“Hip-Hop man, there’s a bar in my freestyle “If it wasn’t for the bootlegs, I wouldn’t be in this rapping shit’”
Circa 2011-2017 is what I call the 2nd golden age of hip-hop. The state of the culture was rich, as young creative teens learned to navigate around the internet, creating brands for themselves and dropping some of the most inspired and influential records of a generation. From Odd Future’s gang of rebellious teens to Harlem’s fashionably eccentric A$AP Mob, hip-hop was full of artists that made it their business to go against the grain.
Coming out of the same class was Brooklyn’s hip-hop supergroup Pro Era. The group was reminiscent of classic 90’s boom-bap, emulating the production of greats like DJ Premier, Pete Rock, and MF DOOM. De fact leader Joey Bada$$ dropped his now-iconic mixtape, 1999, which featured some notable guest verses from each Pro Era member. Some of the most memorable features come from the then 17-year-old emcee CJ Fly who gave some of the projects most spirited performances on tracks like “Hardknock,” “Don’t Front,” and “Suspect .” Fly shows great confidence and poise on each track, making him a standout on the album.
As a young rapper, Fly was hungry and passionate about his craft. Inspired by the generation before him, Fly wanted to emulate to style and lyrical ability of his predecessors.
“People thought we were trying hard to copy the ‘90s, but really we are just ‘90s babies; it’s what we grew up on, so it naturally just became our niche.”
Fly has shown exceptional growth since his high school days recording tracks with his friends. Ten years after the recording of Pro Era’s first mixtape, CJ Fly is officially adulting. After the birth of his first baby boy last year, Fly is focused on maturing, sharpening his pen, and spitting some "grown man bars". “Being a father changes my life as an artist because it gave me this crazy drive as a rapper,” Fly tells me. “Now I’m focused on being more of an inspiration. I’m writing about my kid, generational wealth, and ownership.”
Last year the rapper released his sophomore album RUDEBWOY, a project dedicated to his roots. His roots coming from Jamaica, his roots as a creative in black music, and his roots in hip-hop. Fly teamed up with producer Statik Selektah to craft the beats to make the rapper’s most honest project to date. “The creation of Rhudeboy was super fun; working with Statik was an honor, being able to sit down and lock in with him was super amazing and inspiring,” Fly said.
CJ Fly continues to show his appreciation for the pioneers and classic hip-hop from project to project. Fly is one of the emcees rapping in Rock the Bells’ ‘73 Until Infinity event celebrating hip-hops 48th anniversary. The emcee with rap beside the creator of hip-hop himself, DJ Kool Herc, and other talented emcees in the events cypher. “It’s amazing bro, would you believe that a house party in the Bronx made it this far. Shout out to the pioneers, rappers, and DJs that came before us”
This isn’t Fly’s first time linking up with pioneers of our culture. The rapper was able to work with the late Phife Dawg on his single “Seek Well”. Fly describes the humbling experience of working with the artists that he looked up to since a child.
“I worked with Phife Dawg before he passed away, RIP, Phife; he was one of my favorite artists to work with. I grew up on him and Tribe, so it was inspiring.”
“If it wasn’t for them bootlegs, there wouldn’t be no rapping shit,” he spits in his freestyle. Fly explains that he would buy bootleg CDs in his neighborhood as a kid, finding some of his favorite artists and albums from a young age, solidifying his passion for rapping. “Having those CDs really made me fall in love with music,” he explains. “A few years later, I would find out about Limewire and found even more music.”
CJ Fly is working on his 4th studio album, Not What You’re Expecting, to release later this year. “I’m independent now; I’m working on being more versatile, so on this project, you will hear a bunch of different vibes for everybody.”
After 10 years committed to putting out the best work possible, CJ Fly continues to go against the grain in the same spirit he did when he was a young promising act making his debut. Now a father and independent artist, CJ Fly is far from the kid we met in 2011. He’s mature, focused and set on being not only the best MC but the best man he can be,.