Tough Junkie wears many hats: He’s a rapper, producer, and songwriter. He’s worked with the likes of De La Soul, Black Sheep, J. Dash and has even had a few singles featured on the Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim soundtracks. His music is cut from a different cloth, where he utilizes everything from your grandmother’s old Esther Satterfield and Henry Mancini records to complete a descriptive vision in vivid color. He’s definitely a class act that carries a small shroud of mystery. On stage, Tough Junkie’s somewhat modest presence is of the majestic kind. Everywhere he seems to perform alongside his crew the FFJB Music Team, his audience slips into a groove: A trance-like state where you wonder what song – even what words – he will say next. The messages in his rhymes speak volumes to your soul and move you in a way that is truly beyond explanation. Once the show is over, Tough Junkie is gone, and what’s left are the converted whose minds are forever rocked.
Tough Junkie is a meticulous young man who has nearly fifty independently released projects under his belt and currently working on one of his most ambitious projects yet entitled Tron. SoulTrain.com managed to catch him off stage, where we unveil as much as he would allow.
Soul Train: First things first, so no one will think your mother named you that: When and where did this Tough Junkie thing start?
Tough Junkie: Tough Junkie was actually born in a high school cafeteria. I used to go by the name “The Joker” because I used to have a lot of jokes and I smiled all the time. Another guy took the name, started running with it and I had to figure out something else. Right up through school, I always said I wanted to be a junkie when I grew up, but I wasn’t quite sure of what kind!
ST: [Laughs.] So the not-so-literal transformation began there, right?
TJ: Yes. Basically, a buddy of mine, in that very high school cafeteria, was in the middle of a battle. The other group had about five guys versus these two guys and they asked me to join in. We went in there and basically started rapping. With the inclusion of a lot more poetry, there was a lot more colorful wording. Because of the relativity of what I was saying, how I was presenting it and the cadences I was using, I – for lack of a better word – crushed the opponent. I managed to get myself a name from that point on.
ST: You’ve made your home in Jacksonville, Florida. Could you describe the music scene there?
TJ: I’d like to call it the street-art scene. It’s now a stable and continuously growing scene. Over the last 40 years or so, we’ve had a lot of bumps in the road, but we’ve also had a lot of people emerge from Jacksonville, becoming great artists, musicians, and philanthropists, including Ray Charles. This scene is now in a position where we may be able to get the type of media push that we’ve been hoping for, so it’s a fruitful scene with still quite a lot of things to talk about.
ST: You have amassed over 40 releases? What is that about?
TJ: Well, the inspirations hit me a little more than the expected hip-hop artist. The way that most MCs or producers would create and put out a song, it’s the same way I see albums. So I’ll have an idea, jot that down. Once I have that complete idea, I see what comes in front of it and what’s after. By the time I get done with one idea for that song, I’ll have 13 songs. I’ll just reorganize them so they fit and mesh together well. Because of that, I’m at 48 projects now.
ST: Goodness! When did you put out your first project?
ST: Extremely impressive for 15 years. You’ve also managed a list of huge collaborations in such of a short time. I even heard you worked with the world-renowned Native Tongues?
TJ: Correct. “Big brother” Dres from Black Sheep basically pulled me into the circle. When he came to Jacksonville and got a chance to meet us, it was almost like he rediscovered where he originated his energy. I also introduced him to a lot of people in the Jacksonville scene and he ended up working with them as well.
Because of Dres, I got a chance to produce for Q-Tip, De La Soul and Mike G of The Jungle Brothers. I’ve had music played in Australia and had tons of DJs and promoters from across the globe speak to me, saying they wanted to work with me in the future. Outside of that, The Gza (of the Wu-Tang Clan) and I had an extensive conversation, saying he’d be willing to help me once I make a presence in this region. As of late, the X-Factor contestant, Jazzlyn Little…we’re actually trying to help her put something together as well.
ST: Incredible. Out of all of the experiences you’ve had performing and producing, which did you find was the most favorable?
TJ: Honestly, my favorite is traveling into unknown territory. Recently, I just went to Gainesville, Florida with NickFRESH and some of the crew members that I’m directly involved with for a Tribute to Soul Train Dance Party presented by SOULTRAINFANS and Doowutchyalike Gainesville. Because I wasn’t used to being on Soul Train and only watching, it was a blast to almost re-create the program and teach some college kids how to do the Soul Train Line. It was easily a highlight of my year, so far.
ST: That was a very nice thing to say and again, thank you. The support that you supplied was immense. While we are on the topic of Soul Train, what is your best memory of “The Hippest Trip in America?”
TJ: Don Cornelius, man. He had on this all black suit, this polka-dot butterfly collar [laughs] and he came down the Soul Train Line. It wasn’t because “Doin’ It To Death” (by James Brown and The JBs) is one of my favorite songs, period. It wasn’t the fact that he went down the line, either. If you watch it, when he comes down and actually gets into the groove. What I was looking at was all of the kids lined up. On the right hand side, like three guys in, there’s this one dude who gets so energetic at the fact that this is happening in front him that he claps extra loud, stomps his feet, spins around and gets completely lost in the moment.
ST: Ah! You must be talking about legendary Soul Train OG Dancer Lil’ Joe Chism, the bump king! He was one of the best!
TJ: I think so. I can’t even explain it, but any time I perform, I try to get to that point. Once you get to that point, you are unstoppable. You’re glowing. You’re straight up like Michael Jackson in the “Rock With You” video with lights coming out from around your silhouette! [Laughs.] That is the most memorable Soul Train moment for me.
ST: [Laughs.] You’re working on another project of your own now that is set to be huge called Tron. How did this come about?
TJ: The Tron project was an accident. Early last year, some of my colleagues and I were joking around and on my way to work, I came up with this idea about writing this song about Tron. The word “Tron,” The letters T-R-O-N, are in a lot of things that are very relative to a lot of people right now. The Tron movie was coming out at the time, everybody was crazy about a character Dave Chappelle played (on the short lived, but revered Chappelle’s Show) whose name was simply “Tron,” and The Big Bang Theory was and is blowing everything off the market right now—protons, neutrons and electrons.
The song, which also features Stillwater, came together out of nowhere. Then it grew legs: It was specifically put out for three people to listen to and like 3,000 people jumped all over it.
For “Tron,” we’re putting together an ultra single with songs on the B-side with (Stillwater) and me on them. Going to limited edition about 10,000 copies and later there will be an album attached to it. We’re going to also shoot my first, full on, thoroughly produced high quality video that I’ve ever been apart of. It’s a very big deal for me. I’m definitely going to learn from this situation so I’ll be able to pass the favor on.
[There’s a fundraiser for the video effort, if you like what you hear, please support the cause:
ST: If the video is as good as the track is, we’ll be waiting with baited breath. Where do you see yourself in the next five years, Tough?
TJ: I’d like to see myself duplicated. Not anyone biting my style nor using my image, but to be surrounded by folks who have had the same type of successes, energy and mindset about them. I think as long as you have a good surrounding of friends and great aura of people around you, you know, forward thinking minds and strong spirits and souls, I think everything else will fall into place. The only way you can do that is be strong yourself and just emit the energy and that energy will find you.
I don’t know if I can call it a blessing, but I’ve been ‘miracle-lized’ with being able to work with such a great staff of people I’m working with now, The FFJB Music Team. They will definitely tell you that I’m the teacher of the group, but they make me better.
ST: Where can you be reached?
TJ: I always say Google “Tough Junkie.” I’m the only one in the world in existence.
ST: Well, thank you very much for being here with us today, Tough! We’re rooting for you and hoping the best for your future. Any last words you’d like to share with the readers of SoulTrain.com?
TJ: Just remember that the first four letters of the title “Soul Train” tells everything you need to have: As long as you have soul, you have power. As long as you have soul, you have enlightenment. Allow your soul to guide you through this world, and you’ll be ok.
The “Tron” ultra single is now available for digital download at http://ffjbmusic.bandcamp.com/album/tron-the-ultrasingle. Visit Tough Junkie’s Facebook page for more information.
Nick “NickFRESH” Puzo is the founder and CEO of the world’s largest Soul Train fan community, SOULTRAINFANS.COM. He’s a DJ, producer, remixer, announcer, actor, and journalist based out of Florida. Feel free to check out Nick’s adventures on NickFRESH.com and follow @NickFRESH on Twitter.