Cribbs grew up watching and studying The Hardest Working Man In Show Business. Now he’s about to become one himself.
The recent Atlanta transplant has been instantly embraced by the rap game’s elite in his new city, as evidenced by his spectacular DJ Drama-hosted Champagne Music The Gangsta Grillz Edition mixtape. Featuring varied, hard-hitting production from Ty Cutta, M16 Beats, DJ Stikuhbush and Big Hurt Tracks, the collection showcases Cribbs’ top-notch lyricism, his creativity and his versatility. He’s a rare artist who sounds as comfortable over a slow, electronic beat as he does over the most thuggish trap beat.
The energetic “Super Bowl” features Cribbs and Gucci Mane boasting about their epic ability to be victorious at the highest levels of competition, while the club-ready “Charlie Sheen” features Cribbs and Waka Flocka delivering a relentless assault of memorable punchlines. But it’s about more than bragging. The soulful “Family First,” for instance, features Cribbs saluting his family.
“I have range,” Cribbs says. “I don’t have to stay in a box. I’m not scared to step out of that box and explore. It’s about being yourself, showing people that you’re vulnerable, you’re weak, you’re strong, you cry, you laugh. I think that’s what the game is missing right now.”
Growing up in the Quad Cities (on the border of Iowa and Illinois), Cribbs quickly learned what the game was like at its best. He would frequent his grandfather’s record shop, where he was surrounded by the sounds of James Brown, the Hardest Working Man In Show Business. Cribbs’ father was a Brown devotee and Cribbs himself soon became infatuated with Brown’s soul, his stage presence and his infectious music.
When Cribbs developed his own style, he incorporated Brown’s aura into his own persona, making him a remarkable, well-rounded artist who defied stereotypes. He was from the Midwest but was revered for his lyricism. He didn’t have the accent typical of an artist from his area, and because he started dancing and breakdancing when he was about 6 years old, he knew how to captivate a crowd.
Indeed, Cribbs knew by the time he was six that he wanted to be a rapper, so he started developing his lyrical style when he was in elementary school. His first raps were typically freestyles, but once he started telling stories in his rhymes a few years later, he was instantly compared to a legendary rhymer.
“People would always say, ‘Man, you sound like a little Snoop Dogg,’ because I was always going somewhere with my rap,” Cribbs says with a laugh. “I was always dipping somewhere in the ’64 that I didn’t have. But that was me. I was just a cool, laid-back cat that liked to freestyle.”
But growing up in the Quad Cities (about 175 miles West of Chicago) presented some distinct challenges. There were no local rap heroes for him to emulate and he basically had to create all of his own opportunities.
Looking for a way into the music business, Cribbs interned at radio station Power 92 in Bloomington, Illinois. While at the station, he learned how to interact with fans while representing the radio station and started pressing up his own CDs.
In 2007, Cribbs released his single “I’m A G.” The synth propelled, boast-heavy song became a local hit and led to Cribbs getting booked for shows in the area. He used this momentum to record and independently release his Street Religion album in 2009. The innovative concept album included such noteworthy tracks as “The Offering,” where Cribbs detailed how people rob the church, and “Preachers & Pimps,” which describes how the two professions are more similar than people would like to admit.
“The same thing that draws a person to a preacher is the same thing that draws a chick to a pimp,” Cribbs says. “You dress nice, you talk fly.”
Predictably, some people said he was blasphemous. But what validated Cribbs was that several people who heard the song said he was on point. That let Cribbs know that he was accomplishing his musical mission. “I wanted people in the pulpit and on the street to feel my music,” he says.
Additional validation came when show opportunities came more often and in front of bigger crowds once “I’m A G” and Street Religion were at their peak. All of his time studying James Brown paid off in a major way.
“When I would get on stage, I would just capture the audience and bring them in,” Cribbs says. “It’s a rush. When I get on stage, I feel like I own the world at that moment. It’s like five seconds on the clock and Kobe’s got the ball. It’s that feeling, like it’s playoff time and I’m about to drop 60 on these MCs tonight. That’s the rush I get. It’s like this is a game and I’m one of the international players.”
Now based in Atlanta and with Champagne Music The Gangsta Grillz Edition earning rave reviews, the backing of Creative Factory and A-List affiliations with DJ Drama, Gucci Mane and Waka Flocka, Cribbs is poised to become a force in the music industry. He wouldn’t want it any other way. In fact, he doesn’t want to just to be major. He wants to be rap’s next king.
“You’re not playing basketball just to play,” Cribbs says. “You want to get the ring. In music, you want to get that Grammy. You want people to say, ‘He did it.’ I want to be that success story, the kid that came from the Quad Cities and really took over the game.”