FAST RISING: CRYSTAL MILLZ HAS A NEW SOUND SET TO TAKE OVER UK HIP-HOP
The UK hip-hop industry is on the brink of a revolutionary era as interest in British artistry continues to expand across the US. This British invasion part 2 can largely be explained by the impact made by MC’s like Stefflon Don, Giggs, Headie One, Skepta and a handful of others, that built the first bridges across the pond to collaborate and tour with US hip-hop juggernauts. As the international image of UK hip-hop continues to be crafted in real-time, we want to take a look at the next generations of MC’s coming up who have only ever known a world where hip-hop is the dominant genre of our time.
Crystal Millz is ready and waiting in the wings to claim her rightful time in the spotlight. She is quickly becoming one of the most talked-about young MC’s on the circuit today after dropping the effortlessly cold ‘Next Up Freestyle’ and receiving the coveted stamp of approval from Charlie Sloth. This quick-witted wordsmith from Manchester is a welcome disruption to the often repetitive inertia of doppelgänger artists we typically see receiving such early adulation. Her style and sound are not like anything the UK has seen before due to the raspy bass in her voice and deep delivery that comes across like some sort of Pop Smoke/Giggs hybrid. With the stage set for her arrival, it’s impossible not to see how well Crystal would transition to a US market. However, it is her grounded character and devotion to her family and community that truly sets her aside from the rest. We caught up with Crystal ahead of her debut show in London to talk about her newfound national attention, musical inspirations and thoughts on the flourishing Manchester hip-hop scene.
When I look back on it now I would have to say that church was really my first introduction to music as I used to have to sing all the time.
Growing up, who were your biggest creative influences? What music was playing around the house as a kid?
So I grew up in a very Christian household where we used to go to church every Sunday. When I look back on it now I would have to say that church was really my first introduction to music as I used to have to sing all the time. In that way, music has always revolved around my family. Eventually, I began getting inspired by classic old-school hip-hop like Tupac but it was really gospel music that was playing all around the house. When I got to high school, that’s when everyone started sending each other tracks at break time and that was the first time I ever heard ‘Changes’ by Tupac.
How did you then make the transition to picking up the mic? Was there one individual that really pushed you or showed you the ropes?
To be honest I really did it all myself. I didn’t even know I could rap until I was living in my cousin’s house and one day randomly spit a verse. I was shocked when she looked at me and said “you can really rap Crystal!”. Later there was a talent show at school and my cousin said I should do ‘Blinded By Your Grace’ by Stormzy. I told her there was absolutely no way I was going to do that but then I spoke to one of my teachers and she suggested I should just go for it. It went really well and then everything started from there really.
Your tone and delivery are obviously so distinctive and unique. In your own words, ‘you got that bass in your voice’, like some kind of Pop Smoke/Giggs hybrid. Were you ever worried about how different it was when you started out or did you know and embrace the fact that it’s what set you apart from the rest of the scene?
I was actually so insecure about my voice when I started! I assumed that people weren’t going to be nice or would laugh at me for the way I sounded but it turned out that’s exactly what people liked the most because I don’t sound like anyone else out there.
Your track ‘Important’ is a perfect debut track that really gives your audience an insight into your character as you really open up about your personal strifes and struggles. Who produced that track and was it natural for you to put a lot of yourself and own life experiences in your music ? Or is music more of an escape from reality?
Most of my music that hasn’t come out yet is all about my real life and what I’ve been through. I really want to put as much of myself as possible into a song but I was scared to do it too much and definitely started second guessing if I really wanted to put all this out there. But then I thought about how many people are out there going through their own thing and could benefit from hearing what I’ve got to say.
I assumed that people weren’t going to be nice or would laugh at me for the way I sounded but it turned out that’s exactly what people liked the most.
What made you want to flip the beat up in the middle and give us a full scope of the multi layers of artistry? How did that come about in the studio?
I really just wanted the track to be different, I’ve never really heard anyone else switch up the beat to that extent before and I felt like it allowed you to see two very different sides of me, both the positive upbeat vibe and the raw gritty side.
It’s also a crazy powerful tribute to the role your family has played in your life as you touch on your relationship with your mum, dad and sister. How important was it to you to launch your career with your family right at the centre of the tune? Have they all heard the track?
It was really really important. I actually didn’t want to debut with it at first until my manager suggested it would be a good idea. The track really meant a lot to me and it meant a lot to them as well because they actually didn’t know that I felt that way before. They’ve all heard it and they all really like it but I can’t lie, at first when I told my mum that I wanted me to do music she was like “Noooo if it’s not gospel music don’t do it!”. I explained that I had to make the music that I knew I wanted to do until eventually, she said, “go on then let’s hear it”. Now she loves it!
Your follow up single, ‘Next Up’ was a real warning shot to the scene of your arrival. What was the mission statement when writing that tune? What do you find more enjoyable delivering straight crud or doing more self reflective and emotive tracks like ‘Important’?
I enjoy doing the whole jumpy party sound but I definitely prefer writing tracks that are more grounded in my real life. Don’t get me wrong I really do enjoy the jumpy sound but writing real raps is more for me. As for the mission statement, I was really just trying to put myself on the map. It’s crazy because recently I’ve made so many new tracks so I can’t actually remember how I specifically made that one but I remember that I wrote the whole track in two or three minutes!
You’re obviously a proud Mancunian and a big Manchester City fan. So, I have to get your take on what it’s been like over the last 10 years watching so many local rappers become international stars. Has the blueprint set by the likes of Bugsy Malone, IAMDDB, Misha B given you the confidence to pursue music from Manchester?
I think Bugsy Malone was really impactful for me in that way. There actually isn’t a lot of us Manny rappers out there so when i see people like Lady Ice, Bugsy and Aitch doing it, it makes me think “cool I can do it too”. What they’re doing at the moment is really incredible to see.
What’s the plan once lockdown is over, are you looking to start doing live shows or is it all about studio time right now?
Of course! It’s all about the shows! I actually have my first gig coming up in London which is going to be crazy.
If you could see any 3 artists or bands in history live, who would they be?
I gotta go with Dave, Stormzy and Skepta.
If you could emulate the career path of any MC, who would it be?
I would say Stefflon Don because she not just conquered the UK but she’s also popping off in the US. She gets the coldest features and they really mess with her out there so I got to say Steff.
Lastly, Crystal, if we were to come to Manchester where would you take us to get some peng food?
Oh for food it would have to be Trap Kitchen! That place is so dank.