Not all great actors went to acting school, and TJ Atoms is living proof of this assertion. The North Philadelphia native is a beacon of hope for aspiring entertainers, crediting much of the social skills he developed early on in life to skateboarding. “It exposes you to different people that you’d never meet,” he shares. Skateboarding introduced TJ to a new lifestyle, a change in pace from the hustle and bustle of Philly’s mean streets. And yet, it’s his energy that has helped the young star create a name for himself outside of television and film.
Back home, TJ got his first taste of the limelight as part of The Bakery Boys – a rap group formed amongst friends with a common interest. However, the hood became somewhat of a revolving door, finding many of his contemporaries in a never-ending cycle of repetition. He always dreamt of more, though, even if that required staying down and flexing his potential through a series of one-liners until his big break. And as the pithy expression reads, ‘Good things come to those who wait,’ TJ’s patience was later rewarded with a starring role as ODB (Ol’ Dirty Bastard) in Hulu’s acclaimed Wu-Tang: An American Saga series.
At this stage in his career, TJ Atoms is ready transcend the limits of acting. His evolution as a person (and creative) is a win for the trenches, a byproduct of unwavering faith and manifestation. TJ has found purpose through expression. The music he creates possesses the same unabating enthusiasm that breathes life into his existence. And now, he prioritizes keeping his energy at a high frequency, offering his perspective to the world. “If I can inspire one person to shift their way of thinking and get their mind right, I’m cool.”
For those that don’t know, who exactly is TJ Atoms?
TJ Atoms is a cultural icon. I work hard, play hard. I’m just an artist at the end of the day. I’m a creative individual through different outlets: acting just popped off for me first, but I got a lot of different things that I do.
You have a background in music, too. Talk to me about The Bakery Boys.
The Bakery Boys is a group back home in Philly, started when I was 16. We sold-out every show we did. It was hand-to-hand tickets, too. I feel old: this was before Instagram had DMs, man. It might not sound that crazy but that’s a long time ago, bro. To be honest, this was before Instagram had videos. I say that to say we was really grinding for it, hand-to-hand tickets. It felt like the 90s out there.
With experiencing success at a relatively young age, what prompted you to pivot into this creative space as an actor?
I had a lot of older homies. I seen them make decisions: some of them went to college, came home and went right back to their parents’ crib. It varies on different people but to me, it’s like nah, that ain’t it. I’m not going back home. I’m tryna get out and keep going. I just knew I had to do something a bit different than the typical college route. But I didn’t wanna be in the hood, either. I was just like, ‘Something gotta give,’ and that’s when acting came about.
How would you best describe home?
My upbringing in Philly was cool. I had a lot of love and a lot of support. I was in the trenches – in the hood in Philly – but it didn’t feel like it. We didn’t know we were poor. I had a lot of love, man. I just started realizing that the hood wasn’t as cool as everyone portrayed it to be. I always had a thing to do more than what I was doing. I just started skateboarding. Skateboarding found me. Skateboarding took me out the hood, it introduced me to people, and through that I would network. I started acting and it all kind of played off each other.
Do you consider skateboarding as an escape from reality or was it a segue into your destiny?
A little of both, man. It helped me get away from where I was at because it physically takes you away. It exposes you to different people that you’d never meet. Those people introduced me to other people, know what I’m saying. I would’ve never met the homies I rap with if I didn’t skateboard. That experience prepared me for what I’m doing today. It was a whole spiral effect of things that just happened naturally.
How did we end up here?
I was going on a bunch of different auditions. I was doing a lot of one-liners on different shows. I’d be like, “That’s my boy,” and get outta there. Mind you, I was doing the Godfather of Harlem, I had one line in that. The day before, my face was shaved so I didn’t even look like ODB. I go in and they call me back for the role. I ain’t know I could do it, so I just did it and tried my best. They kept calling me, I did like five auditions, and eventually I earned my spot. Shoutout to Kim Coleman and Jessica Dames because they saw I was ODB somehow (laughs). I ain’t have too many acting credits so they really took a risk on me. I never did nothing bigger than this at the time, so shoutout to them for taking a chance on me.
Are there any noticeable differences difference between expressing yourself as a rapper versus an actor?
That’s a great question! My energy is the same going into different fields. I get inspired by different things. With music, nowadays, I have to really be inspired: I gotta hear something dope, I gotta travel a couple places and do different things. And then with acting, I pretty much prepare for it the same way. It’s all work. I guess I’m one in the same, the same artist.
Have you struggled with creating a name for yourself in this new light? I’m intrigued to know how fans have responded to your musical aspirations.
For other people, they may struggle. But for me, Ion think so. I’m different when it comes to music, too. I feel like people love the character I represent with ODB just as much as the energy I give out with my music. I’m acting for sure, but I feel like it’s energy. With music, my energy also transcends. It’s really going to come full circle and make people realize why they love TJ Atoms as ODB. I got blessed because he’s a rapper and I killed that role, so I think it’s natural for people to make the connection with me making music. I got really lucky, bro. I could’ve been on any show tryna play anybody, then if I tried to make the transition to music it would’ve been like, “Man, get ya acting ass outta here,” (laughs).
With your new single, “Potato Chips,” how exactly did you come up with that title?
The song was called something completely different to be honest, but I’m learning about marketing and business everyday and I’m learning certain tools. You want something simple that goes hard. The title comes from getting into peoples’ self-conscious. Now, when you think of potato chips you probably think of TJ Atoms. The overall message is about betting on yourself and doubling up. I got so much to do because I do it myself. It’s about taking a risk and believing in what you’re doing. That’s really the premise of “Potato Chips” right there. I got my own potato chips that I’m working on right now, too. I did it for my release party: I had my own potato chip bag that I designed. Mad people been hitting me up about it and that’s the next endeavor that I’m working on right now.
You speak about these different ventures with so much passion. How do you allocate time to everything that you’re involved with? Time management is integral to success, on all levels.
I might need multiple TJs, bruh. It gets crazy out here. I feel like with everything that I do, it’s a passion project. That’s the key to life, you gotta have fun. If it’s not fun, it’s not getting done. Usually stuff that rhymes make the most sense (laughs). Acting is fun. Music is fun. Making clothes is fun. Business (to me) is fun. Putting other people on is fun. I’m having fun right now.
What separates TJ Atoms from being just another actor that tried his hand at rapping and succeeded?
I feel like I’m the JAY-Z of acting. Ion feel like you can compare me because I’m a different energy. Acting is one thing, music is one thing. I design clothes. I’m a businessman, too. When people see what I do and how I execute, that’s gon’ be a whole nother vibe. When they see how I get down with my clothing line, how I’m gon’ put other people in position that come right after me, they gon’ understand.
All things considered, what would you say is a common misconception about acting that no one talks about?
You gotta have an acting class. I ain’t never had an acting class. If I listened to people about telling me the steps behind acting, y’all would’ve never heard of TJ Atoms. That’s why everybody tryna be a rapper because you don’t really gotta do much. With acting, they want you to take acting classes, have an agent etc., but you don’t really need any of that. You just gotta believe in yourself. You gotta believe that you can do it and it’s going to manifest itself.
With the Wu-Tang series being credited as your breakout role in acting, how do we plan on keeping momentum going forward?
It’s not really me, it’s the universe. I got here because I’m a heavy believer in the energy of the universe. Personally, I do so many creative things that this is just the introduction to who I am. My momentum is only going to go higher and higher. A lot of people don’t know what’s going on with life and I feel like I represent an abundance of kingliness. It’s not about momentum, it’s about energy. If I can inspire one person to shift their way of thinking and get their mind right, I’m cool.
What’s your legacy, what will the people say about TJ Atoms?
I want people to believe in themselves more than they believe in other people. I ain’t have an acting class. When I started rapping, I just did it. I manifested everything before it actually happened. I just want people to keep their energy at a high frequency. I’ma write a book one day about how to manifest.