CJ: New York drill’s newest star looking to inspire like Pop Smoke
After lockdown lifted in New York City last summer, Staten Island rapper CJ – then still virtually unknown in the scene – found himself galvanised with the kind of energy that surely only comes with spending months on end stuck indoors.
“I hadn’t recorded a song in a while so I feel like I had all this energy inside of me and ready to go,” he tells NME of ‘Whoopty’, his out-of-nowhere and NY drill hit that ignited the imagination of TikTok thanks to its rampant intensity, deliriously addictive hook and an earworm sample of a Bollywood song (let’s not forget its very meme-able lyric about blue cheese too).
The track has since amassed over 100 million views on YouTube (reaching the milestone on CJ’s 24th birthday, no less), has reached the Top 10 in the UK, and gained the rising star famous fans in everyone from French Montana to Cardi B.
“I recorded the song on a Wednesday and I shot the video two days later on that same Friday,” CJ explains of the track, released last July. “I think then there was a week turnaround time and then I dropped it… it blew up on TikTok almost straight away.”
‘Whoopty’ was a marked change of direction from the artist, who had previously tried his hand at autotuned trap (‘Letter 2 The Law’), A Boogie Wit Da Hoodie-esque melodic rap (‘Understood’), and even thrown a 6ix9ine collab (‘Pop’) into the mix.
Inspired by the loss of Pop Smoke – CJ describes ‘Whoopty’ as something of a homage to the late star and New York drill frontrunner – the New Yorker says he decided to hop on a drill beat after feeling energised by the excitement surrounding the scene in his home city. In doing so, CJ finally found the direction he had been missing, as well as his big breakthrough moment.
Speaking to NME, CJ explains how the viral smash came to be and what’s coming next.
‘Whoopty’ has obviously been a huge track and you’ve said that when you first played it in the studio you knew straight away that it would be a hit – what about the song made you instantly know this?
“It was just like the energy of the song. I was super hyped from the jump. And I just knew it was going to do something. Everybody that was at the studio felt the same way. I kinda knew it would get some attention. I hoped it would go viral a bit but to be honest, I never realised how big it would get and blow up the way it did. I just put it out to have some new music out there. It just took off.”
It did go viral and ended up blowing up on TikTok – what was your reaction to seeing everyone using the track in their videos?
“It’s crazy because I had heard of TikTok before the song but I never realised just how powerful it was. I have a little sister so she was telling me, ‘you got to see what everybody’s doing with your song on TikTok, you got to make an account.’ I was like, ‘what the hell is going on?’
“When I actually took time to scroll through all the videos then I was like, ‘this thing is going crazy’. It was the same week that I released the video and right after that I just saw hundreds of thousands of videos, day by day, it just kept on going. Then I knew I had something crazy on my hands.”
You’ve explained how the “addicted to blue cheese” line is slang for a $100 bill – did you find it funny that some listeners actually thought you were rapping about blue cheese?
“Definitely. As soon as I sat down and started reading the comments, it was super funny to me because everyone thought I was addicted to salad dressing.”
The instrumental samples an Indian song from a Bollywood movie (‘Sanam Re’ by Arijit Singh and Mithoon). How did you discover that beat?
“I was pretty much just searching for drill beats on YouTube. The drill scene was heavy in New York at the time – and it still is. That was actually the first drill beat that I even rapped on. I just thought, ‘let me see what I can do on this beat’. That instrumental just caught my attention. The sample alone is just super unique, you don’t come across something like that very often [in rap].”
The video for ‘Whoopty’ has just passed 100 million views on YouTube. Massive. What did you do to celebrate?
“It was actually my birthday on the same day that I hit 100 million. So it kind of worked out perfectly because I was already with some close friends and family. We just celebrated everything that was going on. My birthday, the new year, the video hitting 100 millions – there was just so much to celebrate.”
You got a cosign from Cardi B when she rapped along to the track on Instagram – what was your reaction when you first saw that?
“It was crazy. I was actually at an event and everybody was tagging me in her videos. I was confused about what the hell was going on. So when I finally clicked on it and saw, I was like, ‘woah, that’s major.’ For her to even give me that cosign is amazing, it’s a great feeling.”
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Is she someone you’d like to work with?
“She’s reached out basically just embracing me and saying, ‘this song is crazy, keep doing what you gotta do’. We spoke like that briefly. But I’d definitely like to work with her in the future, she’s a super dope artist.”
French Montana recently presented you with a Coke Boys chain, but you’ve said that you’re not signed to the label. How did that all come about?
“Shout out to French, that’s family. He just reached out and wanted to embrace me in the game, especially with us both coming from New York. He’s kind of like an OG in the game for 10-15 years now, so it was dope to get that cosign [too].”
“It was my birthday on the same day that I hit 100 million views”
‘Whoopty’ was the first ever drill beat you hopped on – what was behind your decision to start doing New York drill?
“The movement was heavy in New York. We had just lost Pop [Smoke] and we were missing that energy. I feel like that lane was open for me and I just thought, ‘let me see what I can do on a drill beat’ and then ‘Whoopty’ came about. I play his music every day, still to this day I do. I’d definitely say it’s a tribute to him. I’ve never tried to portray myself as Pop Smoke or sound anything like him, but we’re both have that heavy New York accent and the same slang and lingo. There’s those similarities.”
‘Whoopty’ has been big over here in the UK too, reaching the Top 10 in the charts. Obviously UK drill is really big over here – have you thought about a crossover collab?
“I definitely want to do some research and do some more homework on UK artists, but I heard there’s an artist called Fredo that’s pretty big out there. Hopefully one day we can get a song in the works.”
The music you’ve released before has been very different in style to ‘Whoopty’, are you going to continue down the drill route or do you prefer to hop around genres?
“I’m definitely going to be doing the drill. That’s what my fans know me for. But maybe also a new direction when the time is right.”
Staten Island doesn’t have the same rap heritage of New York’s other boroughs, other than, of course, Wu-Tang Clan. Are you proud to be putting Staten Island back on the map again?
“100 percent. To have that on my back is a blessing. You definitely get the love from the community, but then a lot of people don’t want you to make it out. But I try not to think about the negative stuff. But I’m definitely proud to be born and raised in Staten Island. Shout out to the Wu-Tang!”
Although you grew up in Staten Island, you’re proudly Puerto Rican and there are lots of Puerto Rican artists all over the charts at the moment – from Bad Bunny to Iann Dior. Why do you think Puerto Rican hip-hop is so strong right now?
“I feel like it’s the vibe out there. The artists are super creative, it’s crazy. I was actually out there not too long ago, just to get that hometown feel. It’s a beautiful island. Everybody out there is doing what they got to do. Shout out to Bad Bunny and all those artists coming out of the island. Hopefully one day I’ll get to work with one of them.”
You worked with 6ix9ine a couple of years ago, how did that come about? Do you have any regrets over that collab given the controversy that surrounds 6ix9ine now?
“It was a little while ago, a few years back. I actually opened up for him when I was a little younger. We exchanged information and locked up in the studio and made a track together.
“I don’t really feel no way about it due to the fact that it was before all that stuff took place. Pretty much every artist was working with him [back then] – A Boogie, Fetty Wap. So I made that track around the same time as his music was getting played on the radio and in the clubs.”
What’s next now after the success of ‘Whoopty’?
“I’m dropping a new single. Hopefully in the next few weeks. It’s definitely another New York drill anthem, it’s got that New York feel and vibe. It’s going to be major, so look out for that. I just to keep the momentum and stay consistent.”
CJ’s ‘Whoopty’ is out now