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From college football to rap: KleoMCM carves his own path to success

Updated: Jun 3, 2020

By Montana Findley, Studio M staff // 

South Pittsburg, Tennessee, is a small rural town located 30 minutes west of Chattanooga. People like Eddie Moore, who had a successful career in the NFL, and Chris Jones, head coach  and general manager in the Canadian Football League, are both considered hometown heroes.

The next hometown guy looking to cash in on that recognition is a rising star in the Chattanooga rap scene: Kahlil Mitchell, aka KleoMCM.

Mitchell began rapping with his brothers and friends around age 13, but music was never something he considered as a serious path until after his junior year of college, when he was kicked off the football team at East Tennessee State University due to a dispute with a member of the coaching staff over playing time. This proved to be a turning point that shifted Mitchell’s focus toward music.

“You know, I was standing up against the coaches for something I believed in,” said Mitchell. “I wasn’t going to back down, and I wasn’t going to waste my time when I knew bigger opportunities were out there.”

From that day forward, his goal was primarily geared toward writing music and starting to put real time into something he was passionate about. After leaving ETSU, Kahlil returned to South Pittsburg. He came home to a warm reception, but he also knew that he had to get serious and place music as his top priority.

“After leaving ETSU, that’s when I basically started putting all my time and effort into making music, just spending countless hours in the studio hoping that we could make something happen. I was kicked off the team in October, and I spent the time from October to December just writing. By December, I was ready to start working on my first mixtape,” said Mitchell.

This was a way to work through some of the frustrations of being let go from the team, and his mixtape allowed him to air some of his grievances before starting to look ahead.

“I really didn’t think he was serious about [rapping] at first, you know, I thought we were just going to mess around and make some music or something. Then we got in the studio, and I was like OK … we might actually be onto something here,” said Mitchell’s cousin Kavin Pryor, who produced most of the beats for Kleo’s first mixtape.

The first sign that KleoMCM was gaining traction came in February with the release of his track “90’s Baby,” which, after a week of being released, had over 2,000 views on YouTube and had become an anthem for the youth around South Pittsburg.

After the success of his first single, KleoMCM had a more personal project in mind: working alongside his brother, FrenchieMCM, to produce an album.

On Aug. 25,  KleoMCM and FrenchieMCM released their collaborative album, “Real Brothers.”

“A lot of inspiration for wanting to rap came from my big brother, and I saw that if it was something he wanted to put the time in and work for, why couldn’t I?” said Mitchell. “So when the opportunity came, we really wanted to try to collab on an album together.”

The brothers spent countless hours in the studio this summer working on this album and crafting it to show their relationship while “still being fun and something you could bump in the car to,” said Mitchell.

“At the time we was putting this together, you know, there were a lot of things going on with the idea of being brothers, and we were just like, ‘Well, s–t, we Real Brothers,’ so that was sort of the motivation behind the album.”

“This album was something that he came to me with, and of course I was open to it,” said FrenchieMCM. “It allows people to get an insight to our relationship in a way, and that is something that we both really wanted for the album.”

Residents of South Pittsburg have taken note of the success that Kleo has gained in the past year, and many that have known him since childhood are excited to see what lies ahead.

“South Pittsburg is a place where football is extremely important, and I feel like just being recruited to play ball at the next level made my name known by everyone in the area, but it’s nice now for my music to provide that recognition and give the kids around here someone to look up to,” Mitchell said. So yeah, I definitely don’t mind the attention in the city that it brings … especially from the females.”

It has already been an eventful year for KleoMCM, but the rest of this year looks to be an equally busy time for Mitchell as he continues to expand his audience.

“I have a project coming out Dec. 30, the day before my birthday, and it’s something where I’m really trying to put my life on the track and tell my story, but I also want it to be able to bump to,” Mitchell said. “I’m really just looking to define my sound, because when people listen to my music I want them to know that it’s me and be clear like who (that) is.”

Going forward, KleoMCM’s primary goals are to “continue to do shows in the area and in Nashville, networking and collaborating with people like Young Polo … and just continue to make something that my family and the city can be proud of.”

Montana Findley is a junior at Middle Tennessee State University. 

Studio M, a project of the College of Media and Entertainment at MTSU, allows student journalists to be published statewide and nationwide. It’s made possible through grants and donations from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, The Tennessean and BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee.

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