All of the sudden Cristal Coleman (aka Cristal C) is a prolific voice in Beijing’s performance scene. She’s been seen dropping surprise freestyle sets at Temple, crafted slams at Word of Mouth, and generally blessing the mic at Modernsky Lab with the likes of Section 6. Not bad for ninety days. Hit the links for pretty sounds and read a chat between Cristal and Loreli's new Read editor, Max Berwald, below.
Here's Cristal rapping with the new collective, Same-Sex Wavelength (we're a little obsessed with this track).
But also you should really hear this shit.
MB: Who are you and what do you do?
CC: Haha, I’m Cristal Coleman from Chicago. I float around Beijing doing art and meeting people trying to live and find inspiration. That’s the short answer.
MB: You're from Chicago. What's rapping in Beijing like after Chicago?
CC: I actually haven’t rapped in Chicago before. I’ve only rapped about Chicago while I was in college in Iowa. I talked about the difference in safety between the city of Chicago and my small town, private liberal arts college. The song is called Started From Chicago. I started rapping my second year in college, when I found that I could match poetry to music beats! It’s different than in Beijing because most of the hip hop guys I know like the old school American stuff, and that’s just not me.
MB: Hip hop history in Chicago goes back very nearly as far as hip hop itself. What is it like to come from one of the form's natural habitats to China, and see the form being used by locals?
CC: I actually think that the locals use styles from the East and West Coast of the United States. They listen to people who were from the ghettos of New York and California—I see those styles the most. I mean, some people know Common and some know new school as Chief Keef, but my Chicago vibes are beyond that. It’s more chill like Common, Chance the Rapper, Lupe Fiasco, K. Flay, a little bit of Vic Mensa and Noname Gypsy. Oh yeah, and the old Kanye…
MB: Recently there's been more attention paid (by people besides the artists themselves) to the craft of rap. (Viral VOX videos, documentaries, evangelist rappers willing to talk about "rap education," etc.) Do you have an approach to writing, and can you describe it?
CC: Hmmm… my approach involves a good beat… a good beat inspires a feeling, and I freestyle write on the paper. Most of the lyrics get done in thirty minutes of that, and then I might go back and add more parts where needed, brushing up the chorus, making sure I can take natural breathes and complete lines. It’s not really structured. More of a free flow of emotions at once. If I were teaching a class, I would outline the parts of a song that are needed, and what can be repeated. You know chorus, hook, verses, ad libs, stuff like that.
MB: What are elements you really like in hip hop as a listener? Is there overlap or distance between these elements, and those you favor as a writer/rapper?
CC: I favor writers and performers above all. I like those who can perform different voices (switch it up), and I like those who can articulate the psyche. Those are impressive elements of hip hop to me. That is also what I like about music in general, one instrument that can be manipulated in several ways—it’s versatile. And the writing. Ugh. I love it. I have a long list of artists who make me feel this way, so I can’t single out a few right now.
MB: Looping back to Chicago for a minute, any thoughts on the nature of Chicago rap? (Do you think your style is based on any tradition that could be identified as Chicagoan?)
CC: I appreciate the horns sampled in Chicago hip hop. I dislike music that promotes violence. I think I grew up listening to the rappers I mentioned above from Chicago, and that of course inspired me… anything I consume frequently inspires me, imprints, and comes out in a new form somehow in what I do.
MB: I know you also write fiction. Do the approaches (fiction and rap) inform or influence each other at all?
CC: I write fiction, prose, nonfiction, travel journalism, long WeChat messages that turn into short stories lol. Yes, I love it all. Do forms of one of my writings inform or influence other forms of writing…? Hmm… rarely one of my poems will turn into a rap; it honestly depends on if music is playing in the background (if so, it influences the rhyme scheme). I usually write about the same concepts in poetry as I do in raps: love, heartbreak, social inequalities, queerness, etcetera. Also, I usually structure my song lyrics, mostly the hooks and the choruses, as small poems. Two of my songs could be read as complete poems Blue Moon and Goodbye (Goodbye isn’t recorded yet). I hope that answers the question.
MB: Any thoughts on hip hop's place in queer communities, or the place of queerness in hip hop? This is interesting if you see some connection between the form and the identity, and obviously dull if these are simply two different things. For instance if we wanted to see the queer rapper in the same way we might want to see a queer gardener, queer baker, queer painter...
CC: I’m doing something with a friend that is new to the music scene… we have a collective called SSW (Same-Sex Wavelength) and we’re both queer, and are lyrics are queer and the beats are queer. We’re trying to push a queer revolution, and what better way than to write and record dance music about being queer?
MB: Concur. Circling back to Chinese rap– what has your exposure been to hip hop in Beijing? Any opportunities for crossover? When's the absolute soonest we can expect to hear you rapping in Chinese?
CC: Haha, rapping in Chinese. I think I will start with a few words here and there, some phrases. If someone writes a chinese verse for me right now, I can record within that week. It’s like music, the Mandarin language, so I would just learn the music and perform it. So it could happen very soon. Lol. I’ve found some opportunities here. They’ve mostly been by coincidence or chance or me requesting to perform music after some shows are over, or if I’m supposed to read poetry, I will say “I’ve decided to perform a song instead” lol. I sneak my way into the scene, but it’s starting to move forward. I’ve performed music at least ten times in three months in Beijing so far. And I’ve also just started a band with 3 other ladies, we’ll see how it all goes.
MB: What are your goals for sticking around in Beijing? What kind of work do you want to be doing artistically? Any projects we can look forward to?
CC: I’m trying to release at the start of 2017. I’m not managed and don’t have steady producers, beat makers, or a team, so it comes a bit slower than if it were funded or managed by an outsider. But I’m okay with that for now. I’m twenty-three and I have about twelve songs on my Soundcloud now, and it’s speeding up. We’ll see what I can do… I’m not in a rush. Though, I want to go on tour in the next two years, so hopefully I’ll have my current project and one other done by then. I also am dabbling into a bit of modeling, video production, and things like that. I’ll be in Beijing as short or as long as the art keeps flowing.