Ryan De La Cruz is elated. Maybe it’s because his debut EP ‘Pagans’ has received nothing but praise, or maybe it’s because he’s spent the day shooting with Ashley Verse, or maybe it’s simply because he’s alive. “I ain’t gonna lie, the realest. I’m 19 and I never thought I would make it here. I thought I would die, or end up stabbed. I’m sure every guy thinks like this in the back of their minds even if they don’t want to. It’s mad, I’m scared and I thank God I made it to this age, seeing what I’ve seen and having the people I have around me”.
Growing up in East London, there was a time Ryan didn’t think he would even reach the age he is today, but he did. He’s overcome the adversities of London life and is still smiling, making his way to the other side and without sounding clichéd, it appears music is what saved him. His debut EP ‘Pagans’ fused contemporary R&B alongside stories of the gritty realities of London life, while bringing in UK sounds of trap, grime and rap into a sonically diverse project.
Ryan De La Cruz exists within the vague intersection between UK R&B and Rap. On his songs such as ‘Jimmy’s Story’, inspired by Plan B’s 2006 release ‘Charmaine’, he creates a claustrophobic sonic atmosphere with deep raps and grime inspired ad-libs. On ‘Gotham’ which is a quintessentially modern, moody R&B track, packed with 808s and synth, Ryan is versatile, yet essentially an R&B artist who raps. Although the ears of the UK scene are firmly pinned on grime, Ryan is doing something very different.
“With all the hype in the music game right now, all the focus, of course is on the grime stuff. As an artist, you always have to remember yourself – I have a grime track, but no one has heard it before. If I do that and sell myself short – will that benefit me in the long run? I can do anything – I sing, I rap… I can do anything if I put my mind to it”
‘Pagans’ was essentially a themed project. Themes of betrayal, paranoia and backstabbing were rife throughout the 5 track EP. But it was also a long time in the making, packed with a narrative, and real life experiences. “We had soo much material. We’re working on a project; you have to write like 100 songs before you whittle it down. Pagan’s feels old to me now! I’ve had it so long. People loved it, people RT’ing it, people seeing me on the streets… Thank you. Thank God”.
Nonetheless, while Ryan is East born and raised, his eye is firmly planted on the global, long-term market. After a brief pause he adds: “I think I have the fit to be global – and my versatility is more global, but true say, grime is going global now – people across the world are doing it, in Japan – everywhere. But do you see yourself listening to grime, bumping your head like that, in 10 years? People want something different; people want something in the long term”.
It’s at this moment I cast my mind back to some of my favourite acts of the last ten years. Names that spring to mind, artists like Chingy, Ja Rule, Ludacris – artists that at one moment were on top, then soon fell off and now are almost forgotten. What scares Ryan De La Cruz the most as an artist? “I’m scared – like right now it could be going good, then in 5 years I’m not in the same moment – but that’s where you have to stick it out, and real fans are what matter. Ten years down the line, if I know one person digs Ryan De La Cruz then they’re getting my all”.
So I thought I’m gonna tell him I wanted to do music. He heard me sing, and since then it’s been made.
Ryan’s background is interesting. His roots are in acting, and a chance encounter with Plan B led to not only him deciding to pursue music, but also a lead role within the 2012 film iLL Manors. Reminiscing on the moment he met Plan B, Ryan De La Cruz is only filled with praise: “Plan B came to my school. I remember thinking, what? He’s here? I’ve been working all my life, I’ve listened to him and now he’s here I can’t waste it. So I thought I’m gonna tell him I wanted to do music. He heard me sing, and since then it’s been made. He’s been guiding me”.
The song Ryan performed for Plan B was called ‘29 Days’, what happened after that was a working-relationship between Ryan and Plan B, and the direct influence is clear even on Pagan’s and Ryan’s knack for storytelling in his songs. “He [Plan B] told me I was gonna be a star, he believed in me – told me to focus on music. If he can say that, then I’m doing this. And since then I’ve been on my music perfecting my craft getting better”.
One thing that does become clear about Ryan is his genuine passion, not just for music, but for life and the adversities being faced around the world. During our conversation he decides to turn the tables and flip a question my way, “Can I ask you one? How do you feel about what the music is saying now? Is there enough people speaking up? People are dying in Syria now – there’s madness going on in America – a new president is coming in, over here – people aren’t watching TV.”
Personally I tell him that I’ve often thought people just listen to music as a form of escapism, to escape the realities of the world. Rappers may put on a braggadocio, but it’s not real. If people wanted to hear the realities they would be listening to the news. But they don’t. A lot of people don’t want to hear that. But then on the flip side, if people are influential and have a big audience, they need to be using their platform for good and it’s about finding a balance. Kendrick did that the best, making music that relates to break-ups, blackness, social injustice – and bad bitches too – appealing to so many people on so many levels.
But back in July, Ryan brought his UK voice to the matter and released a video on Twitter at 3:31am, with the hashtag, #BLACKLIVESMATTER, #PRAYFORTHEWORLD. Fuelled by passion, paired with anger and anguish, Ryan did what he does best, sung his heart out.
“I just felt like I needed to say something. I saw people dying, like police killing people [in America] and I just needed to say something. And the result was crazy – people are digging it. And it hurts me, like it really hurts me to see people doing that to others on my phone…I can go on my phone and witness police killing a black man. And people over here, like black people killing each other – it’s mad”.
How do people feel about being stabbed over here – it’s different than getting shot.
Ryan’s personal experience of having his own friends get stabbed, has given him this very real and very raw passion for wider issues. “It’s crazy. People get stabbed all the time over here. If people start to think it’s normal, then that’s mad. How do people feel about being stabbed over here – it’s different than getting shot. And in some states that’s already normal – like how stabbing is getting over here.”
While Ryan continues to navigate himself in the world of music, realities and life, music is his form of escapism. With enough material to fill London and another project in the works, something new and something special will be coming from Mr De La Cruz very soon. “I wanna drop another project – a set of tunes… That’s all I’m gonna say. It’s gonna be themed, like Pagans to an extent. But these are tunes I’ve been holding, and also created and I think they would be nice for people to listen to. This is gonna be a lil conceptive, and that theme of like reality running through it – maybe I’ll even call it that!”