The rebirth of Northern hip-hop: CJ Flemings discusses what Montreal’s missing [Interview]
Montreal, QC – CJ Flemings is undoubtedly one of the freshest voices to emerge out of Montreal as of late. I say that because listening to his music immediately evokes a feeling of familiarity, while presenting something new and fresh that most of the hip-hop emerging from the North lacks. What’s that you ask? I’m talking about vision.
Cycling through the hundreds of Canadian verses that adroitly mimic Drake’s flow on “The Language,” it’s easy to hear that many Canadian MCs are still infatuated with fast cars, money, clothes and scantily-clad women. Then there’s the “others” (those like Fleming) who find themselves desperately seeking out that alternative frame of mind. While the United States continues to showcase vibrant alternative acts like N.E.R.D. front-man, Pharell Williams, and the solo dolo stoner Kid Cudi, Canadian’s find themselves struggling to champion a similar voice and sound that brings something very different to the table. Enter CJ Flemings.
“ People are recognizing there is a problem with our hip-hop scene.” – CJ Flemings
Flemings – who hails from West Island, Montreal – is a fresh addition to the alternative sound that indie hip-hop heads have noticed emerging out of Canada’s hot beds for underground MCs of late. Coming from Montreal, Fleming’s lyrics, sound and style represent something much different than the image and delivery that even Drake and his OVO crew have made a worldwide standard over the last couple of years. Fresh off the release of his first full length album entitled Art of Living, I caught up with Fleming to get some insight into his recording process, influences and thoughts on Montreal’s quickly expanding hip-hop scene
CJ Flemings: Q&A
Interview conducted by Brandon Bastaldo for HipHopCanada
HipHopCanada: Can you explain the album title, Art of Living?
CJ Flemings: If you listen to track number 10 on the Art of Living, it’s called “Better Pray”. It was produced by Nassah and there’s a quote at the beginning of the song where I say “You gotta learn your own art before you master the piece.” Basically, everyone has their own art and mine so happens to be rapping. There are other types of art like painting…working and doing whatever you love to do. That’s what you have to learn at first. You have to learn what it is and then you master your own piece. Just master your own craft and get better at what you do.
HipHopCanada: Art of Living is your first full-length album. What did you learn during the recording process? What would you do differently next time?
CJ Flemings: I learned how to work at a faster pace. I’ll tell you this: before Art of Living came about I had about three mixtapes that I had already done, but I just never released them. I knew that they weren’t anything that would have gotten the recognition that I was striving for. When I got to planning out Art of Living, it was a slow process because it was my first time being that productive. Now that I have more experience, it’s faster for me to just come up with these projects and put everything together. What I would do differently would be – once again – work at a faster pace. I do like taking my time, but everything has to flow into one and time is money.
HipHopCanada: There’s a wide array of producers on featured on Art of Living. Can you tell us a little bit what you look for in a producer?
CJ Flemings: In a producer, I don’t look for anything more than quality. That’s number one and that is key. Quality. Besides that, I look for different drum patterns that appeal to me. Basically, with a beat you just have to catch my ear.
HipHopCanada: Who is a producer that you would love to work with? Why?
CJ Flemings: I would love to work with Swizz Beats. That’s because Swizz Beats has a very nice catalogue behind him full of hits that I enjoy listening to. His beats, when they come out, they’re pretty much anthems. He comes on hard and working with him would definitely be cool because everyone would know that we just released a project and we’re not even playing around.
HipHopCanada: What were some of your greatest influences when you were making Art of Living?
CJ Flemings: I was going a nice Live. Love. A$AP phase, that was pretty much an inspiration. Kendrick Lamar is someone who also inspired me and Cassidy too. It all just fell into place.
HipHopCanada: In your opinion, what are the greatest obstacles young rappers of today face?
CJ Flemings: I feel like rappers don’t get in touch with reality. They don’t understand that there is a lot of work that needs to be put into this. You’re branding a business right now. When you look at the business right now, there’s already a lot of millionaires who have already made their money and developed their market. What rappers don’t get in check with is that you have to put the work in and get your grind on in order to get in that position. You have to really think about where these people went and where they’ve been at the right timing in order to be in their position today.
HipHopCanada: “You Ain’t Special” is an extremely catchy, yet sour love ballad. What (or who) inspired that song?
CJ Flemings: BDT (Big Dreams the West) inspired this song, actually. BDT is a hip-hop group from West Island, Montreal . That’s where I’m from, by the way. And we rep our city hard. We were in the studio just recording the track and it came out to be beautiful. Miles was on the hook and I just told him “Yo bro, do whatever you gotta do on the song, because you know bro it’s all you.” That song was cool.
HipHopCanada: If you could, what would you change about hip-hop?
CJ Flemings: To be honest, it would be all these leaks that happen all the time. I would find a way to eliminate leaks and the fact that leaking music has to be part of the game. It happens so often to the point where it basically seems like it’s just a strategy. I would find a way to eliminate that.
HipHopCanada: What do you think about that rap industries’ current obsession with weed?
CJ Flemings: I find it’s cool (laughs), I don’t have any problems with it. I guess it’s just something a lot of rappers like doing in order to set the mood.
HipHopCanada: Many of your songs like “Trip to Fiji” and “Red Dress” alternate between R&B and lifestyle hip-hop. Who are artists in those genres who inspire you?
CJ Flemings: Party Next Door is a very nice inspiration for me. I was recently listening to “1 in a Million” so I guess that’s where it comes from as well. Jhene Aiko as well, she has a beautiful voice. That would basically be it. At times, I don’t really even think of any other artists. I just go by whatever flow comes to mind.
HipHopCanada: Who are you listening to right now?
CJ Flemings: Right now, I’m pretty big into Pharell. Also Lil Herb and I like those vibes coming from Dom Kennedy. Kid Ink too, I’ve been listening to Kid Ink from time. I have to give it up to Kanye as well because he’s changing a lot in this game right now.
HipHopCanada: How has Montreal’s hip-hop scene change in the past few years? What’s better? What’s worse?
CJ Flemings: The hip-hop scene hasn’t really changed since Bad News Brown died. It hasn’t really gotten any better in my opinion. There’s a few people making some noise for the city that I am really proud of but I encourage everyone to come together and make the city get more connected. The Toronto scene has been very inspiring to Montreal lately. What’s getting better is that people are recognizing there is a problem with our hip-hop scene.
HipHopCanada: If you had to choose, which song on the album would be the theme song to your TV show?
CJ Flemings: (laughs) It would be “Better Pray”. I feel like it’s a very powerful that people can listen to in order to get pumped up.
HipHopCanada: What can we expect from you in 2014?
CJ Flemings: I’ll be working on an EP that I’m going to be dropping. I want to DP my first video, so you know that’s going to be in the process. I’m just going to be throwing out music and sharing my music with my fans. I’m working on some huge stuff and there’s going to be some big news this year. I can’t announce anything right now but we’re just working in the process of everything.
Interview conducted by Brandon Bastaldo for HipHopCanada
Photography by Oly Bernardi