A conversation with Lathan Warlick offers a refreshingly modern perspective on what it means to be an “outlaw” in country music. Though he’s preceded by the likes of Cowboy Troy and Nelly, there’s something much deeper and profoundly more impacting about the country-rapper’s journey, message and aspirations that separates him from other emcees who have turned to twang.
Like a slew of rising artists, the Jackson, Tennessee native found success through uploading freestyles on social media - which led to artists like gospel icon Kirk Franklin and country star Granger Smith discovering him. Now, with nearly two million followers between Instagram, TikTok and YouTube, he’s uniquely positioned for opportunities of increased appeal. For example, Warlick was selected by TikTok to join the first class of its incubator program for black creators. Limited to 100 people, the collective of actors, chefs, educators and musicians will participate in events featuring notable Black executives and celebrities.
Warlick's sudden rise and ever-increasing visibility have both led to an incredible maelstrom of success. After connecting with his manager Ash Bowers, he joined the Wide Open Music family alongside, Jimmie Allen and Matt Stell, in April of 2020. By the following August, he’d signed his first record deal with RECORDS Nashville/Columbia. His My Way EP, released last month, features collaborations with a whole host of heavyweight stars, including Florida Georgia Line’s Tyler Hubbard (who also executively produced the record), Lauren Alaina, RaeLynn and Matt Stell.
When talking to Warlick, the sense that he’s a wide-eyed dreamer with the tools, ability and access to achieve unprecedented goals quickly emerges. Though some may be sceptical that his message of “God, love, and unity” can supersede cultural divisions and musical genres, it’s his unflinching religiosity that makes him such a compelling artist. He’s earnest and hopeful, with a unique perspective that expands the depth and reach of country’s present and future.
What inspires a hustling independent rapper to become a viral TikTok artist?
I grew up in an area surrounded by gang violence and criminal activity. Hip-hop, alongside the guidance of my mom and dad, were my only way out. I got heavily into rapping and dancing, and started to open up shows for Soulja Boy and other artists. But one night, outside a club, a guy threatened my life with a .45 calibre pistol. It was a near-tragic event - he was fixin’ to kill me! So I asked God, “If you’re real like everyone says you are, what’s the best way out of this situation I was just in?” A few years later I was lying in bed one night and discovered Musical.ly, before it was known as TikTok. I started having success there, freestyling on songs. In the past year, with songs by artists like Lewis Capaldi’s ‘Someone You Loved’ and Selena Gomez’s ‘Oceans’, I’ve managed to achieve viral success.
What was the most significant lesson you took from the process of making the My Way EP?
Connecting with other country artists - sitting in a room and hearing their stories - and realizing the similarities between us, was amazing. Obviously, I’m a Black guy, and these people are white people that grew up differently, so it’s great to know we share something in common. I had a conversation with Tyler Hubbard while we were recording, and I realized that we both worked 9-to-5 jobs while pursuing country success. I only just quit working as railroad welder in December, and Tyler owned his own business while he was songwriting. These conversations opened up my eyes and heart to the potential for racial togetherness in country music.
What unique element of your religiosity did you bring to the recording process, and how do you think it impacted the final product?
When I get into the studio, I bring my spirituality and empathy into the atmosphere. Before I start recording, I pray. Recording music with a spiritual intention makes it a whole lot deeper than just “making music.” For example, on a song like ‘Roots’ with RaeLynn, we wanted to highlight women. When I got in there with her and the other writers and came up with that hook, it opened up our minds to consider the power of the amazing women we have in our lives. They hold it down even when times are rough. The lyrics in that song are so deep to me. I don’t like to talk about it too much because it makes me get very emotional.
Incredible. Blending the spaces between country, gospel, and rap has certainly proven to inspire your most successful work. How have you come to understand working in this unique musical space?
It’s simple. God opens doors. I never really understood how these sounds could go together until I prayed on it and realized that if I kept my raps good and classy, they could appeal across all three genres.
As far as your time in country goes, who’s been your most intriguing collaborator so far?
I’ve been in the studio with Jimmie Allen and he’s been showing me a lot. We get in there and we’re thinking how to bridge sounds between country, R & B, gospel - everything. Then we stop for a second, the ideas come to us, and we find that universal tone. I like working with Jimmie because he’s truly a country artist, first and foremost. He knows where that “country” space is. To have his help as I figure out how to fit what I do into that space... Hell, I could probably write a Barney theme song with him and make it work for everyone, now.
I wanted to touch back on religion. What’s the most amazing moment you’ve had that’s been inspired by the lessons you’ve learned along your spiritual journey?
My calling is to be a light unto the world. I’m a forgiving person. For instance, let’s talk about Morgan Wallen. I asked God what I should do about him and his situation. God told me, “Lathan, over and over again, I’ve forgiven you for so many things that you’ve done in life. So, I ask you, how can you not forgive someone else?” I love God more than I love most everything, so I let him help me make my decision. Overall - with that kind of spirit guiding me - I want to be the kind of person who can reach the masses and bring America together with God, love and unity. If that’s in a small conversation or at a crazy, amazing country music festival, I want to do that.
Overall, what are your thoughts about your next steps in country music, and to what do you feel you will owe your potential success?
This has been a good, but surprising process. I don’t know where this thing is gonna go, but it’s going somewhere, and I’m gonna be a part of whatever that may be. The country music industry may think I’m going to come in with all the cursing and negativity, but that’s not my vibe. I’m here to connect everyone with spirituality, good energy and music. With everything happening in the world today, I want people to realize that my music is a healing ingredient that can keep people together in a crazy, hostile environment.
The 'My Way' EP is out now via RECORDS Nashville/Columbia.
Photography by Dustin Haney
Lathan is this week's cover star of Holler's Introducing playlist! Listen below now.