“They Think I Got Bars, Wait ’til I Start Writing”: An Interview with Jay Critch

“Out of the young people, there’s one crown and the crown is split up amongst a whole lot of people.”
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You could once find Jay Critch at the chicken spot in Brooklyn, but now he’s leveled up to lunch at Nobu. At least, that’s what he says on his debut mixtape Hood Favorite. The 21-year-old Brooklyn rapper has been dubbed the new face of New York since he began blowing up last year with a string of impressive singles and accompanying videos. A student of JAY-Z and Lil Wayne, Jay Critch is forging the path for the new New York by fusing his natural penchant for lyricism with an undeniable swagger. It’s a heaven-sent type of marriage, and it’s working out perfectly. If our word is not enough, take those of French Montana and Fabolous, two NYC veterans that have co-signed the kid and featured on Hood Favorite standout "Try It."

“I still don’t believe it,” Jay Critch tells me of his working with the two rappers. “It's crazy. Since I was young, I’ve been listening to Fab. All his old freestyles, all that. French, too… To get them verses is crazy. Now, it’s official for me. I’m standing as the young generation, the young king, the young face of New York. The OG handed down the torch, and it’s nothing but love.”

Where Jay Critch sounds confident, he balances that with humility and a true passion for his city. Per him, there is no single king of New York. Rather, it is a coalition of young voices working together to hold the city’s crown and keep New York sounding New York, and keep NYC on top of the world. Within that East Coast brain trust, Jay Critch fancies himself a motivator in more ways than one.

“My role is gon’ be to make music that when you listen to it, you’re motivated to go do something and be a boss,” he says. “When people listen to my music, they thinking, ‘This is how New York sound: lyrics, motivation.’ But also, I want people to turn up and feel good. It’s not just a dark-sounding beat and rapping straight through. That’s still cool for some people, but the people that I wanna talk to, it’s the people that wanna be energized to get up and go do something.”

As one of the city’s young kings, with the torched passed and enough music in the chamber for a new album at the top of 2019, Jay Critch’s rise has been a pleasure to witness. If his soft-spoken and thoughtful nature, and obvious passion for writing, tell us anything, it’s that Jay Critch’s journey has just begun.

DJBooth’s full interview with Jay Critch, lightly edited for content and clarity, follows below.

DJBooth: Congratulations on the album, man. How does it feel to finally have a full body of work released?

Jay Critch: It feels great, you know? It’s my first project; I’ve never dropped any type of project. I feel like people been waiting for a long time, so it was perfect for me to drop and everybody’s happy that they finally have a body of work from me. It feels great, for me, because I’ve always wanted to drop a project. Now it’s out, it’s going crazy.

You gained an incredible buzz without a full project. Why do you think you’ve been so successful?

Early on, people saw how I switched it up and how I do different sounds. I rap, I got the melodic stuff. I feel like people been liking the singles because it’s fire, and I feel like they were really anticipating the mixtape. They been waiting for so long, people getting mad [laughs].

When did you start working on Hood Favorite?

I’m always in the studio. I just record a lot of songs. Then I went through my whole archive and made Hood Favorite from that. There’s a couple tracks that I definitely knew I wanted to put on the mixtape, but mostly I just make songs and then I do my tracklist. It’s a lot of stuff that didn’t make Hood Favorite that is still just as fire. I got an album that’ll come [at the] start of the new year. Most of my songs are in the vault right now; I just keep making music.

How do you keep from burning out?

I keep good energy around me, keep my brothers around me. Then I just go to work.

How do you pick what makes the project?

It’s tough. You want this vibe for this track and you want another type of vibe for that track. My goal for this mixtape was a different type of vibe for each track. I wanted some turn-up stuff. I wanted some shit to dance to. I wanted some slower shit. I put every type of lane [on Hood Favorite]. I picked songs that I really loved out of every sound I was looking for. I still got other turn-up shit and slower shit that didn’t make it, because I picked certain ones for this. I love every song I make, so that’s where it gets hard.

Was there one song on here that the tracklist was built around?

I feel like there’s a couple of those types of tracks. The first one was “Smutty,” “Try It” with French [Montana] and [Fabolous]. Tracks like “Quicker” with Offset and tracks like “Resort” and “Hustle Music.” Between those songs, I wanted everything to flow well and still be a different sound. I started with some real New York sounds, some turn-up anthems, go right into “Way It Is,” that’s some street gospel. That’s motivation music. “Hustle Music,” same thing. That’s motivation. I just wanted every song to flow well.

Growing up and being influenced by Fabolous, how did it feel to get him on Hood Favorite?

I still don’t believe it. It’s crazy. Since I was young, I’ve been listening to Fab. All his old freestyles, all that. French, too. French with Max B and all that. I was bumping that shit all the time. Fab I was listening to before I found out who French and Max B was. I was young, young; little kid before I even started looking for music on my own. To get them verses is crazy. Now, it’s official for me. I’m standing as the young generation, the young king, the young face of New York. The OG handed down the torch, and it’s nothing but love. When I link up with Fab, it’s all love.

Taking it back, are they who first drove you to rap?

I’ll say Lil Wayne, JAY-Z, along with Fab, Max B, and French, and probably Drake. Drake’s early stuff, fire. I always listened to it. I still fuck with Drake, but I was listening heavy back then. Beginning, beginning: JAY-Z, Weezy, Fab.

Are there any elements from your early music that you’ve brought to this album?

I don’t even really be thinking like that when I make music. I just make music based on my mood at the time. What I’m feeling at the time, what I’m feeling when I listen to a beat, what I picture in my head and all of that. I freestyled basically all my songs. I be pulling up beats, playing beats until I really fuck with one, pull that beat up, and I got into the booth and just start vibing to it. I’ll just keep playing the beat and start recording line by line what I’m feeling, right in the moment. I’ll record one line, stop it, vibe a little bit, record one line, [and] do the same thing over until I have verses, chorus, all that.

That’s a very unique thing for me because I used to write everything back in the day when I first started rapping. I used to write, and now I feel like the songs everybody really fucking with, that’s just me doing freestyles and it’s still coming out fire. I fuck with it so much. I’m ‘bout to get back to the writing. They ‘bout to hear me saying some shit, now! They think I got bars, wait ‘til I start writing. It’s ‘bout to be over.

Why’d you stop writing?

I just be in the moment, when I hear a bit. Also, when I first came to LA I linked up with Rich [The Kid] and [Famous] Dex, they do it, too. They record line by line and say what they feel in the moment. I tried it, and this shit mad wavy. When you record like that, you focus in whatever you feel at the moment. You capture that on the song. When you write, you have time to think about shit and can get more creative with everything when you write. I’m about to get back to writing how I used to when I first started rapping.

You’re fusing the lyrical style with your swagger. With freestyling, what’s the process behind finding that balance?

It’s not hard, but it’s not something everybody could do. That’s for sure. Me, coming from New York and the music I grew up on, I just naturally was thinking about bars and lyrics. When I was young, I used to be writing some shit in my phone. I thought it was some fire bars since I was something like 12, just writing it down. When I started recording and going hard with it, that’s just what I’m used to: coming with some fire lyrics. At the same time, I know the type of music that I listen to now—I still listen to Fab, you feel me?—I like some turn-up, random shit. People like to turn up, you feel me? On certain songs, I’m gonna always give you that straight rapping, and I’m gonna have songs where you can turn up, but I’m staying lyrical even if it’s that type of song.

That’s why a lot of people think you’re the future of New York rap.

Thank you, for real. That means a lot. We got the “Try It” video out now, all over New York radio. Shout out to Funk Flex, shout out all my DJs.

Since you’re the future, where do you see the New York sound going?

I just see it going wherever we take it. There’s only a couple people that really matter right now: the young people in the city. Where it’s gonna go is up to us. I feel like everybody’s got a different sound, and a lot of us… We committed to keeping it New York. A lot of us keep our New York sound no matter what, and that’s the way it’s gonna stay.

What role do you see yourself playing in taking and keeping that sound on top?

My role is gon’ be to make music that when you listen to it, you’re motivated to go do something and be a boss. When you hear my music, listen to what I’m saying. That’s my goal: when you listen to my lyrics, you miss something. Like, “Oh! I gotta go back.” I’m always gonna have some fire lyrics that you gotta think about. When people listen to my music, they thinking, “This is how New York sound: lyrics, motivation.” But also, I want people to turn up and feel good. It’s not just a dark-sounding beat and rapping straight through. That’s still cool for some people, but the people that I wanna talk to, it’s the people that wanna be energized to get up and go do something.

How are you going to make sure you don’t crumble from the pressure of being the young king of the city?

There’s no one king of the city. There’s one crown and it’s shared by a lot of people. Out of the young people, there’s one crown and the crown is split up amongst a whole lot of people. A lot of n****s doing they thing right now, not just one. It’s the same for the OGs: one crown held by a lot of people. So it ain’t no pressure to me. I’mma just keep moving, working hard, and giving my fans what they wanna hear and keeping it true to my New York shit.

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