For as long as sisters Cydney and Jasmine Benjamin can remember, music has been a part of their lives.
“Our family always talks about hearing Jasmine sing and making up random songs in her crib,” says Cydney. “When we were like (age) 2 and 4, I remember that we used to be up in the little kids’ plays. I still remember some of the songs to this day.”
While they have fond memories of singing in their family’s church in Rochester and learning rhythm and performance from their father, who is a drummer, the sisters never expected it to be their next life step. The prospect of attempting to be professional musicians felt unrealistic in a world where the suggested path was the traditional one.
However, in 2020, their outlooks began to change. That year, Jasmine’s graduation ceremony from the University of Rochester was virtual and the sisters found it difficult to find careers during the pandemic.
“It was longer and longer without any money from our bachelor’s degrees,” says Jasmine Benjamin, who adds that Billie Eilish’s first album was an inspiration to them. “(Eilish and her brother, Phineas) made their first batch of music in their bedroom from home. So for the first time, it felt like, well, we’re home. Why don’t we make some music?”
“We’ve given so much energy to the one thing our whole lives: being super studious, getting high GPAs, awards, things like extracurriculars, volunteerism, presidential awards, and that’s awesome,” Cydney Benjamin says. “We’ve given 110 percent to trying to do this. But we never gave that much percent at all to professionally pursuing music,”
That cauldron of emotions which includes uncertainty, precariousness and excitement are some of the creative drivers behind the sister’s band, CJ the Group, and its newest single, “Ocean.” The cover art for the track features an underwater photo of both sisters just underneath the surface, either floating or sinking depending on a viewer’s perspective, they say.
“It feels like the world is not necessarily made for our age group in America, to be quite honest with you,” says Cydney Benjamin. “A lot of things are not promised. Financial stability is not promised to us, happiness is not promised to us. So our music is like: ‘I will be okay. But if you’re not okay, that’s all right. Because that’s life. It’s tough out here.’”
Amid the heavy bass and R&B style harmonies of “Ocean”, CJ the Group also feels influenced by their connection to faith, in both the personal and musical sense.
“(Gospel music) almost always has a theme, or commonly a theme that ‘I may have gone through some hard things, but I’m all right.’ Our genre is very close to that, except a lot of times we’ll admit, ‘I’m still going through hard times,’” Jasmine Benjamin says.
“That can be a polarizing thing to say, gospel music, because people are like, ‘Oh, I don’t listen to Christian music,’ or ‘Well, I’m not a Christian like that. So I can’t really listen to that,’” she adds. “With our approach we’re trying to take away that divide and make people feel like they can listen to this because they can relate to what we’re saying.”
The Benjamin sisters agree that, rather than the covers of choral music they know so well, their written songs are more of a showcase of their own personalities.
“We just decided to be more frank about what it’s like, being women, being women of color, trying to do music,” Cydney Benjamin says.
@cjthegroup People may see you as a side character but God always sees you as the main character #christiantiktok #fyp #maincharacterenergy ♬ LoFi(860862) – skollbeats
Similarly, they are both excited to let their personalities come out in live performances.
“When we were writing this project, everything was kind of written from the perspective of: ‘When we go on stage, we want the beat to drop like this and the harmonies to come on like this.’ So (listeners) have that feeling where, hopefully, you’ll be wanting to hear the live version,” Jasmine Benjamin says.
“I’m excited to even know if I could listen to what people may be saying when they hear ‘Ocean.’ Like which parts that we wrote are you into the most? Is it the part I thought it would be or a different one?” adds Cydney Benjamin.