London born Canadian-Jamaican MC and lyricist King Cruff has just signed a worldwide deal with Bob Marley’s label Tuff Gong and Universal Music Canada, but aside from having family ties to the Marley family, his music, attitude and career ambitions are entirely unique.
He’s the grandson of Bob, but he doesn’t want to chat about that – he’s here to tell his own unique story though his eyes and his own unique sound.
Blending hip hop, reggae, a little bit of funk and a whole lot of vibe, Cruff is ready to take on the world.
Hot on the release of his debut Tuff Gong single Samurai Chop, Cruff sat down with 519 in-between writing and recording his first EP and album, set for release in 2023.
Regular 519 readers will recall he was one of the first Indie Profiles we ever did.
Things are a lot different now than from when you were featured as an Indie artist in 519 magazine – your debut single is out. Let’s talk about the journey to get where you are today. How did you actually hook up with Universal and Tuff Gong?
How it happened was that Cedella Marley caught wind of my music, and she was very interested in it. She liked the vibe. Obviously, she comes from reggae music, and I’m a student of reggae music myself, and she liked how I put a new twist on it. An international funky thing – it’s different.
She saw lots of potential behind it, and she brought me on board. While we were looking for partners, we were coming up with a couple of ideas. As you know, I was in London, Ontario. I was Toronto is 2 hours away, let’s just give UMC (Universal Music Canada) a call and see if they’d be interested in the project. Thankfully, they were, and now we’re here.
I have to ask this question. Your real last name is Marley-Spence. Is that Marley side related to the Bob family at all?
It is, yes.
Tell me about that.
It’s interesting. It definitely influenced me growing up. I wouldn’t say I went down the path of music because I’m a Marley. I was just into anything that was creative, like writing stories and drawing comic books. It wasn’t until later on in life when I started, rapping and hip hop became a certain influence that I started taking about giving it a shot. Then I started developing my sound, and the rest is pretty much history.
The Marley family is a bit like royalty when it comes to Caribbean music, right? Does it feel like you’re part of this elite family and huge music history?
You know what, to me, personally, I think it’s just because I’ve grown up with it that I don’t see the legacy of the family although it’s undeniable. The family has done so much for regular music, done so much for music in general, and I’m honored that I’m blessed to be a part of it and that I just happened to be born into this family. For me, I feel like I don’t wake up in the morning and I’m oh, I’m better than everybody because I’m a Marley. You know what I mean? I don’t get that type of vibe. It’s just that this is my family, you know?
I see them at Thanksgiving and at birthdays, and its all love every time.
How did you become King Cruff?
I started rapping over MF DOOM beats. I started just performing at my high school. It was just really silly stuff – really wack verses, but every day I just took an interest in it. My friends and I started recording and I really wanted to make something. I feel like I can tell stories to this. I feel like I can help people through this. And as time went on, and I moved away from Jamaica and I came to Canada, I was ‘let me really go in on this and let me make it more’. I started bringing some of my greater influences; more than just hip hop.
I started going for the dance hall and the reggae and the disco and the funk and things I felt like people hadn’t heard before, but still would want them interested in checking out what reggae music was about. Reggae music is crazy right now and I want people to know that. So it’s just my contribution to it. That’s the path of what became King Cruff.
The Caribbean sound is huge because it’s not just one style of music, it’s like what you’re talking about – there’s a whole pile of different sounds that come in there. How did you get so infatuated with that Caribbean sound?
Obviously, my family are part of it. I loved listening to their music growing up. It’s easy when you’re around it. You’ll be in your house and you hear the parties going on and there’s that bass – because the bases in Jamaica are always knocking – so if the house is rattling…
But it’s that energy like there’s something going on over there. You can’t escape it. When you grow up in Jamaica, it comes to your school, it comes to your place of work. Everyone loves music down there, so it was very natural to just be drawn to it.
What makes Caribbean music so infectious? What do you think it is?
That’s a great question, man. I feel like it’s just raw. It’s feelings. It’s not made to be pretty or anything. Often the time when you listen to, say, dance hall mixes, the mixes aren’t anything crazy, but it’s just right. It’s just the idea that we can play this at a party and everyone will love it.
I feel like with regular music, it’s the authenticity; the rawness. Reggie music plays two roles. One, it makes people happy. I find that people outside of Jamaica, whenever I listen to regular music, they’re I can never listen to reggae music and not feel happy. I feel like a lot of regular music has a political message behind it, and I feel like when people dive into that, it gets them thinking.
Then obviously, the instruments sound amazing.
Like we said, the grooves and the bass, are untouchable. I feel like all of that mixed together makes it something that people can’t get out of their heads.
When you were crafting your original sound and mixing it with all those different styles, how did you actually come up with a mix? There had to be some sort of a balance that you were comfortable with.
I feel like for me, I wanted the instruments to be laid out first and whatever the instrumental was saying to me, then it would be me.
A lot of what I do is mostly just me and the language that I use and the things that I say. It’s how I interact with the rhythm or the instrumental.
Tell me about Samurai Chop, your first big label single.
Samurai Chop – it’s crazy. It feels good to get it out there. It’s been in the vault for a long time.
Samurai Chop in itself, was made where I was experimenting a lot and I was going for a different sound that were different than what I was used to. I wanted to tell the story because whenever I make music, I think about how I feel and at the time, there was a lot going on. I had a group of friends and they were partying all the time, and I felt like they were forcing themselves to enjoy this party life that wasn’t really benefiting them. I felt for me, I didn’t enjoy being involved in that. I would just leave the party and then people would text me and be ‘yo, did you leave?’ And I was ‘yeah, like 30 minutes ago’. I feel like a little bit of the lyricism tells that story, but still, it’s an engaging song. It’s groovy, it’s poppy, and people can hitch onto it and relate to it.
“Words cut deep like a samurai chop”. That’s a really deep line, man. That’s some powerful stuff. Is there something personal going on there?
Not necessarily. I do believe in the power of words. My mom, when she was raising me, she was always telling me to be careful what you say, be careful what you read, because words have power. I think that’s important.
It also ties into the idea of that party scene, like when you are partying with the same people in the same friend group. Sometimes people talk, sometimes people gossip, and sometimes people say things without really thinking about the repercussion. I feel like that’s where the line came from.
It wasn’t anything necessarily personal, but it was what was going on around me and me translating it to that.
Is this song a good introduction to what we might hear on the upcoming album next year?
Absolutely, man. I feel like it has a lot of the aspects of what King Cruff is.
It has the lyricism, it has the story behind it, it has the instrument that grabs your attention and it makes you want to stay for more – it has that replay value. I feel like it’s definitely a good point to be at, it sets the expectation, but not too, too heavy because we’re still experimenting with a lot of different sounds. It sets the president, I’ll say that.
I noticed you’re still using Lighter Juice for your music videos. It’s great to see you bring a London video crew along for the ride here. Tell me about your connection with them. Again, it’s not your first video with them.
I think we talked about doing work for the longest time initially, a couple of years back. They had an idea for one of my earlier songs and wanted to do a video for that, and it wasn’t time yet.
Then I came up with the song BlackBerry Grove, and we made that video. It was great. I love working with those guys. I love the way they work. I love the fact that I find out with video shoots, sometimes things don’t go according to plan, but it’s all about improvising and pivoting, and we do a good job of that.
When I came to them with Samurai Chop and I told them the idea, I was we’re going to go find some waterfalls and it’s going to look crazy. Trust me, I’m going to wear all white. Trust me, it’s going to look sick. They were all for it.
You really have to trust a video crew because they’re in charge of your image. They’re in charge of what people are going to see, especially when it comes to a debut label piece.
Absolutely, man. When we made that video, we didn’t even know it was going to be released through a label, so this came as a surprise to all of us.
Are there any London or Southwestern Ontario locations in the Samurai Chop video?
You know what, there are, but I can’t disclose that information because to get those waterfall shots, we might have had to jump some fences. I’m not going to say nothing, but there might be.
Diving a little bit into you, how did moving from Jamaica to London affect you as a person?
That’s a really good question and it’s a really important question because I feel like when I moved away from Jamaica, people say that the fastest way to grow up is to move as far away from home as possible.
I feel like that’s what happened because, I got over the culture shock and I started making friends up in London and I started learning more about myself. I started to gain charity, so much so that when I got home, some people couldn’t even recognize me. Sometimes all it takes is just to move away from home, even for a little bit, to just get some direction. I give London a lot of credit for making me figure out a lot of things about myself.
How about the music side? How did moving from Jamaica to London affect your music?
It affected my music in the way that it gave me a proper market to try different things out. London is a city where all the businesses try out things for the first time to see if they can work out in Canada. I see my music as the same thing because it’s a product. I feel like London gave me this space to move about. Let me try this, let me try this. Let me connect with this person. Let’s see what’s going on over here. Let’s see what everybody else is doing in the city and then let’s do something completely different.
It was a wonderful playground for me and my sound.
Are you still actually located in London?
I move between London and Toronto.
I was going to say, is it possible to actually have a record deal and still be located in London and be able to do all that music stuff?
At the moment it’s working, but maybe a move is in the future. A couple of people have asked me to move out here, so I’m going to try and see if we can work it out.
Is the debut album still being recorded?
Yes, absolutely. We’re still working, we’re still experimenting. We’re supposed to be having some big sessions next week and we had a big session last week, so we’re grinding right now.
You can’t tell me much about it, but maybe tell me what you’re trying to accomplish with it, because you probably have a long term goal in mind for the album.
The first thing that we’re going to plan for is an EP.
I want it to be a proper contribution that has a King Cruff message but still doesn’t alienate anybody. I want to try as many different sounds as I can to make it sound as cohesive as possible, but still have a little piece of chaos. I don’t want to give people the same song over and over again. I want every song to be a vibe and a moment and I want to give people these think pieces for them to walk away with.
You mentioned that reggae can be very political. Is that something that we might hear from you as well?
I feel like for being political, there’s obviously some research that needs to be done and there’s a skill for artists to be political without sounding cliche, for lack of a better word, you know, corny. I feel like I’m still in that phase of learning how to do that. I feel like it will come in small bursts and I feel like it will come. I want it to be not too heavy, just thought provoking enough to make people ask them questions, but nothing that will alienate anybody.
In the process of recording this new stuff and you’re working with Universal to do it. Is the process different now than it was in the past?
Yes. We obviously have a lot more time to do it because I’m not juggling two jobs at the same time while trying to make a music career happen. This is my main focus. We have more time to experiment and to play with things and then to revisit ideas versus when I was independent. We’re putting all the eggs in this basket and then the basket after that. Now it’s like we have 100 baskets and we can move egg from egg to egg or from egg to basket, if the analogy makes sense. The process has changed, but the mission hasn’t, and the energy hasn’t either. It’s still the same and it’s still the same fire with what we started with.
How about live performances? When will we see King Cruff hit the road? Like a tour or even just some shows?
There’s probably a couple of shows that will pop up every once in a while. I’ve been doing a lot of performances this year. I did a lot of performances last year, so I feel like now I’m more so in the mindset of recording. It might not be as much, but when it happens, it happens. I’ll probably be throwing shows in London and just hosting them because I have a little thing out there called Urban Flavors where I throw shows and I put other artists on and try to create these moments for them.
Speaking of London again, you went from being a very independent artist to being featured in our magazine to then winning London Music Awards, and now you’re on a label. What do you have for advice for new musicians in London?
For new musicians in London – and there’s a lot of them and there’s a lot of talent – I would say they have to keep working. They can’t be deterred, especially in this day and age where there’s so much to deter you. There’s social media where everybody seems like they’re popping up so hard and so fast, like we’re coming out of the pandemic. I know that made a lot of people doubting themselves, so you have to believe in yourself. Stay hungry, be self-aware. I know your strengths and your weaknesses, what you need to work on and what you need to lean on.
Don’t act like you’re too cool for anybody, which is like when you’re dealing with rappers, a lot of people be acting like they’re cool, but it’s okay.