AJ Case is a man of many hats, but those hats dovetail: He’s a Myrtle Beach-based singer/songwriter, musician, rapper and entrepreneur. Depending upon whom you ask, you might get different answers. Perhaps it’s somebody who laid down tracks at his now shuttered iT Recording & Mastering Studios in Surfside Beach, a venue owner who booked him for a solo acoustic gig or a tourist who got up to sing at one of his karaoke promotions in the area. Or it could be a music industry type drilling down on Case’s songwriting, recording, deejaying or vocal skills.
In every case, though, you will likely hear about the kind of guy he is – soft-spoken, sincere and always professional.
But trying to pigeonhole him would be a mistake.
Case is a familiar face on the Grand Strand, in the role of DJ or heading up karaoke shows. He has showcased his songs at spots like House of Blues Myrtle Beach, Klocker’s Tavern and The Boathouse. He said his uncle, the late Bill Pinkney – a founding member of The Drifters – taught him about the music business.
He recently released his third album. “Running In Place” (or “R.I.P.”), an acoustic guitar-driven live band hip-hop project.
In addition to the live band approach, Case covers his struggle with depression brought on by divorce and the loss of key people in his life in rapid succession – in what he called the worst week of his life.
But this album has proven cathartic for him. Much of is an ode to the woman he loves, Ruth Ann Millar, something he says goes against the grain of traditional rap.
He started writing this album years ago – and much of it was first presented in 2012’s “Dead at 32.” But he had no idea what he was in for personally and emotionally.
“At that time, I didn’t realize that I was writing my current situation. I feel like a reeled myself into it all,” he said.
The past two years have been an emotional roller coaster, beginning with what he calls “the week from hell.” He lost his mother, an uncle and an aunt – plus he went through a divorce.
Case fell into a deep depression.
Things got so bad that he wouldn’t even answer the door to his studio to let people come in and record.
“I’d never been to a point in my life where I was that low,” he said. “I hit rock bottom and pulled out a damn shovel.”
Picking up a pen was the last thing on his mind, but one day out of sheer desperation he started writing a song about his mother – and although he didn’t finish that actual song, this gave him the impetus to keep going. After he got started again in earnest, the process took about a year.
The finished product stands at eight tracks, including a duet with his friend Adam Wittenburg on “Halfway Home.”
Some live performance audio was spliced into a new version of “Lifted.”
“We took actual audio footage from shows like Bayfest and Summer Jam – just basically hung mics out over the audience – and I didn’t want it to sound like the original version. We wanted to do this with a live band, but I wasn’t used to recording guitars yet because I was just a pure rapper at that point.”
But the acoustic live band concept gelled for “Running In Place”
Long before this, Case played out live as a solo artist – on an acoustic guitar – so that he could showcase his material and travel light.
But Case said the material on “RIP” – including “Waiting on You” – goes against the grain of traditional rap.
“It’s kind of weird to explain. I hear some of the stuff that everybody else is rapping about, and it’s pretty much the same thing everybody has been rapping about: cars, women, money, how good I am or ‘listen to my lyrical skills’ – and I feel disappointed sometimes because I’m not talking about any of that shit. I’m mostly talking about one woman that I love. That’s it.”
Case contends that in the rap world in general, it’s not really cool to be in love with one woman.
“It’s not really cool to write a whole album about one woman. It’s a different type of world – and that’s where I felt like I was, man – I don’t know if I actually fit in here anymore. I think I’ve grown out of it.”
We mentioned that Case’s uncle taught him about the music business, but it was his late sister who made it fun.
In the song, “Nothing,” Case memorializes his sister.
“I had a guitar in my room when I was younger, but I never really messed with it. She would come in and say, ‘Oh – pick up the guitar. Let’s play…”
Those moments got Case to the point where he wanted to play music with his uncle and learn more.
“Until then, that guitar was just a brick in the corner of my bedroom.”
But “Nothing” is poignant and can really tug at your heart strings.
“My sister was a drug addict, and she was aware that she had problems and issues. She would always tell me that she felt like she never did anything with her life – like, she would go to her grave having literally done nothing but drugs. I wrote that song sitting beside her hospital bed before she died.”
He will always remember his sister’s silly way of dancing (she was not good at it) – and he regrets not getting up on the floor when she wanted to dance with him in public.
The COVID-19 lockdown helped to put thus project into high gear.
“Either make something of yourself – figure out a way to make something of yourself in this – or let it swallow you whole, you know?”
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