Singer and songwriter, DAJ, is considered to be one of New York’s most poignant songsters.
He released his latest album, "i am DAJ" on February 22nd 2016.
The new EP brings forth layers of versatility as it expounds on sexuality, exuberant emotion and letdowns-- the locomotive of life.
Although the latest record offers a series of explosive instrumentals and tunes, his pithy track, "True Love," seems to be one of the most endearing pieces. The song is infused with Caribbean tones and hints of jazz. Daj sings about adoration in a deep-seated fashion, which allows him to deliver soft and harmonious ballads that’s reminiscent of El DeBarge, but with resolute distinction.
Daj is an experimental musician, whom prefers to broaden his sounds and vocals with different rhythms by being a non-conformist.
He believes that you should be true to yourself as well as your creativity.
Accepted into Berklee College of Music, Daj studied Vocal Performance. Furthermore, he worked with other artist and musicians, which allowed him to secure a band called “Indigo Moon.” They created a single under an independent label entitled “Fantasy.” The song was picked up by the Sundance film Festival in 2007.
Daj relocated his talents to Atlanta, Georgia, where he’s worked with longtime colleague, M. Nungent. They’ve produced many singles throughout the years, while generating several full-length albums over the last 4 years.
He also co-wrote a song for intercontinental singing group, Mindless Behavior, and he’s written songs for famous mentor, Hinton Battles.
DAJ is currently making music in the NYC where his artistry intensified….
Explain the term experimental R&B artist.
What I tell people is that R&B is a house, and if you think about every room in a house, each room is different. Whether it’s a house of jazz, electronic, and things like that—the base of it all is R&B. Basically, what I like to do is use all these different genres with R&B music and kind of create something that’s just different.
How old were you when you found your signature sound?
I would say when I was about 19. I grew up listing to mostly R&B and gospel. But when I got to college, I really opened my ear to different music. Then I discovered New York, and a lot of what I used to call Yoga music—that’s when I started to experiment with it and do a lot of things with music and sound.
Did you plan to be a singer or was that something you fell in love with a little later in life?
It was definitely planned… by me (he chuckles). Honestly, ever since I could remember, I never wanted to do anything else. I was just talking to my mom, and she told me when I was little, nothing other than music would calm me down. My mom has a picture of me when I turned 1 years old. It’s a little boy dancing in front of a juke box. That’s just how big it’s been in my life. I’ve never wanted to do anything else. It has been an uphill battle, but I’m here and I’m not giving up.
What was the concept behind "Palm Reader?"
I’m a very spiritual person that writes from my own relationship experience… During that time, I had just gotten out of a relationship, and I was in my room just thinking about what was in store for me because I keep having these failed relationships, and I give my all in them. I don’t know why because I have so much love to give, but I wasn’t giving it to the right people. The idea to the “yes, no, maybe so,” question was originally an idea that came from the magical 8Ball—when you ask it a question, shake it, and it will give you an answer. So, that was me asking the 8Ball, will I ever fall in love again, and getting the "yes, no, maybe so," idea. So, when I continued on with writing the story, I imagined it being more of a palm reader, and maybe someone else could tell me about my future. That’s kind of how it happened. I sent it to my producer and he loved it.
Do you write all of your songs? What was your muse for the intense ballads, “I love you?”
Interesting, yes, I do write everything. I write all the lyrics, vocal arrangements, and melodies. I write with different producers, which produce the actual track. "I Love You, was a very important song to me. Again, I’m a lover not a fighter. Often times, I build these friendships with people, and they are really intense friendships... To me, I feel like I love this person, but they may not be the person I’m supposed to be with--but the connection is there, and it’s really deep. I wanted to touch on that, like I’m gay and I have a lot of straight male friends. We’re very, very, close. I love my platonic friends and they love me. It’s very, very, true. They will fight for me and I will fight for them… I wanted to bring that story to life in a sense. I believe that spirit loves spirit, and maybe in another lifetime, we were in love. But in this lifetime, that’s not what it is, but our friendship is the root of it, and that’s where the emotion of the song comes from.
You mentioned you were gay. When did you come out, and does your biggest support come from the LGBT community?
These are great questions by the way… I came out to my immediate family and my closest friends when I was 14, but when I came out and decided to take a stand for myself, I was 26. I made this huge Facebook post, telling everyone that I was gay and that they should get over it, I’m still gonna make my music so let’s keep it pushing. At that point I decided that I didn’t want to alienate myself as an artist, and I didn’t want to just target the LGBT community, I wanted to target love in general.
I write from a general standpoint. I don’t write in a language of him or her. Everyone can relate to the love experience. As of right now, my main support has been LGBT blogs, but working with a lot of straight hip-hop artist.
They are supportive and they definitely have my back, my label has my back. I just want to represent myself and represent music, and represent love which is something that everyone can be a part of. I’m trying to bridge the gap between the straight world and the gay world. I want to be an artist. I don’t want people to acknowledge me as that gay R&B artist. No, I’m an artist that happens to be gay.
I noticed the electro-sounds in your tracks. How important is it to remain true to yourself and not conform to R&B or Neo Soul?
Oh, that’s so important. That is so important. To even touch on the recent passing of Prince. Prince had one sound and he just had that one sound his whole career. He left such a legacy that only Prince can do Prince, the way it should be done. People can duplicate it, they can try, and you can definitely hear his influence and it’s no disrespect. But you would not have gotten the essence of his sound if Prince would have never stayed true to himself.
I think there’s a difference between being an artist and being a business person. There’s nothing wrong with either. I just prefer to be an artist. I have to be authentic. Out of all the artist I know, they all have an authentic sound. I disagree with being a carbon copy. I can just get the original. Why do I want the same song by 5 different people, I want the original—no disrespect. I listen to many things and that’s just my personal opinion.
How has working in theater helped to develop your sound?
Theater more so helped me develop as a performer. It’s an ever learning process. The minute I thought I figured it out, I know that I didn’t. It’s more about building character and imagination.
How were you able to score a job under Hinton Battles?
I was on Oprah years ago because of Dream Girls. I wrote Oprah 30 letters and they showed up at my job. They surprised me with cameras and took me on the show—they did a segment on me, and I met the cast of Dream Girls. They flew me to L.A for the premier in Hollywood. I met Hinton on the red carpet, because I was doing press interviews for Oprah. I meet him and it was one of those moments that made a lasting impression. 4 years later, I was working at a whole foods store in Atlanta, and he walked through my line…. We stayed in contact with one another and the rest is history. He taught me so much about the business side of things and he made me sit down and pay attention to a lot of that stuff.
What song did you write for Mindless Behavior? How did you get the opportunity to do that?
I wrote the song “Pretty Girl” on their last album, “All around the World.” Hinton was the reason that I was able to get the deal. Hinton suggested that I worked with a producer that he’d been working with, and we began working together. We wrote the song together and that was my placement. It was awesome because that was the first time that I got a major label placement. It was cool to get the album and hear their version and hear them sing what I wrote. Again, it was the Oprah affect. Had I not worked for Oprah, I wouldn’t have met Hinton, and I wouldn’t have gotten on that album.
From the 80’s till now, the industry shifted. We had Prince, the Beyoncé, we have your sound—do you think that the industry is developing creatively or is it lacking?
I feel like everything was creative for a while and people were celebrated for their individualism, but when the internet hit, and people started to understand how to make millions—making music became more accessible, which drove the cost of production down, because software is available. You can buy a computer, go home, and do everything yourself.
I recorded my whole album at home. I sent the vocals out to be mixed and mastered, but I did it as my own engineer and it saved me hundreds and thousands of dollars. I think with that, people got to a point where they just wanted to make money and then they started duplicating what was hot. I really appreciate Rhianna and Beyoncé’s team because their last albums that they put out are so not radio. The pop world forgot what it was like to be creative. The creative process behind Beyoncé’s "Lemonade" is brilliant, and Rhianna’s "ANTI" album is totally great. People will want to be different. Artistry is back. Let’s celebrate what it really means to be an artist.