A fun if skin-deep project...

Staten Island rapper CJ’s explosive rise has been one of the more curious drill phenomenons of the past 12 months. His single ‘Whoopty’ become a jaw-dropping trans-Atlantic success, its ubiquitous TikTok virality transforming the admittedly super-infectious cut into his breakout moment.

The overwhelming DSP stats brought a backlash, though, and while debut project ‘Loyalty Over Royalty’ offers a few surprises over its nine track span it will do nothing to dissuade doubters who believe the rapper is surface-over-depth. ‘Politics’ is a crunching opener, it’s ominous swagger asserting itself amid arena-level production.

Indeed, sonically, ‘Loyalty Over Royalty’ is a triumph of major league drill production; the drops have a tsunami-like quality, while the eerie, ice-cold atmosphere drill specialises in is retained amid the surging commercial expectations. “BOP” is a fan-pleaser, while French Montana’s bars on ‘I’m Lit’ signal CJ’s profile reaching rap’s upper echelons.

Understandably, ‘Whoopty’ is the real standout; it’s fine balance of pop nous, snappy, IG-ready bars, and bona fide drill beats becoming an undeniably bold mixture, albeit one that is difficult to truly replicate without losing the initial impact. Often, though, there’s a feeling on this project that if money talks, then it talks loudly - there’s a lack of nuance, with the stunted track lengths (only the closer reaches the three minute mark) prevent the ideas from truly progressing.

Perhaps that’s not the point, though. There’s a marketplace for what CJ delivers, a kind of un-threatening take on drill that preserves the atmosphere and sheer sonic thrill the sound can conjure, a sugar-rush that exhilarates before quickly wearing off, leaving behind a sore head and slightly sore gums. 

5/10

Words: Robin Murray

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