When up-and-coming rapper CJ listened to his friends telling him to hop on a variation of the New York drill sound that’s been sweeping the city, he didn’t know it would lead to the biggest moment of his career.
That record, “WHOOPTY” was CJ’s first attempt at a New York drill record. He had released music before but the songs were much more melodic than the aggressive production in “WHOOPTY.” The 23-year-old is just getting started on his dream to becoming a rap star but it’s something he tells HipHopDX he’s more than ready for.
“It’s amazing,” he said. “This is all I ever wanted as a kid. All the work and preparation I put in is finally paying off. I’ll never give up on myself.”
Before he had a hit record on the Billboard charts, CJ was just a kid growing up in Staten Island, home of the legendary Wu-Tang Clan. By the time he was a teenager, CJ was already listening to New York heavyweights like 50 Cent, JAY-Z, Nas and more, idolizing them and hoping that one day he could be a rapper and lead his city the same way those artists did. Little did he know the seeds to that fruitful rap career were being planted since he was a kid.
CJ had a first-hand experience of what the Hip Hop industry was like through his uncle, James Cruz, who worked alongside 2Pac, Diddy, 50 and more. With all the music videos he would watch daily and the work he saw his uncle put in, CJ knew he wanted to become a full-time rapper.
When he was 16, the Puerto Rican rapper began writing down verses but didn’t take it seriously until three years later when he dropped a handful of tracks on YouTube and Soundcloud. But like every other rapper starting out though, CJ struggled to get streams. He would revert to a sporadic release schedule dropping songs and then going on a hiatus for months.
Things changed in the summer of 2020 when CJ listened to his friends telling him to get on a New York drill beat. CJ landed on a beat he found on YouTube used by King Von and Pop Smoke and called his “WHOOPTY,” a catchy track about getting money and clapping back at the ops.
CJ didn’t have any expectations for the record until it started picking up steam through YouTube and social media. The track made its rounds on TikTok with an accompanying dance and would later fall in the hands of Warner Records — who re-released the track. Thanks to the re-release, “WHOOPTY” entered the Billboard Hot 100 chart at No. 97 in November and has steadily gone up to No. 25 in a matter of months.
Today, CJ is being primed to be the next one up out of New York City. He’s fielding interviews and “WHOOPTY” has found placements on several end of the year lists in 2020. Because of this newfound attention, CJ is sticking to his guns and running through the music industry after finally seeing something come out of his music.
He’s gotten co-signs from Cardi B, French Montana, 50 Cent, and Busta Rhymes, and he recently signed a major label deal with Warner Records. The rap star dream he had as a kid is coming true right before his eyes and he feels like he’s more than ready for it. Ears are listening now and the only question that remains, for now, is if CJ can keep those people tuned in.
“I don’t want to be one of those rappers that have the spotlight and then go missing,” CJ told HipHopDX via Zoom. “I’m going to keep just working with different artists, being versatile and keep putting out hits. It’s all about consistency, man.”
HipHopDX spoke more with CJ about his monstrous year, 50 being his biggest inspiration, collaborating with 6ix9ine, surpassing his breakout hit, working with Busta Rhymes and more.
HipHopDX: A lot of people thought you came out of Brooklyn because you took on the New York Drill sound on “Whoopty” but you’re actually from Staten Island. What was it like growing up there?
CJ: Yeah [laughs], I’m born and raised Staten Island, New York. There ain’t too many music influences coming out of there. We had Wu-Tang Clan but that was 25, 30 years ago. So pretty much, just coming out of there, there was really no motivation. It was hard to look up to people out there, but we made it work somehow. I always had a love for music as a kid. This is something I always wanted to do.
HipHopDX: There hasn’t really been a massive act from Staten Island since the Wu-Tang Clan. How vital was the Wu to your rap career?
CJ: Well, to be honest, that was a little before my era, you know what I’m saying? I was born in ’97. They were still big, especially coming out of Staten Island, people still bumping them out there. But, like I said, that was a little before my time. I was raised during the 2000 era, 2001, 2002. I’m not really too familiar as far as the Wu thing, but they’re definitely big in Staten Island, for sure.
HipHopDX: Speaking of the early ‘00s, I read that 50 Cent was a big influence on you.
CJ: For sure. When he first had came out, I was just always watching music videos on MTV and BET. Seeing him for the first time in all those videos definitely came to my attention. I was like, “Hold on, the video’s just crazy, the whole New York swag, the baggy clothes and all that, the chains, the cars.” I was like, “Wow. I want to be like that when I get older.” I used to try to imitate the videos and stuff. I used to put on big ass hats, big ass clothes, and just recite all his lyrics. He was definitely a big influence in my upbringing, as far as music goes.
HipHopDX: If there’s a 50 Cent record that defines where your career is at right now, what would you pick and why?
CJ: To be honest, I’ve got a lot of haters right now due to my success and everything. I would say probably “Many Men.” Don’t get me wrong, there are people that are happy for me, but there are also people that are hating the situation I’m in. Yeah, I would definitely say “Many Men.”
HipHopDX: Have you had a chance to talk to 50 yet?
CJ: No, I personally never got the chance to speak to him. But a few people have sent me a video of him in a clothing store or something and he was singing along to “Whoopty.” That was big and to have that co-sign was definitely amazing.
HipHopDX: You did a song with 6ix9ine in 2018. Do you regret doing that record or feel that people are going to dig and bring up his situation?
CJ: No, because you got to think about it. If people actually do their homework and do their research, the video is still up on my YouTube. If you check out the date, it’s before all of that happened, you know what I’m saying. It’s before his situation went down. That was at a time where the world was listening to his music and the world had him on their playlist. You just got to really just look at the date, you know what I’m saying? That was before everything had happened. I don’t feel no type of way of that. I don’t really listen to nobody when they try to bring that up.
HipHopDX: Speaking of “Whoopty” that really is a big record. Do you feel pressure to make a song that’ll surpass “Whoopty?”
CJ: I feel like that’s where you mess up. I feel like when you try to chase another hit record, it’s when you just lose the feel for it. I just want to have fun with it. You know what I’m saying? I’m just here having fun and creating music. I don’t want to really have that in the back of my mind, because I’m going to try to overwork myself. Man, I’m just having fun. You know what I’m saying? I got a bunch of records in the cut ready to go, so just having fun with it.
HipHopDX: One of those records you got is “Bop” coming sometime this month. What’s the deal with that record?
CJ: I want to just keep the momentum of the whole drill thing. I’m not really trying to pigeonhole myself as a drill artist, but sometimes you’ve got to give the fans what they want, you know what I’m saying? They’re looking forward to another drill song. I was like, “Let me hit them with another one.” That’s definitely going to be huge. We’re looking to release that soon.
HipHopDX: Do you see yourself going back to the melodic raps that you started your career with?
CJ: I’m definitely a versatile artist. I’m not a drill artist. I’m going to switch it up, but it’s all about timing. You know what I’m saying? I’ll pivot when it’s the right time, but we definitely got more melodic songs done. We’re switching it up. We’re working.
HipHopDX: You had the melodic records at first and you were gaining a bit of steam, but it wasn’t like what you got with “Whoopty.” Do you have any concerns about striking out on the melodic tip if you were to go back?
CJ: No, because like I said, if you’re a real fan and you’re really supportive, you would know that I’m not a Drill artist, you know what I’m saying? If you’re down for the ride and you’re down for me, you’re going to keep supporting. It’s not going to be where I’m going to be putting out trash records. They’re all going to be fire. I’m not really worried. When it’s time to make that change, it’s going to be fire.
HipHopDX: You did show some bars on the remix to Busta Rhymes’ “Czar.” How’d that come together?
CJ: That just shocked a lot of people, just dropping that right there. We’re actually going to start shooting for that video real soon. I just wanted to just gap that bridge, the young generation mixed with the older generation. Shout out to Busta, shout out to M.O.P. for giving me that opportunity to do that on their record. Busta reached out and he was like, “Yo, King. You’re on fire right now. You got the city on fire. I want to make something happen.” We cooked up organically, you know what I’m saying? I just fed off of his energy. He’s real rowdy and loud, so I just had to boost my energy up for that one. We definitely made magic. Shout out to Busta. He’s a good soul, man. I looked up to him, coming up. That was a blessing.
HipHopDX: What does this new Warner deal tell you about you and your music?
CJ: I always told myself, “Just keep working, man, just stay consistent.” You know what I’m saying? I always knew that I would do something and I’ll be somebody. I just didn’t know when but I never gave up on myself. That’s really the main thing. Just never give up. Keep working no matter if you’re seeing progress or not, and no matter if people are supporting you or not. Just stick to what you know. Stick to what you’re doing and just keep making it happen, until your time is here.
HipHopDX: You were getting a lot of comparisons to Pop Smoke. How do you feel about that?
CJ: I see the comments and stuff like that but I personally don’t see what people are talking about because I really don’t think I sound like him. We don’t say the same things. I don’t really see where they’re coming from. I get it maybe because of the Drill beat and I guess the flow, but as far as me sounding like him or taking any of his lyrics, I really don’t see that. But shout out to Pop. May he rest in peace. Like I say, he definitely played a part in the whole Drill movement, you know what I’m saying? He’s a big inspiration in the whole Drill movement and even in New York, period.
HipHopDX: Would you try to get a feature of his on one of your records? On paper, the city would love that.
CJ: You know we had thought about it, you know what I’m saying? But, I feel like it’s a little cliché. I wouldn’t want to take a verse that he had already done. I really wish he was still alive and we could really cook up and exchange energy and really make some magic, but due to the circumstances, it sucks, you know what I’m saying? I wouldn’t want to do that. I wouldn’t want to take a verse that he had already done, but I don’t know. You never know.
HipHopDX: Speaking of features that would make sense, J.I. is another rapper that’s been heating up New York City. Is there a collaboration between you two?
CJ: We linked up. Shout out to Gabi. Shout out to J.I. I think maybe the first two weeks of “WHOOPTY”, his manager, Gabi, had reached out and he was like, “Yo, you’re doing your thing.” He actually wanted to meet me, and stuff like that. We had sat down, and during that process J.I had came into the studio. We greeted each other, and stuff like that. We’re definitely going to have something cooking up in the works. Shout out to J.I. We got to do it for New York. As soon as we lock-in, you will never know, man. We might fuck around and we might come out of there with a whole EP done.
HipHopDX: What’s the word on this EP executive produced by French Montana?
CJ: Yeah, for sure. For now, I just want to just keep giving my fans and my supporters just good music. You know what I’m saying? I want to just put out singles for now. We pretty much got the EP already done. It’s ready to go. “WHOOPTY” is still doing its thing, still cooking up and building up. I don’t want to drop music too early, too soon, and just ruin the whole momentum of the song. There are people out there that still haven’t heard it. It’s all about timing like I said before. When it’s the right time, we’re going to drop the project.
HipHopDX: There are critics who feel you’re a one-hit-wonder. What type of rapper are you trying to be?
CJ: Man, I definitely just want to be one of the greats, man. I want to just be consistent and I don’t want to be one of those rappers that have the spotlight and then go missing, you know what I’m saying? I’m going to keep just working with different artists, being versatile and keep putting out hits. It’s all about consistency, man. Just keep it going. That’s really it. Just be relevant, and in the next five to 10 years you’re going still be here, putting out great music. We’re just cooking out. We’re working. Just be patient with me and I’ll be here.
Check out more CJ content here and here. You can also head over to his Instagram page @realcj_.