As the recent winner of Music Maker Production's Battle of the Bands, Wesley Thomas' talent has recently been highlighted on Mississippi State University's campus. However, MMP's event on Sept. 25 is merely a single point on the map of his musical journey. For Thomas, musical aptitude was not something he grew into but something innate to his being.
Wanda Thomas, Wesley's mother, explained Wesley's talents came as no surprise to her, given their family's musical history.
"Music is in our family on both sides. We grew up listening to music and singing music wherever we are — church, school or at home. That's our go-to. At an early age I noticed Wesley and my daughter Trameya could sing and could hit notes other people couldn't. It came natural," Wanda Thomas said.
Sherwyn Thomas, Wesley's father, provided a frame of reference for his son's gifts, naming several family members on his side who are currently in the music industry or who have been in the past. His brother is a rapper based out of Atlanta, and his nephew is a saxophone player pursuing his career in Italy. Sherwyn Thomas' father was incredibly talented, writing songs for MoTown and even Al Greene's producers. The family recently found out their grandfather wrote a song for The Temptations lead singer, David Ruffin.
A few years after Wesley was born in Memphis in 2000, the Thomas family moved to Ashland, Mississippi, where Sherwyn Thomas started running a record label out of their home. Although Wesley was only around 5 years old, he began to take note of his father's passion for music.
"As I was sitting there working with bands and musicians day after day, I just felt like I was working. But he was sitting there soaking it in," Sherwyn Thomas said.
Of the four children in the Thomas family, Wesley and his deceased older sister Trameya showed the most interest in music. The two children sang at nursing homes, at church and with their family. As a young boy, Wesley's infatuation with all things musical grew, as he sang in children's groups and even began to make up his own raps to entertain his family.
However, Easter Sunday in 2015 served to distinguish his own individual style from his family's rich history of talent. After performing a poem for his church, he received overwhelming encouragement from his church members. Upon seeing the impact his words could have, Wesley became serious about his gift.
"At a young age there I knew I couldn't sleep on the gift God gave me. I knew I had to take it seriously because whatever I say, someone might need to hear. If I don't say it, I never know what could happen. Someone might need the words, that inspiration or a push," Wesley Thomas said.
Focusing on encouraging and uplifting others despite his circumstances is central to Wesley's life. Spoken word, rap and singing serve as the agency by which he connects with others.
"When you can put encouragement in a form that young people are going to listen to, especially if there's a beat, they can understand, relate and learn from you. And I think that's where the power comes from. Rap can help, and it can heal. I feel like it's not helping a whole lot right now because there's so much negativity. That's why 99% of my work is clean," Wesley Thomas said.
For Wesley Thomas, music has always been a source of healing and power. Following his sister's tragic death in 2016, he has kept her legacy alive through his own gift. However, Thomas explains there are times his musical journey feels lonely in light of Trameya's absence.
"It was hard after she died to hold onto all of those memories. It hit me yesterday that we started together, and this is the part in my life that, if she were here, we would be doing it together," Wesley Thomas said.
This keen acknowledgment of his loved ones, along with a fierce dedication to his art, sets Wesley apart as a young artist. Wesley has competed in competitions across the country and had played several shows on MSU's campus. He adopted the stage name "Millennial" because as a self-proclaimed "2000 baby," he desires to serve as a role model to his generation.
Considering his musical passion, the fact Wesley is in his junior year at MSU pursuing a major in accounting may come as a surprise. For Wesley, accounting serves as a back-up plan to his calling. However, recently he feels school has been a distraction from the calling he feels to write music relevant to the racial tensions in America.
"There's so much going on, and I feel like school has been keeping me from being able to process what is going on. I can see what's going on, but at the same time, we have something due at 11:59. I don't want to rush through anything. Anything I write, I want you to have to go back and listen to. That's how much I want to educate you, to relate to you," Wesley Thomas said.
It is this desire to relate and lead that propels Wesley Thomas to create. He expressed he feels the burden of this role now more than ever.
"In this moment right now I feel so passionate about my music, and I feel so alive with my music right now. When my sister passed away I told my mom, 'Mom, I'm not afraid to die, but I'm afraid of not living.' I can't leave this earth with all of this still in me— I have to let my gift out," Wesley Thomas said.
While Wesley Thomas's future is still unfolding, his heart for his generation of "Millennials" combined with his extraordinary talent has already impacted his audience. In the meantime, his music and poetry can be found on his website, https://millennial.live/.