CJ HILTON COLD SUMMER
The son of a gospel vocalist, Baltimore, Maryland native CJ Hilton comes by his talent naturally. Growing up, the 21-year-old singer honed his enormous talent singing in church. Skipping the traditional talent show route, CJ’s skills earned him an immediate signing with Washington, DC-based production company Backwoods, known for their work with R&B favorite Ginwuine, who got him a meeting with Sony head Tommy Mottola. After a short stint at Mottola’s Casablanca Records, CJ landed at Capitol.
Like many artists, CJ wasn’t done label-bouncing, parting ways with that label after three years. He recalls, “They didn’t really understand my project.” But it wasn’t a wasted union -- during his time there, he was fortunate to work with Grammy Award-winning musician Raphael Saadiq. The two remained in contact, which lead to an appearance and writing and producing credit on the track “Never Give You Up” on Saadiq’s 2008 disc The Way I See It. The song, which also featured Stevie Wonder, earned the trio a Grammy nomination for Best R&B Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocals and lead CJ to his current deal with J Records.
As if CJ’s broad range and ability to navigate falsetto with ease isn’t enough of a draw on his forthcoming debut album Cold Summer, he’s also a talented writer, producer and plays multiple instruments -- most of which he learned from his days in church. He draws from his experiences as well as those of his close friends, with topics covering “women, to how hard it is being in Baltimore, going to parties and having fun, just anything.” On the track “It Ain’t Easy,” he talks about a widespread experience facing many young parents; the hardships of dealing with the baby mama. But he notes it’s not one-sided. “A lot of my homegirls in Baltimore [go through the same thing]. It’s just real-life situations that I hear about all the time.” The Salaam Remi-helmed lead single, “So Fresh,” dips into the late 80’s hip-hop vibe and features prolific rapper Nas. Speaking on his studio time with Remi, CJ reveals, “Our sessions are really experimental. There are no boundaries really. We just make good music.”
CJ describes his sound as “the young soul.” While he cites influences such as Usher and R. Kelly, he also admires old-school veterans like Stevie Wonder and Marvin Gaye, and he’s on a mission to represent old soul from a young perspective. “I don’t feel like there are enough young soulful dudes, like Musiq Soulchild, John Legend. I feel like a lot of young cats are scared to do stuff like that. So I wanna be the ringleader and make it happen for my generation.”
CJ’s long-term goals include, of course, winning a Grammy, but also doing more production for other artists. “I love helping people figure out where they wanna go on their album and define themselves. It’s fun, because I am a musician and love to create sounds and put stuff together. It’s a thrill.”