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Overcoming obstacles in today’s social and political climate means more to young folks now than ever before. At just 23 years old, our latest interview subject, singer/songwriter Imaj (pronounced “EE-mahj”) knows this better than most of his peers. Hailing from Dallas, TX, Imaj is one of the few natural talents in the R&B/hip-hop scene, and his ambitions know no bounds, adding “producer” and some part-time rapping to his resume’.

Imaj recently released a music video for his latest single “Dead Presidents,” which features the Southern crooner trying out a lyrical exercise over his own production. After grabbing the attention of Sony, he’s premiered his last single “Something Real” on BET (which he produced himself), and most recently had an exclusive appearance at this year’s SXSW Festival. Just by watching the video for “Something Real,” we have so much faith in Imaj to bring the true sound of R&B music back to the forefront on a mainstream level (He’s wearing all black, and singing about a girl in the middle of the desert, y’all! What more can we ask for?!)

We got to speak to Imaj before the holiday weekend about overcoming his past of being homeless, how his family of musicians shaped his love for creating music, and what it’s been like to work alongside Texas powerhouse producers Rickey “SlikkMuzik” Offord;  RSVP Productions’ CEO, Rudy “Coach” Flores, Rene “Spank” Martinez, as well as producer/chop & screw specialist, OG Ron C. We even got to learn some exclusive news about Imaj‘s upcoming new music!

Read below, and click through the media to get familiar with Imaj!

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DTS MEDIA: Can you go into detail about how the video for “Dead Presidents” was made? What was your concept?
Imaj: I really had a lot of creatives involved with that project. I didn’t even have too much input. I just gave it [my] all, and trusted my team. They got together and built everything from scratch, you know. The neon stage that you saw in there, that was built form scratch. All the lighting, that was just a lot of creatives that [were] involved, who helped that vision come out. Me and my manager got together and gave them the vision we saw, and they put it all together. We just came in ready to work.

DTS MEDIA: The cover art for the single features Donald Trump, who is very much alive…
Imaj: (laughs) At that point, the Donald Trump situation, it wasn’t anything directed towards him. But, I mean, it’s obvious that a lot of people don’t agree with what Donald Trump does in the White House. I felt — we felt like that would have been a dope idea to set up an artwork concept like that. At the same time we created a new artwork cover for it because we didn’t want that look on us as well, you know? We kept it moving with a new artwork cover.

DTS MEDIA: What did your fans have to say about it?
Imaj: It cause a lot of tension; like it drew a lot of people when we first dropped that. But, like I said, we really didn’t want that look, like, this early [in my career].

DTS MEDIA: We were introduced to you on “Dead Presidents,” where you’re rapping, but after combing through your Soundcloud & YouTube accounts, you can really sing! Do you consider yourself a rapper, or a singer first?
Imaj: I’d actually say I’m a singer. Honestly, the situation with “Dead Presidents,” that was something that was me just getting outside of my comfort zone. “Dead Presidents” was something that was meant to be shopped*. I was shopping that to Future, I was shopping it to Young Thug and people like that. My team stopped me like, “Let’s just push this! That could be something!”

DTS MEDIA: Since you’re trying out rapping, have you heard Jay Z’s new work, 4:44?
Imaj: I haven’t. I’ve been meaning to, and it’s all I’ve been seeing online.

DTS MEDIA: Well, in “Moonlight,” he kind of throws shade to the newer rappers for being less than substantial in their music.
Imaj: What I’m hearing a lot these days, is a lot of the older cats disliking the “mumble rap,” and stuff where you really can’t understand [what’s being said]. Me, personally, I can’t judge that because whatever worked for them, works for them. More power to ’em. But me, personally, I wouldn’t even say that I wouldn’t do it. I like to try new things in my creative world, but I wouldn’t necessarily take that “mumble rap” and let that be my full career. I’m a person of creating things that make sense. I’m a person of creating things that touch people you know, that will get people through their day. That kind of music is cool when you’re clubbing and you’re going out and turning up. I have records like that, but at the same time, it’s not what I do. I have nothing against it, though.

DTS MEDIA: But you’re saying versatility is key as an artist, basically?
Imaj: Versatility is always key. Always key. You never want to stay the same; you never want to stay in the same place. That’s what I’ve liked about Jay Z. He never stayed in the same place. He might disagree with certain things, but at the same time, he’s going to try it in his own way, though.

DTS MEDIA: That’s dope! Talk about how things started taking off for you after “Something Real” premiered on BET.
Imaj: (laughs) Yeah, that was a crazy moment! Backtracking to “Something Real,” we put no budget into “Something Real,” everything just started taking off organically, as far as radio spins and stuff like that. Everything happened organically and then we started picking up Music Choice and California radio stations, and it ended up being on BET. It was a wildfire, it was really a wildfire.

DTS MEDIA: What do your friends think about your success?
Imaj: They’re PROUD! (laughs) They’re really proud of me because I’ve been doing this since a youngin’, so anyone that knows me, knows me for this. Them seeing me actually achieving what I said I was going to do, it makes them believe in [themselves] and their goals. I have friends who, back then, would say that certain things weren’t for them and they felt like they wanted to give up on certain things. I made sure that I always stayed driven, [to] give them that energy as well, to stay driven. That’s the biggest thing for me, is seeing everybody and hearing everybody tell me [my] situation is motivation for them, that’s the biggest thing for me.

DTS MEDIA: Let’s get into something a little heavier. We understand that you were homeless for a period of time. Would you care to talk about that?
Imaj: Yeah. (exhales) With that situation, pretty much it was me jumping out on a limb, on faith. At one point in time — you know how parents are. You wanna do something, and parents are protective of you, so they’ll tell you the right things, but they’ll also tell you the wrong things, and the bad things that’ll come with the situation, or whatever you wanna do. I took upon myself to get out there and do everything myself because at one point in time, honestly, my parents weren’t all for me doing music. They wanted me to finish college and continue my 9-5 situation, and as [you and I] talked about before, that’s not something I want to do forever — being in the same place everyday, still on the same thing forever. So I just jumped. I just jumped. When people ask me where I’m from, I say I’m from Dallas; I don’t say I’m from a certain area, because I’ve lived in every area in Dallas. That’s what made me who I am today. I don’t regret being homeless. I don’t regret any of that because it made me the man I am today. It really humbled me overall.

DTS MEDIA: So, it sounds like your homelessness was self-inflicted. Were you trying to prove something to your parents?
Imaj: Yeah, I — Pretty much proving to my parents, and I felt like I was proving myself to the world. I wanted the world to know [that] just because you’re in one place doesn’t mean — you can be homeless one day, and then you can be where I am the next day. Nothing happens overnight, you just gotta — you gotta stay working, you gotta drive, you gotta believe, you gotta stay determined, and that was my whole situation — staying determined. If I woulda gave up, there’s no telling what I’d [have] been doing right now.

DTS MEDIA: Your grandfather surrounded you with gospel music when you were younger. What was it about being around him & gospel music that had an effect on you?
Imaj: It was just him, musically. I would listen to gospel songs when I was younger, but I never understood them because I was young. It was just the way he arranged and the way he made music. I’d sit and watch him play the piano, and then from the piano, I’d watch him play drums, and I was like ‘Man, my grandfather is amazing!’ He can play the piano, the organ, and I pretty much picked that up. I found music so amazing. Even now on my production, that’s who influenced me, my grandpa, as far as making music.

DTS MEDIA: How did your remixes with OG Ron C come about?
Imaj: That came about with some connections [my team & I] had in Houston. We had a distribution deal with Steve & Charles Talvez. I did a performance out there one night, and I met OG Ron C through them. He was like ‘Yo, let me do a remix to [your music].’ And he did one, but he also did another one for “Something Real.”

DTS MEDIA: Have you ever had singing lessons?
Imaj: I’ve never had any vocal lessons. I’m just now taking vocal lessons, so — After “Something Real” dropped, I didn’t have any vocal lessons. Everything was God-given. I’ve [also] never had any production lessons or anything like that; it was just me working on my craft.

DTS MEDIA: What can you tell us about the new music you’ve been working on? Is your next album still untitled?
Imaj: Yes, it has a title now; Pain & Fame. Right now, we’re about to start releasing songs weekly. So I’m going to be dropping new music from here till so-forth. We’re about to drop a song right now called “Down This Road,” and you’re the first person to know this!

DTS MEDIA: Yaaassss, exclusives!
Imaj: (laughs) Yeah! So pretty much, that song is saying — I’m just talking to women and just telling them don’t let anybody tell you that you can’t do certain things; don’t let anyone bring you down. It’s pretty much an inspirational song for women. I would really, really advise you to listen to that [because] from just listening [to the women who’ve previewed the song], it’s a motivational song for them. That production is also produced by me and SlikkMuzik, who’s worked with Chris Brown and Ariana Grande. He’s a platinum producer, basically.

DTS MEDIA: Will we ever catch you on tour?
Imaj: Definitely! I’m in talks to setting up a tour right now. We’ll definitely be on tour very soon.

DTS MEDIA: Dope. Any last words for our readers?
Imaj: I’d want to leave with some inspirational words, and ya know, just tell everyone to be great at what they do. Believe in what you believe in. Make other believe in what they believe in; make people belive in [themselves] overall. Keep God first.

Special thanks to Imaj and Renata Muniz.

*Editor’s Note: “Shopping” a piece of work means to show the work to multiple artists or outlets in hopes that they will use it and create something more, using the original piece as a guideline or demonstration.