CJ wears jacket The Incorporated. Hoodie c2h4.
This article was originally published by i-D UK.
CJ Wallace's Instagram bio reads, "You can't base your life on other people's expectations." The Stevie Wonder quote suggests the budding actor and musician might not be who you expect him to be. You might assume the son and heir of an enduring hip-hop legacy to be brash. Or you might expect the same child of The Notorious B.I.G. and Faith Evans to be crushed by the pressure of having such legendary parents. But Christopher Jordan Wallace Jr — polite and unassuming — seems neither.
The quiet might have to do with the time we talk. It's about 10am in Los Angeles when CJ, who's lived on the West Coast since childhood, gets on the phone to i-D. He puts his lack of bravado down to how his mother raised him, even though there's his breakthrough acting role to be boastful about.
All clothing and hat Givenchy by Riccardo Tisci.
In CJ's star making turn in the film Kicks, he plays a cocksure teenager who brags about the girls that he wishes he could get and his legendary rapping style. Albert — or Fat Albert to his friends — is the kind of kid who sells what he refers to as "Pussy Mixtapes" on the sidewalks of San Fran's Bay Area. But Albert is not at all like the actor who plays him. "He's everything my mom pretty much taught me not to be," CJ laughs. 'My mom taught to be respectful. Albert does everything I wouldn't do."
Nor was 20-year-old CJ going to be stuck with the "Fat Albert" moniker once filming ended on the project. A keen American football player, he and his younger brother Joshua have been hitting the gym since filming wrapped, and it shows. "I've definitely been trying to stay healthy," CJ states, when talk turns to how good he's looking on social media. "Me and my brother are hitting the gym three or four times a week just to make sure we are challenging ourselves. It's the same thing with football; we're always challenging each other."
All clothing Louis Vuitton.
In Kicks, which debuted at Tribeca last year, the challenge facing Albert's friend Brandon is how to get back his pair of original Air Jordans which have been jacked by a local gang Member. CJ is the film's comic foil. He and best friend Rico are guardian angels to the kid bereft of good footwear. When Brandon decides to retrieve the trainers, they go with him on a scary, humorous ride through the Bay Area's baddest quarters. "It's all about respect," says CJ of the allure of box fresh Air Jordans. "Having the shoes, it signifies having a title. You're the cool guy now and once you get stripped of them it's a whole other thing."
The film is inspired by debut director Justin Tipping's own experience of losing his prized pair of white Nike Air Prestos as a teenager. "A bunch of guys jumped him and he had to walk home with no shoes," CJ explains. But the key element, and the one which Kicks deftly explores, is what the experience symbolizes. "They took his shoes. His brother told him that it's all good; you're a man now."
Coat Off-White C/O Virgil Abloh. Vest and trainers Givenchy by Riccardo Tisci. Track pants Adidas.
When he was still in sixth grade, CJ got asked to fill some pretty big shoes. In his film debut, the Biggie biopic Notorious, he played his dad as a child. Biggie's mother, asked her grandson to audition. No pressure there, then? "At the time it was definitely a big deal," CJ admits. "I was really scared because it was like man, I had to audition to be Dad." But then other impulses kicked in. "It was overwhelming but I was quick to it. I didn't run from it," he says. "I'm not going to lie I would have been upset if I didn't get the part."
He might be humble but that doesn't mean CJ Wallace doesn't have drive. In real life, he's a communications student at Santa Monica College and besides the gym going, he and his brother, with their friend Lotus Ley, are working on music together, which should see the light of day this year. This feels a given, considering his lineage. CJ's late father, the rapper Biggie Smalls, may have died from a gunshot wound in March 1997, five months after his son was born, but his legacy as one of the genre's greats has only grown in the ensuing 20 years. His mother, a Grammy winner and platinum-selling artist three times over, remains a potent influence and musical force in her own right.
Jacket and jeans The Incorporated. Hoodie c2h4. Sneakers Vans.
His famous parents are an influence, says CJ, but his music has a more R&B feel to it. Right now, between music, film, and college, he's choosing his own path. "Ever since I was little people were expecting me to follow in my parents' footsteps and go straight into the music industry," he says. "I always felt like I couldn't base my own life on other people's expectations. I gotta do what I want to do and what I love to do."
School is the back-up plan, should everything else hit the skids. Though on CJ's form so far, he's unlikely to need it anytime soon. There's pressure for sure, given his heritage. But that helps him find his own path. "I look at that pressure differently, I look at it as a boost," he affirms. "I get to add that to everything I know. Everything I'm doing is a lot of stuff my dad wasn't able to do. I'm in my own lane."
Text Colin Crummy
Photography Todd Cole
Styling Turner Turner