(AllHipHop Features) Ol Dirty Bastard was an artist of the most unique sort. The Brooklyn-born frenetic rapper embodied so many conflicting virtues in a single being and shook up the world multiple times before his death on November 15, 2004. He is also one of the highlights, despite being a supporting character, in "Wu-Tang: An American Saga" Those that bore witness to his character on the groundbreaking Hulu series saw TJ Atoms magically evoke the spirit of ODB on the small screen. Atoms, a relative newcomer, is an actor and rapper reared on the streets of Philly. He has been instantly propelled to acclaim for his portrayal of the Wu-Tang member. Chuck "Jigsaw" Creekmur talked to TJ to give him heavy heapings of praise and also get his story as well.
AllHipHop: For those that don't know, TJ plays Ol Dirty Bastard on "Wu-Tang: An American Saga. I was like, yo in that first screening, this dude nailed it.
TJ Atoms: Real rap, that's a lot to live up to. Old Dirty?
AllHipHop: So tell me how, how did they receive the performance.
TJ Atoms: Everybody loved it. I'm not even going to lie. it's crazy because he's a huge icon, you feel me? ODB is such a legend man. And nobody's ever played him. The people's reaction for me is crazy. My manager knew his ex-manager and that's how I linked up with his mom, so he introduced me to his mom. And that's how it worked out man. Then there's his daughter, she's really cool. His son's really cool too.
AllHipHop: His son is the one I thought would be the natural fit. I don't know if he can act, but he looks like him.
TJ Atoms: He got an independent, 11-minute miniseries on YouTube. I don't know if it's still up because I've been talking about it for a minute. That's how I learned how to get in a little bit of the character through watching his son a lot. His son got a lot of body language of ODB.
AllHipHop: Did you do anything special to prepare for it? I mean, other than watching it. Because for example, like the Joker, like the Joker that's a crazy performance. Maybe on a little lower scale, but you really nailed it.
TJ Atoms: I just felt honestly, I just studied my ass off, man. I had to really learn, I had something to prove, so I went extra hard and the energy on set, people like really telling me I'm doing a good job. Like Sean C and Mathematics helping me with the dialect and rapping. I just feel like I went extra hard and me ODB are like kindred spirits, you feel me? Like the energy's there.
AllHipHop: I had the blessing of actually interviewing him, Right before he passed. I'm going to show it to you. It's very short, but I'm going to show you what I got, it's classic. Soon as he got out. Mariah Carey was there, everybody was there. I asked him about George Bush who was the president at the time. For me, he embodied everything you want to be as an artist. You know. Not only was he dope musically, but he was a personality. There was a lot of drama but he captivated people a lot. Do you have any favorite aspects of him that you hone in on after studying him?
TJ Atoms: I feel like his overall character man. I love his personality. Like how funny he was. I really liked the outgoingness, the "I don't give a f##k about this s##t." You feel me? Like you got to say that s##t sometimes.
AllHipHop: Has there been any talk of you having your own spinoff yet?
TJ Atoms: No, I haven't heard that.
AllHipHop: It's going to happen. There's no question it's gotta happen. How was it working with all the other greats, you know, Erica Alexander. I had the biggest crush on her. I was like "uhhhh please take this picture."
TJ Atoms: She's amazing. I feel like everybody in the cast is like a new legend. Shameik Moore, Ashton Sanders, Siddiq Saunderson, yo, these cats are legends. So all of them, the energy is amazing. I felt like we low key became a little family. It is only season one.
AllHipHop: I could tell he was like a family atmosphere from the party. I know everybody was nice and everything. But yall had that genuine, camaraderie.
TJ Atoms: I feel like everybody loves each other on set. That's why it's a special TV show.
AllHipHop: Did you talk to any of the Wu-Tang members?
TJ Atoms: I talked to Method Man, spoke with RZA of course Mathematics, the DJ, Ghostface Killah. That's pretty much it. That's who I really got the honor to meet so far. Method Man was on set a few times and he encouraged me. So I'm like, yo, the people who was there were really feeling it and that gave me more confidence to just really go all out.
AllHipHop: I never thought anyone could nail it the way you did. Now, do you have a favorite Wu-Tang song?
TJ Atoms: "Can It Be So Simple." I love that beat... that jawn goes hard.
AllHipHop: Well I just got to say, you know, for people like myself that came up in that era that really look at it with a skeptical eye, you know what I'm saying? Cause yo older Gods or whatever you want to call it, you know, they really protect the people like Old Dirty and it's real.
TJ Atoms: You can't play with that. That's why I'm like so blown away by the response of everybody. I don't think I seen no hate. These days people could be so critical. Like people can't wait to make me a meme "he f##king sucks." But they're really showing love and that's amazing.
AllHipHop: Now you're a relatively new actor.
TJ Atoms: I just literally stumbled into acting, you know? I know how it found me, but I don't know how it found me. I thought I was going to be a rapper.
AllHipHop: I know a little bit about your story, but first of all before talk about the rap part, talk about that stumbling moment in Philly.
TJ Atoms: So I was in the park, it was a random day, a random park and some lady came up to me liking my aesthetics and the way I dressed. And she was like, yo, "you're want to be in this, you want to be in this music video?" I'm like, "not really." What's up with the money, I need some cash or I ain't doing nothing for free. But she was like, "you know what? Yeah, we paying you like whatever." So I showed up and It wound up being a real movie set, but it was a music video. We lit this car on fire. We beat it with a bat and it was for this metal band. I fell in love with that whole thing. I'm like, "damn, this s##t was fun. And I got paid for it." So I was asking people "how you found out about this?" I got on backstage.com and found my manager. And its been history ever since.
I ain't gonna lie though. I was setting up my energy for situations like that. I was reading books, I was training my mind to opened up to energy like that. So it just happened she was onto it.
AllHipHop: Well that might be just whatever you call it, the universe, God, whatever. How long have you been acting?
TJ Atoms: Like three years. My first jawn was like in 2016 "Blue Bloods." But I was doing little commercials and modeling gigs before that with my manager. My manager just rocked out with me. That's why I love him so much. Cause like I didn't have no classes. All I had was personality. And he just believed in me, kept putting me on auditions and I was like "I suck man." I ain't going to lie. If it wasn't for him, I probably wouldn't even be acting bro. Cause I, he gave me the opportunity to go on those auditions. I would have been gave it up. That's a true blessing.
AllHipHop: What do you have in the acting wheelhouse moving forward with anything, any new opportunities?
TJ Atoms: I got this independent film with Lena Waithe coming out where I play a high school kid. I'm just working on a lot of music though right now. Working on a vibe, curating some new music for early 2020.
AllHipHop: You know, that's the one thing I love about the artists now...you guys like stay unboxed.
TJ Atoms: You've got to, I feel like in this day and age you gotta have multiple sources of just creativity, art, and income. Like I can't just do this and do that. If I would've just did rap, probably wouldn't be here on AllHipHop.com.
AllHipHop: It's funny because people want to ignore...like this is not a Jab at Tupac where he used to do ballet. That's art.
TJ Atoms: Tupac heavily inspired me to be the rapper. He did it both simultaneously and made it look good. He wasn't some a cornball doing acting. He was still a cool ass dude. Like "Juice?" That's a classic. And you still respect his music. A lot of people can't really pull it off like that where it's like really respectable.
AllHipHop: So let's talk about you and hip hop. Now you have a single called "Stay Down." Can you talk about that song?
TJ Atoms: So "Stay Down." It's basically a song I made like three years ago and it's talking about how you just, they stay down until you come up. It's a saying we always say in the hood, "You gotta stay put, you gotta stay solid. You gotta stay humble. But I made that joint like three years ago. But I ain't even where I want to be at. I ain't up right now. I just, you know me in a position where I can be like, go take that to the world.
AllHipHop: So you dropped it now to more or less inspire.
TJ Atoms: Inspire people to be like "damn yo, he made that s##t. He talked that s##t into existence." So I just wanted to inspire people and it slaps.
AllHipHop: Talk about your style as a rapper.
TJ Atoms: I don't got no style. I feel like atoms is everything. I got so many flows. I got so much s##t to talk about that I can't even describe it. Like I can do reggae, I can go to hip hop. I'm hip hop so I know how to rap. But I can go anywhere with it. I got a pop song that's about to come out soon... It's not even a pop song it's hip hop, but you know it's different.
AllHipHop: I come from the lyrical era, so I make no apologies for my judgment sometimes. And you are from Philly so I was like, "okay, what's he going to bring.?" Talk about Philly a little bit. Cause you know, I'm from Delaware originally and Philly is like my second home. I used to love the rappers from Philly so much.
TJ Atoms: I love Philly man. It's such a dope city. Such a vintage feel about Philly, but it's grimy too when it gets dark. It's not a terrible environment to come up from, cause it teaches you how to be a certain way. It teaches you how to be a hustler. It teaches you how to work any crowd with your confidence. I love it, man.
AllHipHop: I did an interview and they asked me how was it moving from Delaware to Brooklyn? It was nothing. And then I thought about it. Maybe it was Philly,
TJ Atoms: Philly might've adjusted you, bro. I love Delaware too.
AllHipHop: Who influenced you on the rap side?
TJ Atoms: I'm heavily influenced by Nas, Wu-Tang of course. Coming up, I was in a group and we rapped over Wu-Tang beats. We thought we was Wu-Tang. I like Jay Z. I'm inspired by real hip hop. The modern s##t like would be like Tame Impala. Kendrick. I love all music as well, man. I ain't gonna lie. Music is music. If it's good, music is good music.
AllHipHop: So goal-wise you got the rapping and the acting. I was talking to some people and they want to be superstars. We know those lights are bright. Sometimes we've seen the consequences of that too. So how far do you want to take it?
TJ Atoms: As far as my soul is meant to go. I see myself just being as big as I want to be man. Cause I'ma design stuff. I'ma direct stuff. I'm gonna do all types of things. But it's not even like on no superstar s##t. I'm just creative. I gotta outlet. I feel like people put too much behind being a superstar and s##t man. I'm a regular-ass n##ga from the hood. I got an outlet and I can do some cool s##t.
AllHipHop: Style-wise I peeped you a little bit and I'm like, "yo, this dude got a little style with him." You didn't look like this last time I saw you.
TJ Atoms: I be switching it up man. It depends on how I feel. I just like expressing myself through different s##t. If I see some cool stuff, I'm gonna get that and I might not wear it. I didn't wear this ever. I just had it in my closet. I'm like, "man, I got to wear it for AllHipHop." But it matched the hat though.
AllHipHop: On the set. You had a mixture cast wise of rappers and actors and people, that rap and act. How did that work? you had Dave East, Joey Bada$$ and then got classically trained actors.
TJ Atoms: It was perfect cause I think you need that balance. You need some dudes who really know how to rap and you need some dudes really know how to act. We both bring it back together.
It's crazy. Siddiq he killed it. Ashton killed it with the bars. They might drop a little tape. Salute the whole cast salute. Salute to the people behind the camera. Salute to the makeup ladies, the writers, Rodney Barnes, it's a team effort. "Wu-Tang: American Saga" out now. Go binge that.