CJ’s “Whoopty” And The Mainstreaming Of Drill
A couple of years ago, Brooklyn drill was a local YouTube phenomenon — young people in a few different neighborhoods taking aesthetic cues from Chicago and the UK, airing out inter-neighborhood beefs in videos shot on phones. Most rap subgenres start out something like that — up-from-nothing marginal movements that make more and more noise until the emergence of a figure who can take them to new levels. In Brooklyn drill, that figure was Pop Smoke, the ragged-voiced Canarsie teenager who started releasing music at the end of 2018. In 2019, Pop Smoke became a phenomenon, first in New York and then, bit by bit, in the rest of the world. But that process was interrupted in February, when Pop Smoke was shot dead in Los Angeles at the age of 20.
Months after his death, Pop Smoke is still the biggest star in Brooklyn drill. He’s bigger now in death than he ever had the chance to become in life. Pop’s posthumous album Shoot For The Stars, Aim For The Moon debuted at #1, and its tracks are still doing huge streaming numbers. But Pop’s absence leaves a vacuum in this genre. Brooklyn drill has other stars, and many of those rappers — Fivio Foreign, Sheff G, Bizzy Banks — are positioned for bigger things. Still, none of them have broken through yet, and there’s a wide-open space for someone to come in and catch fire. Enter CJ.
CJ isn’t from Brooklyn. Instead, he’s from Staten Island, a borough that hasn’t produced a nationally notable rapper since the Wu-Tang heyday. CJ doesn’t exactly have deep roots within Brooklyn drill. But “Whoopty,” the CJ song that’s taken off nationally in the past few weeks, is unmistakably the 23-year-old rapper’s attempt at tapping into the energy of Brooklyn drill. “Whoopty” is a fast, hard two-minute jolt. CJ’s lyrics are pretty much drill boilerplate, all about guns and money and fucking and avoiding police. There’s not much to the track; it’s just two hooks and a single verse. But the song works. It moves. Much of its power comes from its central sample: A wordless, keening vocal taken from Arijit Singh and Mithoon’s 2015 Bollywood-musical hit “Sanam Re.”
“Whoopty” producer Pxcoyo comes from the Mediterranean island of Cyprus. CJ says that he found the beat while clicking around YouTube. It feels like one of those weirdly mythic recent hitmaking stories — like Lil Nas X, in Atlanta, buying the “Old Town Road” beat from YoungKio, in Amsterdam, for $30. But it’s not that simple. “Whoopty” is not the first drill track to sample “Sanam Re.” Two Chicago rappers, Memo 600 and the late King Von, rapped over a jarringly similar beat on “Exposing Me,” a track that hit YouTube in January of 2019. “Exposing Me” is not an obscure song, either. A lot of drill rappers, including Pop Smoke, recorded “Exposing Me” freestyles, and the original video has 20 million views.
Maybe CJ never heard “Exposing Me.” After all, CJ seems to be new to drill music. “Whoopty” is his first drill track. CJ only has a few other songs on his YouTube page. The last song he uploaded before “Whoopty” is 2019’s “Understood,” which pretty much just sounds like Drake. It’s nowhere near as good as “Whoopty.” Maybe CJ was just a rapper looking for a sound, and something fired within him when he heard that beat.
Memo 600 and King Von didn’t own the “Sanam Re” sample; sample-jacking is a decades-old practice within rap music. “Whoopty” is a genuine smash, a gnarly low-budget YouTube video that went up online in July, picked up steam over months, and eventually became a national hit. Last week, “Whoopty” peaked at #66 on the Billboard Hot 100. (This week, it’s down three spots to #69, but only because all those damn Christmas songs jumped in.) I expect “Whoopty” to go higher.
Naturally, a whole lot of people are mad online about “Whoopty” blowing up. I’ve seen people calling CJ an industry plant. (CJ’s Spotify bio says that he was “raised around the music business,” whatever that means.) I’ve even seen him called an FBI informant, mostly because he released a Tekashi 6ix9ine collab a few years ago. The New York drill scene hasn’t existed long, but you can’t blame the people who have stuck with it from its underground roots watching this guy coming in, riding on the sound, and using it to get famous. A couple of days ago, noted New York rap opportunist French Montana signed CJ to his Coke Boys label. Nothing like that has happened with Sheff G or Bizzy Banks.
Does any of this matter? If a song is hot, it’s hot. Pop music is full of people who showed up at the right time and latched onto the right sounds. If the music works, people get over whatever problems they had. The Monkees were sitcom-actor fake Beatles who got their songs from the Brill Building braintrust; that doesn’t change the fact that “I’m A Believer” is a banger. We’ll find out soon enough whether CJ’s careerism works out for him, whether he has anything in him beyond “Whoopty.” And “Whoopty” is a good song, even if it isn’t remotely original. It’s clear that CJ represents the music industry’s first real attempt at developing a New York drill star, someone who can fill the hole that Pop Smoke left. I’m fascinated to see whether it works.
1. Sheff G – “No Negotiations”
Sheff G is a Brooklyn drill original, someone who’s been sticking with the sound since the sound first emerged about three and a half years ago. He’s getting better at it. I hear something primally satisfying in “No Negotiations.” Sheff G’s got an album coming out next week. I’m pulling for him.
2. Kash Doll – “Bossa Nova” (Feat. Tee Grizzley)
Hit-Boy’s liveliest 2020 beat doesn’t come from his Nas or Big Sean or Benny The Butcher projects. Instead, it’s the one where he does his own version of Detroit street-rap for Kash Doll and Tee Grizzley.
3. Jackboy – “Man Down” (Feat. Sada Baby)
I get excited whenever I see Sada Baby venturing outside his Detroit comfort zone, working with another underground star from another region. Jackboy, the melodic South Florida screech-croaker, fits with Sada better than I could’ve expected.
4. LeeSkeetHoncho – “Life Behind Tint” (Feat. Payroll Giovanni)
Payroll Giovanni has the mystical power to take a solid song and send it skyward just by showing up and sliding some tough OG wisdom onto the beat.
5. Stunna 4 Vegas – “Play You Lay” (Feat. Ola Runt)
I know this doesn’t say anything good about me, but I’m really enjoying this brief little moment where Jake Paul gets to strut around like some legendary tough guy. He’s fighting Floyd Mayweather in a couple of months, so it won’t last long. Have fun with it before it ends. Jake Paul is.