In 2022, Tré Ahmad Anderson-Davis was on top of the world. Following the intriguing three-song EP Blue in 2021 and melodic and soul-searching debut LP The Bedroom Popstar later that year, Anderson-Davis, who composes, produces and performs as Tré Ahmad, was on a roll. The 26-year old artist was praised for their nuanced tracks, and was touted as one of North Carolina’s most promising young hip-hop artists.
All they needed to consolidate their critical and commercial foothold was to drop further powerful material and line up some local gigs to cement their standing. Instead, they dropped everything and went to Europe.
“I needed to take a break from going to the studio all the time and being around people all the time,” Ahmad says.
For the good of their mental health, a powerful theme that threads trough The Bedroom Popstar, Ahmad sought new vistas. Opting for a long stay overseas, Ahmad immersed themselves in a new culture, learned the language and made friends.
“I found friends and love,” Ahmad says. “I met my [current] partner, Mars, in Lyon.”
Ahmad’s aware that their happiness may have come with a price. Except for some production work and a one-off gig for a college audience in Geneva, Ahmad stayed away from recording during his European sojourn. Nearly a year and a half passed between the release of The Bedroom Popstar in 2021 and the 2023 release of the playful three-song EP Kttn, with no new material from Ahmad during that time.
“In my generation that’s like taking a decade off,” Ahmad says.
Another five months of radio silence followed Kttn, but that comes to an end this month. Ahmad promises a flood of new material beginning this summer, and on June 30, they’ll headline the Tré Ahmad Homecoming Festival at Neighborhood Theatre. In addition to Ahmad, the stellar hip-hop/neo-soul bill includes Deep October, Té Jani, Trent Domonic, Nia J and The Bleus — all artists who know and/or have worked with Ahmad.
“I can call anybody that’s performing a friend,” Ahmad says.
Rap is a form of therapy for Tré Ahmad
Growing up in Concord and Charlotte, Ahmad recalls getting into rap at age 5, dancing to Jay-Z’s “Dirt off Your Shoulder.” When they turned 12, Ahmad became besotted with Lil Wayne’s 2009 mixtape No Ceilings, learning each line by heart.
Their most vivid memory of falling in love with rap, however, came when Ahmad was a freshman in high school. Going by the moniker That Kid T.A.Z., they put out a mixtape imitating the style of No Ceilings, freestyling over popular rap and R&B instrumentals.
Later, following the lead of Kendrick Lamar in crafting a more personal form of music that told stories about their life, Ahmad changed his composing/performing name to Tré Ahmad. After a year at Eastern Carolina University, Ahmad dropped out to pursue music.
They befriended fledgling producers and artists who would collaborate with them and contribute to their career — Té Jani, Nia J and Matthew Square and Michael Louis (who together go by the moniker Mike Larry). Ahmad met The Bleus when she contributed vocals to the song “yesterday’ on Ahmad’s first EP Cents in 2018.
Hanging out at Té Jani’s dorm room at Queens University, Ahmad met producer/multi-instrumentalist Ike Byers, who would become a key participant in the creation of The Bedroom Popstar.
Ahmad can trace the origins of The Bedroom Popstar to the breakup of their first relationship.
“I was super confident that we were going to be together forever, [but] we ended up becoming … ghosts,” Ahmad says.
Soon after the relationship ended, Ahmad landed in a psychiatric hospital for a week.
Two years later, that experience, during which Ahmad was diagnosed with anxiety and depression, formed the basis of the punchy and powerful “Davis Regional,” named after the institution where Ahmad was sent.
“How money buy happiness I’m bluer than these bills/ Got my heart broke and would’ve thought that I got killed…”
In 2020, the COVID pandemic and shutdowns hit. Another relationship ended, with Ahmad’s girlfriend moving across the country with her family.
“[In The Bedroom Popstar] I took a deep dive, talking about things that are hard to talk about in person, forcing myself to put them in songs,” Ahmad says. “I just had to get what was on my mind out into a place where I could hear it and analyze my thoughts.”
Depression and mental illness threads through the melancholy “Therapy,” a manifesto for facing self-assessment: “Why am I so good at making love had love lost/ Why am I so good at running from my thoughts…”
Here the hip-hop artist stares down their false sense of confidence, and turns to self-healing as Byers’ coiling acoustic guitar threads through the track. This too is linked with healing. Ahmad says medieval doctors once played guitars over bodies that were sick or inflamed. “They had this theory that the vibrations from the music would [heal].”
On a more prosaic level, Ahmad has taken medication for their anxiety and depression, and continues to do so to this day.
Byers did far more on The Bedroom Popstar than play guitar. Ahmad credits Byers as executive producer on the collection for helping shape and sharpen messages and songs.
“He helped me along in the process of being vulnerable and teaching me confidence. The album wouldn’t sound or be the same without his presence on it,” Ahmad says. “He was definitely my Yoda.”
Hip-hop artist is in a happy place ahead of homecoming show
Another track on The Bedroom Popstar, “Cauchmars,” pointed the way ahead for Ahmad. The title means “nightmares” in French, and the track began to take shape as Ahmad’s last relationship came to an end.
When Ahmad’s girlfriend checked into a psychiatric ward, Ahmad had a panic attack and could not bring themself to contact her. Awash in uncertainty, they plunged into learning French online. Not only did they gain facility with the language, Ahmad also gained confidence in taking control of their life. They made the fateful decision to take a hiatus in Europe.
Eventually meeting Mars in France, the couple took many trips across the continent, including to Geneva, which would become Ahmad’s favorite city.
“I want to make music whenever I go back [to Europe], and find a studio and a hotel to record out of,” Ahmad says.
Mars will be in town for the Charlotte homecoming show, and the couple is making plans for her to join Ahmad in Charlotte permanently. Ahmad says they’re in a happy place and that it will be an interesting challenge to perform the trauma- and doubt-stricken material from The Bedroom Popstar in their more peaceful state of mind.
That upbeat optimism is apparent on the EP Kttn, where Ahmad’s confident wordplay corkscrews around experimental production, beats and backing instrumentation on “L’avion Freestyle.” Entwining melodic hooks and staccato verses through a thicket of splashy hi-hats, Ahmad sounds jubilant on the Django Reinhardt-does-acid-jazz gem “Kindly.”
As for the Homecoming Festival, Ahmad says they and their talented friends hope to foster a family reunion atmosphere, or possibly recall the satisfaction you get when you’ve seen a great movie in a theater.
“I want the show as well to feel like you just walked out of one of the best movies you’ve ever seen,” Ahmad says. “You relate to it; it has a happy ending. It was a matinee and the sun is out, and you’re still thinking about that movie and the characters.”
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