Before listeners get a chance to peruse through a physical copy of his LP, they can get their hands on his latest mixtape Who Is CJ Hilton. Songs like "The Hottest" and "I Wish" get play on the project, with the latter possibly getting the remix treatment by a hip-hop friend whose career is also navigated by his manager Mark Pitts. CJ performs many of the tracks during The-Dream's current Kill the Lights tour, which he's a guest performer on -- the next stop is in L.A. this week.
Read on as the tattooed entertainer, who plays the drums, piano, guitar and bass reveals how he snagged a studio session with Stevie Wonder, his connection with Mario, the similar struggle he shares with J. Cole and the biggest inspiration in his life.
What's a song off your new mixtape that you're excited about?
One of my favorites is called "I Wish." We're about to put J. Cole on that right now."'I Wish" is basically letting people into my world. Letting people know some of the things I wish I had. Some of the things I didn't have to go through. Showing some more about CJ Hilton, because that's the question I've been getting from a lot of people: "Who is CJ Hilton? We love his music but who is CJ Hilton?" That's the whole objective of this mixtape is to let people know a little more about me.
What's the status of your Cold Summer album?
Album is pretty much done. I felt like it was one side of me. The two singles that have been out are a little mature: "So Fresh" featuring Nas and "Cold Summer." Because I am so musically inclined, and I can do any type of music, people see that my music is mature so without seeing my face you would think I was a 30 or 35-year-old guy. Realistically, that's just one side of me. I'm a real musician, so I love real music. But at the same time, I'm 23 years old. I like to have fun, go to the clubs, mess around with girls, ride my cars, all that s---.
You created a song with Raphael Saadiq called "Never Give You Up," off his 2008 album, The Way I See It. Describe how that came about.
Raphael is a big influence. He taught me about the bass. He's a great bass player, and he taught me a lot about production. He has a soulful sound, but he has a hip-hop element to his music. I produced and wrote ["Never Give You Up"]. [It] was nominated for a Grammy. I kept saying, "I wanna do a song, you gotta just let me get one." He said, "Go make something, and if I like it, we'll do it." I did two tracks first. He liked them but he wasn't blown away. He was in the hallway and I played "Never Give You Up." He came out of the A Room [in the studio]... walked to my room and said, "This is it, we got it. I'm gonna call Stevie right now." I'm like, "Stevie who?" He calls Stevie Wonder.
Watch CJ Hilton's "Cold Summer" Video
So how did Stevie's part come about?
[Raphael's] like, "I need you to come and do some parts for me." [Stevie's] like, "I'll be over there in about 15 to 20 minutes." Fifteen to 20 minutes turned into four, five hours. Stevie comes at 2[AM], sings his part and says, "CJ what do you think about this?" I just sat there. I couldn't even talk. He's like, "CJ!" And I couldn't say anything. Really surreal moment.
Describe your working relationship with Mario.
We grew up around Baltimore but we didn't know each other. We were actually signed to the same production company at one time. We became best friends after that. I'm working on his record. He's working on some things on my record. We're like brothers.
At 23, what topics are you tacking on the album?
A lot of love. That's what I was going through at the time of making the album. My album, all of my music is true. Whatever I'm going through at that particular time I'm going to write about, talk about. If I'm not going through it, maybe one of my friends or someone close to me is going through it. It's all real.
So the relationship aspect -- is it a woman breaking your heart, you break hers?
We broke each other's heart. It was a tough situation for me because I never experienced love like that until I got with this person. I date a lot of older women, really older. The oldest woman I dated was 42.
Do they know your age?
Absolutely. I don't lie to older women. I never lied about my age. But the one female I dated that was my age -- a year older than me -- I knew she liked talking to older guys, so I lied to her and told her I was a year older.
Why do you like dating older women?
Couple of reasons. Maturity, more independent, they have their own thing going on.
Watch CJ Hilton's "So Fresh" Video
Who inspires you?
[My daughter] of course. My dad taught me a lot. My dad could really sing, and he could play the piano a little bit. So he taught me everything he knew on the piano, and I took it from there. I used to hate it back then, but he wouldn't let me go outside and play with my friends. My mom used to hate [that he was strict], "Let CJ go outside and play with the rest of his friends." My dad's like, "No there's a bigger plan." Now I understand why he did it. I definitely got to big him up for that. I like a lot of the older musicians. Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder, Bob Marley. I listen to a lot of that. The Beatles. That's where a lot of my musical inspiration comes from.
How did you and Mark Pitts connect?
Salaam Remi, the executive producer of my album, who I've known for a while. When I finally got to sit down, and me and Mark started to work together, he's like, "I liked your music, I thought It was dope but I could never find you." Basically, Salaam Remi and Mark do a lot of work together. I was going to do some things with my own manager and Salaam said, "I think you should work with Mark. He's that guy. He's going to get the job done." The whole team liked me, they love it, and now we're family..they can't pull us apart.
That's where the J. Cole aspect comes in, getting him on that "I Wish" song?
Exactly. But I love J Cole. I would've tried to use J on the record even if we didn't have the same team. I love J and I feel like we have a lot in common. J talks bout the "come-up," his struggle. That's pretty much what I'm going through right now. It's not easy, it's a struggle.
What isn't easy?
The kind of music that I chose to do, a little more soulful. It takes more time to get out there because people aren't used to it right now. Especially being 23, they think the kind of music I do is supposed to come from Musiq Soulchild or the older cats now. It's not.
Take The BoomBox's R&B Quiz
- 1. The scenario that best describes your love life is:
- 2. You'd most likely lure your lover into the bedroom with the tagline:
- 3. You realize your lover is cheating on you. Your reaction would be to:
- 4. Your preferred word choice for hitting a high note is:
- 5. You don't leave home without:
- 6. Which of the following statements would you most likely tweet?
- 7. If a fan were to take a picture of you with their camera phone, you would most likely react by:
- 8. The old school R&B influence that best describes your taste in music is:
- 9. Your idea of doing something risky in a music video is:
- 10. Seated at your Thanksgiving table would most likely be:
- Chris Brown
- Mary J. Blige
- Erykah Badu
- Hip-Hop and R&B Musicals
- 10. 'You Got What I Need: A Love Story' -- Starring Biz Markie
- 9. 'The Birth of Big Baby Jesus' -- Starring Ol' Dirty Bastard
- 8. 'Daily Mathematics' -- Starring the Wu-Tang Clan
- 7. 'The Invention Of Sex' -- Starring Trey Songz
- 6. 'Lost One' -- Starring Lauryn Hill
- 5. 'An Officer and a Gentleman' -- Starring Rick Ross
- 4. 'Everyday Is My B'Day' -- Starring Beyonce
- 3. 'Allow Me to Reintroduce Myself' -- Starring Jay-Z
- 2. 'Yeezy Taught Me' -- Starring Kanye West
- 1. 'The Exorcism of Roman Zolanksy' -- Starring Nicki Minaj
- Disappointing Album Covers
- Missy Elliott, 'Da Real World'
- Foxy Brown, 'Chyna Doll'
- 50 Cent, 'The Massacre'
- R. Kelly, 'R. Kelly'
- E-40, 'In a Major Way'
- Drake, 'Take Care'
- Tyrese, '2000 Watts'
- Chris Brown, 'Exclusive'
- Lil Wayne, 'Lights Out'
- Ciara, 'Evolution'
- Biggie's 15-Year Death Anniversary
- DJ Enuff
- Too $hort
- Elle Varner
- Eric Benet
- KA, formerly of Natural Elements
- R.A. da Rugged Man
- Tito Lopez
- The Kid Daytona
- Flo Rida
- DJ Whoo Kid
- Mickey Factz
- Pharrell Williams
- Red Cafe
- Chiddy Bang
- Kirko Bangz
- Hip-Hop Quiz
- 1. Which of these jobs best describes your daily 9-to-5?
- 2. When you wake up in the morning, the first thing you throw on is:
- 3. You've just won the lottery. The first car you run out and buy is:
- 4. The person you'd want most to sit shotgun in your new ride is:
- 5. Your idea of a fun night on the town is:
- 6. Your idea of a "classic" video is:
- 7. Your drink of choice is:
- 8. In your spare time, you'd most likely be spotted:
- 9. Upon seeing your date get hit on at the club, you calmly:
- 10. You'd prefer to prove your hip-hop cred by:
- Nicki Minaj