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“Whoopty” was everywhere in 2020.

You couldn’t go a day without hearing the NY drill song. That’s really saying something, considering rapper CJ designed this single for the clubs and, thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, every club was shuttered. Social media stepped in, and even though people were dancing socially distant in their living rooms instead of the club, the song still became a banger. “I felt like I was cheated a little bit due to the fact that I blew up during the pandemic,” CJ says. “Clubs were closed, so it was really hard for people to turn up to it at the time. But now that everything’s opening back up, I feel like everything happens for a reason and I’m just grateful.”

It only seems like CJ came out of nowhere with his breakout hit. In reality, it’s taken many years of hard work for the rapper to find his place. Born in Staten Island, New York, the birthplace of the legendary Wu-Tang Clan, CJ felt connected to the essence of hip-hop from an early age. “Music was something I grew up around,” he says. “I started really listening to hip-hop around 5 or 6 years old. I fell in love with the music life and playing my favorite rapper’s CDs. I was listening to a lot of 50 Cent, Lil Wayne, Jay-Z, Nas… you know, the artists of the early 2000s.”

Photos by Jason Goodrich

Photos by Jason Goodrich

It didn’t take long for CJ to go from being an avid hip-hop fan to an artist in the making. By 13, he was already laying down bars and he hasn’t stopped since. “I had an old friend of mine and we purchased a microphone,” he recalls. “We also had a program on the laptop called Fruity Loops that we were recording on. So we were just messing around and recording here and there, then I started taking it more seriously down the line.”

Taking it seriously meant CJ was investing money and time into recording at a professional studio, as well as shooting music videos. “Whoopty” was born out of this dedication.

“Right around [when] I dropped the song, we were in the middle of the pandemic,” CJ says. “My studio was closed and I couldn’t record music, so I was just at home listening to a bunch of beats. I came across the ‘Whoopty’ beat and with that particular song, I didn’t really write down the lyrics. It was more whatever came to my mind and I was just having fun with it.”

“Whoopty” may be the song CJ is known for, but it was a noticeable departure from the music he’d been making. Prior to “Whoopty,” CJ created more melodic songs with harmonies and slower beats. Yet, once he found this specific beat, he took inspiration from the Brooklyn drill scene.

“I listened to a lot of Pop Smoke at the time, so that pointed me in the right direction,” CJ says. “I was a fan of his music, may he rest in peace. He was blowing up in New York and around the globe at the time—he was in his prime before he passed away. So I went the drill route with ‘Whoopty’ because I was a fan of his.”

Photos by Jason Goodrich

Photos by Jason Goodrich

“Whoopty” took off almost immediately, earning over 1 million views on YouTube in less than a month as well as viral acclaim on TikTok. This earned CJ a fanbase, but he also caught the eye of a major hip-hop heavyweight. “In the beginning, French Montana reached out to show love to a young artist coming from New York,” he says. “He wanted to touch base and get in the studio with me. As soon as we locked in, we made, like, six songs in the first two days.

“He’s been in the game for a while now and he’s got hits on hits,” CJ continues. “I kind of needed guidance, my EP was my first project, so I asked him to be an executive producer. He was down and we have a song on it called ‘I’m Lit.’”

With French Montana in his corner, CJ rolled out his debut EP, “Loyalty Over Royalty,” at the top of 2021. The project came together in just a few months with Montana’s expertise, yet CJ had the EP’s title on his mind long before stepping into the studio. “I got “Loyalty Over Royalty” tattooed on my stomach before making the EP,” CJ says. “I’ve just lived by that code ever since I was young. Everybody thinks money is everything, but if you don’t have loyal and genuine people around you, there’s nothing.”

Photos by Jason Goodrich

Photos by Jason Goodrich

Following the release of his EP, CJ opted to step up his game in a big way. He wasn’t going to just drop a full-length album like everybody would expect. “As we speak, I’m working on a double album,” CJ shares. “I’m going to do a hip-hop album and I’m going to do a Latin album, that’s never been done before. We’re literally making history.

“In the Latin space, I’ve got a record coming with Ozuna called ‘Rolex,’” he continues. “It’s more melodic vibes. I have another record called ‘Replica’ dropping with El Alfa, and we have a song out now called ‘La Mamá de la Mamá.’ I want my album to be versatile, so I’m definitely going to have trap records, club records, melodic records and maybe some more drill records.”

CJ is planning to release the double album later this year and there will undoubtedly be more big names involved as time goes on. With less than a year between the release of “Loyalty Over Royalty’’ and his upcoming project, some might think there isn’t much time to show substantial growth. However, CJ is up to the challenge.

“When I dropped ‘Loyalty Over Royalty,’ that was just an EP, and this is going to be my debut album,” CJ says. “This is where it counts. My first project was a tester and this is going to be the one I’m putting my all into. Like I’ve said before, what I’m doing has never been done before. A lot of hip-hop artists try to tap into the Latin space and it doesn’t work out. To get that genuine support from those artists, it’s hard to come by. So to be accepted in both lanes, it’s a blessing.”

Photos by Jason Goodrich

Photos by Jason Goodrich