how’d u do it dollamenu?

PC: Ashley Ellefson

PC: Ashley Ellefson

Written By Ashton Mullinax

Most of us live our lives in a pretty systematic way: we go to kindergarten, elementary school, middle school, high school, college. We major in biology or english and we get a job or go to graduate school, and our lives go on from there. While there’s nothing inherently wrong with this way of living, it is certainly not the route everyone must take. When we see someone deviating from the norm, it’s important to consider how and why he has taken the road less traveled, so that we might too see the lives we are capable of creating. TJ, “like tomato juice,” Wright, otherwise known as DJ DollaMenu, is a man of his own creations—driven by community, experience, and various modes of art; he teaches us that the DIY conception of this life is as much his as it is yours or mine.

Becoming a rapper or a DJ, or both, in this case, is not something I have ever seriously considered. Neither did TJ. He has a degree in communications from USC Aiken where he also began his music career.

“You know when you’re with your friends, and a beat will come on or someone will start banging on the table and everyone will try to rap? Well, that’s what happened. I was decent at it I guess, so people were hyped on it but I didn’t think much of it until college, where I met some dudes and the same kind of thing happened. We were free styling and stuff and then after I went everyone was like, ‘Yo, that was really good.’ But I just thought it was whatever until one of my friends wanted me to record. I told him I wasn’t going to record anything, but he made me write a song.”

PC: Daniela Brown

PC: Daniela Brown

PC: Justin Irick

PC: Justin Irick

That first song garnered popularity at TJ’s college, allowing him to make more and more soon after he began doing shows and had songs featured on the radio. “So yeah, now I guess I’m a rapper,” TJ says. USC Aiken was pivotal in beginning his career and introducing him to the right people. After recently having graduated, TJ found himself here in Charleston surrounded by the DIY scene and those involved. The move was unnerving and the idea of being a full-fledged artist, rather than doing whatever the hell you do with a communications degree, was at once both welcoming and terrifying. Luckily, he has a host of talents in rapping and DJing, alongside a wicked determination to immerse himself in his art. All of these factors considered, coupled with a music scene here in Charleston that invites those with undaunted motivation in their pursuits, TJ has done in a very short time what many hope to do.

“When I was first about to move I was like, ‘Alright, I have to make it. I have to be able to make money DJing or else I’m not going to be able to pay my rent.’ So I DJ. That’s my only job. All I do is DJ and rap.”

Besides having recurrent gigs at the likes of Silver Dollar, El Jefe, and Republic, TJ also works with collectives like Strawberry Squad to record and other local artists to play house shows. The DIY spirit is evident in TJ for many reasons, but most strikingly in how he self-recorded a lot of his material, which was on his iPhone through GarageBand.

Before he moved to Charleston and had access to any studios, he did what he saw most obvious and resourceful by using his phone. He maintains that it’s a pretty seamless and efficient way to record if you don’t have a studio merely lying around, ready for your use.

“People are always disappointed, like ‘Ah, nah man. On your phone?’ when they find out that’s how you record, but people sleep on the things they carry around in their pockets,”

he describes the standard reaction. But he is tactful in this retrospect, after listening to very early material I would have never imagined the songs having been recorded anywhere besides a studio, nevertheless on an iPhone. This is a growing method of production, used by artists like Steve Lacy and Big K.R.I.T., which dually produces groovy tunes and the idea that overzealous production does not determine a good artist. The mark of a good artist lies in his resolve—as evidenced by TJ’s works.

PC: Celina Odeh

PC: Celina Odeh

The music community is not the sole contributor to his career and inspiration, either. TJ upholds skateboard culture as a significant facet of his life and endeavors. Gnarkatz was a season-long series TJ and his friends had the opportunity to shoot, detailing an outrageous and hilarious skateboarding community. The show was their opportunity to portray Southern skate culture, something that has afforded many of them substantial opportunities. TJ now plans a trip out to L.A. for two months simply, “trying to make it,” crashing with friends and pro-skaters along the way, many who are heading out West also looking to make significant careers out of their passions.

PC: Justin Irick

PC: Justin Irick

The unruly and defiant spirit bolstering skate culture seems to do the same in TJ, seen both in his actual lyricism but also in his mere dedication to his art. The production is enough to get your body moving, but his lyrics and execution seal the deal. In a generation where rap culture is dominant, it’s exceedingly difficult to create a substantial or even idiosyncratic sound. However, TJ does precisely so. Remaining loyal to his utterly comedic personality, he combines variable-yet-stellar production with a lyricism that is more developed with each release.

On “Aqua Teen Hunger Force” he raps, “If you stick to the truth then you’re fine with me / I’m sick of hypocrisy / If I said it then I did it / If I didn’t then it’s a prophecy” asserting prowess in his lyricism and deliverance. TJ even has a country song, harking back to his southern roots. He’s recreated Dolly Parton’s iconic “Jolene,” the DollaMenu version dubbed “Holene,” and as you may glean from the title, it is an amusingly radical departure from the original.

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TJ as DJ DollaMenu is someone we should always keep a keen eye on,

not only for his art alone but also for what he can teach us. I know I’ve learned that there is not one single path to take, but rather multiple, and to choose whichever will be paved with an unrelenting determination. And besides all of that, he’ll always make you want to boogie. I mean, he is a professional DJ. You can stream DJ DollaMenu on Spotify, Apple Music, SoundCloud, Bandcamp, YouTube, and Pandora. Keep up to date with his Instagram and Twitter (both @djdollamenu) for show announcements, and to watch him have fun.

Above PC: Ashley Ellefson

Taylor Czerwinski