In life, every move you make has hidden potential to be great. Often it’s what seems like the most insignificant of steps can lead you to discover something major. While I just thought it would be cool be involved in a group of hip hop fans on my college campus, what I found when stepped into that Hip Hop Congress meeting was a mecca of talent, knowledge, and passion found within each member. By taking that small step, I linked with some of the most intelligent and innovative people I’ve ever met, and probably the most interesting and charismatic among them was a senior who went by the name of AJ Bray. His humble aura and the strong, confident stature with which he carries himself is what makes him standout as a character, and easily carries over into the energy of his music. When you listen, you sense every ounce of confidence in him, to the point where you feel it yourself. Hailing from San Antonio, AJ went to Baylor and UNT before finally settling on Texas State. He’s made a lot of big moves, opening for the likes of Paul Wall and Waka Flocka, and just dropped a very well done EP titled the Gucci Durag Chronicles. I got the opportunity to sit down with the man himself, heard some unreleased tracks, got my ass beat in 2K, ate a giant baked potato, and had one of the realest conversations I’ve had in a minute.
First off, I just wanna say thank you for even sitting with me, I know you’re busy af. So like, tell me about how you think the transition was from going from UNT and coming from San Antonio. Musically, was the culture the same, was it sort of different?
My first year of college I went to Baylor, I really wasn’t rapping like that back then, that was the first time when I was like damn maybe I’ll be a rapper. Then I went to UNT, and that’s where I first started rapping. It was cool, I made my first songs, some of the oldest song son my soundcloud I made in that dorm room. I did my first few open mics out there, my first few shows. When I first came to Texas State, that’s when everything kinda took off. I came here and I already kinda had music, I kinda knew what I was doing but I didn’t have the whole brand down. Once I was here for a minute that’s when everything kinda got straight.
So you feel like here(San Marcos) is kinda where you found yourself?
Here is definitely where I found myself. It’s definitely where I became an artist with a whole brand, instead of just AJ that raps.
How’d you hook up with DJ 2ntenz?
I’ve known 2ntenz since I was about 14. We went to high school together, I was a freshman and he was a sophomore. I was taking the freshman geography class, and he had moved from New York so he was behind and in that class too. I don’t know, we just started talking one day, and then I saw he was a DJ, and then after I saw that, he would DJ at homecoming and prom, I would just go with him I was like his assistant, I would take requests from people, I would just learn different things, and after that we just grew into best friends and we kept rockin.
You feel like it’s important to have those types of connections with people, especially when you’re blossoming yourself?
100%, I think that’s the most important thing. Cuz I know when I perform, a lot of people know me from my live performances, they wouldn’t be half of what they are without my DJ. When you have your own DJ, who really knows you and y’all have chemistry, I can take your performances to a whole nother level.
And on the level of networking, do you feel like being a member of Hip-Hop Congress helped you out too?
For sure, just being in it. When I moved here, I didn’t have no friends, and it was like how am I gonna meet people, I’m already a junior. I saw on twitter, Hip Hop Congress, and I said shit I do hip hop, I’ll pull up. So I went there, and I just kept going, cuz I was doing music, it was just a bunch of people with common interests, cuz the other schools I went to didn’t have people that rap like that, so for there to be 20 other people who say they rappers, that was golden, and producers. It was great for networking so I built off that.
So tell me what the thought process was when you were doing Gucci Durag Chronicles. Like you have a particular sound on it. For me, the first track on it(Use2Much), is the hardest shit. You have a smooth flow and the whole track just fits you well. So what was the process for that project?
Well, it all started when I got a Gucci durag(LOL). I saw that shit on Instagram, I was already rocking durags. I figured I rocked a Gucci durag that would be something for my image. At SxSW this past year, I wore it a lot, and people kinda said it was my thing, and I decided to build off of it. So I said I need to drop a EP real quick. I really did all the songs one by one, I just find the beat and build off it. The first song I think I recorded was Bout It. Once I did that I just said I gotta build off it, cuz its just a good song and 30 Roc produced it. I did Use2Much after that, and when it started to come together. I said I gotta start the tape with this, cuz this is kinda what I’m on throughout the whole thing. The third song, Pretty Ricky, I recorded that about 3 months ago.
A lot of times I just make as many songs as I can and when they fit, that’s when I use them, and Pretty Ricky fit perfectly. The fourth song, I recorded the day I put the tape out. I had done a Free Smoke freestyle, that was gonna be the last song. I sent it to my best friend, and he was like “everything’s good, but I don’t think you should end on a freestyle. People already know you can rap, so there’s no sense in rapping over other people’s beats.” When I put it in perspective, I was like damn I shouldn’t just give them another freestyle, I’ll just give them another song. So when I recorded famous I made it a couple hours before I dropped the tape. So that’s how it came together, I just keep making songs and it just all comes together slowly.
See, that in a sense signifies how the culture’s changed. Like 08-09, freestyling over shit, like jacking for beats, that was like…
That was the thing! And that’s how I came up.
Right, and like Wayne pretty much got legendary status from Da Drought and No Ceilings
Yeah like Drought, The Dedication tapes, all them tapes where he was freestyling over stuff, that’s where he really got a lot of his notoriety as a rapper, because people were like “you’re taking these songs and making them better than the original.” But like nowadays, you see with Tory Lanez and the whole Magnolia thing, people get upset when you rap over their beats. So I took that into consideration. I still do em, for freebies and for practice, but I feel like for the most part, people wanna hear me and they wanna hear something new. They wanna hear Drake on Free Smoke, they don’t wanna hear me on it. But anyway, for the most part that was my whole process. I did it really quick, I decided 2 weeks before I dropped it that I was gonna drop a project.
What’s next? You just played me some new shit, so what’s the next step?
I’ve got a lot of things coming, I can’t lie I kind of just play it by ear. It might be some visuals coming out soon, it might be a mixtape coming out soon, it might be another EP, I might drop a album, it might just be singles, I might just stop making music, you never know. As of right now, I’ve got a lot of stuff dropping this summer.
Who do you see yourself wanting to work with at any point? Do you want to go big, or do you wanna stay around the realm of people you’re already comfortable with?
In terms of locals, I’ve pretty much already collaborated with everybody that I felt it was natural with. I only really collaborate with people if I feel like we could be friends outside of music. All of my friends I’ve already made song with. Besides that, I’m down to work to work with anybody. It’s just that, if I feel like the art that would come out of it is good, I’m all for it.
When you look at people like Yachty, and people like xxxtentacion who’ve blown up after like a year with one big song, what do you think is their process is? Like what do you think they do differently?
I think they have the same process as us. I think a lot of times that things will be presented as they made one song and blew up, but that’s not actually went. It’s funny that you say Yachty, cuz, I’d say a year and a half ago, I been knew who Yachty was, since way before he was popping. This man did not have a lot of clout. I hit up Yachty, I said how much for a feature, he told me $200. I passed on it, because I was just like, I’m not gonna make $200 right now, I’m a college student, I don’t even know who he is like that really, and then he blew up like a month later.
What are you looking forward to in terms the culture? Like, I guess a Joe Budden ass question would be what do you want from the culture?
I want more optimism. I think once more people get on board and let people do what they want, they’ll be dope. On the opposite end of the spectrum, if everyone does what they want, there will be less rebellious artists, but overall I would just like to see more optimism.
That’s definitely the most important thing.
Exactly, you know, times have just changed. It’s cool for everyone to have their own opinions, but it seems like a lot of people don’t have any reasoning as to why they dislike something. All they say is “that’s just not good”.
They don’t have like a comprehension. Not even just growing up in an era where lyricism was important. There was people that were artistic back then. You had A Tribe Called Quest, you had The Pharcyde, you had so many people who were experimenting with their music. An artistic sound is kind of the thing right now, and people are so against that cuz that’s not what they’re used to.
Exactly, it’s different, but I feel like the revolution is coming. I think there should just be different umbrellas, people don’t necessarily have to change. In rock, people who like different sub genres like classic rock or metal aren’t really arguing what is necessarily classified as rock, they all have their own lane, but in rap it’s all “trap is better than lyricism, lyricism is better than trap.” People are trying to argue rather than doing there own thing. I think once everybody just does their own thing, like it’s all rap, it’s all hip hop, then everything’ll be smooth.
Everybody just needs to sit down and have a civil conversation so both sides can just learn from each other. I guess to end it kinda, where do you want to go? Like what do you want to leave behind when it’s all said and done?
I wanna be one of the biggest artists ever. I don’t people to be like “oh he was cool”, or “oh he had 1 hit”. I don’t what to be one of those people where my worth is debated. I want to be one of those people where it’s like, “OK, we all know he was good, now let’s rank him with other greats”. I’m just a competitive person, I know it make not seem like it in my music because I’m not rapping about how well I rap, I’d rather rap about my experiences and my life. I spend a lot of time on my craft, and I study my craft, so it’s never random stuff put together. I definitely want to be huge.
Follow AJ on twitter, and peep Gucci Durag Chronicles below