Crown's on a mission to spread positivity and gratitude with All Rise, his debut album that transforms hip-hop into something for everyone.
While his previous work focused on beats and lyrics, Crown now draws energy through a live band. He credits his new style with having "different ideas and different sounds, with a much more positive message".
Crown's vocals evoke the confident, enunciated style of Jay Z, offset by humble originality and relatable lyrical references. Instead of rapping about bottles and bitches, Crown gives thanks to U.S. troops and encourages philanthropy in his verses.
The positive messages are subtle, as to not suck the fun out of rap music. Crown exhibits a sense of loyalty, not sanctity: there's a track titled 'Fukkit', after all.
The first track, "All Hail Now," sets the tone as a larger-than-life, Big Apple anthem; "Roam," a piano-accentuated, summer song with a beachy chorus follows. The upbeat tempo and catchy hooks of tracks like "Quicksand" and "Turnaround" echo the energy of Motown through the eyes of 90s acts like Beck and Fatboy Slim. (You'll be surprised at what this 90s music aficionado admitted was on his iPod).
Here's what the artist had to say about his time serving in the military, opening for Lil' Kim, and his goal to avoid the stigma of being a "bling bling, I-rule-it-all" hip hop artist.
OC Weekly (Jena Ardell): How long did you serve in the Air Force and what ultimately made you want to enlist?
Crown: I served nine years in the Air Force. What made me want to enlist was I really wanted to get out of the street. I didn't want to be in the streets anymore. I just wanted a different outlook, period, on where I wanted to go with my life, so I joined the Air Force. That's when everything just aligned itself [in my life].
We actually plan on touring for the troops real soon. Some of the songs on the album kind of gear towards the troops and those who are overseas and things like that.
You've opened for a long list of big names (Lil Kim, Naughty By Nature, Fat Joe, Black Sheep, Ying Yang Twins, KRS One, Black Wall Street, Maino, Mims, N.O.R.E., Fabolous, Trey Songz, Big Pun). What was your favorite experience?
It's a tie between Lil' Kim (at the Key Club in Hollywood) and Fabolous and Trey Songz (in Harrisburg, PA). Both of those were my biggest shows. They both had a huge impact on my music moving forward. It was around the time when I was thinking 'should I really pursue this full-speed or should I take my time and just wait?' But those two shows really catapulted me to where I am now, to the point of 'keep going'.
Did you learn any particular industry or life lessons from the experiences you had while opening for the larger acts?
I would say the energy of being there [influenced me] and performing in front of people I didn't know. It's easy to get a whole bunch of your friends together and just perform for them; y'know, that's easy work. I wanted to perform in front of people who didn't know my music, who I didn't know. From those two shows, I generated a certain buzz… and I just kept going from there.
Did you have a mentor or someone who really encouraged you during that time?
Not necessarily a mentor, but when I ran into a good friend of mine, Phil Lawrence, who works with Bruno Mars, [that pushed me forward]. He heard my stuff and loved it and just was like, "I think your stuff can be bigger." Once he told me that, he put me in line with my [current management] and ever since I've been there, I've been learning something new every day.
Even if people aren't initially familiar with you, I'm certain they've heard "Can't Stop Me" on the Geico commercial. What was it like to hear your song on a national television commercial for the first time?
I think I saw it one time, but it's starting to re-air again, so that's a good thing. To be honest, it's unreal. I woke up one morning to go to work, and turned on SportsCenter–like I normally do–and the next thing you know, I see is this lizard on the Brooklyn Bridge, and I'm like… wait, a minute, that's me. It was crazy, it was definitely crazy.
We have two Amsterdam Vodka spots that are airing right now, actually. And before that, there a Taco Bell commercial. We did Big Poppa in Spanish [as a tribute to the Notorious B.I.G.]. It was right around Super Bowl time, that was pretty cool too.
Have the commercials increased your fan base?
[The exposure] has definitely opened me up to a different fan base, just for the simple fact that they're not necessarily like the hardcore hip-hop fans that I once had. Now, it's more of a diverse audience who listens to my music, who's into rock and blues and all sorts of different genres, which helped me changed my sound up a little bit and helped me become more diverse.
Once the commercial ads started picking up on our music, we were like, 'whoa, wait a minute, we're sitting on something here. Let's do something about it'. We just branched out from there.
You've mentioned you always keep 'an ear open to music inspiration throughout the day'; when do you feel most inspired to write and what inspires you most?
A lot of times when I am just driving around, I'll see something, and I may not write about what I just saw, but it will spark a thought. I'll get an idea off of that and just kind of reflect on it like, 'Wow, I can relate to something like that that happened, and let me tell this story…'
What is your process for writing lyrics?
Whatever mood a sound puts me in, I just go from there. I'll write a whole verse and there won't even be a hook there yet, or it will be a skeleton of a beat. So I'll just get a rhythm and I'll create a thought based off of what I'm hearing on the track, and then I'll begin to write. It's right on the spot. The band will play, I'll hear it a couple times, and freestyle a little bit and jot ideas and kind of just put the whole thing together, like a story, and it just goes from there. One thought sparks another one and it just kinda turns into a song.
Is there a particular verse from your debut album that you are most proud of?
I wouldn't say a verse… I think the most touching would be a song "People I Meet," where I am actually having a conversation about the homeless and those less fortunate. I think the fact that lyrically you can still come off as an MC and–at the same time–in a positive light [is important], because right now, y'know, a lot of people look at hip hop music and they just see hip hop as this gangsta, bling bling, I-rule-it-all type image, and that's not what it's about. We want to show people that the messages in hip-hop are still important, like they always has been.
Do you have a certain philosophy on life that shapes these thoughts and lyrics?
I have a daughter and of course, y'know, my daughter loves music; she loves art; and these kids are smart, so a lot of time you don't want to put out a message that your children are like 'wow, why would you say that?' So I have to be a little bit more conscious of everything I am writing and how I come across. I really want to impact her life in a positive way [by creating positive music].
"Insane Champagne" is really the only song that grazes over indulgence or extravagance, and even then it's very modest. How important is it to you to keep your lyrics humble so fans can relate to them?
That song was one of the odd ones. We didn't want to come off cocky. That's our main thing: you never want to come off as cocky, but you definitely want to come off as confident. That song was actually supposed to be [interpreted as] a celebration, as opposed to as a flashy, pop-bottle thing.
As far as the album goes–and that song in particular as well–we really wanted a balance. We really wanted to bring everyone into this one project and make the audience understand we are diverse. We can talk about the same thing the same exact things [other hip hop artists] talk about, but sound differently about it. Not just the same cliche, same ole, same ole, 'y'know what I'm sayin' type thing'. We just really wanted to [encapsulate the feel of hip hop], but say it differently.
There are so many different sounds on your album. Do you take inspiration from a lot of different genres of music?
That's exactly true. Just the fact that we have instruments in here–and there's just so much going on–it automatically brings out that whole vibe of 'let's have fun'. And from a band standpoint: 'let's rock out and really do this thing'. You got this guy over here, with the jazzy 70s vibe; over there you got the bass guitar and the hip hop element with the vocals; and the R&B elements in the hooks. A lot of sounds blended.
Now that you've been removed from Brooklyn for so long, how does living in southern California affect your writing?
Being away from New York for a minute, it is a different perspective. I wouldn't say 'brighter', but you see different things. I pretty much wrote about a lot of harsh reality [growing up in Brooklyn]. Now, the music I am making brings a different perspective from the opposite view point, on the west coast.
I've definitely grown to consider California home now, just based off from settling in, and bonding, and relating to things out here. I pretty much feel like it's a second home, if anything. New York will always be home.
Are there still things you miss about the east coast?
The food. The family, of course. I actually miss the seasons. I like variety.
What song would fans be most surprised to learn is on your iPod?
That's a good one… "Radioactive" by Imagine Dragons is on there. I love them. Some Pink. I have a lot of Billboard mixes and I like to throw it back to the '80s and '90s quick, y'know what I'm saying? The top 100 of each year from the '90s. Billy Joel, Bruce Springsteen, Ace of Base… just to get the feeling back to when I was really exposed to different music, and you can hear that in this album as well. I'm a '90s kid.
I could image you collaborating with a band like Imagine Dragons, or even Pink.
It's crazy. When I saw Imagine Dragons perform on the Grammys–when they did the thing with Kendrick–I was like 'man, this is what hip-hop should have been doing!' I just didn't understand why artists haven't been doing that [more in the past]. People like Kendrick Lamar and Andre 3000, people who have been pushing the envelope a little bit and getting out of box, I think that's huge for hip hop. I think that's the way it should be.
Is that the direction you want to go with your own work?
Yes, exactly. I don't want to be put into the urban category or genre. We just want to be known as music, period. We'll let the fans decide and determine what it is. At the end of the day, we just want to be know as good music, that's it.
Crown will be performing at Techmanity in San Jose, CA this October. The lineup includes Weezer, Young Rising Sons, KONGOS, Thievery Corporation, and more. For a complete list of tour dates (which include Venice, Santa Monica and in Long Beach), visit his website http://crownandthemob.com/shows