BERNARD FLOWERS saw music as his great escape. Despite being in close quarters with murder and mayhem in the streets of Memphis, for him there was never any temptation.
“I could jump the fence and I’d be in the projects and hear gunshots, normal hood activity. Fighting, shooting, gambling.”
A stable upbringing luckily kept him focused. “It was easy for me to turn the other cheek ’cause I knew I had something greater in store for me. My grandparents always instilled in us what’s right and what’s wrong.”
Raised in an ordinary, one-level home with his mom, two brothers, two sisters and very Southern grandparents, Bernard was the baby of the bunch and shared a room with his older brother. Family gatherings, game nights and holiday get-togethers were the norm.
“It wasn’t the projects, but it wasn’t a mansion. It was normal. Family really means everything to me. I was around a lot of love when I was a kid.”
Always the popular one—the team captain in school—he played basketball and ran track while still pulling in solid grades. The stability his family provided meant he was able to avoid cash register jobs at McDonald’s or Macy’s for money.
“I never had to put a uniform on and go to a job. Not that I was against it. I’ve just been so blessed. That’s why with the music I go so hard. ’Cause I didn’t have to go through a lot of things my peers had to go through.”
Still, it wasn’t exactly a silver spoon life. While his mom was employed at a dairy product plant, his dad eventually became a teacher. It was only after Bernard got older that he realized his father’s hustler past. “My dad was a street guy my whole life. I understand it now.”
As a teen, music naturally became an outlet. Bernard started experimenting with rapping and singing at 13, when his sister’s boyfriend brought him to a local studio. “He knew I had talent, but I never really cared about it. My whole life people was like, ‘You can rap, you can sing, you need to come to the studio.”
After recording his first song, a lightbulb went off that this was his chosen path. Tucking in his goals of being a teacher, he instead dove into recording. At 20, he moved to Atlanta with a friend, stepping out on good faith.
“I was gonna turn into dust trying to make it in music. I just knew if the right person heard my music I could get a chance. That’s why I moved away.”
On mixtapes, Bernard assumed a persona as what he calls a “hardcore rap dude” until his style evolved into the mellifluous hybrid singing-rapping sound he now calls his own. He blames his early attempts at chasing trends on immaturity and youth.
“Back in them days, I was trying to be a fly gangsta rapper, more than what I’m doing now, which is cool rap, cool singing. I was short-changing myself in taking the easy way out, doing what everybody else was doing.”
Great music evokes a feeling that’s sometimes inexplicable. There’s an emotion you get hearing the airy, romantic jam “This Feeling,” a song about pining after a special woman. Bernard wrote the hook off the cuff, not even 10 seconds after hearing the beat.
Bernard Flowers’s tracks