Santa Ana Rapper Jay Taj Rhymes About West Side Realness

Jay Taj going in.
Jay Taj going in.
Cody Pospisil


"What the fuck they know about the kid from the west side of the river bed?
" says SanTana's Jay Taj on "Never Die" a track off of his latest project named Tenfour which sounds like Kendrick Lamar's Good Kid, M.A.A.D City if it took place in SanTana rather than Compton. Tenfour—a chronicle of life, love, stress and setbacks as a kid trying to stay pure in Orange County's roughest city is Jay Taj's most comprehensive project in his eleven-year music career and a great introduction to a local rapper who never let his bleak surroundings destroy him.

For 25-year-old, Jay Taj—whose real name is Gerard Tajalle Jr., music has been an escape from growing up in Westside SanTana since he was 14. With a purely freestyled song-writing method that's influenced by J-Cole, Kanye West, Black Thought of The Roots and of course, Kendrick Lamar, Taj brings a polished yet rugged rap bravado to a county that otherwise lacks varying rap styles.

In his eleven years of rhyme spitting, no project has felt as cohesive and accumulative to Taj as TenFour has. Released on October 4th of this year, Taj says the album's release is meaningful because of a dramatic incident that happened last year on October 4th. "I got into a little bit of trouble involving somebody in my life, I made some poor decisions." Tenfour's first track, "The One Who Knocks" tells the tale of what happened when Taj acted out "Santa Ana style" at the home of his ex's new lover's house in middle-class West Garden Grove. "I really wanted to replace the sentiment of the day, a year later," Taj says, "I didn't want to be reminded of what happened on 10/4/2015. So, I replaced the sentiment with something a little more positive being my first full-length project."

Tenfour is also a play on coded police chatter, and self-acknowledgment. "Obviously across the country there's a big issue going on with interactions between police and people from my demographic," says Taj. The track titled "Jimmy With the Gun" specifically tackles the issue of police brutality. "When I say 'Tenfour' in my project it's kind of like me speaking to my life or speaking to things that happened like 'I get it now— I understand why all these things have happened."

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Another song that tackles controversial issues, particularly in Santa Ana, is "Devil's Home" which starts with a news clip of a young boy talking about how he lost his cousin to a drive-by shooting in 2015 on Harmon Street—one of hundreds of shootings recorded in Santa Ana that year.  The sample resonated with Taj because he recalls dodging violence throughout his life growing up on McFadden and Newhope in SanTana. "There's so much bullshit that goes on there," says Taj, "my brother-in-law was murdered on 1st and Gunther, which is right on the other side of the river bed."  Taj feels compelled to document the realnesss of SanTana that he feels is oftentimes unmentioned in discussions about the city. "This is my home and I wanted to talk about this place you guys never really touch on."

As with any OC rapper who's ever tried branching out beyond the county, Taj expresses how reppin' his hometown is always an up-hill battle to the rest of the world who think of Orange County as a paradise of affluence. "When you go to LA and someone's like 'Where are you from?', I never say Orange County." Taj says, "Unfortunately, if I say Orange County I immediately get type casted. So, I'm like 'I'm from Santa Ana' and it took a long time for people to be like, 'Oh, I fuck with Santa Ana.'"

Jay Taj is SanTana's hood poet.
Jay Taj is SanTana's hood poet.
Courtesy of Jay Taj

Aside from rapping, Taj also devotes his time to teaching music, video and photography production to the kids of the Boys & Girls Club of Garden Grove. The H.O.P.E (Hope and Opportunity through Performance and Entertainment) program gives B&G Club kids the opportunity to record in a professional studio for free with Taj's guidance.

"We've had kids produce full projects and full albums, these kids are in high school and it's incredible music." Taj says providing encouragement for children's artistic visions is vital because he knows what's it's like to grow up lacking support for his artistry, "Being a rapper was some far fetched shit. My momma was always on some, 'Oh that's cool but what's your real plan?" Now, Taj wants to encourage children to pursue their dreams rather than abandon them. "If one of my kids wants to record a project, then I'll say, 'Hey find someone who wants to learn how to engineer," he says,  "And they'll come in and they'll record you and I'll sit there for every session and I'll teach them how to record. Now when you graduate high school, you're an artist and you have your own engineer and both of you are in a position to make real money in a way all of our parents thought we couldn't do in entertainment."

When the SanTana rapper isn't teaching the grind of the game to youngsters, he's doing just about everything else imaginable on the creative spectrum. Taj produces his own art work and videos, plays the keys and drums, previously worked on DJ Skee's SKEE TV and now hosts two internet radio shows on Dash Radio. "I'm a master of none but I'm definitely capable of many things," Taj says of his jack-of-all-arts skills.

Taj's radio show called "1st and the 15th" showcases the rapper's favorite island jams (Taj has ancestry in Guam) and his favorite hip-hop joints of the day. The show airs on, you guessed it, the 1st and 15th of every month. Another show Taj co-hosts is Creator's Radio which purely showcases musicians who've made a name for themselves on YouTube such as Andrew Garcia, Tori Kelly and JR Aquino. "[Youtube] was the best thing that ever happened to the independent artist." Taj says. Creator's Radio airs every other Saturday.

While Taj stays busy creatively, his devotion to giving back to his community is also one of his top priorities, "Everybody knows this city [SanTana] means everything to me." Taj says as he starts to discuss a better OC. "Within the county, I just wish people would stop faking the funk and stop acting like we're better than we are." Instead, Taj says we need to love our neighbors now more than ever, "The only thing we were born with in this life is love that's the only thing we knew from the jump...and the only thing we have left is love, just love," he says, "I think that's something that always has to be remembered. This music shit is not what I do it for I do it to inspire love."


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