For this month’s Spicy Sounds, Crystal Simone, 23, also know by her DJ moniker “Crys Cross,” curated a summer mix for our monthly playlist.
We got a chance to sit down with Simone, and discuss her creative journey, Janelle Monáe, and conversations she would have with her younger self.
Simone just graduated from undergrad in New York City. Growing up in Long Island, she was not always exposed to the arts, but after she moved to Brooklyn in 2015, she was able to explore her artistic side and grow as an artist and entrepreneur.
She is a graphic designer, DJ, works at Peace & Riot furniture store, supports a number of local arts movements, and manages to be an Afrofuturist that remains down to earth.
How does it feel to have graduated?
I still feel like I am in the same situation as I was before graduation: looking for a job, but I am moving to Brooklyn soon… a lot will be happening this summer. I’m going to London in a few days. I don’t know; I am on a journey and when I get to that point, I’ll know where it is I want to be.
Growing up, what was your first introduction to the arts world?
Growing up I didn’t have many creative outlets. In Long Island… it’s not a creative space, people don’t do creative things there. When I came to Brooklyn and saw what other people are doing in 2015, I just started doing it.
When did you develop a passion for music, and then how did you transform that into DJing?
Early last year I bought equipment and dropped my first mix on Soundcloud shortly after, and other DJs has given me advice and taught me how to do it. I didn’t call myself a DJ at the time. I guess I would call myself a DJ now, but not “DJ” – just Crys Cross. I also do art and design.
Tell us more about your visual work.
I am a graphic designer, I do a lot of editorial work. I was on my high school newspaper and I was the layout editor and managing editor. I am into lots of colors, and I do a lot of digital art of people of color. I actually made a cool picture book called Power to the Puff, and each graphic was me in different hair. It was for young girls who aren’t comfortable in their hair; I want them to feel comfortable… Like that’s the hair God gave them.
I like creating things to start a conversation, and for people to talk about things they don’t normally talk about.
Did you face any difficulties or have to overcome any insecurities when you were becoming more involved in the arts scene?
I went to school for architecture. That’s what I wanted to do and when I did, they put a tag on my neck that said architecture and I didn’t even know what architecture really was was when I was going to college. I went to a regular non-arts public school and I wanted to do architecture, didn’t know why, but then I think one day I was like I wanna do graphic design and I just rolled with it.
Over the years I realized a lot of people already knew a lot about graphic design and I always felt insecure because I was learning from scratch. I realized recently that skill level isn’t as important about what you do with what you know though. I had a different skill level than others, but it’s how you interpret the art.
How would you describe your sound?
I am an Afrofuturist. Janelle Monáe is a huge Afrofuturist right now and honestly anything Janelle Monáe would do, I would do—colors, patterns, lines, people of color, geometric shapes—anything really funky and black. Janelle’s visual album was really cool… that’s me. The levitating cars, that was so cool.
When I DJ, my genre ranges a lot. I blend through different sounds—house, baila funk, afro beats, latin trap, hip-hop, RnB remixes, and future beats. I do lots of remixed songs from the 90s with new beats; that’s really cool to me.
If you could DJ your dream event, what would it be? What would it look like?
I would love to DJ in London. The UK music scene is my entire vibe. Going to London next week is going to be so fun, and it would be so cool to DJ there. There are so many UK artists… The US music scene is starting to get really cluttered and repetitive.
I just want to see more WoC DJ’s in all forms, not even just black women, but like me and my friend the other day were talking about M.I.A. and she is from Sri Lanka and she is the one artist from there, and it would be cool to have more artists from other countries being popular here.
If your parents know about your passion for music and arts, how do they feel about it?
They always talk about my art life, and my mom is always posting about it on social media and my cousins are always on my Instagram seeing me DJ. Everyone is super supportive. My mom is my #1 supporter… after myself probably.
How do you describe the relationship between your identity and Afrofuturism?
I think Janelle said it best. She said Afrofuturism just means black people in the future. My coworker also has a background on her phone that says, “There are Black people in the future.” Being as eclectic and myself as possible and channeling this futuristic vibe… not many people are doing that. Oshun and Rico Nasty are doing that, and Jojo Abbott as well; she is from Ghana. I went to her concert and she came up to me and painted my face with glitter, her voice is so captivating.
What do you want to see more of in the music/DJing industry? How can PoC and white people facilitate this (if they can at all)?
I think it’s a matter of support. There were a lot of white people at the last Oshun show and it was a mixed crowd, maybe because it was at House of Yes. Whether it comes to going to shows or talking to other people about the art, more white people need to do that. I sometimes feel like white people distance themselves to a point when they don’t, and they should be a part of things when they can.
What do you hope to do in the years to come, now that you have graduated?
I enjoy so much. I enjoy bringing creative people together and would love to have some networking events and some shop local events, just things that bring different people together, musically maybe. I have also been told that I could do public relations because I know so many people. I just want to do something creative with other creative people and just bring them all together.
In who do you find inspiration?
Erykah Badu all the time, from back in the 90s to now. She is always on the next level never anyone else’s level. Also Solange, just her outfits and style are so dope. St. Beauty as well; they are going on tour with Janelle Monáe and they are dope. They have these beautiful voices. You have to check them out. Women in general too. All artsy women of color.
If you could tell your younger self 3 words, what would they be?
Embrace your awkwardness. I always felt so awkward growing up from elementary school to high school. I never really fit in, and felt like a super awkward, tall, lanky, and skinny girl. I didn’t have many close friends and I still don’t, but I do have a ton of friends. I love and support them, but it’s also good to be your own best friend. I always imagine I have a twin I never met… I always wanted one and I feel like she lives in me. I am an only child so my childhood was lonely as fuck. I am used to being alone and I’ve carried that with me into my adult self. It’s okay to be awkward and alone and it’s okay to have friends and love and support them but do yourself first.
Photography by Spicy photographer Nikki “Snikka” Freyermuth.
SPICY SOUNDS is our monthly 25-track playlist highlighting the music of womxn of color and queer and trans people of color from around the globe. The playlist, which drops on the first of every month, consists of current bops, classic jams, and diasporic beats.