When 1999 dropped, the world was introduced to a group of high school aged emcees who possessed the spirit of an age of hip-hop that they were barely old enough to witness. Led by Joey Bada$$, Pro Era were a breath of fresh air to some, exemplary creative beings to others, and the rebirth of deadly Brooklyn emcees. Carrying an arsenal of punch lines and smooth lyrical content that forced their peers to step their game up, the crew was coming for theirs.
Two years has passed since that time, they have dropped a number of projects that reaffirm their promising talents and showcase their actual staying power. Various members have dropped solo mixtapes, each making a name for themselves; proving that they are more than a one man show.
Most recently, CJ Fly released his Thee Way Eye See It, a jazzy excursion into his ever expanding mind. It is filled with introspection, conspiracy theories, and biting social critique. Although he isn’t even twenty one yet, he displays a wisdom that is beyond his age.
We had the chance to sit down with the young emcee and prick his mind a little bit. He shared some his philosophy on life and background with us, revealing some of who the man behind the moniker actually is. It was an enjoyable and eye opening conversation and you will learn a lot from his words. Just let it happen naturally.
So you released your mixtape on Saturday, early in the morning. Was that really the time you wanted to put it up or what happened?
I just wanted to put it out, I knew it was good. I wasn’t really worried about what time. Regardless of what time it came out, people were waiting for it. I had to put it out then and there because people were waiting for it, you know.
Now the title is Thee Way Eye See It, but you spelled I a little different, with the “eye”, referencing the eyes.
Naw, I spelt “I” the way I spell it.
Can you explain, I see you and the rest of Pro Era have a cool way of spelling things, how that came about.
We just spell s**t out. I always thought the letter “I” was a weird letter though. EYE looks so much cooler, with the YE in the back. And I put thee because it something holy.
So on the album you have a crazy amount of production credits from various guys—Statik Selektah did a couple, Brandon Deshay did a couple. Did you come into the project knowing who wanted to produce what tracks?
Naw, I wasn’t even planning on it, I was just rapping. We got this new studio and s**t, so I just started going there and cooking up. Every beat that spoke to me, I spoke back to. And putting together and it sounded way way cohesive. After awhile, I was like “ooo this s**t sounds a little like some movie s**t, so let me just keep on going.” I was already into watching a lot of movies and s**t. Before I left for tour that summer, I was watching mad movies on Netflix, watching everything and paying attention to everything. So definitely, just came into play time. I tried to keep as natural as possible; I didn’t try to plan too much.
Like you say natural, you’re a natural lyricists. You’re double entendres and stuff like that, is very reminiscent of earlier 90’s stuff. Was that what you were aiming for or was that what you listening to while you were making music?
It came out that way. Even our sound as a group, we didn’t directly say “Yo lets do hip hop that s**ts going to be cool.” It was just, beats came on, we started rapping, that’s how we sounded, and that’s how the music sounded. It wasn’t like “you sound like this person” or “you like that other person.” It was nothing like that. I wasn’t even raised on hip hop. My hip hop history is horrible.
What were you raised on?
Reggae. My parents are from the Caribbean, so Reggae all night. Stuff like that, I can tell you about Buju Banton and all them people. Don’t ask me about (I don’t really want to say it), but don’t ask me about some s**t hip hop heads know.
So, going back to both the lyrics and the production, it has this really Jazz vibe throughout the entire tape?
Yeah this guy told me that (pointed to one of his friend), really jazzy. I didn’t really notice that until I was told that, months into finishing it. “Yo, this s**t sounds jazzy as h**l.” I was like, “really, I didn’t notice that.” I like the instrumentation and s**t, its dope. Those are the sounds that created nice vibrations. The vibrations had nice energy for me to touch on it, make sure I did that.
To me, it was really reminiscent of Low End Theory, some really like Tribe kind of stuff.
(He looks confused, notices the concern on my face, and then breaks into a laugh) Naw, I’m kidding, he was like (makes gesture). That was the first hip hop type of s**t I was listening to. Tribe was one of the first hip hop groups or even musicians that I ever stumbled upon and then deeply went into, and started to downloading all of their projects.
So how does it feel to have Phife Dawg on a track.
Amazing man, it still hasn’t hit me yet. Someone else has to come up to me on the street and say, “Yo, you got Phife Dawg on your shit!” And then I’ll know, but right now, I don’t know.
When I saw the credit, I was like, “this can’t really be a Phife Dawg feature, it has to be a sample”. So, I quickly went to that one and heard it, and was like “Yo, I’ve never heard this verse from Phife, this has to be real.” Like how did that actually come about?
I went to California to shoot “Tug at War” video. While out there I met with my homie Sofia, and she works with the GZA and Q-Tip. And they had their last show in Cali at the H20 Fest, and she told me to come through. I mean of course I’ll come through, it’s Tribe you know. I went there and whatever, Phife was there and I was introduced to him. I met his manager, I told him I had a joint and he was like “yeah, I’ll ask Phife”.
He was like, “I’m down man, I was worried about my son’s music, what he listened to at first, but since he told me about you guys and how he likes you guys, I’ve been happy for him.” Yeah
That’s a crazy cosign man.
Definitely, it blew my mind. “You know about us,” that blew our mind.
My favorite track was probably “Q&A”, I thought it was phenomenal.
Thank you man much appreciated.
So can you tell me a little bit about how that song came about?
I don’t know, it came about like any other song. Esta sent me a folder of beats, and I heard that s**t and I was like “naw, this is next level.” Like a lot of beats got attacked instantly, cause they spoke. Its easier when they speak, instead of you listening and forcing it. That one spoke to me and there was a certain situation with females, and that was my life at that time. So, I played on that and stuff that they like. I mention that in the verse, I mention a few names, not names but you know. I just expressed myself through that and my emotions too.
I didn’t think too much about it, you can’t over think stuff like that. You have to let it be as natural as possible. So, every song on there is genuine to me and that song is too. It meant something to me when I made it.
Going back the other way, I know you and Vic Mensa have an interesting relationship. I saw that you guys were interacting with one another online. He just released Innatape and you released this project, and you guys were sending tracks back and forth online—
We didn’t do that, cause I finished my project minutes before I dropped it, I couldn’t do that. “He was like send me that s**t,” but I never did it. He knows what it was though, I’m working on my s**t.
When I was actually in California, when I met Phife, I was with Vic. I was out there with Vic, we were at Troop Studios out there just chilling. He played me some records, I played him a few joints. I met him at South By, him, Chance, and the whole Savemoney f**k with them, cool cats. We were there just freestyling, “Savemoney and the Pro Pro”. They so chill, we don’t really meet a lot of people that we can hang out with that are similar to us. I mean people are really weird, and them cats are cool. I f**k with them.
Also, I know you are kind of really close to Smoke DZA.
Yeah, he is the big bro.
How did that come about?
Smokers Club Tour. We went there last summer. Me and Joey never had no real show experience like that. It was me, Joey, Steez, and Dirty Sanchez on tour. So like, when we go for sound-check and stuff like that, DZA would be the one to be like, “Yo, they came to watch ya’ll, remember that,” and would always be in our head. He would tell us little tips like, “stop cupping the mic” and all that good s**t. Stuff like that came into play and helped us develop and progress as performers.
We’re always around Smoke, he’s great friends with stripes, and we’re always in the studio while he is working on his stuff, while we’re working on our stuff.
And now you guys are going on tour again, Smokers tour again.
I don’t think Smoke is coming on this one though.
Are you excited about this upcoming tour?
Yeah, of course, I love to travel. Brooklyn is interesting, but I want to explore the world. I feel like life is all about experiences. Experiencing different nights and different shows and s**t. You know what I mean?
Yeah. Is there any city that you are looking forward to going or seeing this time particularly?
I’m just excited for all, I don’t want to picky. It’s going to be interesting, I want everything to be natural. I don’t want to force any energy from like California, and then we go out there and it doesn’t meet my expectations. I don’t like certain expectations, so I’m just going to go with the flow.
From last year’s tour or touring this year, because you guys tour extensively, are there any standout moments?
From tours. I always mention this, but I’ll never get over it. An English teach came over to me and said “I heard ‘Don’t Front’ from 99 and I liked it. You are a great writer,” and she came to the concert to tell me that, that means a lot. In Vancouver, Canada, and the month before my English professor failed me. So it was like “Screw you teacher”.