By: Shirley Ju (@shirju)
AJ McQueen is an artist, a rapper, a visionary to say the least. Born and raised in the streets of St. Louis, Missouri, the goat-ish recording artist has seen the worst of the worst.
Having been shot TWICE at just age 15, he sees his survival as a second chance from God. Now, he dedicates his entire life to living out God’s purpose, which is creating “healthy” music for audiences to ingest.
AJ moved to Houston where he found music to be his calling, quickly realizing the healing power in his words. To pair with the music, he loves to overall create and express himself freely — pushing out meaningful content to feed the soul.
AllHipHop caught up with AJ McQueen to chat about his goat-ish brand, trauma from getting shot twice, and what goes into his live shows.
AllHipHop: Being raised in St.Louis, Missouri, what were you seeing growing up?
AJ McQueen: The Westside of St. Louis is a war zone. Everything was outside my front door, from drugs to gangbanging, you name it. I started writing as therapy, that was my way of escaping. When my mom’s in there getting abused or I'm hearing gunshots outside, I’d pick up a pen and write. Music literally saved my life. In St. Louis if you make it past 16, you’re considered an OG. I almost didn't make it, I got shot twice when I was 15.
AJ McQueen: I almost died, inches away from being paralyzed. When I got up from the ground and went to the hospital, that’s my second chance at life. Everything I do now has to be intentional. I’m a voice for the people, the streets. Show people you can go from being a gang member to being successful. You can go from a negative environment to creating your environment.
AllHipHop: Did you have any PTSD or trauma after getting shot?
AJ McQueen: Oh yeah, that's a great question. A lot of people don’t ask gunshot victims in general: “hey, do you deal with PTSD?” We definitely do. I can speak personally and a lot of my partners still living who have the same thing. Imagine getting shot in the hood then the ambulance picks you up, but then you get dropped back off at the same place you got shot at — because that’s where you live. Nobody’s taking you out, putting you in therapy. A lot of black people don’t focus on mental health, dealing with your mental stability.
I definitely dealt with PTSD and paranoia after getting shot. Have visions of the same thing happening over and over again. I'm a grown man now, still dealing with it today. No one speaks about that. We on Facebook and IG talking about shoes, nobody talks about the PTSD from getting shot. It’s real-life. Music really saved my life. Even with PTSD, I channel and put it in the music.
AllHipHop: What’s the rap scene there like?
AJ McQueen: St. Louis is one of the most slept-on places when it comes to music. With us being Midwest, we have a bunch of different sounds. When Nelly got big back in the 2000’s — no shot to Nelly, but our rap scene is gritty. It’s honest, it’s transparent. People rap about the struggle, having trouble making it out of St. Louis. A lot of dope young cats rap about what they see in their neighborhood. The violence overshadows the music, but my heart and goal is to change that. Now that I live in Houston, I have 2 different cultures integrated in my style of music.
AllHipHop: When did you move to Houston?
AJ McQueen: I wanna say 2004, been here for a minute. Houston saved my life, my second home. I moved here reluctantly though. My homeboy’s telling me now that I got shot and survived, I got my stripes in the hood. God was really pulling at my heart telling me I need to make a change. When my mom put me on that plane to Houston, I lived with 5 different families who took me in to make sure I wouldn't go back to the same person I was.
AllHipHop: How does H-Town influence your life/sound?
AJ McQueen: Houston’s one of those cities where music is so loyal to Houston. Your OGs: Bun B, Slim Thug, Scarface, UGK. Houston taught me to appreciate the lineage of music. My style’s still St. Louis. I’m engulfed in my own style because I became more conscious. When I got here, my conscious was clear. I talk about consciousness. I'm a conscious rapper because I like to think. I'm a lyricist. I don’t have that Southern sound in my production or the way I perform.
I perform with a live band, it’s crazy. Houston’s such a diverse city, especially compared to St. Louis. My favorite thing to rap about is the word alkaline. Alkaline means water. I’m a rapper who encourages people to drink more water, that's what makes me unique. Our body’s 58% water, you need to drink more water to be one with self.
Alkaline’s also a metaphor, it means faith. There's a whole lot of water out there but alkaline’s the water essential to your body. Compare it to faith because it’s a whole bunch of religions. People say stuff about who God is, but it's one true understanding and that's God. That's alkaline to me, literally say that every song. My big song “Alkaline,” I'm encouraging people to drink water but also to be more conscious of what they say.
AllHipHop: At what point did you realize this music thing was for real?
AJ McQueen: When I was 19, I was on BET 106 & Park. I didn't get invited to rap, but to talk about teen violence because they heard I got shot. They’re doing this teen violence special. I started getting booked across the country but again, not as a rapper. To speak. I’m like "I’m no speaker" at all. When I’d go places to speak, I’d rap without music. People were like "you're rapping without music, that's poetry.”
I realized the music’s so powerful through my words. I'm such a lyricist now because words have power. The music’s nothing without the words, so I focus on the context of what I'm saying. I'm living what I'm saying, that's what makes the music so essential. Music can either help or hurt people, I choose to help and be purposeful with it.
AllHipHop: You just unleashed the visual for “SHine.” What was your vision with this one?
AJ McQueen: My first project is a mixtape, Goat-ish Vol 1. In my videos, I’m rapping with a goat. Imagine walking through the hood with a pitbull or dog on a chain, but what if I walk through with a goat on a chain? Reference in one way, shape, or form that I’m a GOAT. I believe my actions are goat-ish, I’m pretty dope. On the other hand, is the hate. We all have greatness inside of us which makes us goat-ish. With "SHine", no matter what happens or how dark it is, through our hearts, we can all shine. No matter what's going on in society, what the cops are doing, nothing. We can all shine.
AllHipHop: Why is it important for you to talk about issues in our society today?
AJ McQueen: Because the youth need it. The youth need somebody to speak up, all single mothers need someone to speak up, our sons growing without fathers need somebody to speak up. Somebody has to talk about it. God gave me an opportunity, a second chance at life. I'm on a mission this time. I'm living with intent. Even if artists don’t, I will. What’s the point of making music if you’re not using that platform to educate, inspire, or motivate people who don’t even know what they’re on earth for?
AllHipHop: Who’s in your Top 5 right now?
AJ McQueen: My favorite rapper is Common, Lauryn Hill. I like J.I.D., J. Cole, Kendrick, Mick Jenkins. I like Boogie out of LA,
<https://allhiphop.com/features/boogie-explains-eminem-s-best-piece-of-advice-growing-up-in-compton-more-YeCaKSBpoEq0VlUH_0yVzg/> he’s dope. I like Damien Marley, reggae hip-hop artist.
AllHipHop: What is your goat-ish brand?
AJ McQueen: goat-ish is a double entendre. I'm the GOAT, but I don’t want to just come out and say that. -ish means indifferent. On the other side, goat-ish like GOAT s##t. When you align with your purpose, then you’re walking a great. Walking a great is being a GOAT. Everybody walks around saying they’re the GOAT, I wanted to produce a brand they can identify with. goat-ish is also the name of my next project.
AllHipHop: What can we expect from your forthcoming project?
AJ McQueen: Greatness. [chuckles] You got a lot of artists out here, but I honestly believe I'm one of the greatest rappers of all time. I know that's a stretch, but I believe nobody’s heard me yet. With the music I present, people will see "dawg, we've been sleeping on this dude.” Not only am I intentional with my words, I read a lot. I can translate that. I'm an artist, I can talk about politics, social construct, relationships, religion, everything — put it in a song to where you can listen. goat-ish is great purposeful music, great vibes, something everyone can listen. Organic, that's one word I want people to understand about me. Just like the fruit section, the whole fruit is organic. That’s me.
AllHipHop: Chuck (AllHipHop Co-Founder) mentioned you’re a great performer, since he saw you in Houston at the Texas Black Expo. What goes behind your live performances?
AJ McQueen: Man, thank you Chuck. I'm a mix. One of my favorite live performances ever is Michael Jackson, my other favorite is Bob Marley. That plus me being free — when I’m on stage, I blackout. I don’t care who's watching me. Start shaking my locks and blackout. When Chuck saw me, I wasn't with a live band. That’s when I really come alive being a lyricist and a poet. Drums can stop, the piano can just go, my words go all over the place.
A lot of energy is important. On stage, I try to channel my energy and spirit. Ever since my dad passed 2 years ago, I make sure I perform on stage with him in mind. What separates me as an artist is my live performances. I’ma get on stage whether it’s 5 people or 5,000, and give it my all.
AllHipHop: Why should people f##k w/ you?
AJ McQueen: I’m dope as hell. Nah, I’m organic. I believe everything should come from the heart even with music. Music should be organic, just like food. Whatever you put into your body, make sure it’s beneficial for you. I make organic music, it’s healthy for you. The same way you go to Whole Foods to find certain things (something you can’t get from Walmart), my music comes from the heart. I’m transparent, I’m relatable. I like to talk to people who can relate to what I’m talking about.