Revisiting C.D.J

22-year-old Connor Johnson, who goes by the artist name C.D.J., is out of Lake Orion, Michigan, and is extremely new to the industry. I reviewed one of his first songs a few months ago, which was a track called “Thankful.” C.D.J. is back with another single, and given that he’s so new to making music and shows such an immediate aptitude for it, I thought it would be worth a revisit. His latest single is called “Monster,” featuring Solo.

On his last track, I mentioned that Connor was falling into the problem a lot of very new artists have, which is sounding somewhat hesitant in the vocal delivery. But Connor has truly come into his own in the interim since his last track and comes off on this new single like a force to be reckoned with. He is, unfortunately, a force I don’t think Solo, the featured artist could reckon with. C.D.J. outshines his feature artist on this joint, and there are some other problems with Solo’s verse as well. The first issue isn’t really Solo’s fault. Solo appears first on the song, and, unless you’re already an established artist, that’s not something you want to do. You always want to come first on your own track. Also, it becomes immediately noticeable once Connor’s verse starts that Solo’s verse was recorded on a lesser-quality microphone. The recording quality just doesn’t match up between the two verses, which isn’t a good way to start off a track. Also, Solo’s vocals were placed a little to the right of every beat, giving the impression that the beat was chasing him. However, in a song called “Monster” that may have been intentional.

The beat, produced by Pilgrim, was very well done. The intro features an impressive arpeggiated synth sequence which dips out to allow the verse sequence to come through, employing a very professional filtering effect to do the trick. The only problem is, the intro is a bit too long for today’s audience and their nonexistent attention span. Having a spoken intro over the intro sequence, or just cutting the sequence down by four bars, would fix this issue. The drums sit perfectly in the mix throughout and the sequence is catchy and upbeat, lending the song to easily support the fast flows both artists employ. There is no chorus or hook in this song, something which I actually find refreshing as the industry standard has sadly begun to favor songs that are more hook than verse, and if that keeps up, hip hop will be lost as a result. However, given the difference in recording quality between the two verses and the fact that verses are rapped so fast without much cessation or reprieve, a small bridge or vocal interlude would help to break them up without removing that freestyle like charm the song has managed by eliminating the chorus.

C.D.J. is the second verse on the track, and all hints of his original hesitancy are gone. He comes through like a powerhouse, delivering vocals at a breakneck pace and managing to keep up attention to cadence and tonality changes the whole while. The intonation change that really got me was the part where he says, “Mother fucker, I’m the reason you…” which he repeats twice to a powerful effect. C.D.J. has also elevated his lyricism in this song, with thoughtful rhymes and clever runs. Vocally speaking he still sounds like Big Sean, but now he sounds like the more accomplished Big Sean, who gained confidence audible in his vocals after he’d made it in the mainstream. C.D.J is also a Michigan native, like Sean, and like with Big Sean, his Michigan accent is working wonders for him. There are a few times where his vocal doublets distort his accent somewhat, causing it to sound almost like a Grime rapper from the U.K., which is definitely a sound he should be careful in the future to avoid. If he’s gating his vocals, he just needs to listen and be sure the gating effect isn’t cutting off his long vowel sounds, such as the “ooo” sound on the word “do” and check his compressor settings to make sure they’re not dampening vocal peaks too much. That will likely clear up this issue. Both artists Solo and C.D.J hold their own on this fast flow track, but it’s C.D.J. who really shines. For someone who’s been doing this for less than a year, C.D.J.’s abilities are nothing short of prodigious.

There’s a line in his verse where he says “every time I hop on a track, I give it 100 percent,” and that really shows. It’s easy to hate an artist that’s only been doing this for a year now because so many of us have ourselves or know people who have been trying to break out in the industry for ten times as long. But Connor is getting ahead fast because he’s working for it, and that’s a trait to be truly admired. He’s got a lot of natural talent, and the hard work he puts in is making up for the rest. He’s got a lot of potential, and I can’t wait to watch him over the course of his career.