HHC: How did you get started in Hip Hop?
CMJ: The earliest memories of hip hop that I can remember were when I was a really little kid, hearing MC Hammer and Vanilla Ice on the radio, and my brother’s Kris Kross cassette tape. I didn’t really get into hip hop, though, until I was 13-years-old. When I got home one day from school, I went down into the basement and my older brother was playing a rap song on the family computer, and he started putting all these MP3’s and full albums on the computer that he was getting from his friends and started buying CD’s. This was when Napster first came out, too, so the ability to download anything we wanted was pretty crazy. I just started listening to all of these different artists when I would be on the computer for hours and hours and kept getting exposed to all of this stuff and getting really into it. This was the year 2000, too, so it was also the same year that Minnesota got the B96 station on the radio which was awesome for a kid who was just getting really into the music. My brother started rapping with his friends as kind of a jokey thing, and so I did, too. We performed together at one of his high school talent shows together. We used to make beats on the computer with this loop program that was fairly new at the time called ACID and I would record with the computer mic and make homemade albums and burn CD’s for people. Within a few years, I started writing more serious lyrics and songs and just stuck with it the whole time, performing at school events and talent shows myself. It’s been 16 years now since I first started writing raps and I’m still making hip hop music.
HHC: Who are your biggest influences?
CMJ: I’m a fan of so much music and art in general and get inspired creatively by a lot of things. I have always been exposed to hip hop across a pretty large spectrum, from mainstream to underground and from really current stuff to really old school stuff dating back to the 80’s. I have always tried to consume as much as I can and study it and take it in. One of my favorite emcees of all time is Eminem who was one of the first rappers early on that I discovered multi-syllable rhyme cadences in his writing when I was reading the lyrics to one of his songs online one day, and then I just started seeing and listening to the rhyme patterns in all of the songs I would listen to. You know, people that are really technical rhyme technicians have always been artists that have influenced me, like Kool G Rap, Big Pun, Big L, Pharoahe Monch…the list goes on. Some of my favorite acts are also Jay-Z, Wu-Tang Clan, OutKast, Kanye, Biggie, Black Thought, as well as underground legends like the Demigodz, Non Phixion, Cage, MF Doom, Phonte, of course a group like Atmosphere who has been hugely influential on me, you know, just too many people to mention them all in this interview. I could geek out about dozens and dozens of emcees all day that I have studied and listened to and tell you how they have affected me and my music.
HHC: So tell us the back story of how you came up with your name?
CMJ: I think when I was 15 I just decided to use my full, birth-given name as an artist. No confusion as to who it is, no moniker or persona or alias, you know what I mean? Just me, Christopher Michael Jensen. A lot of people just shorten that and call me C.M.J.
HHC: You have some very creative music videos. Tell us about the process behind getting the ideas for them and making them?
CMJ: Thank you! I am usually open to ideas. I’ve been really lucky to meet people in the local scene who are very talented videographers and directors and editors and who are constantly growing and getting better and better at what they do. I will usually have a general idea for a song’s video that I will take to whoever I decide to do the particular video with, but usually that’s just like a jumping off point and the final direction of the video gets taken way beyond that and turns into something I couldn’t even imagine. Sometimes the video idea will be really connected to the content of the song so there’s at least somewhat of a blueprint that inspires where we go with it, and other times it’s just some crazy stuff that we come up with while shooting and in post production.
HHC: What is it like to share the stage with legends like Slick Rick and Joell Ortiz?
CMJ: Very surreal. You know, any time you get to rock a show with someone who you have been listening to and looked up to for years and who is a legend and such a huge part of hip hop as a whole, that is just the biggest honor and means so much to me to get to be on the same bill as them. It’s really, really humbling and I am just so grateful whenever that happens.
HHC: You have done some collab’s with some local heavy hitters like DJ Abilities, Lizzo, Dem Atlas, Toki Wright, and Carnage The Executioner. What is it like working with them?
CMJ: The only one I’ve actually collaborated with on a song is Dem Atlas, who I’ve been friends with since 2011 when I met him and he was first coming up locally. Carnage and I have known each other for a while and he has given me major props as an emcee which is a great honor because of how long he has been doing this for and how crazy dope he is as an emcee and the trails he helped blaze in the local Twin Cities scene to help make it what it is today. We’ve freestyled together a lot and have talked about making something together, so I hope that that happens soon. All of those people you mentioned I have been lucky to play shows with, though, and they are all seasoned artists as far as what they do and all of them kill it, so that’s really inspiring. I look at all of their success and I aspire to attain where they have gotten to, you know, and make the same impact they have.
HHC: The MN hip hop scene has been on fire for a long time. In the past it seemed to be very click-ish. Do you see more and more artists working to up the scene as a whole?
CMJ: I definitely look at the local scene as a great community. Honestly, when I started becoming close with a lot of the people I met in the scene a handful of years ago it changed my life 180 degrees, and I mean that truthfully. To get to be in this scene which has become such a mecca for indie hip hop – and now even making waves in the mainstream – is in and of itself such a great gift. That of course has fostered hundreds and hundreds of artists with skills and ambition to make it. Being around people who all have similar goals and dreams and getting to be so immersed in hip hop day in and day out is hard to describe to people who aren’t a part of the local scene and community and the culture that has been developed here. Even though I’m still fairly unknown in the grand scheme of things, I am living my dream, in a way, every day because of hip hop and because of what the local scene has allowed me. I know that some people locally have maybe not had the same experiences or felt the same way, but I really feel like you get what you put into it. If you work really hard, continuously network and try to build something, and also treat people well and try to avoid drama, for the most part you’re going to get a lot out of it. A healthy competitive nature and pushing each other to get better is great; I am thrilled whenever I see people thriving in the scene, and a lot of people have been immensely supportive of me and my career. The drama and the backstabbing bullshit drama and pettiness should all die, as far as I am concerned. I do see a lot of that, too, unfortunately, but overall there are way more positives to this scene and what is going on than negative shit, and I hope that that gets better and better.
HHC: Have you seen the hip hop documentary “Adult Rappers” – (Fandependentfilms.com/films/101/adult-rappers)? Is the rappers grind really the way it was portrayed in that film?
CMJ: Yes, I have seen that documentary and I love it; I’ve recommended it to a bunch of people. I would say that everything talked about in that film is ultra real and the thoughts and emotions and self-doubt and frustrations and awkward conversations with people who don’t understand what you do and all that are all things that independent rappers who are getting older and trying to navigate in a notoriously hard industry have to deal with.
HHC: You have a show coming up with P.O.S. Tell the fans why they should come out?
CMJ: This show is gonna be one of the biggest I’ve ever gotten to be a part of. P.O.S. is a local legend, obviously, and one of the most successful hip hop artists in Minnesota history. I’ve been listening to him since I was like 18 and again, it’s surreal and a great honor for me to be playing on this show with someone like that. I am gonna definitely put everything I have into my set that night. This one is for sure not to be missed, I promise!
HHC: You recently tweeted that you spent over seven overs moving around the Twin Cities promoting your upcoming show. How many days like that do you typically spend promoting shows?
CMJ: I don’t have a street team, you know, so if you’re doing physical promo, especially for a big show, a lot of times you have to do it yourself. I have somewhat of a promo route that I usually like to hang posters, so if you try to knock it out in one day, sometimes it takes that long to drive around the cities and walk multiple blocks to get up everything. On a weekly basis, there’s usually at least one show I might be at, if not multiple ones, so you know I generally have flyers in my backpack, too, in case I need to give people some. Thankfully the Internet and social media has made promoting shows a lot easier than it used to be, and in some ways can be even more effective, so I post a lot online and keep people up to speed with events coming up that way quite a bit throughout the weeks.
HHC: Tell the readers about your style and what they can expect from your music?
CMJ: I talk a lot about emotional issues in my music, speak on depression, I delve into the state of hip hop a bunch, I talk about politics quite a bit, and I also have a lot of just braggadocious, shit-talking tracks, too, and some upbeat party-type of tracks, you know? I just try to bring everything that I love about hip hop into my music and be well-rounded with lots of things because that’s the kind of artist I am and definitely want to do more than one thing. I try to push myself lyrically as much as I can and experiment with different kinds of cadences and rhyme schemes and flows. I also sing a lot in my songs, as well, so I try to be multi-faceted. I plan on exploring more where I can go with all of this.
HHC: What does CM Cool J do when not rapping?
CMJ: I work a day job to try to keep my finances straight since making money off of music can be very tricky and since I am fairly broke. I watch a lot of comedies and follow politics which I am passionate about. I like to spend a lot of times with my friends, too, most of whom I know through music. I spend a lot of time in the music scene regardless, so even when I am not rapping, I’m around art and music and rapping most of the time.
HHC: We typically ask every artist this question. What advice can you give anyone getting into hip hop?
CMJ: Spend a lot of time honing your skills and know why you’re doing this. Also, it’s really important to have a long-term plan and you really have to stick with doing this without stopping. Momentum over time is kind of the key to making any waves and having success, and building off one thing to the next and just keep going with it and seeing how even the small things can be capitalized off of. You have to do all of this for years. Over time, if you’re serious enough about this and have a real passion, you will be able to do great things. If you have an emotional investment in hip hop, you won’t want to stop. Another thing I would definitely say you should do, is learn as much as you can about hip hop music and culture: read as much as you can, get as many of the classic albums that you can and study them and take them in, watch as many interviews and documentaries, go to shows…I mean, really just know the history and how things have shaped over time and fully embrace this. You’ll have a much better foundation then. And, in my personal opinion, if you really love something, you should wanna know as much about it as you can.
HHC: What can we expect from CM Cool J this year?
CMJ: I am currently working on new music. Not sure when it will all come out yet, but I will at least be debuting a lot of it live soon. I’ve also got a lot of cool shows in the works for later this year, as well. Hopefully some more surprises, too. I’m excited!
HHC: Name 5 MN hip hop artists the readers should keep an eye on this year?
CMJ: There’s a lot I could mention, but North Star Wisdom, SOFTPORECORN, Lizea Harper, Catalyst, and EJ are five that immediately come to mind. They are all amazingly talented artists who are gonna start making a lot more noise soon.
HHC: Anything else you want the readers to know?
CMJ: Check out my website – http://www.christophermichaeljensen.com – and stay up to date with everything I got going on and coming up. You can also hear music, see videos, get merch, and all of that on there. To anybody who has supported me over the years, I love you and I thank you. I can’t wait for what lies ahead. Much love.
Learn more about CMJ at these spots: