This could be the year that CJ Fly truly starts to soar.
The Bedford-Stuyvesant rapper, whose real name is Chaine Downer, Jr., is best known as a member of the Pro Era crew — a collective that includes such well-known rhymers as Joey Badass and the late Capital Steez. But last year, CJ Fly began to emerge as a force in his own right, turning heads with his debut release “Thee Way Eye See It.” Now he is preparing to step even further into the spotlight with a headlining slot at this year’s Brooklyn Hip-Hop Festival on July 12.
“I’m very excited,” CJ Fly said of being asked to play this year’s fest, where he is sharing the bill with big names such as Jay Electronica and Wu-Tang Clan member Raekwon. “It’s definitely going to be an honor to share the stage with such legends. I’m not going in with a serious mindset, though. I’m going to have some fun.”
Having fun doesn’t seem to be a challenge for this 21-year-old artist. “Thee Way Eye See It” is a delirious tribute to vintage ’90s hip-hop, complete with throwback cameos from A Tribe Called Quest member Phife Dawg and Buckshot from Boot Camp Clik, and beats built out of scuffed-up soul and disco 45s. Through it all, CJ Fly spins off speedy verses that delight in wordplay and braggadocio.
Perhaps the most impressive aspect of CJ Fly’s prowess is that he came to hip-hop late in his still-young life. Growing up, his parents controlled the stereo, playing music from Jamaica and Barbados. It wasn’t until his early teens that he started to become aware of more homegrown sounds, he said.
“On my way home from school, I would hear a lot of radio play,” said CJ Fly. “I would sing the songs but I didn’t really know what I was singing. As I got older, I started to piece it together.”
His friends at Edward R. Murrow High School, many of whom would help start the Pro Era collective, fueled his creativity and interest in the music.
“We used to cut class together and rap in the school auditorium,” he said.
CJ Fly and his crew have come a long way since those days — Pro Era signed its first record deal in 2010 when he was still in his teens, and have toured all over the country. But the young artist said he plans on flying to even greater heights.
“I just love to rap,” he said. “The goal now is to step it up and raise the bar even higher.”
Brooklyn Hip-Hop Festival at 50 Kent (50 Kent Ave. between N. 11th and N. 12th streets, www.bkhiph