Glassetonbury, Vol. 5 came to a close last week, and Flint, Michigan’s TJA was able to take the crown after defeating CHASE STEPHEN in a back-and-forth finale. The rapper lives by a “work hard, play hard” creed, and his song “Whoa” embodies the same party-all-night energy of artists like LMFAO and Drake. We talked to him about his inspiration for the song, his background as a musician and performer, the messages he hopes to portray, and the motivating factors that keep him driven.
What are some of your earliest memories around music? What artists helped form your musical vocabulary?
Music has been a part of some of my favorite memories, but the earliest ones I remember would be around (age) 4 or 5. My mom would listen to Soul, Gospel, Motown, and Classic music. Some of my favorites would be Michael Jackson, Aretha (Franklin), Luther Vandross, King Floyd, and so many more. My pops would listen to Country, and I loved Randy Travis, Garth Brooks, and Brooks and Dunn. I remember when I was about six years old, and I would always want to rent the “Michael Jackson: Video Greatest Hits” VHS. I loved his swagger and how smooth he was with every move. The music was just so great and captivating. We probably rented that one VHS 1,000+ times. It wasn’t until (I was) around 11 years old that my brother showed me Eminem and taught me how to rap.
Have you always been a natural performer, or is that something you’ve had to work on over time as you’ve developed your craft?
Honestly, I took to the stage fast. It feels like home. I’ve performed in short film projects in college, musicals, sung in church choirs, school choirs, etc. So by the time I got serious with performing music, it was easy. I love to entertain!
What messages do you try to portray in your music, and who do you hope will relate to your songs?
I try to encourage people to “Stay Real Stay True”. Pursue what you love and be true to yourself, or else you’ll never be happy. I try to show that by writing the music I want to write. (Sharing) experiences I’ve been through. Leading by example. So, my truth and message would be (to) live life to the fullest, and don’t run from the pain. I hope that my fellow partiers relate and have the most epic of stories. I hope (that) the people who are too strong to speak about how they feel can find some peace in knowing someone else can relate.
Who are some of your favorite lyricists? Are there any that have notably changed your approach to writing?
(My) favorites would be Eminem, Ne-Yo, Luther Vandross, Justin Timberlake, LMFAO, Joyner Lucas, and Drake. Eminem started my rap writing, but LMFAO and Drake influenced my style nowadays (by) incorporating singing and party flair.
Let’s talk about “Whoa,” your Vol. 5-winning song. What’s the story about it, and how did it come together from words on a page to a final product?
(I) love talking about this, because from the moment I heard the song “Purple Lamborghini” by Skrillex and Rick Ross, I knew I had to make something similar. No matter where I’m at, when the song “Purple Lambo” plays, the music makes you want to go crazy. Such an amazing drop mix, with Rick Ross sauce, is nuts. (“Whoa” collaborator) Jay Willy, a (third) artist, and I all planned a day to do a song together, and we would start from scratch. The third guy never showed up, so Jay Willy and I got to work. We were clueless on what to do, so we started searching (for) beats online. Then I told him about my obsession with wanting to do a song like “Purple Lambo.” He said “f**k yeah” after I showed him the song, so we went straight to YouTube and searched “Skrillex and Rick Ross-type beat,” and the very first beat we clicked on was perfect! We knew right away, so (we) bought the beat right away and got to work. Within the first 30 minutes, we had some lyrics and knew we wanted to sample “Woah” in the background. We spent 3-4 hours recording us saying “woah” and trying to get it to work and sound right. After all that time, we found what we needed to do and got the perfect sound. And we both went in with writing. I finished my verse and the chorus, and we started recording all in one day. I mixed and mastered it up over the next few days, and that became “Woah”. And there is now a music video out for it that you can find on my channel “TJAOfficial.”
How did you first get in touch with Jay Willy? What did he bring to “Whoa,” and what is your relationship like?
A few years back, we both were at a competition called “Rap For a Stack.” We didn’t really talk or meet. I think he gave me some daps for my performance, but that’s about it. Years later, we both were hanging around the same friends and started doing music.
Tell us about the new album that you’re working on. What can fans and new listeners alike expect?
The new album is called “#FormulatedClutter.” It’s a mixture of hip-hop and pop, with songs that you can turn up to and songs that will put you in your feels. It’s being released one song at a time every two weeks. The next release off the album will be out on all platforms on March 16th. It’s called “Pot of Gold” and actually features Jay Willy. It’s a bar-for-bar testament to our rap skills. The (following) track being released is “Not Giving Up,” a singing ballad expressing the pain between two stubborn lovers only hurting themselves. Expect a plate full of different flavors and emotions as we continue to release each track off the album.
Do you have any touring plans now that shows are trickling back in, or are you waiting to see how everything plays out before making any moves?
We are taking whatever shows we can at the moment. We have plans for a small tour this year that was supposed to happen last year in our region. We are still taking on shows as we speak, so anyone out there interested, please check out http://www.TJAofficial.com for contacting/booking. COVID-19 has taken a toll on the entertainment industry, but I believe it will be an easy transition back to semi-normal. Good venues and shows might be harder to find, but I’m not worried at all.
What motivates you to get out of bed in the morning? What are the things that drive you, both creatively and personally?
Well, I love the music but with that aside, I do this for my people. The day that I know all my people aren’t hurting or struggling, when all my people are taken care of, is the day I can relax or take a break. It motivates me everyday to get up and continue the grind. Creatively, the emotions of others drive me. Music is that one thing that lets you know you aren’t alone when you relate. You can listen to a song that expresses how you are feeling, and for that 2-3 minutes you feel relief, excitement, comfort, or even empowerment. I live for that. Personally, success drives me. There’s something about being productive that is addictive. But also it feels good to prove to those who doubted you that they were wrong. But overall I live for me. Live hard, die young.
Where can our readers go to find out more information about you?
You can find everything on TJAofficial.com. But all my social media is @TJAOfficial and I’m on all music platforms. So I definitely would like to push people to follow my Instagram or YouTube @TJAOfficial.
You can stream “Whoa” below!