Breakout star Kane Brown is more than proud to bring added diversity to the country music scene. But long before rising to fame with his YouTube covers and becoming a game changer in the music industry, he came face to face with prejudice as a kid.

  Born to a white mom, Tabatha, and a part Cherokee, part black dad who was out of his life, Brown admits he was once confused about his racial identity.

  "I'm biracial; I didn't know that until I was 7 or 8 years old," the country newcomer, 25, tells PEOPLE Magazine, opening up about his amazing journey to Nashville stardom. "I thought I was full white, which honestly, I can't even really say because I didn't see colors."

  So it came as a shock when Brown's peers started making fun of him for his skin color while he attended middle school in Georgia.

  "I found out that I was biracial and I still wasn't thinking anything of it, but then I started getting called the N-word," he says. "I didn't even know what it meant. I learned what it meant, and that's when it started affecting me. I got in fights over it when I was little."

 Some thick skin helped Brown move past the name calling. "I just kind of got over it," says Brown, who has since channeled his troubles into his music. "They just made me stronger. I guess it was God. Hopefully I can help kids and they can end up being stronger in the long run, too."

  A growth spurt also helped keep the bullies away.

  "Once I got to high school and hit my growth spurt, nobody really messed with me anymore," the What Ifs singer reveals. "I just kept to myself. I kept my circle small. I had my friends that I knew wouldn't do anything to hurt me and I would also stand up for them, and those are still my friends today."'