Lathan Warlick has always had a sharp sense of self-awareness. Knowing when it’s time to transition from one season of life to the next has been instinctive to him since he was growing up in East Jackson, Tenn., an area of town known for its gang violence and drug scene.

But Warlick was intentional about elevating himself out of that environment and building one in which he could thrive. Long before he was a viral TikTok star, Warlick formed his own hip-hop dance group in Jackson; they performed around the country and scored an opening slot for the Grammy-nominated rapper Soulja Boy.

"I wanted to do something different,” Warlick confides during a Zoom interview about turning to dance as an outlet. "It allowed me to have time to get away from everything that was going on in the neighborhoods.”

While the cathartic activity saved Warlick from the harsh streets of East Jackson, it also led him to a fateful night that altered the course of his life: One night, after a show, Warlick and his dance crew were at a club where a massive fight broke out. Warlick suddenly found himself with his back against a wall, caught between life and death.

“It ended up at the end of the night where a guy had a .45-caliber pistol pointed to my face. So with my back against the wall with nowhere else to go, I remember looking up and asking God if he was real, could he get me out of this situation,” Warlick recalls of the harrowing moment.

The perpetrator pulled the trigger, but the gun miraculously didn’t go off.

"That right there," Warlick adds, "was a turning point.”

After the life-changing experience, Warlick knew it was time to pivot again. He removed himself from the dance world and started focusing his talents on music while working a railroad job. As Warlick began writing lyrics, the vision of “God, love and unity” came to him, solidifying itself as his mantra while pursuing music.

Meanwhile, many of Warlick's friends back home were dying from gun violence or being incarcerated for multiple years. He was intentional, too, about making music that would speak to them.

"I started to create music to show them it's another way. Just because we live here, we don't have to live this environment. We don't have to die here, we don't have to be locked up all of our life,” he shares. "I wanted to make music for that community to show them life is different.”

For Warlick, part of this process meant making TikTok videos outside of his hip-hop comfort zone, adding his own improvised lyrics to songs by pop superstars Selena Gomez and Lewis Capaldi. The videos racked up millions of views, and his “Kobe Bryant” freestyle rap -- which mourned the deaths of the NBA legend, his 13-year-old daughter Gianna and the other victims of a January 2020 helicopter crash -- caught the attention of Granger Smith, who invited the multi-faceted artist to his farm in Texas and pitched him the idea of doing a collaborative remix of “That's Why I Love Dirt Roads.”

During their visit, Smith’s own story of the July 2019 drowning death of his 3-year-old son River moved Warlick, himself the father of a son about the same age. Warlick immediately connected to the song's lyrics, knowing firsthand what it’s like to metaphorically travel roads filled with bumps and obstacles, and wrote his verse on the fly, from the driver’s seat of his car as his young son sat in the back.

It's hard trying to hold it together / When I lost a couple of people along the ride / Wish I could roll back the hands on the clock / Just to tell 'em, 'I love you,' just one more time," Warlick sings. His son's presence provided the inspiration for the lyrics.

In spite of his newfound success, Warlick was still working his job at the railroad, maintaining a rigorous schedule that oftentimes meant getting a mere two hours of sleep each night while working seven days a week. “It was the grind and the hard work that I stayed dedicated to,” Warlick observes.

It wasn’t until he felt a sense of internal strength and self-assuredness that Warlick knew it was time to leave the railroad and focus on music full-time, which brought more of Music City’s finest into his path. Following a collaboration with Matt Stell on the country-meets-hip-hop number “Over Yonder,” Warlick received a message from RaeLynn asking him to collaborate (that request turned out “Roots”). Both songs appear on Warlick’s debut EP, My Way; released on Friday (April 23), it's an eight-song collection of collaborations with Tyler Hubbard (the title track), Russell Dickerson, Lauren Alaina, Dustin Lynch and High Valley.

"I wanted to name the whole EP My Way because I'm having it my way," Warlick states of the country, hip-hop and gospel blend that he says allowed him to share his testimony. "It’s about bringing folks together. Let's bring some unity to this world with what's going on right now."

Hubbard played a large role in selecting Warlick's collaborators, connecting the artist with his friends while also helping to conceptualize songs such as “Gotta Be God,” which is based on a phrase Warlick used multiple times in conversation. The singer says he’s “blessed” to have Dickerson featured on the vulnerable song, which offers a debt of gratitude to a higher power, so much so that he broke down in tears when the two performed it during a showcase in 2020.

"I was letting people know this is real deal. This ain't just about music; this is about some real-life situations," Warlick explains of the song, which tells the story of that near-fatal moment in that club. “It’s deeper than just music.”

Warlick carries this vulnerability into the EP’s only solo number, “My Dawgs,” a freestyle rap dedicated to his chosen family of country artists who showed up for him on this project, so eager to participate that they recorded their parts from home. He and Lynch even established a friendship outside of the studio, texting about everything from fishing to family life.

"It really got me because these people would give me the shirt off their backs, and I just started knowing them, but I can tell it's a genuine thing,” Warlick expresses. “That's what hit me when I made the song "My Dawgs," because even though we're not family, even though we're not blood, we still connected on a whole different level.”

Warlick defines himself as a “positive artist," with the ultimate goal of sharing his light through music with his voice, stories and deep desire to bring unity into the world.

"I'm called to be a light out into the world, so if I'm going to be a light out into the world, I want to go in a lot of different spaces and still keep God along with me. I want to go to this spot that people don't want to go to. I want to be this light in this dark spot to where you take this candle and put it in a dark room, he’s going to light up the room,” Warlick proclaims of his mission. “That's what I'm about.”

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