Episode 148

AJ Rafael ·  Pioneering the Asian American Music Space

“ It went viral and I was like, whoa, what do I do with this? This is crazy and with all that in mind I get emails in my inbox for real record labels which is insane. ”

AJ Rafael, singer/songwriter from Moreno Valley, CA. With over 1 Million subscribers on YouTube and 600K on TikTok, AJ was recognized as a Fil-Am Game Changer by the City of Los Angeles in 2017. His debut album, Red Roses, charted on Billboard and at #4 on the Pop iTunes Charts. AJ continues to make music and upload videos as he did when he first started back in 2006. He is also active in the theatre world, performing and music directing in theaters around the United States such as East West Players and American Repertory Theatre. AJ started a podcast with his fiancée, Alyssa, called “Sweet or Savory” where they debate topics like “Is peanut butter sweet or savory?” and “Can you be friends with your ex?” now out on all platforms.


Social media handles:

Instagram: @ajrafael @kuyateco

YouTube: @ajrafael @sweetorsavorypodcast

Website: kuyate.com

Listen to the podcast

Watch the interview

Podcast Transcript

AJ Rafael

Intro: (00:00:00) In honor of Asian-American and Pacific Islander heritage month, we’re teaming up with Lexus to host creative visionaries, a series of four episodes, featuring leaders and creators in the community who inspire us. We kick off the series with singer and songwriter AJ Rafael who will discuss his music and how he finds meaning through art.

Maggie: (00:00:22) Hi, everyone welcome to the Asian Hustle Network Podcast, today we have a very special guest with us. His name is AJ Rafael, AJ is a singer-songwriter from Marino valley, California. With over 1 million subscribers on YouTube and 600,000 followers on Tik Tok. AJ was recognized as a Filipino American and game-changer by the city of Los Angeles in 2017, his debut album charted on the billboard and at number four on pop iTunes charts.

AJ continues to make music and upload videos as he did when he first started back in 2006, he is also active in the theater world, performing and directing in theaters around the United States, such as an American repertory theater. AJ started a podcast with his fiance, Alyssa called sweet or savory topics like is peanut butter sweet or savory and can you befriend your ex. Now out on all platforms, AJ, welcome to the show.

AJ: (00:01:23) Hey everyone, thanks for having me. Maggie and Bryan, appreciate y’all. it’s an honor to be part of this. I love what y’all started on Facebook. The Asian Hustle Network appreciates all the connections that y’all have made in your time as well in the community. But yeah, so I started as a young lad at five years old. I remember playing piano and my dad was my first teacher. I played a lot of classical music. I love playing Disney music. Unfortunately, when I was 10, my dad who was a choir composed of a choir, conductor, and composer, passed away and I was almost kind of like, I felt like I had to take over is like same.

This is me as a 10-year-old. Little kid. I played piano for his funeral. My mom took over him being a choir director and I became the pianist. So, we essentially took over his one job and my mom and I were like a partnership. We were playing at the churches that he had left behind and I also had two sisters.

One was only six months old when my dad died and then the other one was a year and a half apart. We were like best friends growing up and every one of us loves music. So, fast forward a little bit, I’m 14 years old and my auntie who is my dad’s sister gives me a guitar and I write my first song.

And the song is called house San Diego, Paulie, which is a song I wrote for someone that I met online, which back then was very weird. I met her on a website, similar to like an Asian avenue or a Friendster. Nowadays it’s very common, but I wrote this about her. We met him in real life and that song became a quote-unquote hit on my MySpace page and it was before Myspace music even existed.

So I had to upload it myself with a real player, HTML code JavaScript, or whatever it was. And I remember it kind of catching fire. Throughout high school, I have a show in my backyard. People were singing along to the lyrics. It was crazy, so that’s kind of like the beginning of music from my heavy influence from my family, a lot of choir music, things like that.

Leading up to me, writing my music, which was pop-inspired, rock-inspired, but also has like a musical theater, as Disney feel as well. Sometimes then I discovered YouTube in 2006. And. Since then I’ve just been kind of like. So going, it kind of feels like a never-ending hustle, you know?

Bryan: (00:04:09) I mean, your dad must be so proud of you right now and what you have achieved so much and yes, you’ve been so consistent on YouTube for so long now right? I don’t know, I had some memory I’m ready. It’s you like 2014 or something? In a bar in Fullerton, my entire group of friends is crazy oh my God it’s AJ and we know your music.

AJ: (00:04:44) You know what’s cool, Bryan is that I still get that same reaction today from like, a similar moment to you and your boys in the bar. I just had that Dave and Buster’s like a couple of weeks ago, it was some dudes and they bought me a drink and they were so hyped you know?

And they’re like, I’ve been listening to since middle school and stuff. So the impact has been meaningful for me to see tangibly. When I see friends get excited, when I meet them, people at Boba shops or whatever, or even the cashier who hooks me up with a free meal because my music meant something to them.

Bryan: (00:05:19)  And again, if I run into you again, drinks on me, I know that you got more inspiration when you were 10 and 14 nowadays, what inspires and moving forward and creating music because. For us. And a lot of people who are in the creative space, it is a lot of work, right? It’s a lot of mental preparation. What are a lot of skills? You have to upgrade a lot of things. You have to be aware, but like how, how do you find your inspiration nowadays?

AJ: (00:05:51) I’m inspired a lot by the thoughts of having a future family wanting to build a house together with my fiance, like things like that. Haven’t inspired me as of late at night. I never really thought about those things. Five, six years ago, you know, I just wanted to keep going in the moment and I have to give credit to my fiance, Alyssa, of course, for she’s a very like, organized. Planner type person. I’m a very in-the-moment type person, and spontaneous, and the fact that she thinks about the future a lot has me thinking about the future a lot and how to make moves that brings a positive future for us. And that includes maybe having kids down the line and things like that. So recently that hasn’t been inspiring me, of course, my music, my album, red roses, the music after that, and things like that. We’re all inspired by like real-life events, things happening now, being heartbroken, being in love, and writing those things down.

Of course, as an artist, I always want to keep that fresh as well in my mind, but now it’s, it’s about things that are bigger than me. It’s about my dog sleeping on this bed, you know, like things like that, which is, which is cool. And, and seeing my friends as well, grow up, having families.

That stuff inspires me and specifically, if we’re bringing you back to music, like my peers, like Jeremy passion and gay bond doc, they, you know, fellow Filipino, American songwriters who came up on YouTube the same way I did, they have families and they are thriving it’s cool to see.

Maggie: (00:07:29) It’s so amazing. I mean, just when you’re talking about Alyssa and family and everything like that, I can just see your eyes, just watching your videos. Show us that you’re such a family-oriented person and that matters so much I just love seeing your content when it involves you and your family. It was both of you guys are just societally oriented.

Tell us how you met Alyssa and congratulations to Alyssa getting on 30, under 30, and having such an amazing accomplishment, we’ve been seeing a lot of content from you. And I know you guys did an impromptu duet where you guys had seen a lot of song reflection and that got extremely viral. And I kind of want to know as well when did you guys start deciding oh, well, let’s just do these duets and see how it goes how did that conversation, when did you guys decide to start singing together?

AJ: (00:08:24) I mean, we met at an audition for Disneyland. She was already working at the parks as Mulan for a show called Nikki and] the magical map. And we had just sparked a conversation, just become online friends after that, because I found a tweet. That she had posted saying that I was at the audition with AJ Rafael and there I saw I have my safe searches on my Twitter, my name sees if anyone’s talking shit, but mostly, to also, give love to whoever is talking about me without adding me. And luckily future me would be happy that that happened because years later we ended up connecting online again through Facebook. After all, she invited me to her college graduation party and I showed up as I had just come.

Literally and I came with my friend, Billy, and her mom answers the door her mom was still confused. She’s like, oh my God, AJ Rafael is here. And that was funny. Cause I live, I live here in this house. We ended up just kind of talking and we ended up, I guess, falling in love a couple of months later after that and that was a really important time in my life because I was also just coming off of a YouTube slash show hiatus that I took for mental health reasons and a lot of personal reasons. And I took a break from the scene. So it was cool to meet her during that time well to re-meet her after briefly connecting, you know, years before that anyway, fast forward, she’s an amazing singer.

And I always encourage her to sing more whenever she can. And she is doing some covers of me on YouTube, you know, as, in our first couple of years. So when the pandemic happened, she was in the corner over here in my studio room, in our apartment in Glendale. And I just started playing the piano. And this happened a lot before that video went viral I’m just playing piano and she sings.

So one day I just wanted to record it and she sings reflection. Like she can do that show and with her eyes closed to show Disneyland. So she sings it so beautifully all the time. And I just caught the perfect moment. And then it evolved into us doing work from home duets, singing covers, and things like that, which was cool.

And to be honest, it was a dream for me to like, I guess, quote, unquote, work with my partner and we’re kind of building, I don’t know an empire. I know that sounds drastic, but building this thing together and people know us together and anytime I get recognized now, it’s like, Hey, congrats on your engagement.

Even until now, even though that engagement happened in December 2020, right? Like people are still, they’re excited that I’m in love. They’re excited that I found somebody and they’re excited that Alyssa is doing all these amazing things on her own, you know? So that was kind of, yeah. That’s like the story of how we ended up getting here and doing all these singing videos together. So we’re, we’re so happy to like work with each other and play shows together and things like that.

Maggie: (00:11:30) You guys fit each other so well, and I love the fact that like we will look at when they see you, they mentioned it’s not just about you now. It’s about you adding all this up. And I love seeing, the fact that you guys just support each other so much when there are accomplishments that Alyssa has in her life when you uplift her and those accomplishments so much and vice versa. And I just love the balance that you two have together.

AJ: (00:11:58) Yeah, absolutely. Thank you for saying that. I mean, it’s very cool. She works on diversity inclusion at Walt Disney Studios. And so we are all essentially like our purpose in the world is the same, even though we have different jobs, we want a more inclusive world.

We want a world where Asian-Americans and underrepresented communities are being lifted. And I do that through my art. She does that through her work at Disney and also through art that I hopefully encouraged her to do more of like the YouTube videos we make and all that stuff where we’re a good team yeah.

Bryan: (00:12:32) We’re an Asian Hustle Network podcast and like to talk about creatives and entrepreneurs. I want to ask this question, what is the secret to a successful relationship? It sounds amazing and a lot of us need to hear this.

AJ: (00:12:44) Yeah, well we recently started a podcast called sweet or savory and it started on the question of, is peanut butter, sweet or savory. And of course, it’s a really funny kind of question, but, we get into a lot of communication things and in the way we debate. In our first year or two, we probably wouldn’t be able to have a podcast like this because we would just be fighting.

But over the years it has been really about communication and letting each other know how we feel. And I had a lot of kind of baggage, I guess, with my previous relationships that. We both had to overcome together, but I wasn’t ready to hear some things or things like that. But as long as you’re talking out through it and you’re willing to be there for the growth in a specific area, then that will make the relationship successful, at least from my experience with Alyssa.

Bryan: (00:13:45) Awesome. I want to bring this story back to you for a day and talk about your first viral hit. I want to hear about what was the viral hit? Well, as a number, it was increasingly crazy and people were coming more like a household names right. 

AJ: (00:14:09) There are a couple of moments. The first one is a video that I did with pathing and called it lucky. It was a cover of Jason Mraz Colby’s Caillat song. And, you know, Colby clay was really big on my space at that time. And obviously, Jason has huge mainstream artists. So I doing that. It made sense, but also there was a certain musical chemistry that Kathy and I had that led to more collaborations down the line and her being a lifelong friend of mine.

But that video, it’s a funny video. I’m playing guitar. I run into the shower door, we’re in a bathroom, you know, so there’s a lot of comments about us being in the bathroom. You know, things that the singers also know that acoustics of the best in the bathroom all these things that looking back.

Oh, man, what a perfect formula we did, even though we didn’t think about any of that stuff. We just, like, we tried to film a video on the street that night, but it was getting dark. And we were like, ah, F we’ll just put the video camera right here and it was a video camera. It wasn’t like a DSLR or an iPhone or anything, and we do that.

And then we upload it right away because I was just kind of so fast at like editing back then already through, on my Mac book or power book or whatever it was. And yeah, seeing the videos, views growing that. The next whole week was cool because I was also watching subscriber accounts.

So I don’t know the exact numbers. It must’ve been something like that. Through that video, I have gained like a hundred thousand subscribers, like something ridiculous where I was just like, man, this is amazing. I was grateful that that had happened. And I was in a time where I had also, you know, I left Berkeley college of music and I was.

Then I left school. I was there for two semesters and I’m trying to make money as a musician, what am I doing? And so I had so many thoughts in my mind, I’m thinking like, oh, am I like a real artist? Now, all these things anyway, I just kept doing my thing and it wasn’t until 2010 when I had a music video with Wong Fu productions and it was called when we say.

And it was a fun music video that I did. And it got 250,000 views in one day. And I remember it KevJumba’s big online personality. Especially at that time, he texted me is I do, this is viral. You hit 250,000 news. You know, at that time was huge. And I was like, whoa, what do I do with this?

You know, what, what happens? Right? This is crazy. With all that in mind. And that context, I then get emails in my inbox about attending showcases for real record labels. So Atlantic, some other ones, I did three showcases right after that video. But during that time I didn’t dress like an artist.

I didn’t have management, so I didn’t have anybody telling me what to do with this showcase. I had no guidance and me and my band, showed up. Thank God. They had like some instruments there because we didn’t bring everything. And we played and I chose the weirdest combination of songs for each of the ones.

I was just also, I’m trying to show off that I know how to play the piano I am glad it happened that way because I wouldn’t be where I’m at now, but it’s almost like, man, I wish that I had some. Some people will almost look up to at least to ask how to deal with that stuff. And unfortunately, being one of the first in my community, that’s some of the obstacles that we had to kind of go through. So that was my first taste of like mainstream traditional kind of industrial feel. And I never went back I’ve never done any kind of label showcases and just continued on my path, which I have taken a lot of pride in doing my own thing.

And even though all my Titos and Tita’s and some want to see me on the voice or American idol and things like this. I always just shoot them a YouTube video or shoot them my latest, latest music for a theme. And I’m like, well, I hope you know, this is enough because this is also part of my legacy and the brand that I built.

Maggie: (00:18:13) I love that story. I just wanted to like, and appreciate how transparent you were with that story. Because a lot of the times when we’re starting and this doesn’t only have to apply to musicians and an artist, but whenever you’re starting with any hustle, right, you don’t know where to start.

And that was exactly what you were going through. Like you had no guidance, but you just showed up and hope for the best. And luckily they had some instruments there. But if it turned out any other way, maybe you wouldn’t have the same future. Right. And you have to like dive deep and just go with the flow and just go do it to know how it’s going to turn out.

And the fact that you didn’t have any guidance, just like went in for, showed how much courage that took for you and your dad. And to just go ahead and do it. Can you talk about how, there were times when you felt in the beginning days, what does this mean?

Right? Or like, am I, is this official now? Can I consider myself an actual musician artist? Like, what is this what’s going to happen next? Right. Obviously, there are highs and lows throughout that journey. And that goes with any entrepreneur, business owner, creative artist, whatever. I kind of want to know, like what was going through your mind at that time?

As musicians obviously sometimes we put out YouTube videos or any type of content and there are going to be viral videos. And then there are going to be other videos that don’t go viral right. And so, for buying myself, like we understand how that feels to write. We post on it every single day, some stuff goes viral, and some stuff doesn’t.

And sometimes that way we started thinking about like, now, how did. And he perceives that during that time, like what was going through your mind at a time of like, just the hustling days and just like trying to get yourself out there and think about like, what does this mean now that my art is this official.

Bryan: (00:20:14)  I want to hear about having no structure at the time. Cause you can do whatever you want in your time, right. And putting yourself in a very disciplined mode. And then that always leads the overworking or on your working right over here by pioneer a brand new space. No, no, it hadn’t been done in our community before, so how do you keep yourself moving?

AJ: (00:20:31) So a lot of layers, a lot of things there, first of all, to the whole views things, like relying on numbers and likes and things like that. I, early on, and I know I I’m very secure in like my musicianship and my musicality, but I also know that I don’t have necessarily that viral type of content, for example, I’m good friends with Tori Kelly and see is a singer that’s out of this world.

If she sees the alphabet that could go viral. I know for me it took; it took a little something different than that. And, you know, the way I wanted to do that was through like different collaborations, I never felt like. Solo-type viral talent. I wanted to collaborate with people and show the connection.

I had musicality like musical music with people. And so I. I knew it was going to be a slow burn from the start having been lucky. And then maybe when we say, and some other original hits that didn’t necessarily go viral, but like we’re big on my channel. Like my top viewed were some things that I was proud of.

I knew that it wasn’t always going to be like that and it felt like I had to just be consistent. In, in putting something out there, whether it was high quality or not some of the things that you think like back in the day, I was like, oh, if we do a Justin Bieber song, this is going to, this is going to hit.

And then something random, like, you know, falling slowly from the musical, from the movie once ends up getting a million views instead of the, just the deeper thing that you did, you know? So it’s really about that reminded me to say true, of course to what I do and what felt right and musically.

And if people can see that I’m enjoying a song, I think in the same way that now you use, you saw Miglia scene about talking to Alyssa. People can feel that through your arts. I think and you just kind of let that speaks for yourself, but to the point of y’all posting on things every day and things like that.

For me, as long as you’re doing it that means, I mean, you say, I have courage, like anyone who posts anything every day has a lot of courage as well. And we are just giving ourselves a fighting chance against the algorithms and the beasts that keep us from having to pay for our content to be seen, you know what I mean?

So that’s what I’ll, I’ll have to say to that. Then, the ups and downs. Though, as being a pioneer in this space, I didn’t get to reflect on that until I said during my hiatus in 2014, when I was just psyched, man, I’ve been going nonstop forever and doing cover song after cover song and trying to get people to, you know, watch my videos.

And, and then, oh, here’s another app, Twitter. What is the Twitter that I got now? Post. Where I’m at. So people can come to meet and greet me and say, what’s up. You know, I started doing that. And then it became me showing a lot more of my personality, which I think is 90% of maybe why people know me now is not only because of my music, but it’s like, they feel like maybe they connect to me somehow because I haven’t come out with music a long time at least. So when they come up to me and they hug me and they’re like, Hey, so happy for you. I know that it’s more than just about my music. So I know that sharing my personality on top of sharing content every week and doing music and things like that has helped me kind of create a loyal and engaging.

fan base. So that’s all been positive things to be consistent, to be on every platform posting well also then to be yourself when you’re doing too much or getting burnt out and we all need that kind of break and reminder. I think that creative people are not used to having weekends in the way that Alyssa does at her corporate job or when she’s off the clock. Creative people and people, and Alyssa is creative as well. But you know, when it comes to work work, we feel like we gotta be on all the time and tweet all the time. And I just started all this stuff. So if it gets hard.

Bryan: (00:24:33)  Yeah, thank you for sharing that too I mean, that’s something that we don’t usually see, or we don’t even hear about, right? You could, you, you see you like the most glamorous side. Oh, poor thing for your music. But the truthful side is like, we’re alone. It’s like, it’s a huge uphill battle in some ways because you asked yourself the question, like, what am I doing? Right. Then we always see on, and I want to dive deeper into that too because we have a very, I know we’re called the Asian Hustle Network, hustle is more and also as important to us, but we needed to hustle a good way. And I want to talk about having boundaries and balances in your life and probably keep yourself moving forward. Because at the end of the day, you stop me, what you do, then it hurts. I hurt your fan base, hurts us and as yourself and it’s like, you know, I know you mentioned consistency. Consistency is key to consistency. Without boundaries is just as detrimental to your success.

AJ: (00:25:28) It is there’s a lot of things that I’ve just learned also in like the latter, half of the 2010s. Yeah. Go on super hard. Young as an 18-year-old to 25 I was just like saying yes to everything it wasn’t until the last couple of years that I started saying no to colleges, if I would be down in a week after week after, week after week, all the college shows, especially in freaking April, may coming up, it’s a lot of Filipino cultural nights Asian American heritage month nights.

And I would say yes to all of them because. You know, of course, I wanted to get out there. I wanted to meet my fans and, and be a positive inspiration, but also like financially I’m like, yes, of course, I’ll say yes. So all this stuff, because that’s how I’m going to take my money when I’m not doing shows.

A big part of that is setting the boundaries energy-wise for what? To save energy for other things that I can pay attention to. So for example, this podcast that I started with Alyssa, which is like something I want to grow and I co-owned a clothing company called Kouyate, which is Filipino American clothing company, and things like that right. This is long-term type stuff that I am now thinking of, you know, so yeah, out in the never-ending hustle, ENC, I get tired thinking about it sometimes. And you know, the other day I had just run into the other day, like a couple of weeks ago, I just run into some social media things that I was. I’m kind of on fire for, I had apologized about something that was being tweeted about or whatever, and catching fire with a community that was like, you know, F you for doing this blah, blah, blah, blah, blah right and I was just like, holy shoot. Like, this is crazy because if these people don’t give me grace on this issue, then I have to show my 200 down will start attacking me on another thing and then I lose all my social media. I started thinking about this downhill thing and I’m like, man, all these years built.

And if there’s no context or nuance, when people are attacking you for a specific thing, then it could all be gone. And I remember posting on my close friends on IG and I was like, man, I can’t wait. For the day where I don’t have to rely on like social media and posting every day for me to make money or for me to make a living because I’ve put myself out there for the last 16 years.

And I just want to break. Do you know what I mean? So I go through it all the time. There are seasons when I, wish I had never done this. And then there are times where I’m like, man, I’m so glad I did this because it’s going to be the opportunities that I have today, you know? So,

Maggie: (00:28:04) Yeah and I appreciate, we appreciate you being vulnerable, but it is true. I think a lot of people tend to look at influencers or people. Yeah, because of course someone would say, I would rather do that than sit in an office for eight hours a day.

It’s just as hard or maybe even harder because you have such a large community that you’re, you feel slightly responsible for. And there’s just so much at hand. And part of you wants to make sure that. We keep that community happy at all times. Right. And you’re right. Like it could, it could all go away at any moment, but you know, we all know that in Asia, you have such a pure heart and you lead by example.

AJ: (00:29:00)  Sometimes it does feel like a burden, but you know what, at the end of the day I think about it, so I’m, I’m in this bumper in, in rising for those listening on the audio rise by Jeff Yang, Phil you and Philip language. I’m sure y’all, haven’t heard of it by now it came on yesterday and I’m on the front cover, which is cool. My picture here, you know, there’s a, there’s a cool. They’re like the 2010’s playlist, you know, things like that I’m featured on, on some certain things and how they mentioned that I helped pave the way in an early thing and things like that.

When fans come up to me and share my music was to them and things like that. And then looking up to me that the responsibility then feels just like, it was all meant to happen. Right? Like I had to be that. For someone, I think about that even if  I like will randomly go into like a Jersey Mike’s or something and like, I didn’t have to go there.

I was like, thinking about getting one somewhere else, but I was like, I needed something fast and then I need someone passionate. Like, oh my God, I’ve been wanting to meet you forever. And I’m like, oh, there was a reason I went into that. Do you know what I mean? So things like that it’d become, that becomes easy when, and then I also can see the fruits of my labor as well.

Maggie: (00:30:13)  I mean music is like a universal language, and through your music and to portray this type of message that maybe you didn’t even know that you were trying to get across, but it is someone may be across the world in a different way, and you probably change their lives now. And that, those are the moments where you’re like, this is, this is why I do what I do. Yeah, we know that you’re an actor and music director as well as a dancer and a local music theater show. I kind of want to know, like, how does your creative process switch up when you’re doing musical theater, as opposed to when you’re writing songs or singing?

AJ: (00:30:52) The creative process is different in the way that I like to study things in musical theater, there’s a real discipline for being right on cue every time, even though there’s a live aspect to it, it’s like you got to hit your mark. You got to say your life. All of these things are very technical as well.

So I’m very honed in when I’m in theater, like then I’m in theater mode, I’m in rehearsal. And like, everything has to be routinely opposed to songwriting, which is like, I’m just doing what I feel at the time. And there’s not a deadline for it, but musical theater, which is why also I love it is because of that.

That discipline but my mindset though stays the same. So for example, I was in a show at the American repertory theater, which is out, in Boston. And I was doing a show with all of these Broadway vets, people who are been on Broadway and off-Broadway and national tours and things like that.

And I would have conversations with them all the time about like, hey, why don’t you sing on your Instagram? I would like your voice is so like almost some of them are just, they think they can only do that stuff in a show. You know, or at an audition from like, dude, you would kill it if you were posting on YouTube, all these things.

So I’m always trying to bring my mindset of like, let’s do something now and post it now. So making it perfect and waiting for the perfect moment which I love that I grew up with that mindset about not waiting for the call and just like doing it and putting yourself out there. So a lot stays the same, but then, yes, when I’m studying and things like that, it’s different.

Bryan: (00:32:22) I just want to talk about it a little bit earlier too. And everything you said is so, so impactful, right because you know, when Maggie and I struggle with Asian Hustle Network, it’s crazy thing is that we look up to people like yourself say a lot of people that did it. So like, I feel like your intangible effects are all there.

And we appreciate that right. I think had you guys not laid a foundation? For yourself and the community, the Asian Hustle Network would be around registering your head. This is not something that our Asian parents struggle with a lot.

AJ: (00:32:59) I mean, that’s cool to hear that I was that for some people in our generation and I have to also give credit to, first of all, parents who are down with the art and things like that but also parents who want the best for their child. So, you know, in their mind, they can’t bear to have an artist as it, as a top, also for the people that came before me.

So slow jam groups and RB groups like hi, and be moved and drop in the harmony. And these Asian-Americans who were in music. And I remember downloading the music off Napster because on things like that and finding out they’re Filipino, I’m like, oh shoot. And then also downloading Jeremy passion’s version of my boo.

And I was like, oh shoot, he’s Filipino. And he sings and plays guitar and does this too. And then discovered David Choi on YouTube put out a song called that girl. And he’s just. Sitting there on his laptop or whatever. It’s like a sepia tone video of him playing a song that he wrote. And my friend showed it to me say, yo, this guy’s Korean.

He’s like Korean John Mayer. Like, and I was like, what? This is crazy. This song is amazing. Do you know what I mean? So I was inspired by those people. And then yes, laying the foundation was not something I did intentionally, but I’m just, I’m glad it has made the effect that.

Bryan: (00:34:17) Oh man, I remember that it was like 2007. Oh yeah. It brings back memories, as you mentioned, more and more, more and more. That doesn’t use part of our upbringing, man. You guys reuse part of that forever. Appreciate that. Absolutely. We have one or two questions left. The first question is what’s next for you AJ? What, do you hope to accomplish in the next few years? Because I know that, you know, you’re engaged and you have other priorities in place now it’s like, what can we expect from you in the next couple of years?

AJ: (00:34:55)  So turning 33 is big for me, you know? Holy crap. I’m an adult, so I guess what’s next is to continue making these like legacy moves, right? Where it’s like things that hopefully will end up bigger than me. Like we got to the clothing company, things like that. I can make an impact in a different way than I have been.

The podcast has been something that as I mentioned, I was going through some social media qualms and things like that. And I’m like, I’m putting my energy, owning it into this podcast, and which y’all know, just like talking to people and stuff and, and sharing that.

And listening to podcasts has been such a great pastime in the car and things like that. So that’s something I’m putting my energy into and I just released also a low-fi instrumental album. Called red roses and chill. And I found that the artists to my cover art in a similar group, um, you know, the Asian creative network, you know, Asian hustle network.

I’m sure I would’ve found them on there too, but it’s that community aspect as well. It’s all, it’s all the same. We all. Once they give each other opportunities. And I was so glad that I got to find someone on Facebook to do that. Right. So things like that, I kind of want to do, because producing lo-fi instruments album, because it’s something I’m just doing it at my desk.

And I don’t have to go to like different studios or like outsource strings from a friend or whatever to do that. So I’m, I’m hoping to continue to do stuff that I enjoy. And unfortunately sometimes when people meet me and they’re like, man, when is your next album coming out? And you know, things like that.

And I’m just like, Then right now, I’m just kind of doing what I want to do. Not that I don’t want to do music and to some people actually, I’ve been saying that I’m transitioning out of music, to be honest, but I don’t mean it in a way where I’m leaving it behind. Like music is always going to be a part of me.

It’s just like, I almost want to wear some other hats. As far as like musical theater acting, I’ve been doing so many auditions in hopes that people would see me as more than a musician and as someone who is doing also, many other things that he enjoys. So that’s, what’s next for me.

Bryan: (00:37:12) Thank you for sharing that. I guess the final question we have is what kind of message do you have for your fans listening to this podcast right now?

AJ: (00:37:20) Ah, so my fans, I mean two fans old and new, you know, but specifically to my, to the old fans, who’ve been rocking with me forever. I, you know, I just wanted to say that I. I appreciate them so much. And you know, it’s because of word of mouth and people at parties saying, Hey, play this guy’s music or, Hey, you know, this guy, he, he does music on YouTube and things like that.

It’s not because of radio play. It’s not because of a machine it’s because of people telling their friends about it. And sharing on their own social media pages and in their lives and their soundtracks and their proposals in there, in, in their regular proposals, which is crazy to be part of those now, you know?

And so, yeah, it’s been, it’s been a journey, and everyone’s growing with me, which is cool. And I’ve got. I just visited Hawaii, to the screen of a film, fabulous Filipino brothers that Dante Bosco directed. I scored and I met multiple people on the street. Literally. We’re saying the same thing where I grew up with you. Middle school vibes, high school vibe. Do you want me to get through a breakup, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah? It’s just, yeah thank you.

Maggie: (00:39:30) AJ it was so awesome having you on our show today thank you so much.

AJ: (00:39:37) Thanks, Maggie and Bryan. Thanks for all you do as well for the community.

Bryan: (00:39:41)  Of course thanks AJ really appreciate your story today. 

Outro: [00:39:44] Thanks to A.J. for sharing his inspirational story with us during Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month. And thank you for tuning in to our first episode of the “Creative Visionaries” series, presented by Lexus. Tune in on 5/14 for our next episode with Aileen Xu founder of Lavendaire as we discuss empowering people to embrace their true potential and create their dream life.