Courtesy of Damez
ATLANTA, Ga. | In ancient times, to refine gold, a craftsman would sit next to a hot fire with molten gold in a crucible, and he would skim out the dross that rose to the top of the molten metal. Like that fine, purified precious substance, hip hop star Damez is ready for the trial by fire to end, and the golden life to begin.
He says as much in his new album Hell Now, Heaven Later. Over the course of the 17 tracks, in a cavalcade of street poetry, Damez empties his closet of tragedy, racism, homophobia and struggles he has experienced in his young life.
“I am intentional on everything I do,” he tells me on the podcast Rated LGBT Radio. “Life was putting me through things I couldn’t ignore, I needed the record to serve … I needed to address the issues, the pain the trauma head on.”
At times raw, at times resolute, at times angry, the album stuns in its honesty. It is a testament to both being defeated, and also resolving to moving ahead with hope. Thus, the name Hell now, Heaven later.
His family moved to Atlanta when he was 6, born in Mississippi. Life was great, and his childhood was perfect. He was the kid with a thousand questions and wanted to know everything. He already adored Destiny’s Child even at that age– “I was a music kid,” he says.
His parents were divorced when he was in high school, but as difficult as that was, it was nothing compared to the horror coming. When Damez was a senior in high school, his brother, Ryan, close to him in age, and his best friend, was murdered. “They were back-to-back traumatic experiences that did a lot of damage to my soul, my happiness and my confidence.”
He describes his brother to me. “He was just the coolest, most down to earth, precious soul. He made you feel like you belonged, he had your back. It is a void I have been trying to fill for 12 years. No one knows you like your big brother does. No one has your back. That kind of loss changes the chemistry in your brain.”
His greatest champion was gone, but music was still there for him, however, as it always had been. He came out sexually to his family, which was not met at first with great acceptance. Depressed, lonely and defeated, he pulled through by creating songs. He loaded his closet, now that he was out of it, with studio equipment, and the rest, as he says, “was history.”
He is now a rapper, singer, dancer, songwriter, editor, creative director, and a rising star in music. With a focus on rap and R&B, he showcases his talents and versatility through an eclectic catalog of self-penned songs and choreography-heavy visuals and performances.
His world has been exploding with possibilities ever since.
He was named the “New Face of Atlanta’s Music Scene” by Out Magazine’s Pride edition in 2020, as well as Atlanta Magazine.
Out Magazine, in fact, put him on their cover.
In 2022, MTV News said Damez was ready to take the throne. He was featured on Billboard.com twice, as part of their ‘Billboard Pride’ playlist for his 2019 singles “Pull Up” and “Big Mood.” He’s performed for Atlanta’s Black Pride Festival in 2019, 2021, & 2022, as well as other notable performances such as 2021’s MOBI Fest, Human Rights Campaign’s HBCU Summit in 2019, and opening for original Dreamgirl Jennifer Holliday during NAESM’s 2020 Leadership Conference.
An advocate for equal rights and healthcare, he has participated in numerous campaigns for The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Gilead’s Truvada for PrEP Medication, among others.
More recently, he was featured in a 2022 campaign alongside Tina Knowes-Lawson and others for British multinational pharmaceutical ViiV Healthcare’s HIV campaign, ‘Me in You, You in Me’ to end HIV stigma and raise awareness on preventive medication.
His earliest work, that gained great popularity and play time in clubs, was full of tough talk, attitude and made him untouchable. It was, he now says, an armor that he has become willing to drop. “Today, that is not who I am and what I want my music to reflect.”
The album also does not hide his queerness, he is autobiographically vivid in who he is. “I had to analyze and accept that I was very different from my brothers at a young age. I could not go through life being someone I am not, but I did know it would not be easy.” He depicts the evolvement of his family accepting him from within an African American community that often did not.
He met with a lot of pushback in the Hip Hop world by being open about who he was. “I was told ‘no’, and certain artists would not work with me. Performance opportunities were being withheld even though I had better numbers than those on the bill. It was not something new. I had met these challenges before—in school and dealing with my family, so I knew I would be told ‘no’ a lot. Then there was the flip side. People are writing from all over the world. Kids are being inspired. Kids from different countries in Africa.”
“In the LGBTQ space, I am bringing Hip Hop—which is a widely multi-dimensional genre, and a lot of people don’t look at it that way, and don’t know it to be that.”
When Out Magazine put him on its cover, he was both thrilled, and scared being so revealed. “It came at an important moment for me, “ he says now. “I was struggling mentally at the time, and that cover was encouraging and gave me drive. My work was not in vain. It was a sign to not give up. I got right back in the studio, and my next EP was called COVER BOY. I suddenly realized that I had more influence than I thought I had. It all became bigger than me.”
“In the LGBTQ space, I am bringing Hip Hop—which is a widely multi-dimensional genre, and a lot of people don’t look at it that way, and don’t know it to be that. They have not heard enough Hip Hop in their lives to know how expansive it can really be. So that is another aspect I wanted to bring, the music I grew up with, introducing , exposing and showcasing the nuanced many different kinds of Hip Hop, the kinds that are embedded in my soul. There are so many different facets.”
As he brings Hip Hop to an audience that may feel the industry behind that genre doesn’t even like them, he is also introducing his R&B talents to the world. One cut, Stay Afloat, on the Hell Now album is Damez delivering sweet soulful melody.
It provides the silver lining to the fights depicted throughout the rest of the album. It is a song of vulnerability, and hope.
There is a point in the purification process where the fire has done its job. The imperfections are removed and the gold stand pure, shiny, glorious and ready to crown a regal head.
With all the power and good will Damez is generating, the bridges he is building, and all the new projects that are coming (“Things I can’t even talk about,” he tells me.), we can only hope that the hell he has experienced is slipping away and over.
Heaven does not have to wait, and if the inspiration from the album is an indication, it is not later.
It has arrived.
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