If there’s any group of people I’ve met more of in Madrid besides English assistants, it would have to be artists. The city is teeming with poets, musicians, photographers, videographers, stylists – you name it, you can find it. And I’m talking real talent here, not just “I took a class for 3 days so I’m better than you” BS.
One of those inspirational artists is actually a friend of a friend of mine. He goes by the name of Brotha CJ, and his band, The Othahood. I first saw them perform at a sold-out show at Juglar, a popular bar in Madrid’s Lavapies barrio. The entire performance was energetic, and the eclectic sounds threw curve balls at my expectations all night long. One of my favorite moments was watching him freestyle to random words on index cards. People wrote them as they walked through the door, so it wasn’t even like he had time to prepare. I’m pretty sure the man gave a solid 10 bars on “honey bun”. Now maybe I’m easily impressed, but that shit was fire to me, y’all.
So, when I heard that he was releasing a video for his single “Way Out” – a story about abandoning the 9 to 5 lifestyle and moving abroad – I thought it would be a great story to share on Ciao, Chicago! As you all may know, I also quit a full-time job to live here in Madrid. I hope that stories like mine and Brotha CJ’s give others the courage they need to believe and invest in their dreams. You never know where they may end up taking you!
Lauren: Tell us about yourself, how long have you been an artist? Who inspired you?
Brotha CJ: My name is Brotha CJ. I like to describe myself as a storyteller. I love expressing myself over any type of medium, whether it’s music, film, photography, or journalism.
I began rapping about 9 years ago after seeing the Glow in the Dark tour with Kanye West, Lupe Fiasco, and N.E.R.D. Each of those artist have been big influences on my art. They all around that time (2008) brough a unique and vivid vision to hip hop that I could really relate to.
When I started I was the world’s lamest rapper, but over time it became an obsession. Now I’m pretty happy with the fact gone from goofy dorm room freestyles to selling out shows with my band the Othahood.
L: Where are you originally from?
BCJ: I’m from South Jersey. Emphasis on the South because many people associate New Jersey with New York City. I grew up admiring Philadelphia, which was 25 minutes away from my suburban home.
Philadelphia meant a lot to me because most of my family was from there. Also Philly sports was there. Which during my childhood was home to Allen Iverson and the Philadelphia 76ers. They were always and underdog but they played with a ton of heart. That team hustle and attitude really stuck with me. Before I perform at concerts I write Iverson on my arm to remember to give my all and never leave the stage with regrets.
L: Your single “Way Out” is about escaping the 9 to 5 life move abroad and chase your dreams. What exactly did you do as far as work?
BCJ: Right after graduating from Syracuse University in 2012, I moved into a tiny apartment with a college friend. My bedroom was a kitchen with a futon, no window, and cockroaches that could survive the apocalypse.
After looking for work 2 months I was about to give up and move home. But then I finally got offered a job….from fucking Fox News. I was broke so I took the job knowing I was going at least have a big news organization to build my journalism resume.
It didn’t take long for me to hate life working for Rupert Murdoch and his army of clowns. So I decided to quit move back to Spain where I studied abroad the year before. The thing that stuck with me the most was I had no time to be creative and I felt like a big part of me died after college.
L: What was the single biggest factor in your decision to leave America?
BCJ: The biggest factor is that I wanted life to be an adventure. I didn’t view a career and big bank account as success. America kind of just bored me.
L: Was it hard to leave family and friends behind? Were they supportive in your endeavors?
BCJ: It was difficult to leave behind my friends and family. Luckily I had a couple friends from Syracuse who were down to cross the pond with me. A friend of mine I met the first day of college is still here and we’ve been working on projects together for close to a decade now. I’ve been able to build a nice famiy a friends out here over the last 4 years. I’m really fortunate for that.
My family has always been supportive of me being here. Before they didn’t really get the whole journalist to English teacher transition, but they’re over it now.
L: So how long have you been living in Spain?
BCJ: Since 2012. I left right after Obama got relected… oh the good ole days.
L: How has your artistry has changed since moving? Do you think it would be any different had you stayed in the States?
BCJ: If I stayed in the States I would have quit rapping by now. I didn’t have time and I was too intimidated by New York’s music scene to give it a real shot.
Spain saved my artistry. I instantly had free time, countless new stories to write about, and I became a more confident person.
The jam scene in Spain was my crash course on what it really meant to be a musician. I’ve met many close friends performing with them before even speaking with them. All of them have taught me many lessons, critiqued my flaws, and encouraged me to keep growing as an artist.
L: Do you ever plan on going back home?
Madrid is my heartbeat. If I left it’d like breaking up with Penelope Cruz (“Vicky, Cristina, Barcelona” Penelope Cruz).
L: What advice would you give to other artists or individuals looking for a way out?
BCJ: Find a group of people who creative and have similar mindsets about what happiness means to you. Having a crew of friends who will support your dreams helps you get through those inevitable moments of wanting to give up and give in. Without my friends I would have dropped this whole music thing and taken an easier path to “success”.
Be sure to check out the latest video and more work from Brotha CJ and the Othahood!