From his upbringing in the church, his hustles in the streets, and time spent at a school of performing arts, T.L. Cross’s experience has prepared him to be an eclectic performer and one of R&B’s ‘next up’ contender. Influenced by Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder, Thelonius Monk and born into a musically inclined family, Cross fuses the past and the future, then packages it up and delivers it as the present.
Upon first impression of the Queens, NY Singer – one would think that he was a rapper – but when he begins to showcase his raw vocal talent, it is clear that he has a presence that can transcend boundaries and genres. Much more than just your typical R&B crooner, Cross, a skillful musician, along with his production partners, Da Gutta Fam, have penned and produced records for A-List artists ranging from Usher to DMX, Musiq to Ghostface Killah.
Singersroom: What drew you to singing and performing?
T.L. Cross: I’m from a family of singers. It all started back in New Orleans, most of my family is from New Orleans; my grandfather was a teacher but he also had a radio show. He also used to make records. My grandmother would sing on records too. My father is a musician as well; he is a keyboardist in the church. There are a lot of musicians and singers in my family. I kind of grew up thinking everyone sings, you know what I mean?
I guess because everyone else in my family was doing it. I just picked up on the culture.
Singersroom: What musical era do you feel influenced you the most?
T.L. Cross: That is definitely difficult. I mean, basically I would have to go by the era in my life. Originally it started off in church.
Singersroom: Okay, it starts that way with a lot of people.
T.L. Cross: Right! A lot of songs we sang in church with my dad were published. I had no idea my father was a songwriter. Even though I first started in church, I was raised in Jamaica, Queens where hip-hop is real heavy. I was always surrounded with hip-hop whenever I was in the streets or with friends. So, I became a rapper!
Singersroom: Yeah, it’s the easiest thing. You’re either a rapper or a basketball player or a dope boy.
T.L. Cross: Exactly! The thing about my hood is that I couldn’t let anybody know that I could sing. In my hood, you better spit a few bars (Laughter). So I say early on it was gospel and then hip hop, and then once I got to high school other things came into play. I went to a performing arts school and learned a lot about classical music, which was cool.
Singersroom: So performing arts school was a big help?
I took what I could use and then the other stuff I discarded. So technically yes but as far as what I feel in my heart and in my soul, not necessarily. I was trying to figure out my identity during that time and that’s when I started getting into jazz and into blues. So, a little bit of R&B, gospel, hip hop and of course I had the training and then after that it was just me doing my own research. Buying CD’s and albums of classics like Billie Holiday, Thelonious Monk, etc.
Singersroom: You have assisted Gutta Fam to produce songs for artists like Usher and DMX. How do you choose which songs to save for yourself?
T.L. Cross: That is a really good question. Usually, I’m honest with myself. When I do a song, I turn on the MP360 and start working on a track. Suddenly in the middle of the track I start feeling like this is me. This is my song! As I’m developing the concepts and content, sometimes it will hit me like this is definitely not me. This is not my style. However, I can hear maybe someone like Usher doing it. Then, I will put it to the side. Usually, I know by the middle of the process if it is or isn’t my style. Sometimes when it’s a full out dance record, I’m like you know what- this is a choreography record and that’s not what I’m on. So, how about giving it to Chris Brown!
Singersroom: What are some of the songs that you have had your hand in that we would know about?
T.L. Cross: The biggest song that I had my hand in as far as singles are concerned was Montell Jordan’s “Get It On Tonight.” That was our first real single that we actually had on the radio. It just so happened, the song went number one across the board which was kind of scary. We had a single on Ghostface’s CD called “Never Be The Same Again” featuring Carl Thomas. It’s kind of similar to the single I have called “Best Kept Secret.” It’s got the same vibe. We had a lot of album cuts. Those are the songs that we did that charted.
Singersroom: How did you get connected with Da Gutta Fam? What is your role?
T.L. Cross: Its three main people in the Gutta Fam and it trickles down. I believe it goes to about fifteen people. The main people are myself, a guy named Bezo, and PLX. Bezo is a singer/producer, I’m a singer/writer/ performer, and PLX is a guitar player and producer. We got together and decided to launch a company.
Singersroom: What exactly is your role with G-Unit?
T.L. Cross: We have a production song deal. What that means is we have to deliver four songs to them. It’s a short term publishing deal. They give you first bid on projects. They have a personal interest in you getting the projectsâ¦All the stuff we have done with G-Unit has been recent and yet to be released. The project that 50 [Cent] is working on I have done some work on as well as their new artist Spider Loc.
Singersroom: Do you have a certain process you do in order to be creative?
T.L. Cross: Actually, the great thing for me is that my studio is in the basement of my house. This is cool for me because I’m a home-body. I have to go out a lot but I enjoy being at home.
Singersroom: Yeah me too.
T.L. Cross: There is nothing like coming home from a busy day and turning on the Cosby Show. You have to accept that you are not going to be at home a lot being in the entertainment industry. We have three studios. One is here in Jamaica Queens and the other two are in the Bronx. Recently, we have had people like LeToya Luckett come to the studio. As far as my process goes, I sit down with my keyboard and I try to compose first. Some people who I think are the greatest musicians were also great composers. Duke Ellington being one and Thelonious Monk being another. I like to come up with something musical that is going to musically captivate people. From there I try to come up with a catch phrase or something that is parallel with the feeling that the music is giving me. I turn on my drum machine and start pounding it out. What ends up happening is, sometimes when I’m done I send it to PLX and tell him to throw some guitar on it or he might send something to me and tell me to throw some keys on it. So before it is all said and done we all put our mark on it. My process starts with the keyboard though.
Singersroom: Okay so you are definitely hands on.
T.L. Cross: Yeah from drums, snares, keyboards, baselines, and guitars.
Singersroom: You play three different instruments and a lot of performers don’t have that ability. How long have you been playing them?
T.L. Cross: My main instrument is the keyboard. My dad taught me. My brother is the drummer. I picked the drums up from watching him. I was like third string drummer for my church. When others didn’t show up I would get in there. So I’m not trained on the drums, I just picked it up and I was able to understand the philosophy of how it works. The guitar, I just really wanted to learn how to play it. I bought one and I played it every day. I watched other people play. I sat down with my partner and picked up tricks from him. After a while, I could legitimately play.
Singersroom: More hands on.
T.L. Cross: Yeah for me it has to be that way. The greatest artist, Marvin Gaye, played the drums on “Please Mister Post Man.” He wrote “Dancing In The Streets” and sang background. He really got involved. You have to be well rounded and hands on with it.
Singersroom: We mentioned G-Unit earlier. Are we going to expect you guys on the roster any time soon?
T.L. Cross: I don’t know about that. They haven’t approached us as artists. What is very important to us is to build the brand name of the Gutta Family. What we are doing is actually no different from what G-Unit did. They made their name a brand on the street level, magazine level and so on. Things that we are doing right now, these are things that they did. Instead of just signing as an artist with Eminem, 50 [Cent]’s company really had some weight. They were actually able to come up with a partnership as far as Shady being the mother company of G-Unit. What we are looking for is something more geared towards the Gutta Fam. T.L. Cross is a Gutta Fam artist. We like the way things are set up and the way things are going so we gonna ride things out. —— By: Interview by La’Juanda Knight