everything that I have."
He went on to released his first album Cardinal Coffee, a collaboration many years in the making with Norwegian producers Erik Samkopf and Dex Barstad.
Some of the songs and melodies have been swimming in his head for years, but it took a trip to his mother's closet to make them a reality. Exum recorded the lyrics and some melodies for his album deep amongst a wardrobe as diverse as his music.
"[That] is where I feel the most creative at the moment, I guess," he said. "I wanted to be somewhere that was enclosed and I've been getting great vocals out of this room. Also, my mom is a very spiritual woman, so I just think that something special is in this room."
He spends anywhere from 30 minutes to 30 days creating a song.
"If I have a sound in my head that I want to get out or if I have a song written that I feel is something special, I can come in here and record it at any time," he said.
As for his music, one critic said if Dennis Rodman and Lady GaGa had a child it would be Antone Exum. He is trying something not many have done successfully, but he's doing it his way. So far, the reaction and support has been positive.
"I hope it's because the music is pretty good," he said. "Everyone has been supportive from people in the immediate area, throughout the state, throughout the country, even other countries are listening to the music."
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