The humble beginnings of Atlee Gallimore

Hip-Hop artist, Atlee, performs at the Romanov Restaurant and Lounge in Studio City, Calif. on Wednesday, May 25, 2016. (Chris Monterrosa)

On Wednesday, May 25, Atlee Gallimore performed a song titled “Bad Habit” at Romanov, a Russian restaurant in Studio City that turns into a lounge at night. Before he went up, he was anxious to perform. But not in the way any artist is always anxious to perform. Atlee was anxious because he was supposed to go on stage at 10:45 p.m., and it was getting close to 12:30 a.m.

Atlee would walk away regularly to go talk to someone, anyone who he thought could get him on stage. He would usually come back and say, “Alright, I’m up next.” He wouldn’t be.

This was the third or fourth time I had talked to Atlee, a 21-year-old rapper and SMC student whose new EP, “Lost In Transition,” is out today. This was the first time I had heard him express negativity about anything.

The environment we were in certainly didn’t help. The event was titled “The Mic Live” and was hosted by a comedian and singer who did a not-as-offensive-as-it-could-have-been rendition of Frank Ocean’s “Thinkin’ Bout You,” where he had rewritten the lyrics to make them more clearly about a man.

Atlee’s thoughts, via text: “I wish this dude would quit talking & let your boy go up there already,” ending with not one, but two of those angry red-faced emojis.

The host would introduce different acts, and they would come up and do one or two songs. Somewhere between 10 and 15 people went before Atlee — they all started to blur together after a while. There was no cohesion of style, or intention. Some performers were budding musicians looking to get some stage time. Others were essentially doing karaoke.

The entire night was bathed in a feeling of “why is this happening?” This feeling peaked around midnight when the host invited a second comedian up on stage to do an improvised R&B song about a suggested topic from the audience. The subject they chose was “fake booties,” which I am about 75 percent sure no one actually yelled out.

Romanov was trying to pass itself off as a nightclub, both in atmosphere and in price, but was treating their stage as an open mic. The moments the audience was most engaged was when the DJ was playing popular songs.

This, of course, changed when Atlee took the stage.

Unlike the many performers who had gone before him, there was no mystery about what he was doing up there. He confidently stood at the mic and spoke about his EP and the song he was about to perform. He even got a laugh out of the audience, who had been all but ignoring the performers for most of the night.

The quality Atlee displayed that was most unique from his fellow performers was an actual sense of self-awareness. He read the audience, who had just reached their highest energy level of the night — the DJ was just playing “Cut It” by O.T. Genasis, so it’s understandable — and explained to them that his song was a little different.

“Bad Habit,” like every song on his 5 song EP, is personal, emotional, and open.

“It's just being honest, man. It’s all I know. I can't rap about, like... I'm not too good of a storyteller, making up stories and things like that. I'm more just into my life,” said Atlee when we spoke the day before his performance.

If he has any hesitation about his vulnerable performances, it doesn’t show in his stage presence. He is a confident and considered performer. He was the only one on stage throughout the night that had the good sense to utilize the mic stand, placing himself confidently in the middle of the stage instead of wandering around aimlessly.

The man Atlee is off stage is much different than the man he is on it. For an artist so bursting with lyrics, he is a man of few words in person. This isn’t lost on him though.

“Even when I have a conversation with people I'm really close with about how I feel, I could write it a lot better, and play it for a lot more people. It's really odd, but it's just easier for me to say it on a song than to someone's face,” said Atlee.

At times, he may come across as insecure. He often apologizes and tries to manage how he is coming across, taking long pauses to consider what he is saying. This isn’t about shyness or insecurity though. It’s about Atlee knowing what he is best at.

“Everyone says, ‘I do it for the love, blah blah blah,’ but I really do. I'm happiest when I'm writing songs or doing a show here or there. I'm most myself,” he said. “I had a line on there — it didn't make this project — but I said ‘I'm quicker to say it in a verse than I am when we converse.’ That's really who I am on a song more than talking to you.”

In reality, his ego is just as important to his success as a musician as his emotion.

“The guys who entertain, their ego is part of why they're so entertaining. They embrace that like... it's about me. And I'm not trying to be cocky or arrogant, but I love me. To the point where it's like, ‘Listen to me!’” he said.

It’s why he is such a strong performer, and it’s why, even though “Lost In Transition” is his first official release, he could be a musical force to be reckoned with in the future.

While so many artists feel ashamed or scared to promote themselves, Atlee has no such hesitation. If you look at his Twitter, he is tweeting at writers for various publications and different music industry people constantly.

He says he wants to get the release of his EP promoted on Complex, Vibe, anywhere that will take him. This is how he found out about The Mic Live at Romanov.

Watching him walk off to try and talk someone into letting him on stage for the fifth and sixth time, I couldn’t help but think, “Who is he even talking to at this point?”

Most of the other artists there would have walked out of the building if they were asked to wait two hours to perform. Atlee didn’t.

“[I’ve worked on the EP] over the past year. There's been a lot of songs that didn't make it. For songs on here, [there were] some verses i just completely scrapped. Just said, ‘I don't like this, I don't like this’ and just redid them,” he said. “I'm just excited and happy to finally put it out. I've been holding on to it for so long.”

Not many people have heard of Atlee Gallimore yet. But if he keeps pushing and keeps being himself, both on the stage and off, it is likely you’ll be hearing about him again very soon.