The Mix 002: LilC4 - Music - Mixmag

The Mix 002: LilC4

New Jersey native and club music innovator LilC4 brings through a mix of 100% his own productions and collabs, alongside an in-depth conversation with Tice Cin

  • Words: Tice Cin | Photos: @mr_giovanni
  • 28 February 2024

The Mix is our new weekly mix and interview series — find out more about it at the end of this feature. Next up: LilC4

LilC4 arrives at his interview fresh off a meeting with a major label trying to buy beats from him. "At the moment it's just me. I'm my own manager. I know the business well after all these years," he says. Born in Elizabeth and raised in Newark, New Jersey’s C4 is not only known for the way his music gives you an instantaneous glow with Jersey club classics like ‘Woodbridge Anthem’ and ‘V4MP’, he's also known for being a viral hitmaker who is able to negotiate a fair deal for himself and navigate a cash-fronted music industry that is regularly known for appropriating Jersey club without credit or authenticity. In a culture that has money men circling to work out the swiftest way to take their cut, it is ever important for shrewd culture makers like LilC4 to be recognised and celebrated. He keeps an eye on his community through scouting for the best up-and-coming artists to platform on his nascent label QuatroSoundz, while leading the way with heartfelt and sexy productions that cut to the core of what makes Jersey club and its adjacent sounds so special.

C4's focus on innovating newer sounds has set him apart. He was one of the first in NJ to drive the BPM of his songs to 150 territory, and to have drill rappers on a Jersey club beat (see his early records with Philly drill group T2R, rapping over his beat in the ‘T2Rchallenge’ collab that went viral, and Newark’s Bandmanrill). He’s shifting towards “Jersey style”, a genre with heavy 808s and hip hop samples from the likes of MF DOOM, combined with a house groove and Jersey club freaked syncopation. “Everybody has a different Jersey sound, especially around club music that orients itself around hip hop,” he notes. You can really hear this hip hop influence on his track ‘Evil Genius’ on his 2023 album ‘The Blueprint’, and ‘Care Too Much’ produced with his cousin JIDDY, a nod to cookout music — a local name for ‘New Jersey sound’ house music. Cypher music where the beat drops ready for a dancer’s flow - from Sexy Walking to Santana Rock-ing - is still where his heart is though. “Even when I break out of that, I still keep that energy in the songs,” he says. His passion for basketball followed him off the court to dancing to his own beats: “Dancing’s actually working out, especially to the music I put out. You’ve got to dance fast. You’ve got to have a good heart, moving like the wind. It's a cardio wind.” LilC4 is making mainstream movements now; Lil Uzi Vert recently reached out to him for beats after his dancing to LilC4’s track ‘70s’ went viral. It’s a journey that has a well-deserved upwards tilt for an artist who gave up his scholarship to play ball at Penn State to pursue music. “I had a daughter and so I chose music,” he says of a business choice and risk that is paying off.

It’s an inspiring time for LilC4 with the release of his latest project ‘Legion’ last week, an album that balances cypher music with euphoric club, featuring golden samples from the likes of Jersey club OG vocalist Ms Porsh on his track ‘Get Sexyyy’. At the same time, he’s been taking his DJing to new levels, playing for Like That Records on The Lot Radio and even at a Cumbia x Jersey club night at legendary New York club S.O.B.’s. His instalment of The Mix is 100% LilC4 productions, a high-energy soulful Jersey club journey that ebbs and flows, all of his own. Not many people could turn a sample of ‘This Woman’s Work’ into a back-breaking banger like LilC4 does, with a rippling transition from the heavy bass of ‘Poke Your Back Out’ (feat. TOKYO) into unrelenting battle music.

In a conversation that spanned months - flying out to see LilC4 play at the community DJ space bunkr. in Newark to later visiting him in the studio in Elizabeth - this interview chronicles the New Jersey native's stories of how he became LilC4. From coming up ‘from the trenches’, his friends being incarcerated, making sacrifices due to becoming a father, his mum helping him get his music onto streaming platforms, and the secrets behind his business-minded approach towards a sustainable career in music, offering an in-depth and personal insight into one of Jersey club’s finest makers.

In 9th Grade you moved to Woodbridge, and before that you were in Newark. Tell us about the times circa 2011 when you were rolling out hits like 'Woodbridge Anthem' and 'STB Anthem', what was it like putting the videos of those tracks and dances up?

I've been dancing my whole life. When I was a sophomore in high school, I started using my mom's laptop. She had her work laptop, this fat old HP with a mouse in the middle....I'd take it and download Fruity Loops. I had a group of friends who were in tune with Jersey but nobody had exposed them to truly dancing and showing them how it is. I shot the 'Woodbridge Anthem' video on an iPod Touch. 'STB Anthem' is really important. Those dancers you see in the video are my people who I grew up with from baby baby times, like Santana, he made Santana Rock, it goes viral each year. A lot of people in that video are global dancers who created dances that went worldwide but people don't acknowledge their contributions. When 'STB Anthem' happened, I was 16, it was the end of my sophomore year and I was around my neighbourhood, in Newark, 730. That's why it's called 'STB Anthem', Seven Thirty Boys! Me and my brothers Santana, Yayo, Zeek, and Haadymack, at that time we were the upcoming generation of dancers. To the OGs, the way we were coming out with these routines and different dances, then with my beats being faster than everyone else's stuff…it stood out. That's really a memory because of the life it preserves. My brother Santana, he’s incarcerated at the moment and we miss him and Yayo in the club community. 'STB Anthem' is a childhood memory that people who know me and the community see its importance.

What were the parties you played like? I heard you would have them packed out to like a thousand.

I was just talking to one of my friends and telling them how the parties back then were totally different. Back then, everybody came to party, it wasn't about nobody being lit or having more money than somebody else. It was fun and all love. Thousands of kids would come to see me DJing. We'd take pictures without any ego. How I'd dreamed parties could be… it actually turned out like that. I started out with house parties. I'd charge $200 to $300 to do a whole party which is nothing to somebody now, but me being a kid, I just wanted to be out and booked. I started off in Woodbridge, then as I got more recognition from 'Woodbridge...' and 'STB Anthem', I started going to South Jersey by train and travelling to Florida. They started booking me out of state. It's a big difference bringing the Jersey sounds out of state, everywhere I go it’s a difference.

Who do you think we should be paying attention to in Jersey?

My cousin JIDDY, his sound is refined, in-tune and he stays working. My little bro, MCVertt. He’s a two-times platinum record producer off of just one song – and he saluted me as an influence at the time his song with Lil Uzi [Vert] ‘Just Wanna Rock’ came out. SteezTheProducer. C4MusiQ, he’s a good writer, he raps and he makes beats. LetsGoYanii, somebody put me onto her, this girl I know who plays music a lot. She hard and one of the LabSisterz crew.

You have another track with Neyy Boogs on vocals who’s part of LabSisterz. What’s your process working with vocalists?

It used to be harder to get vocals out of people, only a handful of people took it seriously. But now, everybody wants to get on a club song. I mostly work with women vocalists, I reach out to the girls and request they make vocals for me for my next song. Most of the time I write the songs – it starts with a list of phrases or catchy rhymes. I listen to the beat and I start mumbling little things, I keep them in my notes and send it to the vocalist. The drums that I use automatically work with a woman’s voice. Then I’ll sample it all. The business side of the writing is important for publishing rights, and it’s also because I know what I want my music to sound like.

Read this next: The 20 best New Jersey house records

What was music like for you growing up?

My favourite rapper growing up was 50 Cent. I used to wear durags and army fatigues! Mobb Deep. That's my father's favourite group who he played every day when I'd come home from school. I'm from a Black family, so everything's got to have music alongside it. When we clean up, we've got to have music bumping, when we cook, music.

We’ve spoken before about you coming up ‘from the trenches’.

My mom made the best out of what she could. But living in Newark, in the hood, it's two options for you to go with: dead or in jail. We weren't in nobody's way, it's just, you become a product of the environment. If I didn’t gravitate towards or focus on my music I’d be in the same situation as some of my brothers. I started off with nothing, it wasn’t just no money, it was no guidance. I had vision but every step was me trying to figure out a chance.

What was that moment where you really felt like you were figuring out something different that no one else around you had done before?

On my birthday, when I saw my first album 'El Cabra' on Apple Music. In that period, I was in a dark space. My mom was always there – she had two jobs, and I’d be raising my little brothers in the meantime. I’m the oldest of my siblings on my mom’s side. I had to make sure everybody was fed in the house, a lot of responsibilities. I had a child and knew I had to grow up. The only thing I really had was my music. In 2017, SoundCloud was only paying us $200-300 each month for viral songs, which was nothing, and it was the only platform people knew me from. I didn’t have the money to put my album on streaming platforms at the time, so my mom used her credit card to actually fund that first project that went out. I had $0 to my name. A month later I was booked to go to Florida for an event where they paid for my flights, everything. That was the beginning. With distribution, people were telling me to put it on streaming services but when you don't have guidance, you don't know where to start to even put anything anywhere. But once I did that and started seeing my first thousand dollars from a royalty check, I never looked back.

Do you think fatherhood changed your approach to music?

Fatherhood sustained my personal music footprint. With my daughter, she’ll normally hear me making the music – but it’s different when she goes to school and hears her friends playing it and she’ll go “oh that’s my dad’s song!”. Once, I went to collect her and her friend’s were playing jump rope outside, when she told them her dad was there they were saying “oh my God, her dad is C4” and asking for pictures. To her she’s thinking “that’s just my dad”. Knowing that I'm really somebody to her is a dope experience. She dances now too, she’s taken after me a lot so far.

If you could put a piece of your story in your music, what story would you want to tell us?

I tell a story of regular life – where you've got to grow up at an early age while you'll be dealing with childish obligations with friends, with losing family members, playing ball and making sacrifices. You’ve really got to sacrifice things in life in order to get what you need to get. How sometimes you might have two things you want, but you can't go any further with one of them. For example, I'm too short. With basketball I’d have to work 11 times, 100 times harder than somebody who was 6”4 to make it to the NBA. Music has no height limit. I was 10 steps further ahead where I had a little buzz off my music. I had to sacrifice going to school and I did it for my kid. I never lose sight thinking that a vision might sound too far to reach or ask “is this for me?” I take it a step at a time. With a step at a time, you'll get there.

We once met in the studio of your former label. What's your relationship like with labels?

I've got a couple placements coming in with a few majors, but I'm trying to get the numbers right and negotiate a fair deal to put an album out. I work with like four right now at the moment, like Capitol Records, I got a placement with them last year. This year I got a placement with Def Jam, another with Universal and Empire. I put my independent releases out through my label QuatroSoundz. Through QuatroSoundz I want to oversee a lot of songs, and instead of me putting all of the work in alone, I want to invite younger producers into these spaces. I'm interested in executive production like DJ Khaled, bringing a range of artists together and releasing in that way.

What does it mean to bring young and/or emerging artists up with you?

I've been in that position where you get overlooked a lot before you even get the name for yourself. You might have the talent but nobody's going to listen to you because you're still trying to build your brand. When you start out, everybody's gonna think you're BSing but they won't realise you're trying to take this life seriously. You could be the next act that pops up! I'm trying to break that curse that everybody in Jersey got where nobody will support them until they make it somehow or get some type of viral buzz. The person who may be down today might be a millionaire tomorrow.

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How do you stop yourself compromising on the quality of your songs when you're also juggling the financial side of this industry?

I work on the music. I know the money's going to come. I have a spreadsheet of what's already been going. I'm gaining new fans as I put out more music. You have to focus on getting good, and then stay consistent dropping fire. It's easy to make songs but it's hard to keep everybody pleased and make hit after hit after hit. That's what divides a lot of people.

Having been by your studio before and watch you in session, it's really great seeing how organised your workflow is. Could you share some of the secrets behind the magic?

I use Hooked via Arcade by Output a lot – I used it to sample short original vocals into my songs to give my melody some rhythm. Especially on a track where you haven't got a vocalist, I play it in on the keyboard and find the key to it. I use Fruity Reverb a lot. To play with time, I use Gross Beat to slow my melody down, pitch it and reverse it.

Your output is vast and you're also handling the majority of your roll-outs. How do you find a work/life balance?

I try to find a new way to relax on a day to day basis between work. On Sundays I spend more time with my dogs, spring cleaning and setting my intentions for the week. You have to take a break. I go to see places when I get producer's block, if what I'm making is sounding the same or I can't make something that's hitting. Nature. Seeing mountains. Observing the difference in the sky as clouds move. I really pay attention to it. It helps me to clear my mind, because of course everybody says the sky's the limit but it does genuinely give me hope, seeing how big the world is and how small I am – yet how impactful I've been on a lot of people.

Can you tell us about your instalment of The Mix?

My mix chronicles songs I’ve created that have gone viral and those that are currently still viral, from my breakout hits like ‘V4MP’, ‘STB Anthem’, ‘Athena’, ‘My Cheeks Be Moving’, ‘Jade’, to my biggest club record ever ‘Bouncing’. My friend KhoriontheBeat made the vocals on both 'STB...' and ‘My Cheeks Be Moving’. I also incorporated new songs in the mix that are featured on my project ‘4 Tunes’. Some of these are classic records that people can identify me through without even hearing my name. With me being one of the youngest pioneers, some of these songs played a major role in our childhoods in Jersey. For example 'STB Anthem' was shot in Oriental Village/Broadway Townhouses where I grew up... Fast forward in time, songs like ‘V4MP’, ‘Jade’ & ‘My Cheeks Be Moving’ are TikTok hits, I was the first of many Jersey club artists going viral on the platform. 'V4MP' actually charted in New Zealand on the Viral Top 50 Spotify charts and it’s also charted in Nigeria.

'Legion' by LilC4 is out now, get it here

Tice Cin is a freelance journalist, follow her on Twitter

Check out The Mix 002 and tracklist below

Oh Boyy (Feat DJ FLYKIDD)

Read this next: The Mix 001: Danny Daze

About The Mix:

The Mix is our new online mix and interview series, dedicated to the spectrum of electronic music from around the globe, exploring sounds and stories from the early days of rave to the future.

Mixmag has a long history of publishing mixes, from our legendary cover CDs accompanying the print magazine to our worldwide video streams in The Lab. Last year we celebrated 40 years in the game and The Mix now arrives as a fresh outlet to document DJs and the musical movements they represent, showcasing their sound alongside an in-depth interview. The design pays homage to a previous Mixmag logo from the early ’90s nodding to our heritage while using the square and rectangular building blocks to construct an aesthetic that works cohesively with contemporary design elements and digital motion systems.

We’ll still be bringing you the Cover Mix, The Lab and occasional sets in other formats, with The Mix is taking the place of our In Session and Impact features, intending to bring an updated look and vision to our flagship weekly DJ profile and sequencing them into one place, without separation. We hope you enjoy.

Patrick Hinton (Editor & Digital Director) & Keenen Sutherland (Senior Designer)

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