For Jamaican-raised artist King Cruff, although music is in his DNA, storytelling and introspection is what fuels his creative undertakings. Solomon Marley-Spence, aka King Cruff, signed to Tuff Gong/Universal Music Canada in fall of 2022 and has since released two singles, “Samurai Chop” and “Soufflé”. The twenty five year old relocated to London, ON for University at age seventeen, and now resides in Toronto, a city rich in underground music culture.
Music Existence caught up with King Cruff on the heels of the release of “Soufflé”. On his major label debut, King Cruff says, “the best thing about it is that we were working so hard on the independent scene for such a long time. There’s now an opportunity to expand to new audiences.” After years of creating music through a DIY approach and collaborating with Jamaican-based artists including SoloYt and now producer Tesselated, Cruff is repositioning his voice to reach a larger audience, all while keeping his integrity and story close to the heart. “I want the message to be consistent. I want everyone to be comfortable in their own skin. I want these songs to come out and have people be like ‘oh, okay, I can be myself’. That is the main message that I’d like to convey.”
The name “King Cruff” contains an inherent duality that is reflected in his sound and artistry, along with his Jamaican-Canadian identity. “King” referencing royalty or authority, while “cruff” refers to lack of ambition or style in Jamaican parlance. The juxtaposition of the two words holds a deep significance to the artist, who states, “When it comes to that duality, it is a sense of course having that purpose and having that ambition, but not turning your back on who you are, and kind of allowing yourself those mistakes and those opportunities to be a flawed person. You can’t be perfect all the time, so that’s kind of what that name represents.” Unafraid to be one thing or another, this deep honesty and cognizance is paralleled in the music he creates and messages he conveys.
While Cruff is a grandchild of the late Bob Marley, his name is not the thing that defines him. His Jamaican heritage bleeds through into his music, as he incorporates traditional reggae beats with more modern hip hop ideations. With bringing this sound into the mainstream, he notes how he wants to see reggae get the recognition and respect it deserves. “Reggae is a genre that everyone talks about and will be like ‘it’s cool,’ but it’s not just cool, it’s like revolutionary music! So this is just me making my contribution to bringing reggae back to that main stage.”
In a culture where Internet trends and social media sites dictate listening patterns, artists often feel a pressure to steer their sound in a certain direction. Sticking to what is true to him and remaining authentic is prevalent in King Cruff’s philosophy. In generations prior, specifically with the music of his grandfather, personal doctrines facilitated a musician’s themes and careers. While this is not something heavily valued today, King Cruff taps into his roots and old-soul ideologies to speak his truths, further proving there is a deep complexity at the heart of his music. “There is a lot of pressure sometimes to sound like this, or sound like that. I feel like with my own music I still try and keep that personality, that sense of humor, who I am as a person. I’ve never really felt the need to be like, okay I have to sound like this, ya know what I mean, in order to get the listeners or in order to look like this type of person.”
On tracks like “Soufflé,” Cruff’s youth is apparent in the song’s playful nature, all the while holding an essence of sophistication. Through intricate, rapid bars firing throughout the melody, there is a contagious spirit that makes the track as danceable as it is suave. Human connection and joy radiate out of King Cruff’s music, both sonically and lyrically. “Samurai Chop” meditates on the power of words, all whilst playing atop a Caribbean-flavored dancehall rhythm. “When I’m going through something that is a little bit deep, I want to be able to put that out into a song that people can think ‘I don’t feel so alone listening to this. This person is going through the exact same thing that I am going though.”
King Cruff views his songs as think pieces set to ‘punky’ rhythms, fusing a diaspora of genres he grew up on and is influenced by. This energy is infused into King Cruff’s sound through melodies rooted in hip-hop, dancehall, Afrobeats, reggae, and funk. Currently immersing Afrobeats into many of his songs, he also notes that he’s working on incorporating reggae sounds, Neo-soul and a plethora of other styles when it comes to improvising in the studio.
On his two singles, there is a sonic shift from his earlier work. Turning to a more melodic approach, compared to straight forward rap bars and hip hop beats he got his start with, King Cruff notes, “I just wanted to prove to myself that I could do it,” he says. “I don’t want to be in any box. I want to be able to try as many things as possible. And it also comes from a conversation, ‘cause like we were talking about, it just became clear to me that melody is really what like grabs people at the end of the day.”
Exploring the juxtapositions of human behavior with energizing, innovative sounds that uplift and inspire for an ear-bending amalgam of Black musical styles, King Cruff draws on personal experiences to tell stories within his music. “I wanted to be an author as a kid,” he says of his career aspirations growing up. Rather than putting pen to paper as a novelist, he turned to songwriting as a creative outlet. “Some people really like melodies and some people really like lyricism. For me, when I got into hip hop, it was the lyricism and the storytelling that drew me to it. So basically I’m telling stories, just in a different format.”
It is no surprise that Cruff notes his contemporary favorites and dream collaborations as Kendrick Lamar and Chronixx, both groundbreaking artists who do not shy away from genre bending or pushing limits. Finding the balance between melody and cunning lyricism, King Cruff is carving out his own path for how his unique sound asserts the same domineering nature as the greats that came before him.
Refusing to be placed within any one box, the evolutional style of King Cruff is one that will be ever-changing. “You have to keep growing as an artist,” King Cruff says. “I want to always come with different flavors and different vibes.” Ahead of his next releases, “Samurai Chop” and “Soufflé” are out everywhere now. Wherever King Cruff’s next sonic adventures take him, it is certain that they will be representative of who he is at his core.