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YRB Interview: CJ Hilton

By: Stephanie Amy Collazo Photo Credit: Ronald Cadiz

Hailing from Baltimore, Maryland, CJ Hilton is a new artist who, after years of label hopping, had finally found a home at Sony’s J Records before it was shut down this fall and he was subsequently moved to RCA.  Having released his first single, “So Fresh,” featuring hip-hop legend Nas earlier this summer, Hilton has been touring the United States performing the single while working on his forthcoming album.  The debut album, titled Cold Summer, is set to release this winter, and YRB caught up with the 23-year-old to learn a little bit more about this multifaceted artist.


YRB: Like a lot of new artists you bounced from label to label, what was it about J Records that felt right?

CJ: It [was] home for me.  They understand me as an artist, they understand my music, they understand me as a person and they understand my upbringing.  They just understand me as a whole.


YRB: How would you describe your music style?

CJ: Young soul – that’s what I call it. It’s very soulful, but it’s still coming from a 23-year-old guy, so I’m still talking about things that us young people go through. But it’s still very soulful [with] a lot of instruments on the album.


YRB: Who are some artists that have inspired your music?

CJ: Curtis Mayfield, The Beach Boys, Miguel. I love Frank Ocean right now and Marvin Gaye, of course.  I love Michael Jackson, but I didn’t listen to Mike that much when I was a kid.


YRB: Who have you done production work for?

CJ: I’ve done a lot of production work for Raphael Saadiq. We actually have a song together called “Never Give You Up,” which I co-wrote and produced.  It was me, him and Stevie Wonder.

YRB: What are some of the instruments you play?

CJ: I play drums, piano, guitar, bass, and I want to learn how to play strings.


YRB: Do you play them on the new album?

CJ: Yes, I’m playing a lot pretty much all over the album.  I’m playing drums, a lot of piano – pretty much all the instruments [I can play] on a couple different songs.


YRB: You released “So Fresh” earlier this year, how was that received by fans?

CJ: They love it.  Honestly, it’s been really exciting because I’ve been on the road performing the song and people are singing the song back to me. That’s a great feeling.


YRB: You’ve worked on projects with big names in the industry, namely Stevie Wonder and Nas, what did you learn from that experience?

CJ: I learned to keep it in the pocket, that’s one thing that Stevie was telling me.  What that means is basically not [to] do too much in a song because us musicians sometimes just play all over the track.  Stevie was telling me to do as least as possible because less is more.  I actually didn’t get to work with Nas; we just sent the track over to him. But I am looking forward to working with him one day.


YRB: Are you working on any projects other than your album?

CJ: Yeah, I’m working on Mario’s album. That’s pretty much it right now.


YRB: What are some things fans should know about you?

CJ: I’m a family man; I love my daughter.  I love to box; boxing is my thing. I love to work out.  I’m a real musician – that’s one thing I want people to know – that I play a lot of instruments.

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