Ajay Dani: Ajaxxx

“Ajaxxx is uncut, raw, and doesn’t hold back” ~ Ajay Dani

Ajay Dani is no newbie to the rapping world. From the tender age of 13, he began to write his own lyrics and sing, or rather rap to his own music. After rapping for over six years, the rapper has also won a radio contest, is a five-time open mic champion, as well as being a prominent performer and emcee at local clubs in the Florida area. While him and his music have gained much popularity in the USA, Asia will soon be treated to AJAXXX, what he is fondly known as, as he continues to record more Desi inspired music. The rapper has also recorded television commercial that was featured on national channels all across the U.S.  Dani has also collaborated with well-known deejays in the U.S. who have realized that the artist is clearly one to watch out for. On a personal level, Ajay is definitely one friendly dedicated and talented musician who is headed for the skies with his innovative style and forte. The artist simply states on his website, “I’m not trying to get famous or anything...I’m just trying to make music that people can feel and enjoy…And while I’m at it, I’ll wipe out the competition.” Read on as the up and coming rapper speaks exclusively to Roshni Magazine about breaking into rap, being unique and keeping his daytime job.

Let’s start at the top. How did rapping begin? I read that there is a story behind your reason to rap.
Well, let’s see now. I was in middle school when it all started; I used to recite lyrics from other rappers, usually mimicking what I’d hear in some of my favorite songs. That eventually evolved into me freestyling my own material. Somewhere along the way though, and I wanna’ say it was towards the end of middle school or the beginning of high school, I started writing everything down. It was always me just messing around, but when I started writing, I really started to take it more seriously. I think one of the main reasons I got into it was not just because it was “fun”, but because I was so drawn to the feeling that music gave me. I’ve had songs inspire me, sadden me, and move me, and I wanted to be able to recreate that feeling for others. So, I studied the craft, tackled different topics, and even recorded some bad-quality stuff too! (Laughs) Let’s hope nobody ever hears those old tapes!

Who would you say are some of your inspirations? International and Desi.
Well, when I think of the word inspiration, I think of what I want to do firstly and then who embodies those characteristics. Through my medium, I want to make someone believe something and feel it…and I have to evoke that emotion through words. Someone like Gandhi, therefore, is a huge inspiration to me. He was able to move people through his ethics. He preached a message of unity without violence, and that’s powerful to me. Not to say I’m a flag bearer of nonviolence or anything, although it’s a good thing, but I preach a positive message in a lot of my songs. I always think about how we’ll be remembered. I’m also inspired by women like Indira Gandhi, who persevered in a society where women aren’t always respected the same way that men are. She impacted India in such a huge way, and broke down many barriers for women. Benizir Bhutto is another woman who fought an uphill battle, yet accomplished so much. People that go against the grain like that to make a difference have always moved me, because I can identify with them. I’m inspired by Obama. Here’s someone who was doubted, written off, and laughed at time and time again during his run for presidency. Despite the adversities, however, he endured. Despite his unusual name, the opponents he faced, and the race barrier, he managed to continue. He’s inspirational because he remained focused and believed in something even when not too many shared his views. If you were talking within the entertainment industry, I’d say someone like Jay-Z or Russell Simmons. They’re such advocates of hip-hop and preserving the culture, yet they’re all about their business too. Deepak Chopra has also impressed me. And of course, anybody within the scene that’s making moves – they inspire me to keep on too.

Were you surprised when you first album was received so well? Especially since it is normally perceived as rather difficult to gain little if any recognition in the western music world.
I don’t think I was necessarily surprised at how it was received, only because I was confident that I was making good music. Not just that, but I was surrounded by a lot of talented musicians who helped me along the way with the recording process. It’s important to keep people like that around you. I was more surprised than anything at the feedback I received. A lot of people liked different songs for different reasons, and that really interested me. Like, some people enjoyed my “darker” songs, whereas others thought I really shined on the uptempo, party tracks. It was like everyone had a different favorite song. If anything, it was a learning experience that would end up helping me a great deal in the future. It’s definitely difficult at times to gain recognition in our world, but that’s one of the fun parts of it – the challenge. I wouldn’t be doing music if it didn’t present challenges to overcome. I mean, what’s the fun in that, right?

Absolutely! What do most of your fans say to you when they get the chance to meet with you?
“Oh Ajaxxx, will you sign my bra strap for me?” (Laughs) No, no! I’m just kidding! Oh damn, I hope I don’t get in trouble for that one. But yeah, a lot of times when people meet me they express how they like my music and they might single out a specific song. It’s an amazing experience when someone tells me about a song and how it might’ve touched him or her or inspired them in any way. That’s the kind of stuff that makes it all worth the while!

How easy or hard is it to break into the music scene and what would you say it takes to become a successful rap artist?
It’s ridiculously difficult and that’s putting it lightly. It’s hard for me to give advice on this since I’m still an up-and-comer myself, but I do realize that I’ve come pretty far. And, I realize that most of my successes have come from hard work…as cliché as that sounds. I’ve put in countless hours on music, whether it is writing or rewriting or recording or rerecording or designing or rehearsing or whatever else. I think those things help with the process, but it’s also important to network like crazy too. And of course, that goes for any industry. One thing I realized is that you can’t do everything by yourself. It’s impossible. You need to be collaborating with other artists, working with different producers, linking with DJs, and communicating with different press and media outlets. Those are people that have helped me to get as far as I’ve gotten, and who’ll continue to help too. And of course, make yourself seen!

Do you feel it would be easier to break into the music scene in India? It can’t be easy to find a niche in the western music…or is it?
What an interesting question. Hmm…(thinks)  It’s hard to say. I think in India, you’re more likely to break into the music scene if you know how to act and dance too. Oh wait, am I getting this confused with Bollywood? (Laughing) Nah, but seriously, no matter where you go, I think you have to have a distinct and original sound to set you apart from everyone else. If you have that, it doesn’t matter where you are. I think that my kind of music may be more difficult to break through in India, especially since hip-hop is bigger in the U.S. than anywhere else in the world. At the same time though, I’d be interested to see what kind of reception I’d get. So Roshni, does that mean you’re coming with me to India to find out? (Laughs) Okay, moving on….

(Laughs) Right Ajay, moving swiftly along! How do you incorporate your roots into your music and into the lyrics which you also pen right?
Well, I try to “represent” as much as I can. By that, I mean I try to remind the listener on every CD that I’m Indian and incorporate a few Indian-flavored songs too. I try to rhyme over Indian beats, collaborate with other fellow Desi artists, and I’ve even started to tackle some Indian topics. I think each of my CDs have a few songs like that. I’m currently working on a project that’s entirely Indian-themed, and that’s going to dig extremely deep in my roots. I’ve done a lot of research on my heritage and lineage, and I plan on incorporating all of that. Of course it’s still early, but I’m looking forward to teaching the rest of the world about Sindhism.  And yes, I pen all my lyrics.

Individually your songs all have a distinguished message. Is this intentional and which song do you feel has had the greatest impact on you and your fans?
With every song I write, I like to have a topic and concept. Not to say I don’t have my party songs or anything, but I have a lot of music that takes on different messages. I think it’s stupid to do music if you don’t have anything to say. That’s the sad reality of the industry though – too many people try to do music, yet have nothing to bring to the table. I feel that I have a story to tell and the world should hear it. So, when it’s my notebook and me, I try to channel that as much as I can. I think the song that’s had the great impact on my fans is “Walk With You.” The song was about the school shootings that we’ve witnessed over the last few years and the need to do something about it. I wrote the song to the friends and families of the victims, because in my mind the real victims are the friends and families – they’re the ones left behind. After the song was released, I started receiving e-mails from different people about how much the song meant to them. A few people told me that the song made them cry, while others informed me that the song lifted their spirits. And whenever I performed that song live, people would come up to me and express their sentiment towards it. Anytime I can share that emotional connection with someone, I’m reminded why I’m doing this in the first place.

What are some common running themes through are present in your music?
There’s a lot – love, struggle, friendship, loneliness, fear, focus…and so on, and so on. I’ve probably written a million rhymes about love though. Whether it’s the strength in it or the complexities in it, it’s a topic I always come back to for some reason. I’ve got a song on the new CD about heartbreak. It’s one of my most personal songs yet. I also have a lot of tracks about going through obstacles and overcoming them. Songs like “Field of Dreams”, “Yes We Can (And We Did)”, and “As I Stand” all talk about being doubted or enduring pain, only to get through it. I think I constantly return to that theme because I want to remind my fans to be optimistic, but also because it’s something that I’ve constantly gone through in my own life. All I can do is tell people what I’ve experienced.

Any intentions to rap in Hindi or Sindhi even?
(Laughs) Well let’s just say if I did, you’d wish I hadn’t (Laughs) Okay, okay. I don’t have any intentions of rapping in Hindi, simply because I’m not the best speaker in the world. As far as Sindhi goes, I’ve thrown the idea around many times. I’ve had many relatives ask me to, but at the same time I don’t want to segregate my larger fan base which knows me for my English rapping. So, I think for now I’m gonna’ stick to English. But who knows, I may visit it in the future. I just have to do it in a creative way where I can have everyone onboard.

You’re a successful rapper now. Why have you chosen to keep your day job at the same time instead of fully indulging yourself in music?
I hate to say that I’m successful, because I still have so much I wanna’ do and accomplish. Even though I’ve been doing this for a while, I feel like I’m just getting started! I’m a naturally creative person. I love the arts, and I love to express myself through them. Graphic design, web design, animation, drawing, you name it. I love to create. So, I don’t think I’d feel complete if I restricted myself to only music. I hate to use the word “restrict”, but that’s how I’d feel if I weren’t able to do everything. So, I kept the day job as a designer to allow me the opportunity to be creative. Plus it pays the bills! (Laughs)

What is coming up for you next?
Well right now I’m working on two CDs simultaneously. I’ve got “Something to Prove” coming up next, which is the album I’ve been working on for the last couple years. I’ve got a pretty crazy range on there, from party songs to hardcore songs to lots more. I’m really excited to let people hear it. It’s a reflection of my evolution with some of my most introspective songs. I’m also working on the Indian-themed CD that I mentioned to you earlier, which is also coming along well. That one’s definitely down the line, but it’s shaping up to be very eclectic and innovative. It tackles some pretty serious topics, but still has the typical fun catchy stuff you might expect to hear from me too. And outside of the CDs, I’ve been redesigning my website Ajaxxx.com which I hope to launch soon too! And of course, you and I are still taking that trip. Right? (Laughs)

(Laughs) You are one persistent rapper! What would you advise aspiring artists?
Well, again, I’m reluctant to give advice to someone in the same boat as me. That’s like me teaching the fisherman how to fish. But, I will say, I’ve gotten this far by prioritizing and committing myself. Initially, I don’t think anybody believed in me. But, after dropping three CDs, pressing up my own t-shirts, launching my own website, filming and editing my own videos, hopping on different mixtapes, and building my own recording booth, among other things, people realized that I’m for real about this. The game isn’t what it used to be. There are so many new outlets for artists to explore, and many more ways to connect to fans too. The internet is such a valuable resource. I’d exploit everything.

And before we let you go, explain the Ajaxxx factor. What does your stage name mean?
I like the way you say that – “the Ajaxxx factor” – sounds like the name of a TV show! (Laughs) Well, “Ajax” was a name given to me when I was growing up. A lot of family called me that, and kids actually used to call me that to tease me. Can you believe that? Yeah, neither can I!  Anyway, I was going by a couple of different “rap names” initially, but eventually decided on the name because it had been my nickname for a while. The only thing I did was add the three x’s to it to give it an edge. “Ajaxxx” is uncut, raw, and doesn’t hold back. And so, that’s what he decided to call himself. And, I have no idea why I’m talking in third person (Laughs). Thanks for your time and for sitting down with me, Roshni! So, can I interest you in some chai while we discuss our trip?

~ Roshni M.
(November 2009)

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