Last summer, Staten Island native CJ barreled his way into the mainstream rap scene when he unleashed “Whoopty,” a slithery drill single that sampled the Bollywood hit “Sanam Re.” The track has recently charged its way up the Billboard’s Hot 100, peaking at No. 25 earlier this month.
“Whoopty” not only netted CJ a partnership deal with Warner Records, but also a fistful of co-signs from New York luminaries Cardi B, 50 Cent, French Montana, and Busta Rhymes. “I just felt blessed at the moment, you know?” he tells Billboard about the Warner deal. “It was just the start of a new chapter. It comes with a lot of work, but I was ready for it. It was a blessed feeling.”
Aaron Bay-Schuck, Warner’s co-chairman & CEO, is equally elated about the signing. “We first reached out to CJ after hearing ‘Whoopty,’ which we loved instantly, but more importantly, upon meeting him, his star power was obvious, as was his ambition to be an artist at the highest level,” he says. “He shared amazing, unreleased music that showed us this would be more than just a song and expressed a desire to be the next to put Staten Island on his back and bring the popular subgenre of drill music to the mainstream. His energy was infectious, and he had already surrounded himself with a top-notch management team in James Cruz. For us, it was a no-brainer.”
James Cruz, CJ’s manager and a longtime music executive, compares the rookie’s mentality to a young Kobe Bryant. “CJ became the Kobe of this game, in my opinion, because he was raised from little to be a superstar,” he says. “The moment he knew how to talk, he knew how to walk, [CJ] had a vibe. From a little child, we always knew there was something special.”
With his first Warner EP, executive produced by French Montana, set to be released soon, CJ now looks to solidify his status beyond his breakthrough hit (“The new music CJ has been working on is exciting, to say the least,” says Warner A&R Jeff Juin. “When I first heard ‘Whoopty,’ it was one of the few records of the summer that made me feel I had to be apart of his career.”). Until then, he plans to ride the wave of a thunderous single. Billboard spoke to CJ about making “Whoopty,” his deal with Warner, his favorite co-sign and more.
Why do you feel Warner was the best place for you to kick-off your career?
We definitely sat down with a few other labels. A lot of labels were at the door knocking. I just feel like Warner had the best situation for me. It made perfect sense.
Before “Whoopty,” your last track posted on YouTube was “Understood,” which was more of a melodic record. What made you step away from that sound and come with a more aggressive drill single?
You know, the drill scene was heavy in New York at the time. What’s crazy is “Whoopty” was my first drill beat that I ever attempted to rap on. I just felt like I was missing that sound. I was like, you know what, let me try something new.
That same sample on “Whoopty” is also used on “Exposing Me,” which was previously made by King Von and Pop Smoke, respectively. Did you even know that before jumping on that beat?
I definitely knew. It was a common sample that artists have used in the past. The beat was so hard when I first heard it. I was like, “Yo. I can’t not do this.” The beat was so fire that I had to drop on it. I just didn’t know it was going to blow up the way it blew up. So I just put it out there on some regular [s–t], but it just happened to go crazy. It went viral.
You’re from Staten Island. Explain the sense of pride you have knowing that your town is back on the map.
It definitely means a lot. There’s a lot of pressure on me, especially with coming out of Staten Island. People have high expectations since Wu-Tang came out of there 20-30 years ago. It’s a blessing too, because for me to have that on my back and there haven’t been anything out of Staten Island in years, I’m sticking with that and I’m running with it.
You have a handful of New York co-signs, ranging from Cardi B to French Montana to Busta Rhymes. Which one means the most to you, confidence-wise?
Well, a lot of people don’t know this, but I had a situation [prior deal] with EQ, Equity Distribution. They’re under Roc Nation. I got the chance to run to Jay [Z], and stuff like that. That was huge. I feel like, the biggest co-sign… I had a few. I had 50 [Cent] bumping the record. Maybe, my mother [laughs]. Nah, I’m joking. I wanna say maybe Cardi for now.
The reason I say Cardi is because when we was thinking about doing a remix, a lot of people were saying that they heard her on [it]. We were kind of anticipating that. So for her to give me that co-sign and post it on her own, that was huge.
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How close are you guys to putting out a remix?
You know, we’re just trying to make sure it’s the right one. We had a few others reach out and said they wanna jump on the remix. We actually had a few artists make their own sixteen and sent it over. We just wanna make sure it’s right and not just put out any remix. We want to make sure it’s correct, it’s with the right artist and it’s the right time. We’re still trying to figure everything out now, but hopefully soon.
Before you blew up, you collaborated with 6ix9ine, two years ago. Looking back now, do you regret that collab, knowing how everything has played out with his career?
I really don’t, because it was at a time where he was still being accepted into hip-hop. Everybody was still blasting his music on the radio, blasting his music on all platforms, and screaming all of his lyrics in the club. So it’s kind of like, I definitely don’t regret it. It’s something that happened in the past. The record is already done. It is what it is. I can’t really do anything about it. I’m here now. It’s my time.
Let’s jump into this upcoming EP you’re working on. Are we going to get more “Understood” type of records, or “Whoopty” style?
[Laughs] I wanna say both. Definitely both. I definitely got back into the melodic stuff, and I definitely wanna keep that “Whoopty” energy, that drill energy. So definitely both.
Are you eyeing features for it, or thinking about riding solo?
We’re gonna have some nice features on it. Have some established artists and some up-and-coming artists, but we’re definitely gonna have some features on there. I wanna start working with more artists.
You know you gotta give us one or two.
I’m sure a lot of people can already tell, obviously French [Montana]. We got some nice records — crazy records, actually — ready to go.