For the past several years Crystal Nicole has been working behind the scenes penning songs for Beyonce, Rihanna, Mariah Carey, Brandy, Monica and others. Now with a brand new record deal, the Atlanta native is following the same successful path as Ne-Yo and Keri Hilson transitioning from songwriter to artist.
Singersroom: Can you tell me where the inspiration for your first single “Pinch Me” came from for this particular song?
Crystal Nicole: The actual inspiration for the concept came from [when] I was at the movies one day, and I was watching ‘Alice in Wonderland,’ the new one with Johnny Depp. I remember seeing the movie where Alice was having nightmares, and you can just pinch yourself and you can wake up whenever you wanted to. So I was like… Wow, that’s kinda dope! But what if it seemed like the perfect dream or what if it was the relationship, and it seems to be everything you wanted, but you wanted to wake up before it got to the bad part? That’s how I came up with the concept of “Pinch Me.” Then I was in the studio with Jermaine [Dupri] and B.Cox, and they were doing this track and I was trying to find a place to fit this concept, and it fit into that sound that they were doing perfectly.
I think I wrote the whole song in about fifteen, maybe twenty, minutes. It’s the fastest I’ve ever written a song. Yeah, so I just knew it was special. I remember Jermaine saying, “That’s the quickest I’ve ever seen a record come together.” The record’s special, and we were all just going crazy in the studio. [Laughs]
Singersroom: And of course, we all know you by your songwriting alias Cri$tyle, and having worked with some major heavyweights in the industry, including Rihanna, Beyonce, Mariah, Janet, Brandy, and more. Now you’re shifting your career to be more so in the front-stage. What stopped or prevented you from making this career change earlier and putting out your own material for so long until now?
Crystal Nicole: Well I started off singing; I’ve been singing since three years old. I was in different singing groups and everything, and they just didn’t work out. I couldn’t find anyone with the same passion for music that I had myself. So once the group didn’t work out, I just started songwriting just to express my feelings out, and I fell in love with it.
I started songwriting and working with different producers. I found that as a songwriter, I can be anybody I wanna be in whatever song I’m writing at the time. I just pretty much wanted to wait and allow God enough time to navigate me [to] where he wanted me to go. For the past 6-7 years, he wanted me to be songwriting for other people. Then as of last year, he set me up in a situation that was completely out of my control. I had my own artist and I brought her to a label and was trying to get her a deal. I think I was also kinda pushing my style on her that what I wanted to do. It was the same way I would do my old singles; I was trying to live through her. I don’t know if she really wanted it.
We walked into the label, and they noticed me. They looked to me and said, “Yo, can you sing?” and “I think you’re a star! You should put out an album” and this kinda stuff. It was so divine that it was my time to step out front.
Singersroom: So, how would you compare writing a song for yourself versus for someone else?
Crystal Nicole: How would I compare it? [Laughs] I don’t necessarily go into the studio and say “I’m going to write a song for myself today” or “I’m going to write a song for someone else.” I try to stay away from drifting my creativity because I’ve learned in the past, whenever I try to do something that my mind tells me to do, my creative mind wouldn’t want to do it. [Laughs] I can go in and say “Today it’s going to be a song for me” and I can write something and be like, “Whoa! This would sound crazy on Rihanna!” Or I can go in and say, “Today, I’m working on writing a song for Alicia Keys” and something will come out and feel like Monica.
I don’t know until after it comes out. I just allow my creativity to decide once the song is completed.
Singersroom: So then, how do you decide whether or not to keep the song for yourself or give it to someone else?
Crystal Nicole: Well the songs that are for me are very special. All my records are special, but the type of music that I’m singing on my album is very special to me. I can tell when it sounds like a Crystal Nicole record versus someone else’s record. It’s the same way I can tell a Beyonce record versus Maroon 5. I can definitely hear once it’s done, “Okay that sounds like Crystal Nicole.” I treat myself as if I’m an artist, as if I’m not myself. It’s kinda schizophrenic a little bit. [Laughs] But I treat Crystal Nicole as an artist as I treat Monica or Brandy or Jennifer Lopez. I make sure that I stay true to who she is, the same way I stay true to who they are. So I’m still like me, that I say, “Okay that’s mine. I’m going to keep it.”
Most of my music on this album is based on real-life situations. It’s just realistic; it’s very tasteful. It’s about anything that you may go through, or that I go through, or your sister or something like that. It’s all about making the listener feel like I sat down and had a long conversation with you about your life, and you should feel connected to my songs like that. So that’s kinda how I can tell it’s a Crystal Nicole record versus someone else.
Singersroom: There’s absolutely no question you’re a #1 hit songwriter… With your latest ones being Monica’s “Love All Over Me” and Rihanna’s “Only Girl” which you’ve won a Grammy for. Is there more of a pressure on yourself to make a hit song?
Crystal Nicole: I’m sure there is, but I don’t feel it only because I already have so much pressure on myself that I put before the Grammy’s. I’m my worst critic, and I’ve been that way since the beginning of my career. I’ve always tried to put myself on that next level. I’m always in the booth like, “Aw this isn’t it… It can be better… It can be better.” I even did that with a Grammy award-winning song, “Only Girl (In The World).” I felt like it wasn’t it, it could be better… the world isn’t gonna like this, Rihanna’s not gonna like this, I don’t like it. [Laughs] I was just going in on myself the whole time I was creating it. It came out, and it was the biggest record in the world.
So I don’t necessarily feel the pressure from other people; I just feel the pressure from myself of just trusting myself, and allowing myself to go in and really do what I was meant to do.
Singersroom: Having worked with so many artists, what have you learned from them not to do as a solo artist?
Crystal Nicole: [Laughs] I’ve learned from them, first of all, to be a lot more involved in the creative process. Because I’m a songwriter, I can’t just go in and give songs to you that you’ve never heard before and say, “Here go in the booth and sing that” and there’s no connection. I’ve learned that there has to be a connection between the artist, myself, and the song that I’m singing.
For me, the music on my project, like “Pinch Me” and things of that nature… They have to be personal. It has to come from me. Even if someone else wrote it, I have to be able to relate to it in such a way that it feels like my words. I’ve learned a lot of the great artists that I’ve worked with… They know how to take my songs that I wrote for them and change it around and make it personal for them. I’ve definitely learned that. And just consistency and work ethic.
Beyonce is a freaking machine in the studio! [Laughs] She comes in on time… Which is not the case all the time. [Laughs]. I remember one day she recorded about six songs in a day, and she was in maybe around 11AM and she was out before the streetlights came on. [Laughs] I was in the other room stumbling on one demo, while she cut like six records in a day! So I definitely learned consistency and work ethic. Even when the world considers you to be the best, you still have to live up to that and you still have to work your butt off.
Singersroom: Okay, now tell me about your forthcoming debut album.
Crystal Nicole: Well I don’t have a firm album title yet… I have what I would like the title to be, but I can’t say it until we confirm it. As far as the release goes, we’re still working on it right now. I don’t want to rush it. I know “Pinch Me” releases on the 25th, which is Monday, to the radio… Wow! [Laughs] It’s on iTunes right now, and it’s been there since I believe the 18th. The album is still being worked on. I’m just trying to make sure that it’s perfect; there’s no rush. I feel like I’ve spent my whole life to get to this moment. Now that I’m here, I want to marinate in it and I want to make sure I put out a product that’s worthy of people buying it, listening to it, and appreciating it. I don’t want to just throw random hot music out there. I want to do something that changes people’s lives, and touches people because I feel like that’s my purpose.
Singersroom: Aside from Jermaine Dupri and B.Cox, who else have you been working with on your debut album?
Crystal Nicole: Well, I have a couple of songs with Mr. Rodney Jerkins, someone who I’ve been working with for a long time… Very early on when I first started to song write. We definitely have great songs, and we’ll probably get in one for the album. I’ve been working with one of my favorite producers Babygrand, a female producer, that has done several of the songs for the album. Another good friend of mine/producer, Novel, who is also a recording artist/singer/songwriter/rapper/everything [Laughs.] Right now I’m still putting together some people that I’m definitely going to get in with [like] Chuck Harmony, he’s another favorite of mine, [and] Eric Hudson definitely. It’s still being worked out. I’m definitely going in with people that I feel comfortable with creatively, people that I know and push me to another level and likewise, I can do the same for them.
Singersroom: Now I know you’re still working on your album, but is there a particular song that’s your favorite thus far?
Crystal Nicole: That’s a good one! I feel so bad because every time I do a new song, it’s my favorite. [Laughs] Okay… Can I give two?
Crystal Nicole: Okay, one of my favorite songs is called “Can’t Shake Your Love” and it seems to be everyone’s favorite when they hear it. They go crazy. It has this old school blues/jazz vibe to it. It sounds like something out of the 70s or the 60s, and it just feels so good when you hear it. My other favorite will be a song called “Cover Girl.” It’s basically a song about being who you are and being proud of who you are and all your flaws, whatever they may be… whether it’s physical flaws on your body or whether it’s internal flaws. Just not covering those things up and hiding those things from the world and loving who you are. So it’s called “Cover Girl” and I really love that song.
—— By: Interview By Connie Tang