Staysie Atoms breathe new life into the city’s music scene
- Staysie Atoms is a 22-year-old “cybertrap” rapper from Oakhaven
- Inspired by the big names in Memphis rap, Atoms uniquely adds a dreamy element to the hardened Memphis sound.
- Atoms finds writing raps, producing beats and creating memes to be a form of unbridled self-expression.
A laugh bounces off the graffitied skate ramps at the Al Town DIY Skate Park near South Memphis, filling the empty park with bubbling energy.
The skate park, built by and for the Memphis skate community, is entirely decorated with wash coats of layered spray paint.
The colorful mayhem is what makes this spot a favorite for Takyla Burnett, the 22-year-old Oakhaven native who’s been making waves on the Memphis music scene as Staysie Atoms.
“It’s random as hell, like my brain: it’s just stuff all over the place,” she said of the park.
Atoms’ music combines the brash honesty of Memphis lyricism and trap beats with an ethereal twist. Nodding to her playful melodies, you might miss that she found three different ways to insult you in one verse. In 2021, Atoms released a number of singles and EPs, including “THEE HITZ 2” and “SIENNA CIGARETTE’S GREATEST HITS parts 1 and 2”.
Gaining national attention for his eclectic sound, Atoms’ musical journey began by making beats and recording rhymes in his bedroom.
An “Origin Story” of Stax Music Academy
Throughout his childhood, Atoms struggled to fit in anywhere.
“I’ve been singing since I was a kid. Nobody else in my family can sing. I was really the only one who had a fondness for music,” she said. “I felt weird. I already felt out of place because everyone in my family can draw.”
But her mother saw this talent in Atoms and encouraged her to perfect her voice singing Etta James and other R&B and soul classics. Subsequently, Atoms’ mother enrolled her in Stax Music Academy when she was in middle school.
She cites her attendance at Stax Music Academy as her “origin story”, attributing the layered harmonies found in her new music to the acapella classes she took at the academy.
The R&B lineup she felt stuck with didn’t quite reflect the pop-punk and rock music she had grown up listening to and wanted to make instead. And so, at 18, she becomes Staysie Atoms, a name specifically chosen for its banality (inspired by men’s shoe brand Stacy Adams). The spelling of her name, much like the artist herself, comes with a little twist.
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From memes to music
Atoms is clearly a product of the internet, high-pitched, heavily reverberant vocals that sound like you’ve stumbled across a 2000s teenage girl’s Myspace page to the cover art of her anime and video game-inspired singles. to the 20-part Instagram story the rants she posts.
Before posting music, Atoms said she ran a meme page, and while curating fried memes — editing an oversaturated photo and multi-layered filters for comedic effect — to post, she inadvertently built the cyberspace aesthetic that would become a hallmark of the Staysie Atoms brand.
In a way, developing Staysie Atoms as an extension of herself gave her the honesty and confidence that helped her overcome the insecurities she developed as a child.
“I was so lonely. I didn’t have any friends. I didn’t go out or anything. I was literally going to work and coming home,” she said. But her music offered her the comfort of being herself. “You can escape your reality and be whatever you want to be. I think now I’ve just become more comfortable with myself.”
After some encouragement from a Facebook friend, she decided to start attending open mics and getting to know people from the Memphis music scene.
“I remember going to my first local show. It did something to me, because ever since then I’ve been like, ‘I want to be on stage.’ ‘I want to do this.'”
At 18, she sang during an open mic at Growlers to a crowd of “like 10 people”. Despite the nerves, she knew that onstage was where she wanted to stay.
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Getting into the Memphis rap scene
Atoms wasn’t really into hip hop music, but a meeting with a former hip hop man from the East Memphis Boyz rap group encouraged her to give it a go. Initially she resisted, but she thought the “raunchy” subject matter of her work might flow better as a rap than a song.
“In terms of influences like back then, of course, Three 6 Mafia, Gangsta Boo, Spanish Fly, Skinny Pimp, Project Pat – he’s my rap dad. [DJ] spanish fly [is] my godfather, but now I would say I am my own inspiration,” she said.
Atoms’ influences come from a range of genres: Three 6 Mafia, “OG Gangsta Boo”, Marina and the Diamonds, Florence and the Machine, electronic dance tracks and even anime theme songs that his sister was playing. In his music, all converge to deliver high-pitched vocals and bold lyrics with hazy, ethereal synthesizers. Atoms masters cloud rap born on the internet and raised in the South with a Memphis edge.
“Cybertrap” or “bubblegum rap” are labels she’s heard used to describe her music, but Atoms said the genre didn’t cross her mind when creating it.
The audio below contains content that some may find offensive.
“They’re never really adjectives,” she said. “Every time I sing, I just try to paint a picture with my voice…I try to tell a story.”
His eclectic sound earned him a top spot for cheeky star CupcakKe in New York. After opening for the Chicago rapper, Atoms had the opportunity to do a sold-out encore in the city in support of Portuguese-Danish singer Erika de Casier. In an interview with Cece Moll of Half Moon, a Brooklyn-based media company, Moll said New York “loves” the Atoms after a trip for a show turned into a month of shows across town. .
But balancing her desire for growth with her fear of fame proved to be a challenge for her. Atoms are growing in popularity but still struggle with the concept of fame. The source, she thinks, is her protection of her job, a reflection of the person she worked so hard to become.
And after independently producing and distributing his music on digital streaming platforms, the work has paid off.
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After opening for fellow gender-busting Memphis rapper Xavier Wulf at Growlers in 2020, one of his first ventures pursuing his music career, Atoms began to trust his craft.
Two years ago, she had the opportunity to work with Ghanaian-American singer-songwriter Amaarae.
“She made me more sure of my individuality,” Atoms said. “Sometimes I deal with impostor syndrome, and I feel like I’m not making any progress or something. And I’m just like, ‘I need a sign or something. to show me that I’m like, on the right path right now.’ And it happened.”
Although chaotic. Atoms said Amaarae reached out to her via Instagram direct messages to see if they could work together in Nashville. Without a doubt, Atoms reached out to anyone — including an ex-partner — she knew with a car that could make the 3.5-hour trip with her. After failed attempts, she decided to take her mother’s car and arrived in time to work with the “Sad Girlz Luv Money” singer.
“I just lost hope because [the car] almost broke. I was like, ‘Jesus, please get behind the wheel,'” Atoms said. “If I know what I want, I’ll find a way to get it.”
“I stayed true to myself”
This confident confidence is evident in Atoms’ lyrics.
As in her song “Kim Possible”, inspired by the 2000s cartoon, she says: “Call me, beep me, if you want to join me, don’t waste my time/ The guys want to copy, but they sloppy, what’s that to a penny?” Atoms knows his worth and revels in it.
Her song, “POP AB**** LIKE A COLLAR” is written from her beloved dog Benji’s perspective of how cocky attitudes are beneath her. She raps, “I don’t care about your VLONE or your Prada / Spending all the f***** rent money on zippers and bottles.”
The audio below contains content that some may find offensive.
Her fans, she said, can’t get enough of her poignant and humorous anthems. The dangers of being creative on social media, she said, are the expectation of continually churning out content at a pace that is not conducive to one’s personal growth.
“It takes me 15 minutes to write a song, spontaneously. Someone was like, ‘You need direction, and I was listening to my stuff, and I noticed my songs don’t really have direction. But that’s me,” she said.
For Atoms, whatever is next for her, wherever she chooses, she is sure she will get there.
As she continues down the winding path of finding herself and perfecting her niche, Atoms releases new music to Soundcloud whenever she wants, at her own pace.
“I stayed true to myself and did what I thought was right for me, and here I am. Imagine if everyone stopped listening to the world and started being themselves,” a- she declared. “It was all just exploration.”
Astrid Kayembe covers South Memphis, Whitehaven and Westwood. She can be reached at [email protected], (901) 304-7929 or on Twitter @astridkayembe_.