July 18th, 2008 | By Sonnie
Mix a Neo-Soul, a live band, and an exciting new Artist, and a whole new sound could be on the horizon for Hip-Hop.
It was rather refreshing when I got to sit down and have a conversation with A.J.
As you know, I love words. So I asked the Richmond, Va native, what words were getting him through his journey to get signed. With a contemplation I didn’t expect, he answered “If you want to know something is being done, do it yourself.” Intrigued by his thoughtfulness I jumped right in.
What’s the first kind of music you remember hearing?
You were in the church choir?
Yeah. (He was very hesistant)
Not your idea?
No, you know my mother made me, but I liked it.
The eternal question, When did you fall in love with Hip-Hop?
It wasn’t until high school. Donell Jones “Knocks me off my feet”. That’s I how I realized I could carry a note. I’d sing in the shower, then in the mirror, and I realized I could sing.
Before we get into your music, let’s talk a little about Hip-Hop as a whole. What do you think about radio being dominated by “Dance Songs”?
There’s always been music like that. If I was 15 I would probably be “Crankin that Soulja Boy” but I’m a grown man and I have different taste.
What about the lyrics, or should I say lack there of?
Today more rappers care about rhyming. I mean putting together words that rhyme, instead of words that have meaning. It’s a lot easier to find big words that rhyme with other big words, than it is to think of a purpose and write towards it.
Okay, so who is the best lyricist out right now?
Common. “Go” that’s what Lyricist should strive for.
Are you upset that Common didn’t get the same airplay as a lot of less deserving , less tested Artist?
Not really, because it’s the younger kids that call in and request songs. As adults, most of us have C.D. collections, so when we want to hear a certain song, Bam. But kids depend on the radio, and they request the songs.
Now another issue in Hip-Hop, the role of Women. What do you think?
There are to few women, but the one’s that manage to stay relevant don’t show their ass to the world. Mary J., Jill Scott, Eryka Badu, those women have followings. Their fans know what date their album is coming out and are going to get it that day. That’s on the R&B side. There’s not really been a great female emcee since Lauryn Hill stopped rapping.
So your not going to give me a reason to argue with you about anything, Huh?
Why you want to argue with me?
I’ll get to that later? What about more Artist creating their own Indy labels? More Artist with Ownership?
That’s the way it has to be. If you want to do something new or different, don’t expect to get any help. The people at the top of major labels won’t give you the time of day. I’ve seen it. They’ll be excited to meet you until they see the C.D. in your hand. Then their whole body language changes.
You become successful, do you mind wearing the badge “Role Model”?
Kinda funny question. I know when I was younger, I wanted to hear all the negative stuff. The harder the music the harder I bumped it. Now it’s just about living my life right, and if someone decides to use me as a role model, fine.
I think it’s wonderful you don’t think of the word like a curse. So let’s talk about your music.
You sound so excited.
I am. It’s totally different. I just started working with a live band. It’s a lot different in the performing and recording aspect. I’m used to hearing a track, going in the studio, and singing it out. But with a band, each player has to record his individual parts, then they’re put together. And when you get on stage and the musicians are behind you, you get so much more energy.
How did you meet “The Band”?
I was recording in Fredericksburg, Va and I ran into one of the members. We got to talking, he liked what he heard and I liked what I heard. So we started practicing.
Did you run to any problems trying to fuse to different sounds?
Music is a unspoken language. If you love music, you can always communicate and make it work. I love traditional R&B, but I want to carve out my own niche.
I got the “Follow Me To Heaven” short. Is that the first song you recorded with the band?
Yeah. I learned so much making that song, it’s probably be my favorite for quite a while. It’s versatile. It’s clean conservative music. Safe, but exciting. You know, something you can step to.
When can we expect the complete video?
I got some students from V.C.U. to put it together, and you can expect it in two weeks.
Where do you plan on launching?
I was hoping I could bring it to you.
I was hoping you’d say that. My favorite song of yours’ is “Time 2 Go.” Why are you laughing?
Every female asks me about that song. It was just a really personal experience I had to get out. Relieve so stress.
So, you wrote it yourself?
Yeah. It took me about three days.
Did you feel better afterwards?
Not really. (Laughs) It felt good to write a song about it, and get it out……….but you only get a couple loves you know are 100% just for you. It hurts when you know one is gone.
Did you cry a lot?
I don’t want everyone to know I was crying, but I’ll be man enough to admit, it took a lot out of me.
We’ll love you more for saying that. What did the mystery woman have to say when she heard it?
“Was that about me?” I haven’t seen her since.
Let’s lift the mood back up. So A.J. makes it. You’re a chart topper. Where’s the first place you go on tour?
Germany. They love Hip-Hop more there than we do here. Most Artist tour overseas first to get all the bugs and kinks out of their show before bringing it to the U.S. It makes a U.S. tour so much easier.
I didn’t know that. Is music your only passion?
Acting. I’d love to be a leading man in a love story.
No Tela Tequila, or I Love New York?
No way. I think one of the most important things we’ve forgotten is how to court.
Court? I haven’ t heard that word used in that text since I was 16.
Well, I’m going to bring it back. The little things. Holding hands, bring flowers, a serenade. Those are the things I want to bring back.
I’ve taken quite a bit of your time, tell me something you want me to know.
I want my music to make people smile. Whether you can relate or not, when you’re having that bad day, I want to help raise your spirits. When you want to dance, I want to put that swagger in your step. When you go to push play, I want it to be my C.D.
I let him escape on that note. It was rather interesting though, because after the interview we sat and talked for a moment. He wanted to explain the concept of his new sound. Then we got the subject of his video. In the cameo, his main two focuses are a white girl and a heavy set girl. He had received a lot of flack from black women. They wanted to know why he choose those two women.
He answered to me, “Those women were fully dressed and still sexy. The skanks and hoes of all colors are represented in other videos. I want to highlight all women. I want to be different. One white girl in my video, doesn’t mean I date only white girls, but if I did, what would be wrong with that?”
I can find an argument in anything, but today I was happy I didn’t have to. I had a intelligent conversation with a focused, determined, hard working black man, that didn’t offer excuses or look for someone to blame. I now have belief that some of our brothers are just as appalled as we are to the images of sisters, period. No matter the color.
Mostly, I have faith that Hip-Hop isn’t dead. It’s growing slowly, under the surface, and one day we will have a spectrum of Artist with new styles, fresh sounds, and music that matters.