AJ SNOW INTERVIEW
While recording, transcribing and editing this interview all that kept poppin’ up in my mind was the alchemy of the notorious Nipsey line from “Overtime,” they say it’s 6 degrees in life / opportunity, preparation - they meet it’s nice. It’s fair to say that the independent route has numerous challenges and benefits for various artists. Sometimes the benefits outweigh the challenges and sometimes the challenges outweigh the benefits. At times you have access, support and resources and other moments you’re without. But in the midst of it all how do you define your success? Is success a singular never ending goal post -or- merely a myriad of moments where your opportunity and preparation align?
Below is an interview that serves more as an inner view into how Aj Snow’s consistency and perseverance put him in position to release one of his best albums to date, NO AWARDS FOR THE REAL. Throughout the interview Snow speaks on his craft, the creation of the album and how the album also allowed for him to gain a deeper connection with producer Jansport J.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Aj Snow: How long have you been doing this?
Jameka: Uhm, I’ve always done music shit but as far as starting my own thing and having my own independent publication and stuff - this is my 2nd year doing it. It was just me doing shit for the longest time and I was just recently able to get 4 or 5 other writers on board so hopefully shit gets going to a different level here soon too.
Aj Snow: That’s nice, congrats. I been seeing you guys gettin’ to it and consistently how y’all have been tappin’ in with me too and I just wanted to reach out, thought it made sense.
Yeah! I love it, I appreciate that. It’s crazy y’all just put out this project together. I’ve followed Jansport J for quite some time and he retweeted or engaged with one of your projects awhile back - OR - somethin’ like that and around then is when I tapped into the music. It’s really cool that y’all are on this now.
Aj Snow: Oh damn, that shit crazy. I didn’t know Sport was on board like that. When I met him for the first time he was like, “yeah, I’ve been hearing about you for a minute,” and I’m like, “damn, why ain’t you say nothin’?”
That’s too dope. So, how did y’all’s relationship form?
Aj Snow: So, he was tellin’ me that Dom Kennedy told him to start workin’ with, you know, the newer talent than what he was workin’ with. He was workin’ with the top of the top artists. I had a show in L.A. in January and Sport’s manager came out and then I performed and then the next day after that Sport had followed me on Instagram. Then, after a couple days later I reached out to him to get 1 beat or 2 beats or somethin’ and he was like, “man, I’ve been thinkin’ bout doin’ a whole project.”
Aj Snow: When he told me that I was like, “ahhh damn, that’s hard,” but you know how the shit goes when people tell you they wanna do somethin’ with you. You know, they say that but they don’t ever follow thru on it. So, the next day or later that day he sent me like damn near 30-40 beats.
He was serious.
Aj Snow: So, that album, what we did - NO AWARDS FOR THE REAL... those were like the first songs, the first 10 songs we did. I’m real big on just droppin’ what I got. I feel very confident in what I make. I don’t need to go in the studio and make like 50 songs to make 1 project, like nah. I’mma grab these 10 songs and we gonna put them together and make it like that. And that’s how NO AWARDS FOR THE REAL came.
That’s pretty cool - so, what type of time frame did it take to come up with the tracks?
Aj Snow: With the tracks, shit - when he sent me those beats I think we ended up doing our first studio session at the end of January. I know by then we had done the intro, we had “How I Make It Here?” and that was like the first record we did. Even the first time we went to the studio he gave me some more beats to go home with for NO AWARDS FOR THE REAL. Ideally, we already knew exactly the title, we had everything kinda in play by the end of February.
Aj Snow: Yeah, we were really reachin’ to drop the album in May but Sport he had BudaSport and a few other things under his belt and he was like, “man, lemme give this some space to breathe,” so we pushed the album back to June.
Makes sense, so how did the title come about? What does that mean - NO AWARDS FOR THE REAL?
Aj Snow: So, "NO AWARDS FOR THE REAL" - with the outro record, when that song came on I was sittin’ and when I was listenin’ it gave me like award show vibes. That’s why I said, the real don't get awards but this is my speech if I did. What I’m rapping is like what I would say if I won an award. That’s why the first bar too is, I Sport fly shit, I got that shit from a Jay-Z line when he said, “I sport fly shit I should win an ESPY,” and that was kinda the direction I wanted to go with it but I ended up playin’ around with it. So, with the “NO AWARDS FOR THE REAL,” I said that in a bar and then Sport was kinda like “let’s make that the album title” and I was like, “let’s run with it.”
It seems like it came and flowed pretty naturally for y’all.
Aj Snow: Oh yeah yeah yeah, this was really my first time workin’ on a full project with 1 producer and this was really my first time in a professional studio.
Aj Snow: Most of the time before that I’ve just been workin’, you know, just home studio. Really just knockin’ out the records from home and send it in to get mixed. This was really the first time I sat down and listened to the album get mixed, mastered and really put my input on stuff too. Man, it was a whole team effort.
You can hear it too, in the actual album. I enjoy your work that’s why I stay up with it but there’s something different about this album. This feels like a huge stepping stone. Being in the professional studio do you feel like it affected your craft or did it bring something else out of you?
Aj Snow: It was very fun. It felt like I was supposed to be there, you know what I mean. That’s the best way I could put it. And the relationship with me and Sport - I always say it’s like a training camp. Like yeah, I’ve been rappin’, I’ve been doin’ this, I’ve been doin’ that, I’ve had this success, I’ve had that success but now I really got someone who’s really been in the game. That is really in the game and really done and got his achievements and stuff so I’m just sittin’ back soakin’ up everything he really teaches me. So, it’s all training camp. You know, if this is the only project we do and we split our ways and everything I learn from him is going to add to my formula.
Yeah, that’s real and real universal alignment.
Aj Snow: No, fasho fasho, and those are the types of talks me and him be having. We sit down and we be talkin’ about this, this and this. We definitely feel that.
Do you feel like there were any challenges with making this album? Or new challenges?
Aj Snow: Nah, not really. My only challenge I would say I feel like I was stuck inside my box. I feel like I’ve developed more as an artist and my challenge was seein’ how the fans were goin’ to react to it. Because you know, when a lot of artists try new stuff a lot of fans, you know - they try to put you in a box. And I have had some fans be like, “where’s the car music at? Where’s this? Where’s that?” And it’s just like - man - this is my best project I ever did. It’s touching the people a lot more so I feel like it was the best for me.
That’s so interesting because I definitely would’ve not thought that. It’s a different type of music, you stepped out a lil but at the same time this is still something you can be playin’ in the whip, like fasho.
Aj Snow: Yeah, I don't take offense to this shit I just scratch my head. At the end of the day this is my art, you know. That’s how I look at this. This is my art and I’mma give what I feel comfortable with. If my name is attached to it I believe in that. 1000%.
About your name tho - where’d it come from?
Aj Snow: Man, it’s funny. You know Snow On Tha Bluff ? When that shit was on Netflix and everything I used to tweet Curtis Snow on there and I’d be like “hey unc,” messin’ with him and shit and he’d be responding’ to me and shit. So, that’s where I kinda got it from. Then also, Pimp C was one of my favorites and his nickname was Tony Snow. That’s kinda where I got it from too.
That’s dope that it was all your doing.
Aj Snow: I hate explaining it but you know that’s where I got it from.
Yeah, it comes when it’s supposed to. Where are you based?
Aj Snow: I’m in Los Angeles right now.
But you're from Illinois?
Aj Snow: Yeah, I was born in Dallas. So, it’s very interesting. I was born in Dallas, I grew up in Springfield, Illinois and then I moved back to Dallas and I was there for like 7 years. I been in L.A. for a year. I’ve been out here since last May. So, I just been out here workin’.
You like it out there?
Aj Snow: I love it. The weather, palm trees, food - man, actually I stopped eatin’ meat not too long ago and I’ve been losin’ weight like a mug. I had gotten a little chunky out here eating all that.
That’s what’s up, see, that’s what happened to me when I came down South. I’m from out West and came down here. Aj Snow: Oh okay, what part are you from?
I’m from Washington, spent some time in Oregon and spent some time in Oakland too.
Aj Snow: Okay, what part of the South?
Right now I’m in Memphis but before Memphis I was in Atlanta for a couple years.
Aj Snow: Oh yeah, you probably gettin’ all the BBQ out there in Memphis.
Man, they got a lotta good food out here fasho. It’s dangerous but the pace of life is so different. Like I miss the West in those terms. And the options, it just seems like there are more options or opportunities out West too.
Aj Snow: Oh yeah, most definitely. Man, it’s crazy out here - I ran into Hitmaker, Yung Berg, that nigga was leaving the elevator at my crib jus like damn. You don’t get this type of shit in Texas or elsewhere. Like I saw Casey Veggies at the smoke shop by my crib and if I wasn’t out you know walkin’ the dog then I probably would’ve chopped it up with him. You know, that might’ve been a record. It’s the access, you know.
Yeah, a lot of opportunities.
Aj Snow: And everybody knows somebody, you know. My bad, I feel like we’re having so much a conversation that we gotta get back to the questions.
It’s all good, for real. How would you describe your sound? We’ve heard people call it car music, player music…
Aj Snow: It’s more lifestyle. I feel like I became more personal. As I’m gettin’ older, I’ve been rappin’ for a minute but now I kinda look at it like if I’m rappin’ makin’ sure I’m sayin’ something. You know, inspiring people. I say more lifestyle, I’m sharin’ what I see, what I hear, you know, my thoughts. You know, grindin’ for the hopeless. You learn that there’s a lot of people who don’t get to see or even see the stuff I’ve been able to see. I just want to be the reporter and let people know that there’s more out here. If anybody feels stuck or feel like shits not goin’ - there’s more to life, don’t trip.
Yeah, I feel it fasho. You’re sharing your experiences with people.
Aj Snow: Yeah, you know, I was born in Dallas but I grew up in Springfield which is like a population of 100,000. There’s no music outlet, no nothin’ and now I’m here and I got an album with a Grammy nominated producer under my belt. It’s like, “how I make it here?” That’s where that record came from. I was like, “damn, I’m workin’ with Sport on an album,” and it’s like, “damn, how’d I make it here?” Shit, then you start thinking about all the odds that were up against you as long as you keep goin’ like really just keep goin’ and it’s gonna get better.
That’s so beautiful, for real.
Aj Snow: It’s been so many times when I would want to quit. Now, when I look back and I might say that shit on a Tuesday and look down 3 weeks later and I’m like I’m glad I didn’t because look at where I’m at now. Of course, it’s not that quick of a return but man there were so many situations and times when a nigga wanted to give up. Now, it’s like glad I didn’t give up.
Just out of curiosity what type of things were bringing you to that moment of almost calling it quits?
Aj Snow: Looking back - well, I saw Sport tweet this the other day, “if this shit was easy everyone would be doing it” or some shit like that. I feel like where I’m at right now everything is more pressure. Sometimes I feel like I put the pressure on myself because I feel like how Kobe feel with basketball. I just want to be great and I don’t think a lot of people have that same ambition. Maybe they don’t go thru the shit that I go thru but I literally love this shit. This is really what I want to do. This is where my passion is at but sometimes I get discouraged. Certain things happen but then you get that validation, you know and sometimes that’s for you to keep goin’.
It feels like as an artist it’s all just kinda part of the journey. Like every once in awhile you’re going to have your doubts - you just grow thru it.
Aj Snow: Yeah, for sure. I feel like it’s a cycle to be honest. Man, when you elevate to another level it’s just - man, I felt a little pressure after droppin’ NO AWARDS FOR THE REAL. In my head, I’m like, sonically this is the greatest fucking album. You know, I’m thinkin’ in my head and of course we’re workin’ on album #2. We pushin’ thru the pressure. But you still have these moments as an artist where you’re like, “man, what if they compare or the fans don’t fuck with this no more.” I be puttin’ all types of pressures on myself and I’m learnin’ just to go thru it and that’s why you get these moments and you cherish it more. You really learn to appreciate a lot of shit.
I feel like it’s natural for people to fall at the wayside but at the same time I feel like with working with Jansport J a lot more people are getting to hear your music. With that comes new fans and supporters.
Aj Snow: Most definitely, I’m real big on paying attention to numbers. I just feel like music is a business, you know, being and artist is a business. I don’t think a lot of people understand that. I pay attention to numbers. I worked jobs where we sat down and looked at numbers. Little did I know - at the time I didn’t think I really needed that shit but now doin’ my own thing it was definitely an honor to learn that and see that shit. Daily, I look at my numbers. I look to see where my music is going. Those type of things help me add to the formula or calculate and put shit together. Where to tap in at.
Did you notice quite a number change in this last release?
Aj Snow: Oh yeah, most definitely. One big thing was with Spotify. I remember just a couple months ago I was about to hit 2000 monthly listeners. I remember when I only had 3. Now, that shit hit up to 4100 but I think it’s down to 3800 which is natural for an album release. If I could stay in that 3000 realm that’s way more than what I was gettin’. Just a couple months ago I was thirstin’ to hit 2000. I remember one month in and I was right there at 98 or 99 then it dropped down to 60-something or 1950. And I was just like, “fuck,” you know, those little milestones niggas trying to achieve.
Definitely understand but I'm sure more numbers are to come. So, there is another project with Jansport on the way? There’s been quite some talk about your latest release by people who really listen to Hip Hop, you know. People who are tapped into the likes of Roc Marciano and that kind of sound.
Aj Snow: I didn’t expect you know - we’ve really been building a great friendship. We damn near talked everyday. He kinda just told me his role - and he was like, “I see a lot of me in you and my position of being an OG in the game is to really help groom and shape you. You already got it but I wanna just come in and help polish you up more.”
Man, how’d that make you feel?
Aj Snow: Man, it’s great. When I quit my job I played one of his productions, that Dom Kennedy, “Life.” I’m takin’ the chances, I want it all. I’m takin’ a risk, I want it all. That’s another thing too, just to finally meet somebody solid and genuinely wants you to win it’s an amazing feeling. It’s like sometimes I still get my little moments like, “damn, niggas is really in the game, this shit crazy.” Or just to have that backing, you know. Really backing you and supporting you. Everything is genuine. If I posted that I’m doing a show right now - he’ll retweet it. You know what I mean. It’s the most authentic, genuine artist-producer relationship you can have. With this game, and I know you know - there’s a lot of people tryna get over and tryna use you to get where they want to go. And with him you can just tell it’s not that. We in the studio and he be playing me unreleased Big Sean and Nas records. Just to be sittin’ in the studio or the car with him playing these unreleased records… it’s just like bro, this shit is fucking amazing.
That’s really beautiful. You deserve it. That’s alignment, that’s really for you.
Aj Snow: I feel like before I met Sport I was kinda in the headspace of giving up. I feel like this is kinda mine for not giving up, you know. With life man, you just gotta keep mashin’ thru whatever is throw at you - you gotta keep mashin’. I think that’s kinda one of the rewards of putting my head down and still working.
I said it already but it’s a stepping stone. You bout to see levels - I’m excited for you. I hope that we’re able to build an artist/editor type relationship so I can continue to check in with you and write about what’s goin’ on.
Aj Snow: Fasho, and that’s just another learning experience too. You gotta fuck with who fuck with you and that shit is way more authentic. I’ve been peepin’ that y’all been fuckin’ with me, postin’ me, y’all been on part of the journey. A lot of people would’ve ignored that and they try to go chase where the love ain’t at. I rather build with the people that fuck with me and that’s where I’ve kinda been takin’ my time and really just build in-house and with the people that support me and wanna see me win. Everybody be tryin’ to chase the support that they don’t have and that’s why shit don’t be workin’ out like that.
Yeah, or they expect something else from the support they’re receiving. Or they expect something else and so they overlook the actual support they’re receiving.
Aj Snow: Yeah, transitioning to live in L.A. I’ve leveled up to a whole other level and I look at a lot of shit differently now. To see even how the people react or other people have their motives and try to use you and be around. So I’ve been able to experience a lot of more shit. You can sit back and you can hate or you can be upset about how the way some shit went or you can just really appreciate it. That shit’ll change your formula. That’s kinda where I stand on it. I was able to see a lot of shit I was blind to. That shit just helped me become a better person and a better artist. That’s why I say now - tap in now, fuck with who fucks with you. That’s always been my type of thing. Niggas be chasin’. It’s funny though because Sport’s brand, All Attraction, No Chasin’. So many people get caught up with the chasin’ - when you attract shit it’s way more genuine.
Man, that’s so real. All Attraction, No Chasin’. I’m not trying to bombard you about this new album or anything but what can your supporters and new fans expect from this new project? Like have you began working on it? Is it part 2? What’s going on with that.
Aj Snow: I feel like the first album we were kinda introducing you to this new sound. Me and Sport we are about to go crazy. This ain’t the stop, I think we really found our pocket. He even said when the album dropped, “man, Snow helped me become a better producer.” But, we just shot the “2ND II NONE” video on Friday and Sport was DJing while we was shooting the video. What’s different with this album than the first one is that we both sat down and we’re both into the creative process of creating ideas or even samples and shit or changing the format of the records. We both workin’ on it.
When it says Aj Snow and Jansport J, it’s really Aj Snow and Jansport J. It ain’t just like I rap and he produces. For instance, the outro I laid a verse on it and sent him a rough draft so he could see where I’m goin’ with it and he’d be like, “man, this should be the hook,” and he’d throw the hook idea. Then I might switch it up a bit to throw my own spin on it. I be tellin’ Sport he need to rap because he be comin’ up with some ideas. That’s another thing though, that’s just me learning from his creative style. He sat down and told me stories about being in the studio with Hit-Boy, being in the studio with Nas, so it’s like I’m really soakin’ up a lot of shit. Like the intro, “MADE BY OGs,” like how we got the hook and shit. Sport was like, “nah, you should make this the hook.” I had the bars and the verse, if I said it I’mma stand on it, found a new wave then I put my man’s on it, he was like, “yo, make that the hook and go back in to add a verse, add a 16, then we’re gonna throw the hook there.” You know, havin’ that coachin’, havin’ that support. This album I’m bringin’, I got a couple of my partners, my brothers - we’re more brothers than rappers. I’m trying to get them in the mix and spread light with them, you know. Plus, they got their shit goin’ on but just to add somethin’ more to their belt. This one gonna be a nice vibe.
The last one was too so I believe it.
Aj Snow: I think me workin’ with Sport it’s really showin’ my versatility. You know, I’m gettin’ off on some Griselda type beats on this muthafucka, you know what I mean.
Aj Snow: Here, I’ll play you one right now.
Mannnnn, y’all comin’ with the clip loaded.
Aj Snow: Yeah, we already got the album placed I just gotta go in and lay some verses and shit. We plan on droppin’ it here real soon. We just want to run it up to be honest. That’s the whole motto. He’s independent, I’m independent.
Aj Snow: Why not. We get to control this shit.
Man, this is exciting.
*plays unreleased record*
Yeah, that shit is raw! I like your voice on that type of production a lot.
Aj Snow: Thank you, I appreciate that a lot. I’m learning and last time we talked and my fans were like, “that’s not car music,” and that’s another thing that adds pressure. But fuck it, this is my art, I’m going to create. Man, so many people want to limit you to one thing and it’s like nah, I’m an artist and I can jump on these different types of records. That shit be pressure but lowkey I might gain a whole other range of Hip Hop fans on that grimy rap shit. Or shit, I might link with Roc Marciano or some shit and do a whole album.
Aj Snow: I’m more thinking bigger than just right now.
That track done gave me goosebumps.
Aj Snow: Oh man, that’s hard, that’s crazy.
It’s still classy, it’s still your real suave type demeanor but the beat brings out a whole other side.
Aj Snow: What’s crazy is Sport told me the other day, “I’m glad you jumped on that beat because I didn’t really like the beat,” but that’s one of his favorite songs right now.
I’m excited for y’all.
Aj Snow: Just to give you a time and you ain’t gotta put it in the interview but we thinkin' late some month.
Wow, that’s really exciting. Definitely looking forward to that. On a day like today out there what music are you playin’ in the whip?
Aj Snow: Let me check I’ve been playin’ a lot. Oh shit, this is funny. I was just playing Adina Howard, “A Freak Like Me,” G Perico, “Half a Bird,” Keni Burke, “I Get Off On You,” I played Jon B that, whatcha say booooo. That and just played them in the whip. I’ve been listening to full bodies of work from artists. You know you gotta have hits and good singles but I like to listen to a full body of work. I feel like that’s where I specialize at is giving a full body of work instead of one or two singles. I really don't like droppin’ singles unless it’s part of the album.
Unless it’s part of the rollout.
Aj Snow: Yeah, unless it’s part of the rollout. I probably won’t drop another record until I’m well on another project. It’s kinda like changing scenes… you ain’t gonna change a scene and go back to the last scene. When you change scenes in a movie, you know.
Outside of music you also have your own brand - “Made by OGs,” tell me about that. When did that begin?
Aj Snow: “Made by OGs,” - I dropped my first project in December of 2015 and you know, I just made a dad denim hat. This was right before the dad hats really started poppin’, you remember that… like 2016. I had made a little hat to just help promote the album. I wasn’t really thinkin’ nothin’ of it. But you know, the response that I got back from it and it did very well. So, I just kept going - and it’s so crazy that I’m doing clothing now because when I first started I was like, “man, I’m not going to do clothes because I didn’t want to deal with the sizes and everything. You know I grew into it. Right now I feel like I'm in a rebuilding stage because you wanna better. It’s like you buy a crib and the crib is cool but then you wanna remodel, you know.
Yeah, yeah, evolvin’...
Aj Snow: It’s gonna keep changing. So, now I’m at this point and I’m in L.A. too and there’s the fashion district just trying to put the pieces together. I want “Made by OGs” to stand as its own street wear or luxury brand. There ain’t’ no limit to where it can go.
That’s facts, you have some cool pieces. Like the Crown Royal version of the Made by OGs hat. That shit real cool. When I saw you put that out I was like yeah, he’s leveling up in everything.
Aj Snow: Mann, I’m learning, I’m learning. I’m more than a rapper. I’m an artist. I’ve been learnin’ Andy Warhol, Basquiat, you know. I’ve been learnin’ like, payin’ attention to Frank Ocean. To them, he might just be seen as a singer but he’s an artist. I look at where all these people stand and they're more. I feel like I’m a lot more. I wanna be considered an artist. Like Westside Gunn, he’s an artist. From his music to his clothes, he’s an artist. He’s not a rapper, he’s not a clothing designer, he’s an artist. That’s kinda where I wanna be remembered at or known for, as an artist. If I go design a car people will know, “ayy, Snow designed that,” or if I go design a house like Virgil did, you know. I feel like that’s where my style and my music come from. I’m an artist, I’m decorating it the way I hear it in my head. I’m not copying, I’m my own leader into this shit.
Jehn.w.a - https://www.behance.net/jehNWA PHOTO 1 & 2
Andrew Diego - https://www.instagram.com/drew_v600/ ALBUM ART PHOTO 3 & 4
Freddy Dubon - https://www.instagram.com/fotofreddy_/ PHOTO 5
Andrew Quesada - https://www.andrewlquesada.com/ "2ND II NONE" VIDEO
"'83 EL CAMINO" VIDEO
PHOTO 6 & 7 https://madebyogs.com/