By: Keith Nelson Jr (@JusAire)
The waiting room of Platinum Sound Recording Studios on 320 W 46th St in the heart of midtown Manhattan almost made me forgot I was there to listen to a hip hop album from one of the most lyrically gifted MC’s of the last few years. Scented candles, low lights and Sade’s “No Ordinary Love” almost massaged my mind into a nap, before I was awoken by the buzz of a Twitter direct message:
“I’m downstairs. My phone’s dying.”
Minutes later, decked in an all Black Pro Era T-Shirt, black sweats, a pair of Nike’s and the relaxed smile that perfectly matches his sly lyrics, Pro Era’s CJ Fly walked into the studio eager to share the labor of his two years of work. CJ’s last release, Thee Way Eye See It, came out October 5th, 2013 and since then he has witnessed his groupmate Joey Bada$$ go from Hot 97’s “minor league” to a Top 5 Billboard charting artist for his debut album B4.DA.$$. CJ is ready to continue the momentum with his new project.
The verbose lyricist who “isn’t a pacifist, but if you ask for it then I may pass a fist” says his debut project Thee Way Eye See It was you sitting in the theater. Now the new project is “one of the movies” when describing the difference between his upcoming project and his 2013 mixtape. He watches movies and breaks down “how they shoot it, the cameras they’re using, the different elements they use in the film.” According to CJ, fans can expect this cinematic aspirations to manifest in the upcoming music videos and promises “the concept of the music tripled, or quadrupled” once you watch the visuals.
Relly Rel and CJ’s Pro Era groupmate Kirk Knight contribute production on the new project, which currently has none of his Pro Era crew featured, but he admits that can change.
In an EXCLUSIVE interview with WatchLoud, CJ Fly previewed his upcoming project, accepts Dizzy Wright’s $500K rap battle challenge, explains what lyrics of his have gone over people’s heads and much more.
WatchLOUD: It’s been two years since you released The Way Eye See It. What have you been doing in that time?
CJ Fly: Just figuring it out. I’m 22 now. So, life changed a whole lot in two years. Especially with the Pro Era camp. Shit got crazy for us.
What changed over those last two years?
Me growing up is going to affect me as an artist. I’m such an honest artist, everything that’s going on in my life is spoken on in my music. I think over the years, everything that’s been occurring in my life, I’ve been documenting through music. Share it with people and share the experience. I haven’t dropped anything in the past two years but even the songs I have you can hear it in them. You heard “Scratch Off” [From Statik Selektah’s Lucky 7 album]. Still dropping my life gems on it.
You released “Run 2” in April around the time of the Freddie Gray death. In the song your rapped, “Always on point so I won’t be a target/Cause cops killings Black kids and then they just walking.” How do you walk in these streets knowing that? How much of this sort of social commentary will be in the upcoming project?
I think everything is socially conscious, but it’s not pertaining to exactly what’s going on on the news. The news going to tell you what they want to tell you. They going to tell you what you need to know in their case. You know what I’m saying? I’m talking about everything in a broad way. Not JUST what’s being seen on the news. Shit that’s not even being spoken about right now. Conversations that are not even being had. My mindset when I’m on the streets is…I was in Canada for a whole month recently and I only heard police sirens or ambulances twice out of the whole month. You feel me? When I’m in New York and I hear it, I just feel so drained. Anytime I see police, I don’t feel safe. Police are supposed to be protecting us, I don’t ever feel safe around police. I never seen police save anybody. Have you? NEVER IN MY LIFE. Only firemen probably do some shit. Never seen a cop do that shit. Not saying they don’t. I just never seen it. They’re here for other reasons than we think they’re here for. We call them Policy Enforcers.
This is the internet age and fans wants something new every week. How have you been able to sit back and not put out music while your fans have been clamoring for new music?
I feel like I got to take time with it and really sit back and watch what’s going on in music right now. I’m not going to say there’s a lot of wack shit. But, there’s some shit I wouldnt let slide, musically. It’s going on and people are loving it. Some of the biggest songs of our generation right now and it makes me wonder what’s going on with society. Music is music. People should be able to express themselves in any way. I just feel like what I’m about to present is totally missing from music right now and I think it’s needed.
Well, let’s get into the project. What’s the details behind it? Is there a title? Release date?
Uhhhhh. I’m not ready to announce the title yet. I want to do a whole little plan for that. But you already know. I told you [off the record]. We just going to call it “FT” for now. The project is amazing. I really like it. I had a lot of fun creating it. I feel like I’m at a point in my life where I should be able to have fun with my music and still do what I do. It’s not like I did some whole other shit that nobody’s going to like. It’s music I dont think people are going to expect from me, but will still be good shit.
If there’s one thing about you that is apparent from all your songs is that you are very concentrated on lyricism. What are some lyrics from the new project that even impressed you?
That’s a good question. [Laughs] Umm..on this one song I say “Backwoods got me turning a new leaf, this shit is life changing/The flow is cold, stay on my toes, sharp like I’m ice skating.” [Laughs] I think that bar was like whoa. That’s one.
So, you went to Canada to work on the project?
I didn’t go to Canada to work on the project. Some life shit happened. My grandfather passed. I didn’t really go public about it either. Just kept it real quiet. I didn’t really want everybody to be sympathetic and shit. I just dealt with it on my own. It was my grandfather and grandmother living together. I didn’t want to leave my grandmother after the funeral so soon. So I stayed for the whole month. I ended up wanting to stay there for a week or two and just finish the project. But it ended up being a month. Luckily I did stay there because a week after the funeral she was in the hospital for like high blood sugar and shit. Luckily I was there. Everything’s good. I had to help her change her diet. Sparkling waters, no more soda. Fruits. All that good shit. I was doing that half of the day. Half of the day we’d go in the streets and I’d run with her. Then the other half I’d go to the studio all night, come back late in the morning and check on her and shit.
How did that affect the music?
You’re going to hear it. I feel like everytime something happens in life, it inspires really deep music. It sucks that it has to be that way. But it’s like, it comes out and it translates through the music and other people can feel what you’re feeling and there’s nothing wrong with that. People are scared to be vulnerable. People are scared to really express themselves fully. I got into a lot of details of what’s going on and what’s transpiring in my life. What’s holding me back and what’s helping me.
You spoke about your grandmother before on Statik Selektah’s “Scratch Off”.
Funny thing is, that one was about my mom’s mom. Not the one in Canada. It’s funny, because another song I started working on is about some Off-Track Betting shit. She’s addicted to horse races. So, the other one is addicted to lotto and one is addicted to horse racing.
I lost my aunt about three years ago and she used to always send me to the stores to get her scratch offs. What do you think fuels such an addiction?
When they get to that point in their life where they’re not taking the risks we’re taking to do something amazing, the lotto is that one piece of excitement. Your excitement can rise in your seat. We do all this other shit to raise our excitement. We don’t get off by scratching off a Scratch Off or getting a lotto number on TV. Or seeing the numbers pop up on the TV. It’s a rush for them. If my grandmother misses the lotto at 7:30 she’s pissed.
You mentioned to me before the interview that you’re doing something special with your lyrics. Do you wish to speak on that?
I’m working on a special feature on my site so people can really get into details of my lyrics. I’m not going to say what, yet. But I’ll have a special feature for the fans to really get into the lyrics and get what I’m saying. That’s the plan. Site’s going to be launched soon. I’m going to have exclusive merch on there. Pay attention.
Why do you think your lyrics go over people’s heads sometimes?
Sometimes this shit be an accident. A lot of the stuff I recorded in Canada was mostly freestyle. I don’t try certain stuff. It’s in me already. I know there’s a bar on “Crew’s Cunt Troll” that I said that when I thought about it afterwards I was like ‘oh shit.’ I was telling The Underachievers this in Australia last year. I was like ‘yo, bro, it’s so hard for me to keep it simple. I don’t know how to keep it simple. This is just me. You see how you guys can just say something? I can’t say something. I can say something with something and something. I can’t help it.
Are there any lyrics from your old projects you’ll be explaining a bit more that you felt went over people’s heads?
From The Way Eye See It? Hmmm. On “Day zZz’s” I said:
“The irony of ironing, I’m sure there wasn’t any crease/
In the streets the crime increase/
In the coast where they’re all beast/
Rotten apple NYC/
Knew I was my father’s seed/
Didn’t fall too far from tree/
I planned (plant) to grow so I would put water on me before I leave(leaf).”
Nobody caught that. If n*ggas caught that I’d be in the rap Hall of Fame right now. [Laughs] Nobody caught that. There’s that and another one where I said “don’t got to ask (axe), gave him his cut, he drop the tree.” Nobody got that. There’s a bunch. For the site, I’m going to do a video series for The Way Eye See It and just update people on it.
You’ll defend your bars to the death.
I’m hearing on the airwaves my homie Dizzy Wright and his team talking about $500K to rap battle any rap crew, my squad BEEN with it. That’s nothing.
You sure y’all got the bars for a battle?
I got the bars, I don’t got the money. They can put up the money, I’ll just rap.
Since we’re on the topic of battles, what is your opinion on the ghostwriting. Do you think a rapper can be great and still have ghostwritten bars?
Ummm..personally, I don’t fuck with that. It’s been going on for years. It’s a part of music history. But, I write all my verses. That’s all Imma say. I see myself writing other people’s verses. There’s nothing wrong with that. I’ll get paid for that.
“FT” does not currently have a release date but CJ promises to release it relatively soon. The production is darker and more abstract on The Way Eye See It, with the lush richness of saxophones that permeated TWESI joined by dirty bass lines and ambient sounds perfect for a Travis Scott album.
But, his unorthodox approach produced one song that has CJ channelling talents never demonstrated before on a song that would make Nas’ “I Gave You Power” proud. If “FT” is an indication of where CJ and Pro Era are heading, then it’s a matter of time before he’ll hit that jackpot his grandmothers have been betting on.