By Yvette Caslin
Sexy, soulful and skilled, Teraj is reinvigorating R&B with his upcoming album DEFY. A former New York model and real estate agent, Teraj has made a name for himself modeling for brands like Hermes, YSL and Aeropostale, and as a reality TV personality with numerous appearances on Bravo’s hit show “Million Dollar Listing New York.”
However, Teraj got his start in NYC while attending Cornell University and secured a residency as a singer at the popular Iguana Lounge in Midtown Manhattan, and now the rising star has co-produced his first album featuring eight brand-new tracks that he wrote as well!
His first single, “We Got Each Other,” masterfully blends the sounds of pop and R&B. Teraj is truly unlike any other artist on the scene and is now available on iTunes, Spotify and Tidal.
Do you actively seek inspiration or does it find you? Or is it a combination of the two?
I’d say there’s definitely a bit of both when it comes to inspiration. I’m constantly surrounded by it. Oftentimes it finds me, and I soak it up like a sponge. Musically speaking, my mind is always and uncontrollably focused on music. I often wake up with songs in my head that were fully written in my dreams. It’s kind of crazy. There are several songs I’ve written in the past, or more accurately I’ve transcribed or acted a vessel from which music comes through, as a result of music from dreams.
Other times, life experiences provide lots of inspiration, whether stemming from love, loss, struggle or triumph.
What led you to art in general and to your art form(s) in particular?
I’ve been a student of the arts since a child. I grew up expressing myself through drawing, painting [and] poetry and was involved in magnet art and design programs in middle and high school. I always kept my singing voice a secret because my family encouraged my talent in visual arts, and it wasn’t until high school that I mustered up the courage to show my singing ability. All it took was an opportunity to sing on stage in honor of Grammy Award recipient Oliver Wells, and I knew a career in music and singing on stage were two things that I wanted to do for the rest of my life.
Have you and your artistry ever been involved in a traditional business? If so, how?
In addition to mastering their art, what other skill sets do you recommend that artists develop if they want to be successful?
Developing a good sense of business acumen and entrepreneurship. I would not have been able to put together and lead my team if it wasn’t for my training in architecture at Cornell and the experience of running my own real estate business in New York City. Networking, follow-up, prospecting, negotiation, conceptualizing ideas, bringing those ideas to life through project management, overseeing and managing deals and bringing them to a successful close, and more — all contributed to my success so far. So, I’d recommend a school to really master the art of networking and begin to build one’s network and learning to hustle through entrepreneurship.
How do you stay at the leading edge of your craft?
By never being afraid to venture outside of my comfort zone. I’m a firm believer of constantly learning and trying new things and generally being a lifelong student of the world. Also, developing and fine-tuning my craft on a daily basis keeps me sharp and prepared at all times.
Do you think that there are any widely held misconceptions about art and/or artists? If so, what are they and how do you work to dispel them?
Glamour is a big misconception. I feel that the end product and what is being presented in music is always what everyone perceives as a lifestyle and industry full of glamour. Most don’t know about the long hours and sleepless nights that go into it all, the hundreds and sometimes thousands of creatives that it takes to produce an album, the visual aesthetic, music videos and so forth. The glamour is the icing on the cake that conceals the whole process. A lot of times I try to give a behind-the-scenes look into what it takes to make music and all that goes into writing, recording and producing an album.
How do you map out your goals? How do you measure your success?
I start with the end goal/bigger picture and work my way backward to figure out and map how to actually reach that goal. A lot of times the path is already outlined by others before for me. The trick for me is figuring out how they did it and what resources are necessary to get the job done.
Measuring success is always tricky for me as I’m never satisfied with my accomplishments and progression, and I constantly strive to outdo myself. I’m slowly learning to take a look at what I’ve done with my life so far and find a certain level of contentment in that. A lot of times, I get so lost in my work or I get so caught up with and focused on the next thing that I don’t really take the time to enjoy and reflect on the big moments in life.
Who do you consider to be your peers in your field? Who do you see/use as examples for you to emulate?
The power of the internet and social media has allowed access, ever increasingly, to tools that facilitate the ease of creation, collaboration, marketing and distribution of music. So every person chasing their dream as a singer and entertainer would be considered a peer in my book.
There are facets of so many artists that inspire my artistry, literally dozens of them. My biggest inspirations would have to be Whitney Houston and Michael Jackson. They had such an uncanny ability to dig deep and touch the hearts of everyone who heard their voices, in addition to possessing an incomparable talent and work ethic. I’m so jealous of those who had the opportunity to witness those two live.
Name two of your top role models: one in the art world and one from outside of it.
Michael Jackson and Bill Gates. If I could one day contribute 1/100 of what the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has done for the world, I’d be content with that legacy.
Name three books, works, performances or exhibits that changed how you view life and/or yourself.
The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho
Man in the Mirror by Michael Jackson
The Impossible Dream by Luther Vandross
Why do you consider continued learning important?
It’s important to constantly learn even beyond the normative concept of “continued learning” such as college, grad school, etc. As I mentioned earlier, I view myself as a perpetual student of the world and the arts. There’s always something more to learn and even more room to grow to become a better person and the best version of ourselves.
What affirmations do you repeat to yourself that contribute to your success?
Never underestimate your value and capabilities, for there is no limit to what you can do and achieve.
Be stubborn about your goals and flexible about your methods.
Hold the vision. Trust the process.
What role does art have in the community? What role would you like to see art play in the community?
Art in all its forms has given a voice to so many, many who otherwise would not have been able to express themselves or have the courage or means to share their point of view. That is a role that is increasingly becoming more important as it is an outlet and even a means of escape for a lot of artists, so I’d like to see it encouraged and celebrated more in the community.
What role does technology play in your day-to- day life? How do you utilize it?
Technology is my lifeline for creation, production and communication. It would be incredibly difficult to make music and even keep in contact with all of my friends if it were not for technology.
What software, app or other technological innovation has made the biggest difference in your life and/or career?
Instagram was a game changer for me. It allowed me to learn how to find my audience, engage with my following, fine-tune my craft in the production of content. All the while, [I was able to] increase my social media following and engagement and scale up. Instagram opened doors to so many job opportunities and allowed me to reach others that I wouldn’t have otherwise.