Ryan De La Cruz x Kings Place
Welcome to the Manor
I trace my mind back 5 years, finishing a church service and I’m speaking to this edition of Kings Place interviewee. Our conversation was relatively brief but I remember thinking they were going to go far. He was special and everyone knew it. My predictions were right. Ryan is one of UK’s urban scene most talented artists. His unique melodies tied in with his beautiful ear for music has allowed him the ability to successfully perform across different genres and has allowed his sound access to a variety of audiences.
Ryan’s childhood involved a lot of co-ordinated noise. The sound of cutlery on the window was a regular melody heard from his house. He was always acquainted with the passion music stirs up as he grew up in his Dad’s church choir. The sounds of impassioned people melodically expressing their zeal weren’t something unique to Ryan’s home, but his entire area. Growing up in East London – the birthplace of grime it was clear that Ryan’s sound was destined to break boundaries and not play by the conventional rules. “I remember growing up, I was listening to a lot of Chipmunk. He was definitely on the radar. I also used to like a bit of Skepta. I was also listening to other music at the time. My big sisters were listening to R&B, so people like Craig David, MUSIQ Soulchild and Michael Jackson were always heard in the house.”
As children, we all had our escapes. Things that allowed us, if only for a moment to escape the reality that suffocated us and escape to a place where we felt at ease. My escape was football. As soon as I got outside and onto the concrete park my friends and I made believe my local car park bay was Wembley, everything else was forgotten. Ryan’s escape was music. “I love music. The way it makes you feel. As humans, we go through so many different things. The fact that I can write about what I go through, takes a lot of pressure off. I felt a connection to music from the jump. I just started creating and never stopped. Why would I stop if it takes the pressure off?” I was interested to know the pressures Ryan was speaking about in particular but knew that these matters can be very sensitive. Ryan was still comfortable to tell. So we explored further.
As the conversation progresses I learn that Ryan alludes to a disconnect taking place between his personal and public life. Music was going well but at home Ryan was having to deal with a plethora of issues. “Growing up situations with my family were really tough; I grew up seeing my mum and Dad going through a madness in their relationship.” This had a massive effect on Ryan as he navigated his teens; “just imagine seeing war break out in your house; how do you go to school the next day? From 11 to 15 I was in and out of school always getting excluded. As much as I can remember; 60 times. There was a lot going on but I didn’t know how to manage it. I was all over the place. I went to a pupil referral unit in year 8 for a few months and was eventually allowed back into school.” While Ryan’s time at the pupil referral unit didn’t prove to be the best deterrent from preventing future exclusions it did open him up to opportunities he would later be thankful for.
Saturday evenings are normally quite chilled for me. This Saturday I decided to catch up with a movie that I had for long been planning to watch, Ill Manors, the film directed by Ben Drew more commonly known as Plan B – a British crime drama film which revolves around the lives of eight main characters; four drug dealers, one drug user and two prostitutes. Each story is also represented by a different rap song performed by Plan B. Overall, it was an interesting watch for me, filled with anticipation and themes that I can certainly relate to as a young person growing up in inner-city London.
Ryan was cast with the role of Jake after forming a relationship with Ben while he was going through the exclusion process in Secondary school. He met Plan B and realised that “Playing the role of Jake wasn’t easy but hard because I had to think about moments that gave off the emotion.” Ill Manors is a multi-character story, set over the course of seven days, capturing a scenario where everyone is fighting for respect. The film focuses on eight core characters, and their circles of violence, as they struggle to survive on the streets. Each story is also represented by a different rap song performed by Plan B. The film involves some quite intense scenes and one revolves around Ryan’s character, Jake. Jake is told by his older to kill one of his rivals whOke indebted to him. The character goes in and in a spur of panic shoots the wrong person. I asked Ryan to replay the scene to me and the creative process involved in providing the intensity that filled that scene; “playing the scene [where I shoot the girl] I remember Ben telling me to think of a moment when I got hurt. Instantly I thought about times with my mum and dad arguing. That helped me to get into the zone.”
Jake provided Ill Manors’ audience with a look into the eye of a young man navigating the vices that his council estate provided him. From the very first instance in the movie in which we meet Jake’s character we can see that he was conflicted. Torn between friendship and the desire to be accepted by the ‘olders’ on the block. The olders who appeared to have been able to provide a way out for Jake. “Jake always felt like there was something missing. The whole notion of being provided responsibility from the olders is manipulative. Jake didn’t have a family structure he could rely on. He probably didn’t have anyone that was there. Unfortunately, he found it in Marcel but obviously, it was missing. It relates a lot to what was happening in my life.”
With hardly any films being pushed to the mainstream that depicts the experience of living in inner-city London. There are rarely any opportunities provided to gain insight into the nuances of existing in one of the world’s most prosperous cities yet coming against levels of penury damning of the country’s wealth. I asked Ryan how much of Ill Manors provided an accurate representation of growing up in London: “A lot of it, apart from the baby getting chucked out the window! Especially the prostitution part, which is a real issue even if we don’t really experience it. When I was 15 watching the movie back, I didn’t even know there was prostitution going on like that. The distribution of drugs isn’t even alien to us growing up in ends. A lot of it was and unfortunately still is real.” Ryan speaks of one of the most intense scenes in the film. When his character Jake sees one of his friends getting killed. “I remember Ben telling me in order to conjure up emotions necessary for the scene to imagine something of that nature happening to me in real life. Unfortunately, it’s not far off from some of the things that I’ve experienced.”
From the Manor to the World
It doesn’t take an expert to see that it is an exciting time for the urban music scene in the U.K. With artists such as Stormzy and Skepta reaching the mainstream and enjoying critical acclaim alongside upcoming artists such as J Hus, Yxng Bane and Hardy Caprio beginning to enjoy chart success. The underground sounds of grime and afro-swing are reaching the airwaves and forming a loyal base of unexpected fans in the process.
I was curious to find out Ryan’s take on what was unfolding and whether he saw longevity in the movement to push the UK to the forefront of the global music scene. “The U.K is doing so many big things. We’ve got our own scene and we’ve got our own legends who are finally starting to get the respect they deserve. Skepta winning the Mercury Prize is a testament to that.” There’s been a lot of talk about the ‘Americanisation’ of U.K. artists. Artists looking at what is making waves across the Atlantic and wanting to emulate similar styles into their music. Is this viable? “I think the U.K. sound is so unique that even though this may be the case in some instances it’s not a big thing. You come to the U.K. you can’t find another Skepta, another Shakka, etc. The sound is so unique.” As an outsider looking in, the evolution of grime has been exciting to watch. It’s like the friend you grew up with coming from humble beginnings and now you’re seeing them doing amazing things that are impacting the world. “Drake hooking up with all the London underground artists opened a massive door for artists. People are starting to appreciate the culture, this is who we are, we talk this and wear this. A lot of people are realising and starting to pay attention!”
“My sound is very energetic. It gives you a sense of energy, from the melody, lyrics, and concepts you hear. It will give you a sense of something energetic and it will make you tap into something. I don’t feel like anyone will be able to box my music into a certain genre, as soon as I keep growing and make more music I feel like people will identify with the figure, for now, I feel like I fit into everything. Grime scene, R&B scene.” This was certainly the vibe that was presented in Ryan’s hit single Know About Me. His non-binary style is on full display and oozes out into every corner of the music video.
Managers, Mentorship and Music
As an outsider looking in, music does certainly seem to be a viable financial option for a lot of people coming from communities where opportunities to make legal money are largely limited. While I’m excited at the talent on display in our scene I’m also cautious that the naivety of artists can be their potential downfall. You aren’t prepared for the A&R meetings that follow. While the music is integral to the artist there are other key factors that also need to be considered. Marketing and promotion, logistics of tours and organising the actual studio time along with the additional expenses. While artists may be presented with sums of figures that can change their situations and that of their family; it can be hard for them to understand the bottom line and whether the deal is viable in the long run. When such money is in discussion the artists can be seen as walking goldmines and may run into the attention of people who may just be looking for a way to make a profit without caring about the artist in discussion.
In his time in the industry, Ryan says he’s met people that were good for him, bad for him and people who were there for just being there. “It’s not always a good thing but it’s definitely helped me see the signs and the precautions. It’s helped me because I’ve been in the industry since I was young and that’s allowed me to learn some important lessons. I did get finessed by some managers before. If I didn’t have a mentor I wouldn’t be where I am now. They’ll be able to guide you into whatever it is that you’re doing. If it’s music, have a mentor there. If it’s directing, have a mentor there.”
I was interested to hear about the mentors that Ryan holds esteem for. If there was anyone that helped him to be where he was and the ways in which they contributed to his life. He speaks of a man who I knew quite well and also played a key mentorship role in my life; Joseph Massally. “I came into church young. I had a talent and everyone was hooked on to it. Joseph was the realest guy. Whenever I needed some sort of advice or just something to keep me motivated it was him I would go to.” I resonate strongly with Ryan as Joseph was a close friend of mine before he passed away in 2014. He met me at a difficult time in my life and pointed me towards a life that I could have only dreamt of. Sometimes in the quiet of the night, I’m reminded of his words, his counsel and the example he left. It’s a part of the reason why I decided to create the Kings Place series; foster a discussion of the various people set on leaving legacies like the one Joseph left. “He touched so many people’s’ lives just by being him and by being a man. He was so on point; he was an example. His impact still remains with me. Once in a while I remember all the things he said to me and that just stays with me. He always used to call me a soldier; I keep that to my heart.”
New Understandings & New Sounds
As our conversation comes to a close I ask Ryan to encourage us with what he’s learned in his life so far. “A lot of the subjects I talk about in my music now are an amalgamation of the experiences I went through and the hope I have for the people who I’ve grown up with. I care a lot about my people. They keep me grounded and keep me hungry. A lot of people haven’t had it easy growing up so I know it’s an idea that a lot of people can resonate with.”
Ryan’s Rhythms: “We can’t afford to leave this earth without leaving something behind. Be unapologetically you. You’re not supposed to be out here pleasing anybody. Shine in your best element. We don’t know when we’re going to die, it’s best to try and make a dent right now. With the talent that I’ve got, I want to inspire others and help others and hopefully, that’s going to be through my music, my fashion, and my visuals.”
To the youngers: “Find out what it is that you’re good at, big or small, do all your research and just stay at it. Whatever interests you, stay at it and keep going.”
Ryan’s new project Belly is out now on all major platforms. With his latest single “Just A Little Bit” available for streaming on Spotify.