You might remember Kedren Johnson as the Vanderbilt transfer who helped shape the final years of the Pastner era of the Memphis Tigers. As a shooting guard, Johnson quickly became a crowd favorite, known for his defensive tenacity and his impressive spin moves. But these days the former hooper is more concerned with studio time than SportsCenter plays. I caught up with Johnson to find out more about how the former Memphis Tiger deals with his new spotlight. — Chris Shaw
How much basketball are you playing these days?
These days, almost none. I love to watch it, and I play and I still shoot around, but that's all.
How do you use a Division 1 basketball career to your advantage as a musician?
Around seventh grade, I hit like a six-inch growth spurt, and that made basketball a lot easier. When I was 10, I started recording with my mom's laptop, so I've been doing music longer than I've been playing basketball, but it was the tool to train me for a music career. It allowed me to study music. When I got to Memphis, I had to make sure that my coach understood that that's where my heart was. They had to really understand that music is what I wanted to do. That was the first step.
When did you realize you wanted to pursue being a recording artist?
Around 16, I got serious about it. I started getting equipment, and I pretty much knew that I was going to make music. All of the college decisions came after my decision to play basketball. Music was always in the back of my mind. I was just trying to get as close to that dream as I could.
So much time and energy goes into being a college athlete. Do you feel like the work ethic required to be a Memphis Tiger basketball player helped you as an artist?
Definitely. It's not just the basketball part of it, that puts more stress on it, but just college trained me to rethink how I could be better at whatever it is I'm working on. Coming out of college, I'm always thinking about what I'm supposed to be doing — what's next? Am I slacking or wasting time?
How did your teammates react when they knew music was your main thing?
They all respected it. They all liked to listen to music, but no one else was talking about quitting basketball. It was strange to them. They had aspirations to go to the NBA while I was thinking about my music career.
The city of Memphis already knows you as a basketball player. What do you want to convey as a musician?
I can do so much more with music, and I can touch people in a deeper way through music as opposed to sports. There is not much you can convey through sports other than "go hard, go hard, go hard," but with music, I can convey a lot of different feelings.
What's the biggest difference between music and basketball?
The main difference is that people think I'm crazy. People think I've lost my mind. It's been that way for a while. Now that basketball is over, people think I'm crazy for doing this. [People say] "Why would you not try to go overseas," but that's not what my calling is. I just don't feel that way. Basketball was a tool that helped me unwrap my gift.
Kedren Johnson's debut single "Notification" will drop early this year.