TJ Hickey is a popular hip-hop artist from Boston, Massachusetts, with over 42,000 followers on Instagram alone.
A graduate of Trinity College, a liberal arts school located in Connecticut, Hickey has spent the last eight years away from the rigors of Corporate America, instead opting to tirelessly grind his way through the East Coast music scene.
Yet, if you were to ask the Boston-born artist if he ever envisioned pursuing a career in music, he might laugh, because not too long ago, the idea of Hickey ever holding a microphone seemed impossible.
“Growing up, I had no musical talent or drive,” Hickey says. “I used to skip all my music classes because when you’re in high school you section off and become either an athlete or a musician.”
Similar to other esteemed musicians like Sammy Adams and Danny G, Hickey’s primitive years were spent flexing his athletic prowess.
But as he entered college, it became clear that achieving acclaim in sports wasn’t going to happen.
This forced Hickey to tap into a new part of his personality that he didn’t know previously existed.
“It wasn’t until hockey was taken away from me during my freshman year of college that I was forced to adjust and find a new outlet,” Hickey recalls.
Shortly after seeing his hockey dreams go unrealized, Hickey began to experiment with music.
Hickey says he didn’t place any expectations on creating music, but slowly he started to piece together catchy beats, blending them with lyrics that captured his perspective of the world.
Once he did that, Hickey began to build more confidence as a musician.
It didn’t matter that he never had any formal music lessons.
Hickey simply enjoyed the process of bringing a song to life.
“Even now, I don’t have any classical music training. If you start talking about the finer points of music or music theory, that stuff is way over my head,” Hickey admits, but one doesn’t have to have a PhD in music composition to appreciate the melodic sounds coursing through a pair of headphones.
When he was twenty-two, Hickey dropped his first song, and while there was a sense of relief that came with releasing his debut track, Hickey immediately encountered pushback from those who had always seen him as a jock outfitted in hockey paraphernalia.
“When I first started doing music, a lot of people were making fun of me. Back then, I didn’t understand why it was such a big deal for me to go from being an athlete to a musician,” Hickey says.
“Having now gone through that experience, it’s given me a lot of perspective and appreciation for other people who are branching out into different avenues in life, but I did take a lot of heat for what I was doing.”
What few understand is that once Hickey’s hockey career unceremoniously ended, his confidence plummeted, and it wasn’t until music became a staple in his life that his swagger slowly began to make a resurrection.
“When I lost hockey, I needed to get that spark back. I was always the guy who centered my life around hockey and didn’t have a lot of free time, but when hockey stopped, suddenly I did have a lot of free time and I knew I had to do something to get that same confidence back,” he says.
While music offered Hickey the chance to reinvent himself, he acknowledges that the contingent of detractors who opposed his new career path left him feeling dismayed.
Fortunately, Hickey quickly embraced his pundits’ criticisms and used that negativity as motivation to continue relentlessly chasing his goals.
“The fact that there were some people who didn’t believe in me drove me to keep going, and honestly, that still motivates me today,” he acknowledges.
Even though Hickey has by now fully accepted that critics will await him at every stage of his artistic development, he still has to deal with the fact that the music industry is a cutthroat business.
Many young artists get into music dreaming of their day in the spotlight, but few actually ever reach that level of notoriety.
Hickey understands this, and while he has every intention of seeing his musical endeavors through, he also recognizes that nothing is guaranteed, and that having to assimilate into the corporate grind could be painful because of the way some people might interpret his lyrics.
“People don’t realize how much anxiety comes with being a musician. Music is supposed to be an escape from real life, but a lot of times when you say things people automatically assume that is how you feel,” Hickey says, commenting on the fact that so many artists’ lyrics are misunderstood or taken out of context.
“There are some songs where I’m telling a story about myself or making up a story for someone else, but many times I am being provocative or braggadocious in a way that does not characterize me personally.”
Hickey then adds that having the artistic license to stretch the boundaries of social mores is partly why he is so enamored with creating music.
“Again, what people hear in one of my songs isn’t necessarily how I feel about politics, women, or anything else. Often, these songs are created with entertainment in mind, and that’s why I love music, because I don’t always have to be TJ Hickey. Through music, I can adopt a persona that might be completely different from my own,” he explains.
Of course, being misunderstood will always be something that artists will have to endure.
Thankfully, Hickey has been able to lean on the aforementioned Sammy Adams, another Boston native whose name is widely known across Beantown for his rise to prominence within the music industry.
“Growing up in Boston, you can’t escape the name Sammy Adams. He is someone that I have always looked up to. He was the first artist from Boston whose music was playing in everyone’s cars. My senior year of high school, you couldn’t drive out of the parking lot without hearing one of Sammy Adams’ songs,” Hickey says.
“I have always idolized him. We had similar upbringings because we were both athletes who went to Trinity College. Like millions of other artists, I had always been trying to communicate with him, and then eventually we started talking.”
As Hickey and Adams began to commiserate more frequently, the two developed a special chemistry that resulted in Adams being featured on two of Hickey’s songs, All On Me and Time Keeps Flying.
“The stars aligned for that first record. He and I just really clicked,” Hickey says of the partnership, then adding that despite many people believing Sammy Adams’ career is on the decline, Boston’s Boy still has a lot left in the proverbial tank.
“People think that Sammy Adams is someone who was relevant a decade ago, but he is going to make a huge comeback,” Hickey assures.
As 2021 continues to unfold and music venues around the United States slowly begin to schedule concerts, Hickey says that he hasn’t lost sight of the need to constantly refine his craft, but insists that he isn’t in a rush to get back on stage to make up for lost time.
“My favorite part of music is the actual process of making it,” he says, which was something he was unable to do as COVID-19 restrictions prevented him from getting in the lab and honing his music.
Yet, in true Hickey fashion, he didn’t let this roadblock inhibit him from putting in the work.
“Since I couldn’t go to the studio, I knew I had to go get my own studio equipment, so I literally went out and bought everything,” he says.
“I taught myself how to engineer songs to the best of my abilities, and I ended up making fifty to sixty songs. A lot of those songs are going to be in the vault forever and never come out, but I have songs for the foreseeable future that are geared up to be released throughout the summer and the fall.”
With his future trending in the right direction, Hickey has much to be proud of, and he is happy that over the years he has been able to understand the importance of patience and the positive effect that can have on his career.
“I used to be a very impatient person. I never saw myself giving up on my music career, but I always wanted my songs to have a million plays and I didn’t care about who I offended or who I had to run over in order to make that happen,” Hickey mentions, saying that early on he was too eager to start vlogs and go on tour, and that this need for immediacy led to him prioritizing tangible results over evolving as an artist.
“If I wasn’t getting the reaction from people that I wanted, I would lose it. But now, I would tell my younger self to focus on staying the course and being more patient.”
Moreover, as he has gotten older, Hickey has also been able to have a better appreciation for his followers and the fans of his music.
These days, instead of stressing over views or the number of plays his music gets, he is able to let the fate of his career unfold organically, all while maintaining a sense of happiness that once felt so elusive.
“Years ago, I wanted people’s lives to stop in order to listen to my music, but that obviously wasn’t going to happen. I wish I had been more patient and diligent, but you live and you learn, and you become a better artist because of those mistakes,” he says.
Hickey has also grasped a number of other key lessons, something he says will hopefully help the next generation of musicians that inevitably find themselves mired in dissatisfaction.
“Make sure you are making music for yourself,” Hickey advises. “Eight years ago, I wanted to prove people wrong so bad that I was making music for them. It was more spiteful, but now I have gotten to the place where even if I only had two fans, I would still make music because I love the creative process so much.”
Hickey then finishes with a philosophy that both artists and everyday people would be wise to implement.
“You need to appreciate the journey. You’re always going to want more, and nothing is ever going to be enough. If it was ever enough, everyone would stop and be happy.” QS
To stay in touch with TJ Hickey and his music, follow him on Instagram today!
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