As children, most of us spend our time dressing up, colouring in, or generally being very small nuisances. For New York-based artist CJ, his childhood looked quite different. “I was watching music videos in the house and listening to rap,” he says in the latest instalment of NME’s Firsts.
The rapper was only “five or six-years old” when he first knew he wanted to be a musician. “I was just like: ‘I wanna be like one of these guys on TV with all the nice cars and all the nice jewellery.’”
Almost 20 years on – and after self-releasing his music with the help of YouTube and SoundCloud – CJ’s childhood dream has been realised. With NY drill infused beats, earworm hooks and it’s meme-inspiring lyrics about a cheesy love of making money, his breakout single ‘Whoopty’ amassed over 250 million views on YouTube, inspired thousands of TikTok videos and reached the Top 10 in both the UK and U.S.
Following on from the track’s success last summer, the Staten Island native released his debut EP earlier this year.
“It was definitely a goal for me,” he says of the 12 track-strong ‘Loyalty over Royalty’. “My supporters and the people who listen to me only got to hear one or two songs – ‘Whoopty’ and ‘Bop’ – so they were just waiting for more music from me. So, I decided to put out a project to give them what they’ve been asking for.”
Since then, CJ’s buzz only seems to have intensified. “I was on vacation and I went to Mexico,” he says, “I was there for maybe 30 minutes and I guess someone had noticed me, so they started playing my song around the pool. I was just like: ‘what the hell, I’m in Mexico, how the hell is my song playing out here?’”
Despite being stopped “all the time” by adoring fans, CJ takes the acclaim in his stride. “It’s hard for me to even walk around the mall or go to the store,” he says, “but it comes with it, so you just gotta do what you gotta do.”
For NME Firsts, CJ discussed his first tattoo, his first ever Instagram post and the first time he heard his own music on the radio. Watch the video in full above.