Cristale is the introspective rapper whose dances are full of unapologetic Caribbean joy
Brixton rapper Cristale talks Caribbean heritage, the importance of Carnival and why storytelling matters to her music
01 Sep 2022
They say pressure makes diamonds, and growing up under the urban grind of the vibrant inner city district of Brixton is what has cut Cristale’s artistry. The 21-year-old entered the south London drill scene with force only a few years ago, stunning crowds with her emotive lyricism and assertive, astute freestyle prowess.
Growing up, Cristale would constantly hear people talking about the hardships and struggles of where she lived, especially in the news, “I was told [by] a lot of people – whether I knew them or not –that ‘you’re not gonna make it out’,” Cristale tells gal-dem. But she refused to let the sceptics curtail her rise.
This year she released her debut EP What It’s Like To Be Young, a collection of gritty coming-of-age tales that she uses to open the door for empathy. Tucking clever wordplay into the pockets of unflinching drill beats, Cristale gives a voice to the young people she sees in her neighbourhood and whose backstories are sometimes dismissed.
On lead single ‘13 Going On 30’ she explores her childhood and overcoming obstacles: ‘Started secondary school / Mum said, “Learn your book, don’t turn to no bad girl” (Behave, Cris)” and later “Teach’ said I got so much potential / “Cristale, you don’t know how much you have, girl”
Cristale is quick to credit her matrifocal Caribbean household for keeping her grounded and backing her career. “I had a big support system of women; my aunty, grandma, great-grandma, great-aunt and cousins,” she says, careful not to forget a family member.
Her family has strongly influenced her music. Between the buzz of familial chit-chatter and Jamaican records on loop, she has developed a strong enough accent to confuse fans she met in Jamaica while shooting the video for her hit song ‘Bong Bing’ earlier this year. Her first foray into dancehall, ‘Bong Bing’ saw her team up with Jamaican artist Laa Lee, and became a viral hit on TikTok, being used in over 788,000 videos.
The overwhelming response to ‘Bong Bing’ left Cristale reflecting on her heritage and the kind of artist she wants to be, whether that would mean honing in on dancehall or continuing to experiment with fresh Caribbean sounds. Her mum is mixed Jamaican and Montserratian and her dad is Guyanese: “[I’m] only one-quarter Jamaican,” she says. “I feel like I’ve been served an injustice because I feel more Jamaican than I actually am. But it is what it is, I am fully Caribbean,” she adds. Her heritage is the base from which she constructs her identity, with music melding into the mix. When contemplating the type of artist or person she is, she responds with one clear-cut answer: “I like to tell stories”.
She’s thrilled to find herself part of a new generation making dancehall their own, a musical shift that’s been recognised and celebrated by legend Sean Paul – who happens to be a Cristale fan, too. “After ‘Bong Bing’ blew up, [Sean Paul] followed me on Insta. That was a big shock to me,” she exclaims. “I am an example of the new generation of dancehall even though I’ve only got one track out. I’ve got unreleased tunes with Klassik Frescobar, Roze Don and Noah Powa.”
With her buoyant flow and catchy routines, Cristale keeps the ‘dance’ in dancehall – her TikTok account has legions of fans who follow and re-create her routines. Whether it’s a new set of moves for ‘Bong Bing’ or the yet-to-be-released track ‘Outside‘, hundreds are already doing Cristale’s steps. She incorporates the timeless circular motion of the sweep, popularised by legendary dancehall artist Elephant Man, and mixes it up with dancehall star Ding Dong’s signature Stir Fry move. She just tries to keep the steps fresh, “Mi love fi sweep but just don’t give me the broom because I won’t be sweeping the floor that way,” she jokes.
Cristale is just as keen to bring the moves off TikTok and onto the streets, as seen at this year’s Carnival, where she performed with Jamaican and Guyanese flags hanging from her pockets at the Rampage Sound stage. “You haffi bring yuh flag,” she says, adding that it was a “blessing” to come back to the first Carnival in three years as an artist. “Carnival is about letting your hair down and indulging in culture, not exploiting it but being a part of it,” she beams. “It’s the one day, besides Jamaican Independence, where I feel like people can give back to the culture rather than just taking from it.”
“I don’t know if people have a niche for me in their head already, because I’m kind of niche-less”
Notting Hill soundsystems have been blaring out reggae-inspired jungle riddims since the genre’s conception in the early 1990s. This year, Cristale took this to the stage with Nia Archives to perform their latest single ‘No Time’ to an elated crowd of carnival ravers. Released in mid-August, ‘No Time’ has already become a soundtrack to the later summer, produced by Clipz, Nia and Cristale join British-Ghanian rapper ShaSimone and Jamaican dancehall legend Beenie Man to complete an all star ensemble on vocals.
Venturing into reggae-inspired jungle is a further exploration of heritage, which reveals exciting new possibilities for an artist able to move between genres with such versatility. “I don’t know if people have a niche for me in their head already, because I’m kind of niche-less.” This openness to step into new terrain has seen her expertly execute the closing verse over Clipz’ skippy bassline.
For Cristale, featuring and collaborating on a record with dancehall icons marks a generational achievement: “Being on a song with Beenie Man doesn’t only mean something to me, it also means something to my mum, my gran, my great gran, my grandad, my dad. It backtracks to whoever was growing up on Beenie Man in my family, it’s a win for them too,” she says. The rapper now has her sights on working with Guyanese and Montserratian artists to turn it all full circle.
While staying within the drill lane would have been easy, as her birth name denotes, Cristale is multifaceted. It was only a matter of time before her light shone elsewhere. With three Caribbean flags draped around her shoulders, her luminous energy shimmers as vivaciously as sequinned and feathered mas bands did last Carnival weekend. As the saying goes, Cristale is likkle but tallawah – a true force of nature charging full steam ahead.
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