While you may be unfamiliar with Taj Stansberry, it’s rare to have never crossed screens with the name Taj_TPK. Known today as one of the most innovative and creative music video directors on the scene, there’s much more below the surface just waiting to rise. In an interview with Live Civil, Stansberry gives us a glimpse into his past, and a huge vision of his future. Hailing from East Oakland, California, he’s spoken often in the past about his choice to overcome the pitfalls so rampant in his society. But today, he details the actual steps taken to a better life. From an internship to a job, a worker to an entrepreneur, he continues to add new ventures to his resume daily. Read up on how Taj plans to live civil through video, film, book, and more; and take notice of how you can too.
BACK IN THE DAY
Infant Stages of Creativity
The main thing I learned from [Anthony Mandler and brother Bobby Joseph] was to take risks. To take a lot of risks and to explore–especially in the early stages of your career– where there’s not a lot of penalties for taking risks and being unsuccessful in taking those risks. But you learn a lot about yourself: what you like to see, what you don’t like to see. You learn a lot about your environment and about your craft. And that was the main thing—being unafraid to explore all the possibilities that are out there. Y’know? So that was the main thing.
First Gig/Utilizing Contacts
Well, [The Team] had been friends of mine for a couple of years. I was a recording engineer for them and I had a recording studio back in the day with a partner of mine, so they would come to my recording studio every now and then. So they were familiar with me as a person. As a professional, since I was new in the field, when I told them I wanted to spend money [$2,000] on [their video, “Patron,”] they were like ‘ok, cool, alright’. It wasn’t really a hard thing to convince them to do.
First Opportunity: Box Fresh Pictures
It was really good. I learned a lot at Box Fresh. I learned a lot about the ins and outs on the production side. So later it enabled me to step in the front seat and no longer be a backseat driver, and take it on myself. And so, I was educated in a much different way than a lot of people are, but most definitely educated enough to step in the front seat and create TPK.
Walking Footprints of TPK (The Popular Kid)
I think the first step was—besides creating my own reel– going out and searching for reels and searching for directors that were of like-minds; and searching for themes, of people doing things that I hadn’t done. That were young and ahead of their time, and I felt like I found some of those people that would help create that juncture of brand that was ran by music directors, but thinkers: overall innovative, creative, good people. So that’s really what it was about, it never was intended to be an for-directors-and-directors-only, but for thinkers.
The Process of A Vision
My first goal was to create trust, creative trust. And the way you do that is by repetition and creating a reel, a portfolio of work that shows different sides of you as a creator, of different things that you can do. And it’s really hard because it’s really hard for people to trust you in order to get the kind of money that you want. So I looked for opportunities where the amount of money didn’t necessarily affect my creativity. And I found creative things to do that would allow me to build this portfolio without depending on a huge budget. And I think that’s the goal.
And once I created that, and I built that portfolio, that’s when I presented myself as a professional. And I had this work and the work that I had, everyone wanted to know how much it cost. And so, I basically start from there. Start from low budget, and you build, you build, you build. And pretty soon, people see what you can do with a dollar. And after you stretch a dollar, to know how you can stretch two dollars. And three dollars. And four dollars. And so on, and so on. And then you look up and you’re like, ‘Oh! A hundred thousand dollars!’ And then it just goes on and on.
But with more money comes more responsibility obviously, you know. So the dollar amount has never really affected, or shouldn’t affect your creative abilities. So, it’s a tricky process, a tricky process. It takes a lot of patience. It takes a lot of sacrifice.
Advice to the Multi-Talented Artists
I would tell them that if you want to move on to the next level, make sure that you keep doing what you doing. You have to move simultaneously because you’re still being educated. This is a industry, a craft, where you’re continuously being educated. You’ll never know everything because it’s really just about you. So you’ll continue to explore. And you’ll continue to find things about yourself. While you’re paying your bills you’re still learning and you’re preparing for the next level. And that goes back to repetition. So, my advice would be to figure out a way. You have to figure it out.
Inspiration for “Street Knock” – Swizz/ASAP
It was just, it really was just to feel New York. I wanted to feel New York without shooting the typical things that we see about New York all the time. Swizz and ASAP are from New York so I really wanted to feel the streets, but I wanted it to be exciting. I wanted the colors to pop, I wanted it to be saturated. I wanted it to be like a video for the summer. Full of color, full of light, full of fast transitions. Y’know, high speed heart-rate pumping. That Swizz Beatz/ASAP Rocky energy. Y’know? It was really like that. It was really that I wanted to remind people of what New York culture was about. Harlem, Ruff Ryder culture was about. And how their flare; their extreme epitome of cooool. Like, cool, cool cars. It’s still there and I wanted to remind people to pay homage to that culture.
On Mentoring ASAP Rocky, The Director
I’ve seen ASAP’s work, I think ASAP is dope. We talked about it too. We talked about him being a director. When he was on set, I ran a few things by him that I thought that he might not have known, to help him; because he’s a really, really, really bright kid. Very quick learner and he really wants to be better. And when I talked to him on the phone before we was in shot, I told him that I would be pointing things out during the shoot that might help him along his journey as well as a director.
West Side Connections: Jhene and Kendrick?
They both did [reach out]. I had a couple meetings with Jhene, she was cool. We recently did this USC event where she performed and I was hosting, so I introduced Jhene and we talked backstage a little bit and then had a meeting months back. So I suspect that we’re going to work together at some time within the next year. I know she just got a new deal with a label that I do a lot of work with [Def Jam], so I’m looking forward to that.
In terms of Kendrick, Kendrick’s label reached out as well and we’ll see what happens with that. It’s all good, I met him quite recently in a club and he’s a really cool guy.
We’ll see what happens. It only makes sense. That’s why they reached out. And honestly, im into it.
From Videos To Film: Gersh Agency
I’ve just been taking meetings at different studios. It’s been going really good. They’re a great industry, they’ve done great things for me already. And, we’re just moving forward. They also picked up my show that’s in development and so, we’ve just been working on that. And some everyday things, [I have] my own iPhone app, camera iPhone app. And it’s crazy, kinda like right before you called I was on the phone with them and they were giving me updates on everything that’s happened. So, everything is in the positive right now. I’m looking to do a lot of things all at once. I hope it’s not too much for people.
MJ_TPK, also known as, Teyana Taylor?
She’s like my little sister. She’s a really creative person and we actually live close to each other and when I heard [Marvin’s Room Remix], I hit her up like ‘yo, we should do this together.’ And from there we’ve just been on this creative bug together. And she was like, ‘yo, I want to be a director. I want to be part of the team.’ I obviously wanted to make her a part and its been good. She actually just directed a video, it’s in post right now. I was there, but she really didn’t need help. I just gave her some tips and was her backseat driver, but she’s a really creative person as is, so.
How To Be One of The Popular Kid(s)?
I would say that… I would say don’t be afraid to reach out. If I don’t reach right back, it’s not because I’m ignoring you. It’s because I’m working on my dream too. And you know, don’t feel bad if you’re denied. I don’t deny everybody; some people come along at just the right time. And if I don’t say anything, it’s not because I don’t think you’re talented or creative, it’s because I’m only one man and I still have my things to do, things that I want to do, and I want to be fair to everyone that reaches out. I don’t want to take on a responsibility and not be able to delegate the right amount of time to it. I respect everybody that reaches out.
Next on the TPK schedule?
My book is in production, it’s called “Big Head: 100 pages of a Curious Kid.” I was on the phone with a book designer over the weekend and he sent over a proposal today that I agreed to, so I’m extremely excited about that. It’s going to be like a music video director’s book. It’s not a how-to book. But it’s going to be about my experiences: where I come from, treatments for videos that everybody knows, treatments for things that I wish would have gotten picked up, where I came from, why I am the what that I am, influences, quotes and things like that that changed my life. Hard times, how I dealt with them—and these are all things that people might run into—let downs, huge triumphs, um, a lot of my photography. It’s a really honest book.
I want to just thank you, Live Civil, Karen Civil, and everyone for their support. Continue to support me and try to invigorate everyones minds. We’ll see whats next.