Singer CJ Hilton could have very well chosen to be a poster boy for gospel music, but he opted to go a different route. The son of a pastor, Hilton got his start singing in the church, but his heart was in secular music—R&B to be exact. A meeting with DC-based production company Backwoods (known for their work with Ginuwine) led the Baltimore native to land his first deal with Sony head honcho Tommy Mattola's Casablanca Records before landing at Capitol. Yet today, he calls RCA Records home.
With a spot solidified on the RCA roster, Hilton is readying his debut Cold Summer. The 21-year-old musician teamed with a host of big name music tastemakers, led by Salaam Remi, who executive produced his forthcoming project. Hilton is also working with the likes of Bangladesh, and locked in collaborations with Nas, J. Cole, Tyga and Fat Joe. Just shy of releasing a debut, R&B's newest edition has already added a Grammy nomination—which he received for working on Raphael Saadiq's "Never Give You Up" off his 2008 album The Way I See It—to his growing list of accolades. Hilton may be primarily and an R&B dude, but Hilton has got more than a few ties to the Hip-Hop world. He spoke with Hip-Hop Wired about snagging so many coveted features and how he made the break from gospel to R&B.
HipHopWired: You started off singing in the church how did you make the transition to R&B?
CJ Hilton: Well basically my mom and dad split up. My dad was the pastor at the church at the time so of course my dad only wanted me to sing gospel music, but when my mom and dad split up, my mom, she knew that I wanted to sing secular music so she put a little money together and we did a demo. We got to these guys [Backwoods] in D.C., and they took it to Tommy Mattola, that's how I got into the industry.
HipHopWired: What did you learn from your first label deal falling apart?
CJ Hilton: I pretty much learned that nothing is promised. I had all of these hopes and dreams that I wished would've happened with that deal but it didn't. [continued] nextpage
HipHopWired: What's the difference now that you're with RCA?
CJ Hilton: They understand me, they believe in me. Most important is that they understand me as a person, and understand my music. I'm very laid back, I'm a chill kinda guy, my music is the same. It's very soulful at the same time, and that's the kind of guy I am, I don't get into too much trouble.
HipHopWired: Tell me about Cold Summer?
CJ Hilton: I worked with Raphael Saadiq, I worked really close with Salaam Remi, whose the executive producer on the album. I worked with Bangladesh, and actually there are some dope features on the album. Saadiq he's singing with me, I got Tyga and I got Nas. He's [Saadiq's] phenomenal [on the track] "Tonight." It's actually one of my favorite songs on the album. It's a great song to perform, I love to perform. For me just getting up on stage, and seeing the reaction after I perform it just made me really like that song. [continued]