“Whoopty! Bitch I’m outside it’s a movie.” CJ’s “Whoopty” was (and still is) the go-to turn up anthem during the COVID-19 pandemic, and the Staten Island bred native is here to keep that momentum going. Having started recording at age 14, the rising star has already received a Platinum plaque for the smash hit, even peaking at #1 on Urban & Rhythmic Radio.
Inspired directly by 50 Cent, the Puerto Rican recording artist arrives with his own braggadocious bars, with his own swag and style that stands out amidst the Brooklyn drill scene. With 1996 tatted across his stomach, CJ was raised by a single mother in a borough that hasn’t seen any rappers come out since the Wu-Tang Clan. In 2018, he exploded onto the scene with his remix of Gunna’s “Toast Up,” showcasing versatility in both his rhymes and voice.
Fast forward to this year, CJ unleashed his highly-anticipated debut EP Loyalty Over Royalty executive produced by French Montana, with a standout banger the two collaborated on titled “I’m Lit.” Additionally, “Whoopty” received two standout remixes: a Latin one tapping Anuel AA and Ozuna, and a New York one recruiting French Montana and Rowdy Rebel.
On the 10th episode of Shirley’s Temple, Shirley Ju sat down with CJ at Matrix Studios in downtown Los Angeles to discuss his upbringing in Staten Island, the first time he smoked weed, French Montana reaching out, collaborating in the studio, his mental health, how he landed at Warner Records, navigating the hate, his new weed strain, remixing Gunna’s “Toast Up,” and more!
How old were you when you were drinking Four Lokos?
Junior high school, might’ve been 13. 13 years old drinking Four Lokos, wildin’. I was short and skinny, I think I might’ve blacked out before.
What was CJ like then? Were you into music?
For sure. I was making music a year or two after that, a little older. But at 13 I was experimenting, wildin’, trying new things. At 14 or 15, I’m like “let me start listening to beats and recording.” I had a little mic, a little laptop, that was it. I was in a booth cooking up at 15.
You taught yourself how to do all that?
Yeah, pretty much. I was learning as I was going. There’s a program called GarageBand, I was messing around on there. That’s really it.
Do you remember the first song you recorded?
No I don’t actually, I wish I did. It was a beat I found on YouTube. I was super young, saying whatever.
Back then, did you think you’d have this viral song everyone loves?
I mean, I was hoping like “damn, I want to be one of them rappers.” You know? Lit, with all the jewels and the chains. It worked out.
You grew up listening to 50 Cent, right?
For sure, early 2000’s. 2002, 2003, that was my vibe. 50 Cent, Jay-Z, Nas. That was my intro to hip-hop, early 2000’s. That’s what I grew up on, so I have a lot of that in my music now.
How was it growing up in the boroughs of Staten Island?
Born and raised in Staten Island, it’s a small town. In high school, junior high school, elementary school, everybody knew everybody. It’s a 14-mile island so we’re super small. Everybody I went to elementary school with, I went to junior high school with. Everybody I went to junior high school with, I went to high school with. We all grew up together.
The people you were drinking Four Lokos with?
[laughs] Yeah, exactly.
When did y’all start smoking?
The first time I started smoking weed was 11, and I got caught by my mom. I came home super high one day, I was in the cabinets looking for snacks. I had the munchies, so I was bussin’ down some Oreos on the table. She came downstairs and said “boy are you high?” I said “nah.” [laughs] It was over after that. I was bussin’ down some snacks.
You used to make melodic music, right?
Yeah, for sure. I still do. I just put out an EP with some melodic tracks on there, Loyalty Over Royalty is out now. First EP, first project executive produced by French Montana.
How did that happen?
French just reached out embracing me. Through mutuals, through my uncle [James Cruz], he worked with him before in the past. He said “yo, I want to work with him. You know, bring him by the crib.” As soon as we locked in, we cooked up ASAP. We made 6 joints in a few days.
What exactly did French do for the project?
He got a great ear for music, he could be an A&R. He was putting the pieces to the puzzle, helping me out with production and stuff like that. It’s great energy whenever we link up. We locked in and we vibed off rip. As soon as I met him, we locked in. We made some bangers. “I’m Lit” is out now. We got a few more songs together that should be dropping soon. I got some stuff on his project as well.
With him being a veteran in the game, biggest piece of advice he’s given you?
Ignore the hate. Stay focused, keep doing what you’re doing. Keep perfecting your craft. Keep making music. Don’t entertain all the negative stuff, keep going.
A huge part of this show is mental health. How has your mental state shifted from before to now?
I try to stay focused on the music, that’s what makes me happy. I love locking in the booth and creating great music. I’m good throughout it all, this is all I ever wanted as a kid. Now that it’s finally happening, it’s a blessing. I don’t be trippin’.
What motivates you the most when you’re in the studio?
Catching a vibe really. I got so much love for music. That’s what I love to do, it literally makes me happy, Catching a vibe in there, listening to some beats in there. Letting that shit blast as loud as possible and vibing. Whatever comes to mind, going in the booth and going crazy.
How long had you been grinding before you got signed?
It was a few years, maybe 9 to 10 years. I started recording really at 14, 15. I’m 24 now.
Did you work any part-time jobs?
Nah, I never had a job. I finished high school, graduated on time. I went to college, tried it out. It didn’t work out. I was studying Sports Management. I played sports growing up. I played baseball, basketball, football, I tried it all. I’m like “I can’t do this school shit.” Dropped out, came back home. Alright, what’s next?” Let me start taking this music seriously, that’s really it.
How’d you land at Warner Records?
You know, “Whoopty” been out for a little while. It was a little bidding war going on. All the labels were reaching out. They’re emailing me, emailing my management like “yo, we want to sit down and come up with something.” As soon as we sat down with Warner, it felt right. They came with the best situation.
Who signed you over there?
It’s Tom Corson and Aaron [Bay-Shuck].
Shout out to James Cruz in the building.
For sure, that’s family. That’s my uncle, he’s always been in my life. I’ve always been on the sidelines as a kid, waiting for my time.
How’s it feel to have “Whoopty” going crazy?
For sure, it’s a blessing. It’s all I ever wanted. I’ve been dreaming about this shit since I was a kid. Now that it’s happening, damn it feels surreal.
Did you think the record would become what it is?
What’s crazy, I felt like it was going to be something. I didn’t know it was going to be this big, but I thought it would’ve made some type of noise. When I heard it, oh this shit different. I played it back a few times. I thought it’d blow up in my area, locally. I didn’t think it’d be on some worldwide shit. I felt super great about it. I shot the video two days later. I recorded the song on a Wednesday., I shot the video on a Friday.
The video has 264 million views.
That shit’s crazy. That first million, I thought “yeah this song is outta here.” I was preparing for it.
This is your first drill song, who were you bumping when you made it?
I was bumping a lot of Pop [Smoke]. Rest in peace Pop Smoke. I never got the chance to meet him, but he played a big part in New York drill. I was listening to a lot of Pop Smoke, influenced even me doing the drill shit. I wish I would’ve had the chance to work with him.
You mentioned the hate earlier, how do you navigate people saying “so-and-so stole the sauce”?
I don’t really pay attention to negative stuff. I see the comments, I see the little blogs, but I stay focused on what’s right. It comes with the territory. Everybody wants to be #1, everybody wants to be the top dog. Everybody wants to be the best in the city. I be chillin’.
Best moment from the video shoot? You had all your people come out, you had the dog.
Nah, that wasn’t my dog. I got a little French Bulldog, he in the house. We usually bring him around, but he be wildin’ out. The day of the video, it was a great energy. It was a hot summer day, everybody was chillin’, having fun. Nothing was planned. We went out to Harlem one day, I rented a car. I had my guys with me ,we turned it up. Super natural, it was fun. We’re chillin’.
How’d it feel to go #1 on Urban & Rhythmic radio?
It feels amazing. It’s a blessing man, I can’t thank God enough.
Given you have such a big hit, did you feel that pressure? You came right back and gave us “Bop.”
Nah, there’s no pressure.I made “Whoopty” on some jorganic, natural. I be having fun when I go in the booth. I ain’t go in making “Whoopty” thinking “alright, today I’ma make a hit.” I be having fun with it. Even with “Bop,” I wasn’t trying to follow up “Whoopty.” Yo, let me have fun.
You be dancing?
[laughs] Yeah, I be hitting my little 1’s and 2’s. For sure. I make music that’s fun and energetic. Make people feel good, want to get up and dance. In my videos, I’ma portray that as well for sure.
You on TikTok?
Yeah, I’m on TikTok. It’s crazy ’cause I got more followers on TikTok than on Instagram. I’m super poppin’ on TikTok. I got 667K followers on TikTok. I don’t really post like that…
It’s the “Whoopty” shit!
Yeah, that’s what it is. I never really be on TikTok but anytime I post, that shit be getting millions and millions of views. Damn, this shit is lit. [laughs]
You always stay drippy, talk about your love for fashion too.
I love fashion. Even growing up, I always woke up in the morning before school, try to put some fly fit together. Matching. I’m always rocking.
Favorite designers or brands?
I like [Mike] Amiri a lot, shout out Amiri. I like Dior. I got some Ksubi jeans on right now. I love me some J’s. We got that brand Jordan deal.
Oh, you do? Congrats!
Thank you, I appreciate that. That was a few months ago. We did a “Whoopty” and Jordan collab. We got the Whoopty 1’s, it’s the bread color. We got that out right now, it was a limited release. I believe it was 200, it was a family and friends release. We got that Jordan deal so I keep on some J’s all the time. Really designer shit.
What’d you drop your first big bag on?
Probably my jewels: my watch, my chain. My chain says CJ, it was a little pretty penny. Shout out to French Diamonds, Sam Diamonds. Shout out to Benny The Jeweler on the watch. I copped some new ice two days ago from Peter Marco in Beverly Hills.
You’re 100% Puerto Rican too. Can we expect some Spanish bars?
For sure. We got the “Whoopty” Latin remix: me, Anuel, Ozuna. We shot that video in Miami.
Two of the biggest Latin artists! How was that experience?
It was super dope. They reached out showing love, huge fans of the record. They said “we want to work with you. We see the movement, we see what’s going on.” Me and Ozuna got another joint, we working on this side.
How’s it feel to have all these big people reach out to you?
It’s crazy. Damn, they want to work with me? The hell am I? It’s a blessing man. I always came up watching them, so it’s crazy. I got the chance now to work with them, it’s huge.
Talk about remixing Gunna’s “Toast Up” back in 2018.
Yeah, it gave me a little buzz in my town. You’ll go down the street, everybody blasting “Toast Up Remix.” No disrespect, but they was talking about my version was better than the original. [laughs]
How was it being in Karl Kani’s fashion campaign?
Shout out to Karl Kani, he got some dope clothes. We were working with him for a little bit. He’s having a photoshoot for his new line coming out, he said “come through, I want you to be one of the models.” I said “let’s do it.” It came out pretty dope. Shout out Karl Kani, he be having some drip.
Someone you want to work with that you haven’t yet?
There’s a bunch of artists that’s hot right now. Shout out to Lil’ Baby, he’s doing his thing. Lil Durk doing his thing. Pooh Shiesty doing his thing right now. You mentioned 2KBABY’s coming, that’s my boy. He’s dope. Everybody who’s doing their thing right now, I want to lock in and build some relationships.
3 things you need in the studio at all times?
Some water, weed, Koko Nuggz. I got a deal with them, we got a collab. We’re doing a coconut flavor. Since I’m Puerto Rican, it’s called “coquito.” We dropped a little care package: Koko Nuggz and my strain that dropped on 4/20.
What strain is this?
We got a situation with Munchies. We did a Whoopty strain, a Zaza strain, and a Blue Cheese strain. It’s a hybrid, Sativa, and an Indica.
What do you like to do for fun?
I like to travel a lot. Whenever I get some free time, I’ll hop on a plane and go to a different country. I really haven’t been nowhere crazy, but I really like Mexico a lot. Mexico was dope. I’ve been to Tulum once. I’ve been to another area by Cancun. It’s super dope.
Did you travel way less ’cause of COVID?
Yeah, that’s really what it is. Hopefully everything opens back up and we start moving around.
How was the pandemic for you?
I was back home. In the beginning, I was back home working. It gave me the time to perfect my craft, really sit at home and listen to more beats. Gave me more time in the studio, so It worked out. [laughs]
What can we expect next music-wise?
We got more music coming. We got the “Whoopty Remix.” We got a New York version with me, Rowdy Rebel, and French Montana. We got the Latin version with me, Ozuna, and Anuel. We going to tap in with more artists and put some work in.
How are you on planes?
I be asleep. Give me some headphones or put a little movie on the screen, I be asleep. I be chillin’. He’s the one who be scared, where he at? [points to friend] He be scared. He be nervous. I don’t really be trippin’. You can’t think bad. when you start thinking bad, you start overreacting. You start catching anxiety and shit, I be chillin’.
Have you always had a positive mindset?
Yeah, I try to. I try not to think the worst. Everything’s in God’s plan, so I be chillin’.
The Temple 10 (spitfire round)
The 100 emoji.
Damn, ice cream. Ben and Jerry’s: Chocolate Core. That’s my shit.
Favorite song at the moment?
That Coi Leray song, “No More Parties.” That shit fire.
Favorite thing to do for self-care?
Shit, going to a spa and getting a massage.
Hot or cold?
Hot, definitely hot. Hot everything. Hot water, hot weather. I drink hot tea, I love tea.
Aw man. [laughs] Bottom. With a girl though, y’all going crazy.
Damn I ain’t gon’ lie, heights. I’m not looking out the plane but when I be on the roller coasters, I be looking down like, “damn, I’m really about to get on that shit.” So heights.
First thing that comes to mind: “Whoopty.”
What’s your secret talent?
I be spanking n*ggas in the PlayStation. I play UFC, 2K, FIFA. I’m nice, come fuck with me.
Anything else you want to let us know?
Stay tuned to more music. We going to tap in with some more artists and turn it up, 2021.