The Come Up: CJ Fly
Everyone from Brooklyn’s young rap crew, Pro.Era, had their own coming out party to hip-hop at various times. Joey Bada$$ took the spotlight after 1999 dropped, and you can say the same thing for CJ Fly. He stole the show with his verse on “Hardknock,” followed by the release of his debut mixtape, Thee Way Eye See It, which showed Pro. Era's talent depth chart runs deep. The 20-year-old is part of a crew with guys who can all rhyme, and all of whom lean more towards the sounds of hip-hop’s golden age as opposed to the mainstream sounds that have dominated the airwaves of hip-hop. That preference is a major attraction to their dedicated fan base.
Having met several crew members, including Joey Bada$$, at Murrow High School in Brooklyn, Pro.Era took off and never looked back. Their amazing run so far has yielded a national tour alongside names such as Wiz Khalifa and A$AP Rocky on the Under the Influence tour, the Smokers Club Tour, and even a collaboration between Fly and A Tribe Called Quest’s Phife Dawg. With a variety of projects dropping soon, such as the On Secc$ Tap.e Vol.2, solo projects from Fly, and visuals from Thee Way Eye See It, Pro.Era are on a steady path to accomplish Fly’s goal of being the “best crew to do it in the history of legendary rap groups.” Upper echelon.—Michael Nguyen
On growing up in Brooklyn:
CJ Fly: Being from Brooklyn, you can’t avoid the music that’s around you. Outside, hip-hop will be playing on the radio; you want to be a part of something so deep in your culture. Being the Brooklyn kid that I am, I had to tap into it.
[I listened to] A Tribe Called Quest, and on a more American level, my parents listened to Michael [Jackson] and R. Kelly. I started looking at more rappers from there. I remember all the '90s stuff like Missy Elliot. I remember Missy videos being on TV, Busta Rhymes. ATCQ would always say Linden Blvd in their songs because I think that's where they grew up in Queens. When I was younger I always thought they were from my neighborhood in Flatbush and that I would one day see them. [Laughs]
[Brooklyn] definitely helped bring definition into the music and the view of what life was. It definitely had a big influence on that. Aside from Brooklyn, look at Bedstuy, for example—Jay-Z and Biggie. There’s a lot to top. Not in the whole Brooklyn, but just from my neighborhood alone. At the top, it’s Jay and Biggie.
On how he started rapping:
It just came naturally. I don’t think about it too much but I’ve always listen to music as a kid and I didn’t want to do anything else. I’ve always loved poetry, too. I definitely tried to fuse it. You can hear it even when I don’t try. You can hear an accent when I speak sometimes. I try to make my music American and sometimes in our raps, people say they can hear reggae in my voice. I wasn’t trying to, though; it was more natural. All the stuff I was listening to as a child comes out in my music.
I just think about life and it gives me experiences to talk about. I feel like I’ll have an issue if there’s nothing going on. If I stayed in a room for a whole week then I would have nothing to talk about. I like to go out and experience things; I like to keep everything true.
I kept dreaming that I would be flying in my dreams. It definitely fit me perfectly. At school, I was called “Fly” because I had always dressed well. Before then, I had CJ Fresh or some weird shit. That changed the next day. It went from “Fresh” and upgraded to “Fly.” We don’t use that shit no more.
On the Under The Influence Tour:
My overall experience would be that I learned a lot and I was high as fuck. I definitely took in a lot, from weed puffs to the experience.
It wasn’t bad. I like to experience things. Before I would go on a tour, I wouldn’t really be as excited until I went through the actual experience. Now that I actually experienced it, it definitely interested me in a whole. It’s great to leave home and get respect from a lot of people who don’t even know you.
I learned to be on point and to make sure you give a great show. Their shows were coordinated perfectly. They had the different segments so they were dope shows.
I have to say the Under The Influence Tour with Joey Bada$$ is my best experience yet. The large venues and mass amount of fans were definitely a highlight. Being on tour was a highlight and a major blessing. The Australian trip was crazy. [Laughs]
I can’t get over this wolf. I was in the back of a pick-up truck with a wolf. It was good. The wolf’s name is Katanna and she was mad cool. I was told that a wolf is not as ferocious as they make it seem but I’m sure a hungry wolf would eat my ass.
On his sound and being indie:
I don’t try to sound like any other artist. Even when we were making Joey’s 1999, we didn’t really pinpoint the hip-hop and be like, “Let’s do this to sound differently.” But that’s what came up—that’s what we projected once we started rapping. We definitely try to manifest everything we’ve planned. But a lot of things were blessings and a lot just came.
I mean, the whole mainstream topic is different. As far as it goes, it’s whatever you end up being. Some are platformed for the radio. I would talk about our interests and beliefs, rather than the mainstream topics, which is a lot of materialistic ideas.
On Secc$ Tap.e Vol.2 And B4.Da.$$:
I can’t even tell you. [Laughs] It’s going to be dope. I’m just recording now and planning to drop unreleased music from the lost tapes. [Laughs.] I’ve been rapping, rapping, rapping, rapping.
With B4.Da.$$ It's gonna be really dope, I think we gotta give people that same refreshing feeling 1999 gave them when they first heard it.
On what's next:
End of the year, I’d like to get awards and accolades. The visuals are definitely coming out. If it can get acknowledged by major markets, that’d be amazing. I just take note of everything that I like a lot. Visually, I liked everything [Quentin Tarantino] did. I watch the camera movements, scene transitions—just everything. I get more ideas from watching movies.
I want Pro.Era to be as big as big as every rap crew in history. I want to be the greatest to do it in the history of legendary rap groups. We have a bunch of spitters with each one of them being able to rap. It separates us from a lot of groups. We can all genuinely rap.