STL Native AJ McQueen Talks About The Message Behind His Music, Overcoming a Near Death Experience and More
St. Louis native Aj McQueen turned Houston rapper sat down with Rare Radar to talk about the inspiration behind his music, growing up on the Westside of St. Louis, and how he overcame life-threatening adversities.
Check out the interview below.
How old were you when you first started doing music?
When I first started doing music I was 9, I started off just rapping about what was going on in my neighborhood and in my life.
How did growing up on the Westside influence your music ?
Growing up on the Westside in Wellston influenced my music a lot by giving me the foundation for my music. All of my music is from the heart, therefore I write about what I feel and what I see. When I was a yute growing up on the Westside, I saw a lot. Growing up on the West is a big part of my story because it validates me to be able to speak the language of the streets, of the struggle, of the hurt, of the misunderstood, and of the forgotten. We speak the same language, and because of that I believe that I can translate knowledge, faith, perseverance, and love to them through my music. I am them, we are the same, I just made it out.
How did you get involved with gang activity that led you to be shot at a young age?
Growing up in St.Louis, particularly the Westside comes with its different influences. I started being influenced by gang life as a yute not knowing that it was a gang life at all, all I saw was family and unity. I was taught by my uncle’s and my big cousin’s, those were my O.G’s and my big homies. Beyond popular belief when it comes to gang activity as a yute I wasn’t taught anything negative. I was taught loyalty, respect, and love for my brothers. I didn’t know that “gang” had a negative connotation or that it brought negative energy until someone tried to fight me for the color I had on and because of where I was from. Then I started to understand that I was a part of something deeper. When I was 13 I became active in the gang and started to really seek validation and rank through what I did. I’ve always been able to feel negative energy no matter where I was at. So, way before I actually got shot there were multiple times where I could’ve ended up dead or in jail but I believe God was with me all those times. The summer after my 14th birthday I had got into some very serious stuff and It wasn’t going to end well. People started calling my mom’s house threating to kill me, trying to set me up, and everything. So I asked my Mom could I go out of town (she didn’t know my reasons) and she said where are you going to go? I said Houston, and that’s because we went to Houston when I was 8 and stayed for 2 years, that’s another story right there. So my Mom called a family member that we knew when we came to Houston the first time and they said, “yes AJ can come”. Now, mind you they have not seen me since I was like 10 years old and a lot had changed since then. So I was in Houston with that family, The Johnsons, and they immediately started talking to me about God, taking me to Church, and trying to get me to listen to gospel music and all that. Simply put, I wasn’t with it. So after not listening to the family and lashing out I told my Mama that I wanted to come home. So, she sent me a train ticket and the day I was leaving, the lady of house came to me crying and she said, “no don’t go, God showed me a vision of you getting shot and you died,” I told her I didn’t believe in all that. She prayed for me and then I came back home. 2 days later I was in Baden on the North side and I got shot, an inch away from being paralyzed. I won’t go into too many details but what I will say is, there was a lot of lost that night. When I was in the hospital, I saw the look of sadness in my Mom and my Dad’s eyes, and honestly that hurt more than then getting shot. After that, while I was still rehabbing my Mom sent me back to Houston, and told me that I couldn’t come back.
When you were sent to Houston, did you get unmotivated to work on music due to the fact that you weren’t in your comfort zone anymore?
I wouldn’t say I was unmotivated, I was just really confused. You know, my mind is all jacked up, my body is hurting, I’m not around my family or friends, I felt lost and music was the only therapy that I had. Then I came across a tape recorder and started rapping on it. I started rapping about what happened and how I believe God was looking out for me. From there my music went to a deeper level.
Do you think if you wouldn’t have moved to Houston, and stayed in St. Louis, you would be just as successful as you are now?
Honestly, I know I’d be dead or in jail.
Wow, that’s deep. So, since moving to Houston, what connections have you made in the music industry, like producers, artist, etc?
Since moving to Houston I’ve made a lot of connections from all different parts of the industry. Houston has its start power you know, with the big names and stuff. And that’s cool, but I like working with the locals and the underground Artists and Producers. There are so many dope Artists and Producers in Houston, too many to name.
What inspired the goat-ish project you recently released, especially incorporating actual goats (lol)?
Goat-ish was inspired by those around me. My inner circle and even some of my fans hear my music and they be like “man you the goat bruh”. And me trying to stay humble and stuff I would say to myself, “I’m goat-ish” which is greatest of all time – ish. I don’t believe that anyone is greater than anyone else, and I believe that we all have greatest in us, we just have to tap into it. So with the goat-ish episodes, I just started to make music and incorporate the goats in the videos. I feel like it’s unique and creative way to tell people that im goat-ish lol.
How were you granted the opportunity to be featured on 106 & Park at the age of 19?
When I was 19, I was in a group called S.T.C., and we performed at a PR Conference in front of a lot of different industry people, B.E.T., All Hip-hop, Complex, Sister 2 Sister Magazine etc.. After we performed as a group I started rapping solo and started telling my story in front of the industry folk, and our PR at the time Sheik (she passed away a year after that, r.i.p.) got a call from B.E.T. and they said that they wanted me to come on the B.E.T 106 & Park and tell my story. That moment changed my life forever. God Bless Sheik.
What was it like performing at SXSW?
SXSW is always a movie. I love performing, so whenever I can perform and connect with other dope Artists it’s always a vibe.
Who are your musically influences?
My musical influences are Michael Jackson, Bob Marley and the whole Marley family, 2pac, Nas, Lauryn Hill, Common, Andre 3000, and The Old Lil Wayne.
If you could pick anyone alive, what top 5 artists or producers would you love to work with?
I would love to work with Mick Jenkins, J Cole, Kendrick Lamar, Joey Bad-Ass, Chance The Rapper, Damian and Stephen Marley.
That’s a good pick! What plans do you have for 2019? Any new projects, performances, tours, etc.?
For 2019 the goal is to be consistent and effective, all year long. I have a few projects I’m working on, more goatish episodes and maybe a tour or something. We will see, but I want to grow as an Artists and execute at a high level.
What message do you want to send in your music ?
In my music my message is of knowledge, perseverance, faith , and love. I want people to hear my music and get inspired and motivate. I want people to also learn and get woke lol and hip to what’s going on around us and in us. I believe music can heal or hurt therefore I want to make healthy, organic music. Sounds like food huh? Exactly, my music is food for the soul.
Make sure you follow AJ McQueen on Instagram @AjMcQueen and check out his music!