The world of music has somewhat been flipped on its head over the last decade or so, where regional sounds can go international in the blink of an eye. One of those genres is Jersey club, a fast-paced style of dance music inspired by Baltimore club and uses more rap and R&B samples than its Maryland-based origin point. Cookiee Kawaii, a New Jersey native who makes Jersey club, R&B and any other genre she wants, had one of the bigger songs this summer with the infectious “Vibe (If I Back It Up),” and she’s reaping the benefits of its success.
That leap from a mildly popular song, released last April, to a streaming hit came via TikTok, where users took a clip from the song, starting with Cookiee’s lyrics, “If I back it up, is it fat enough?/Baby, when I throw it back, is it fast enough?” and danced along. As of today, there are 1.9 million TikTok videos that use the song, and the track itself has 61 million streams. Over on Spotify, the song has 61 millions streams and counting.
Cookiee Kawaii’s come up wasn’t linear at all. She began writing poems when she was 12, then started performing her poems over beats. She started to make her own music in 2011, when she was 18, while still dabbling in other interests like painting and playing instruments. Due to her upbringing with a mom who DJs and played neo-soul and dance music at home, her first project, 2016’s Zen, was closer to R&B.
As she continued to explore music, she started to adhere closer to the sound of Jersey club, and the birth of “Vibe (If I Back It Up)” came during that time. After a stretch of club singles, she released her project Club Soda, Vol. 1 last July, then “Vibe” took off, followed by Club Soda, Vol. 2 just last month.
Now, with many eyes on Cookiee Kawaii and the Jersey club scene, she’s preparing to take her momentum and use it to spread the sounds of New Jersey to the world while growing into the star she always wanted to be.
Check out the journey of this viral sensation in this week’s edition of The Break.
I grew up listening to: “I grew up listening to a lot of Jill Scott and Sade, or even just a lot of house music. My mom, she’s a DJ, and that’s mainly what she plays. Her bedroom was right next to mine. So imagine her putting you to bed at 7 or 8, and then you’re hearing house music pumping, right next to your bedroom.”
My style’s been compared to: “Azealia Banks. I personally don’t like that because I don’t think people should compare female artists without doing the backstory first. I’m gonna do plenty of interviews where people ask me, ‘Who are you inspired by?’ and I’ll clearly say whoever that is. And that’s no shade to her, she’s a dope artist. I talk to my Cookiee Monsters [my fans], they know this. She’s really dope. Musically, she’s super talented. I feel like she does use house beats, ballroom-type of style as well. So, I could see why people would compare us, but she’s not the first person to do ballroom or Chicago house.”
I’m going to blow up because: “When you think of getting famous or being successful, for some people it was random. I didn’t think I was gonna blow up, but I always wanted to perform, and I envisioned myself being in movies. I’ve been dreaming about performing, having my music in a video game or some shit like that. The fact that I went viral and everything is happening now, it only put more, a stamp, ‘Wow, everything that you were doing, it actually makes sense to this moment.’
“Once you get your foot in the door, the only thing that can really stand in your way is you. How would I fail? If I don’t put out music or if I don’t work hard? Of course. I’ve been dreaming about performing, being in movies, having my music in a video game or some shit like that.”
What’s your most slept-on song, and why?: “‘Energy,’ the remix or the original. It’s one of my songs off my first album, Zen, but we clubbed it and made it a Jersey club record too. It’s definitely my most slept-on record because I thought that would’ve been the song that blew up, compared to ‘Vibe (Back It Up).’ I was sure! ”Energy,’ this will be the one!’ And it wasn’t. It appeals to a different crowd, I feel like with ‘Vibe,’ ’cause it went viral on TikTok, that’s a lot more kids. I feel like my record ‘Energy’ is more mature ’cause I’m talking about a lot more deeper stuff.”
My standout records to date have been: “I feel like with ‘Vibe’ it had a good reception when it came out; it’s like a year old. People used ‘Vibe’ in YouTube videos before it went super viral. When people started using it more on TikTok, there were some people that knew the song already, and it also introduced it to people who didn’t know. When ‘Energy’ came out, it didn’t have the same impact. It’s about being trendy.”
My standout moments to date have been: “Beyoncé reposted me on her playlist. That’s like No. 1. I go back and check it from time to time, to make sure it’s still up there. But she’s definitely put me on her playlist, and that was like, oh my god. When people be tryna shade like, ‘Oh, you only got that one song.’ I be like, ‘Well, it don’t matter ’cause that one song is on Beyoncé’s playlist.’ She heard me? She knows what my voice sounds like? That is crazy.
“The next would be Chance The Rapper retweeted the ‘Vibe’ video and we be chopping it up. He was really down for the Jersey club sound, because it’s similar to the Chicago vibe. Maybe even possibly a collaboration in the works. Multiple people have been reaching out like SZA, Lil Nas X. Doja Cat was showing me mad love when the song first went viral.”
Most people don’t know: “I used to be an exotic dancer. I’m an open book. I like to express everything. I studied this stuff, so I know people will try and dig up. But that’s one thing they don’t know. When I say I wasn’t just an on-the-weekends dancer, no, that was my full-time job. I was throwin’ it back all week. I tried to get a little day job. That was affecting my money. When you’re a dancer, you’re used to getting paid every night. I was tryna transition, really tryna figure out what I was gonna do because I needed more money.
“I needed to stabilize my living. I wanted to do more stuff with music. My rent was like a week past due. It was getting bad. I needed to hit the club again ASAP, and it was slowing down because of COVID. I was doing DoorDash. I was doing UberEats. So, when my song went viral, it was a savior. It was like the heavens were singing. I just moved into a bigger apartment. I got a brand new car. I’ve been able to help out my family just a little bit better.”
I’m going to be the next: “The next superstar in in the dance/EDM/Jersey club. I’ma be the next me. I’ma be the next big thing. The next biggest star, next trending artist, the next record-breaker. I’ma be the next all of that.”
“Vibe” (If I Back It Up)” featuring Tyga
“Vibe, Pt. 2”
“Dojo Energy (Get Back)”
Club Soda, Vol. 2