AJ Francis On The Person Behind Hit Row Records Being Formed

NXT Star AJ Francis (A.K.A. Top Dolla) recently appeared on Busted Open Radio, where he discussed how he ended up in WWE NXT and how he approaches being on NXT.

AJ Francis said:

“Honestly it’s crazy to me how everything worked out.” “A lot of people think I was just handpicked to do the gig by WWE because I came from the NFL and I had TV experience before I got here. But what actually happened was my friend that I went to high school with knows one of the producers from the show. So the show actually pitched me to WWE. So when I got the opportunity to be out there with Taker, with Kane, with Mankind, with Booker T, guys I grew up idolizing. I didn’t want to waste my opportunity, cause if you know how it is. If you’re onscreen one minute with the Undertaker and you shrivel at the opportunity, you don’t deserve to be onscreen with the Undertaker."

“So I wanted to be able to establish from day one, that even though these guys are my idols and I grew up doing it, wanting to be them, wanting to do everything that they do, that you know, I’m a grown man. And I think it’s really cool that they didn’t show me any lack of respect. They could’ve easily been like ‘oh you’re new to this business. I don’t have to treat you worth a damn.’ And in actuality they treated me better than I could ever imagine. So I’m really thankful for that.”

Francis then discussed WWE always being his end goal despite having worked in the NFL for 5 seasons.

AJ Francis said:

“Yeah man.” “When I was in the NFL people thought I was crazy. Cause I was in the NFL and people be like ‘what’s your dream? You want to be in a Super Bowl? You want to make the Pro Bowl? And I’d be like ‘I want to be WWE Champion.’ People my whole life have been ‘you play in the NFL, why do you care so much about wrestling?’ I mean, I grew up, wrestling was my life. I’ll be the first person to say Hogan was the reason I started watching and Rocky was the reason I never stopped. I have always wanted to do this."

“So like, to be able to then get an opportunity to try and reclaim the legacy of these guys that I spent so much time dissecting their work. When I first started training at 3D, like they always would always, Crews and Billy Gunn and D’Von and Bubba and Rios, they would always say ‘go back and watch somebody that you want to be like.’ I watched Taker. I want to be the ‘Hood Taker’, that’s my goal in wrestling, is to be the ‘Hood Taker.’ I have studied so much that they’ve done, so when I get in the car with them and we’re driving around for two hours, the producers aren’t giving me the questions to ask. It’s ‘what do you think?’ And I have two hours to pick the Undertaker’s brain, they use what they use, they don’t what they don’t. But I still get my answers and I use them when I want to. That’s the thing a lot of people don’t see on this show. Because the show is so condensed down to time, like, each one of these superstars, I’ve drove in a car with them, talking about their career and trying to get implementation from what they did into my career, for literally hours on the road. But only fifteen seconds of that makes the show, so you don’t really see that. So like, it’s incredible the amount of knowledge I was able to gain from all these legends along the way. That’s one thing that I’m always grateful for.”

Francis then discussed how Hit Row Records came about and what was his initial plans for the group.

AJ Francis said:

“Well I’ve been doing this music conglomerate faction for a few years now.” “When I was on the indies, when I was at 3D, my crew was called The Row and I was Suga Bear, as a play on Suge Knight obviously. When I got to WWE, Ryan Katz, who works in creative for WWE, was like ‘hey man. We’ve got you and Brianna (B-Fab) and Tehuti (Ashante Adonis). You guys got good vibes together, I’d like to see what you guys can do together.’ So we came together and we did a thing called The Hitmakers. And that was the original name of the crew. It was just the three of us and we were working and everything was going cool."

“And then right around the time we were about to go, Hunter pulled me aside, pulled Swerve aside, and said ‘would you guys be cool working with Swerve too?’ And Swerve is cool people. Swerve is actually a rapper. The thing is, if we were going to add somebody to the crew, it had to be authentic. It had to be someone who fit the crew. Brianna is actually a rapper. I have two albums, I’ve been on tour twice, I have around five million streams. Swerve is actually a rapper. So to add him just added more levels of authenticity. And it added a veteran to the crew, it added somebody that has on TV namesake since day one, and I think it’s the best thing that could’ve happened to the crew. Obviously we all actually get along. It’s not a TV prop, it’s not a creative thing. We get to do our own thing, and that’s props to Triple H for understanding that we’ve got something different than anybody else can do right now in the company. He’s just letting us run with it, and I couldn’t be more grateful.”

Francis then discussed how big of an influence WWE Hall of Famer Shawn Michaels has been to Hit Row.

AJ Francis said:

“Shawn is really good on finding those little details like Hunter is.” “The one thing I like the most about Shawn is that Shawn wants us to do more. Shawn wants us, if we’re eating popcorn at ringside, if we’re laughing and joking, putting our fingers and face and doing all this stuff, Shawn’s like ‘yeah that’s great. You can also just keep doing this and adding more and doing a little bit here.’ So we might be thinking we’re doing too much, and Shawn’s like ‘you guys aren’t doing enough. You guys got to keep doing more.’ And that’s cool because it’s a level of trust and respect that they’re giving us that they know that we can do what we’re setting out to do.”