When AJ Rafael announced he was gonna quit performing for a while, it was a dark day for YouTube. As if a million voices cried out in terror — and then silence. AJ Rapahel blew up our Alderaan is what we’re saying.
But guess what? He’s lying low, but he isn’t gone for good. And he’s given NMR the exclusive on when he’s coming back! After all, he announced through us when he was taking his hiatus a year ago, so it only makes sense that we should break the news of his triumphant return.
The sultry, smooth singer has been readying himself and trying to get his mind right. Don’t think Dave Chappelle high-tailing it to Africa so much as a guy who just needed — and deserved — a really long vacation. Of course, an AJ Rafael vacation isn’t like one that you or I would take. He still works hard on his many production interests, connects with his fans and finds time to put up the occasional YouTube video. That’s more than we do when we’re actually at work.
If you’ve missed AJ as much as we have though, you’re going to find some solace in this interview we did with him. It might just make your day even.
Do you have a date in mind for when you are coming back to performing or are you quietly thinking about officially retiring from that aspect of your career?
AJ: Man, ok. Well, it’s been almost exactly year since I announced the hiatus and only 8 months since I actually officially stopped playing shows. I told myself that I needed at least a year to take a good, healthy break. A year from September is almost coming up, so I may think about the beginning of 2016 to resume performances. As far as officially retiring, it crossed my mind at times… But if there’s anything that has come out of this hiatus and break, it’s that performing on a stage is in my blood and I can never give that up.
You’ve been working on some behind-the-scenes stuff — what does that mean?
There’s always behind-the-scenes stuff going on with me, whether it’s YouTube stuff, church, helping other artists and what not. Right now, though, the big thing is that Red Roses the Movie, a film in development based on my 2011 album Red Roses, is back on track. I’m in the process of rewriting the script, and making the story stronger. I’ve been recently inspired by two indie films in our community, Man Up directed by Justin Chon and Everything Before Us from Wong Fu Productions. Seeing those films come to life is so motivating. The film world is such a whole different beast, I’m learning a lot as I go.
Have you been doing any relaxing with your hiatus?
So in the beginning of this hiatus, I was getting a lot of work doing brand deals via YouTube and Maker Studios. To me, it was a sign from God and Him telling me that he had my back and that the hiatus was the right thing to do. I wasn’t worried about performing, I was just acting and doing a lot of cool stuff with Disney, Lacoste and some other big brands. It helped me pay the bills and I still feel really blessed to this day to be able to do things like that. In-between all that, I found time to travel to places like New York, Florida and the Philippines to solely relax. No business. Just me hanging out with friends and enjoying life. It was nice. I’ve had people come and stay with me in Riverside from all over the place, and we’ve just been having a blast going to theme parks and eating really good food. It’s been refreshing to say the least.
What’s been the hardest part about largely being away from your fans?
I wouldn’t say I’m away from the fans, really. I still keep in touch via social media, of course. It’s a part of me to be connected with my fans constantly. And I still see some fans around which is cool… They ask about my hiatus and when I let them know that I’ve been rejuvenating and taking a healthy break, they’re happy for me. And that gives me reassurance that my decision was the smart thing to do. A lot of them knew I was tired. 10 years straight of performing and growing at the same time. It wasn’t easy, for sure.
Rumors were that you walked away to punish people because not enough fans were going to your shows — any truth to that?
I know that there are people out there who think my letter is “attacking” my fans and not showing gratitude for them. They couldn’t be more wrong. I did this so I could make my fans proud if/when I did come back to performing. My letter was simply stating my personal struggles with dealing with outside investors and people who didn’t promote the right way and used my numbers as their scapegoat. Not everyone deals with it, but I did and I wanted to share that with everyone.
I did see a comment on my original article with you guys, and this person had a good point. I know my talent isn’t exactly “viral”. You can’t show what makes me unique in 10 seconds, or even maybe one YouTube video. It was the way I related to people and interacted with them. It was the fact that people were a fan of me not only as a musician, but as a person as well. I get really, really, really big hugs from strangers because they think they know me from them following my journey. I don’t take that lightly. Back to the comment, it stated all that– but that the “fame” had gotten to me and I wasn’t the same anymore. And that I was chasing the “fame”. If they had changed the word to “pressure”, I may have taken it as constructive criticism instead of someone obviously not knowing that I’m not the type to chase “fame”. I felt pressure, and maybe I had just made it all up in my head but I let it get to me. The pressure that I needed to constantly do something new for the fans, for my family, for my friends. It’s taken me a while to realize that I really just need to stay true to myself and the rest will come.