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TJ Atoms – Positive Vibes Only

Words + Interview By Tyrone Davis

TJ Atoms is an actor and artist originally from Philadelphia, PA who is most known for his role as Ason Unique aka Ol’ Dirty Bastard of the Wu-Tang Clan in Hulu’s “Wu-Tang: An American Saga”. To say he killed this role would be an understatement as he has been one of the fan favorites of the series. During our chat, TJ and I discuss working on the series, the legacy of Wu-Tang Clan, his journey as an artist, his role in “The Forty-Year-Old Version” and more. Season 2 of “Wu-Tang: An American Saga”is currently airing on Hulu.

First off, I want to congratulate you for your very dope portrayal of Ol’ Dirty Bastard in Hulu’s, “Wu-Tang: An American SAGA”. I just binge watched the first season a few weeks ago for the first time and you most definitely stood out. How did the role come about? Also, did you choose him specifically to portray?
Thank you! I really appreciate that. The role pretty much came as any normal role. At first, I actually went in to audition for the character Sha but they kept calling me back for ODB. I had done a few speaking roles before that but I was never on screen longer than 30 seconds. It was all a blessing.

The members of Wu-Tang all have their own look, sound and personality but ODB was always hard to miss. Did you do anything extraordinary to get into character?
I watched everything I could find on ODB to get into char-acter. I like watching his freestyles before I do a scene. It puts me into a certain space that helps me develop the character but Ason still never comes alive fully until the grills come in.

Since working on the show, what have you learned about both Wu-Tang as a group and ODB that you didn’t know prior to?
There are a lot of things that I didn’t know about the group and ODB specifically. I didn’t know how the clan originally came together. I never knew ODB was actually a ladies’ man either. He was like a smooth dude who listened to R&B, believe it or not.

Wu-Tang’s debut album, “Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers)” was released when I was in the 3rd grade. I was living in Germany at the time (military brat) and I remember a physical altercation between 2 older kids that were arguing about whether the group was dope or not. I remember that story because that is how I was introduced to Wu-Tang….by watching these kids tussle because obviously, one of them liked the group A LOT. Being that it has been almost 30 years and the group has become iconic and still has die-hard fans till this day, what do you think makes the group so special?
That is a crazy story by the way but I think the group is special because of their connection with the universe. They practice supreme mathematics. Their unity is something to admire. Also, the fact that this is a group of Black Kings calling themselves, Wu-Tang Clan. I feel like it opened endless portals for them.

Did you grow up a Wu-Tang fan? If so, what are your “Top 5” Wu-Tang records?
I got into Wu-Tang when I was about 16 through some of my homies. We were making music and happened to rap over a few of their beats. My Top 5 Wu-Tang records are:

1. Can It All Be So Simple
2. Wu-Tang Clan Ain’t Nuthing Ta F’ Wit
3. Ice Cream (Raekwon feat. Ghostface Killah, Method Man & Cappadonna)
4. C.R.E.A.M.
5. Da Mystery of Chessboxin
Break down the process doing all of the photoshoots for promo for this show. What can you tell us about the creative direction and preparation there?
I can tell you that we wanted to capture the essence of what the group stands for. That is why you see us in front of the subways and in front of Staten Island landmarks. It is basically foreshadowing the show.

I’m sure you’ve met members of the group at this point. From your perspective, which of your castmates do you think had the most challenging time becoming each member of the group? If I was interviewing one of them, I’d think it would have been you.
I definitely would say I had a big challenge but bedsides me,
I would think Ashton’s character is very challenging because I feel as though The RZA was the quietest in real life but he also the one with the most lines on the show.

How was “Dinner w/ The RZA”?
Hahaha! Dinner with The RZA is legendary! I’m thankful to have had many dinners with the icon. He is vegan so we don’t eat the same but maybe one day I’ll become a vegan. It is better for the environment.

How long have you been making music yourself and what projects/singles have you released so far?
Yo, I’ve been making music for about 10 years now. I started off in a group then went solo. I’ve dropped one project and a few singles throughout the years. I was really young so I look at all those years of experience as artist devel-opment. I’m planning on releasing a lot of new music soon that is going to blow people’s minds!

Where are you from originally and what was your childhood like?
I’m originally from North Philadelphia and growing up in North Philly was super though. There is little to no opportunities to become anything there. I love it though because it gives you character development. It makes you a certain type of person and if you can survive that I feel like you can really do anything.

Was acting always something you wanted to do?
I always wanted to be superstar. I thought my music would pop off first but the acting just took off first. That just goes to show you that it is important to have a couple of hustles. There is no telling where I would be If I never tried acting.

Tell us about your experience working on “The Forty-Year-Old Version” as Kamal.
I had great experience on The Forty-Year-Old Version. That was my first film and I was coming fresh off season 1 of Wu-Tang: An American Saga so I was ready to work hard for my next project. I met the director, Radha Blank and really enjoyed her energy. I love the whole cast. Every main character from that movie is a future star in the entertainment industry. Imani Lewis is an icon and she brings a lot to characters she plays.Haskiri Velazquez is a beautiful soul and is now starring on Peakock’s Saved by the Bell revival. AJAY (Antonio Ortiz) is also out here killing it. He is now a series regular on, Power Book III: Raising Kanan.

Who are your “Top 5” artists from Philly?
TJ Atoms, Tierra Whack, Lil Uzi Vert, Meek Mill and Leaf Ward.

Inspiration comes in many forms. What/Who are you inspired by?
I am inspired by life and art. Everyday situations inspire me to do something. Just living inspires me.

I’m going to throw a few names out there. Say whatever comes to mind.
a) Orange is the New Black: One of my first acting roles and probably the biggest scene I had before Wu-Tang: An American Saga.
b) Dave East: That’s my folks. He is a real cool dude and my Gemini brother.
c) Turnt: My nickname I got in Philly as a kid. I was really Young Turnt and it was my other side of me. I was always turning up…..not just partying but within life, going to the next level.
d) Lena Waithe: That is the GOAT. I respect everything she is doing for the culture and she also produced the first movie I was in The Forty-Year-Old Version

Name 3 things that you have learned about yourself over the COVID-19 pandemic.
For one, I learned to have more patience and not rush things just to get them out and to really take my time with what I’m doing. I also learned how to protect my energy even more. Lastly, I learned that I can survive a pandemic, haha!

Tell us something about yourself that most don’t know.
One thing people may not know about me is that I am really big on energy. I believe energy is everything. I sleep with crystals next to my bed and I credit a lot of my success to my relationship with the universe.

Lastly, what can those who have not started season 2 of“Wu-Tang: An American Saga” expect?
They can not expect a lot from season 2, especially a lot of popular Wu-Tang Clan songs!

Follow TJ Atoms on Instagram and Twitter @tjatoms.

Photos: John Richard

Stylist: Alia West

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