I was first introduced to Christon Gray about a month ago, through his publicist, a friend of Parlé Mag. I knew he was signed to Kirk Franklin’s Fo Yo Soul record label, but knew little else. I started with his new album, The Glory Album, in stores March 11th, but I got my preview weeks ago. Not even a few tracks in I couldn’t help but notice how original he sounded, nothing forced, and extremely different than most of the other content that’s out right now. Even for Kirk Franklin, who we recently interviewed, Christon is somewhat in a lane Kirk has never really touched. Christon is clearly an R&B artist with an uncanny ability to be just as lyrical as he can be soulful. That withstanding, the message in his music is still clear, he’s a man that believes in a higher power, a man of Christ, who makes great music about his life journeys.
The lead single from The Glory Album is, “Open Door (See You Later),” a song that provides new listeners quite the introduction to the man behind the music. The Columbus, Ohio native is 29, happily married with a daughter. He’s been doing music for 15 years, as a member of multiple collectives and record labels, but just making his major label debut in 2016. He’s already released several albums and projects, but it was the 2014 release, School of Roses on Collision Records, which helped the singer reach a new plateau in his career.
I went back and listened to School of Roses and without a doubt the praise being directed towards the young man is thoroughly justified. Simply put, he’s dope! With very little features on School of Roses and no features to speak of on The Glory Album, Christon is able to effortlessly deliver his music, his passion and his message, while also keeping the listeners attention because he has so many unique styles. His ability to play piano also adds a flare on his music at times, but the overall production and instrumentation perfectly syncs with his delivery.
When I met Christon he was humble and excited about the release, eager to talk about the project and his path in music. In our original interview he admitted that with this, his debut on a major label, was his last chance to make a first impression on listeners. Instantly, I knew I had to incorporate that in my title. As faith would have it, that part of the interview would get “lost” but Christon was gracious enough to talk with me again to complete the wonderful interview below. Thankfully, he did. Here goes that full Christon Gray interview, part of his last first opportunity to make an impression on you, the reader.
Parlé Mag: Fans who’ve been following Christon Gray are accustomed to your eclectic sound and ability to delve into Hip-Hop as well as R&B. The Glory album features a delicate mix of those sounds, but how is this album different from your previous projects?
Christon Gray: I had a challenging time figuring out the Hip-Hop and the R&B, and introducing a new element, getting more involved in the production, musicality. This album we tried to branch out a lot more, a little more rapping on the album, but then retain the R&B elements from School of Roses. So this album is different, a lot more progressive.
Parlé Mag: Obviously you have fans who know you’ve been around for a long time making quality music, but for those fans that came on during that predominantly R&B School of Roses album, was there any concern that you might lose them or that they might be confused by all the Rap on this new album?
Christon Gray: I had a concern initially when creating the sonic that I would lose some of those people who were more accustomed to hearing Christon Gray doing a jazz or doing a classical or even the fans that heard my mixtape Body Art, where you just heard me pretty much just spit the whole time. I didn’t know if this album would be an album that lost them. School of Roses gave me a lot of leverage with the female fanbase and from what I’ve heard they make up about seventy percent of my fanbase. I knew I needed to remain obedient to that demographic more than anything, but I think everyone will be in for something new. Hoping we can retain the fan base and gain some new ones.
Parlé Mag: The lead single, “Open Door (See You Later)”, it definitely provides some more insight into Christon Gray and is very biographic, tell me about the song and the creative process behind it.
Christon Gray: I think with this album, the first one being on a major, I think it was a good album to introduce myself to people. So I’m talking a lot about my hometown. I’m talking about what I do when I’m not rapping or singing, so a lot about my church, a lot about my family. People may have heard School of Roses and may be thinking, what’s going on in his relationship, so I’m talking about my wife and my family. It’s a fun track, I really big up my city trying to do for Columbus what Drake did for the 6.
Parlé Mag: Speaking of Columbus, what was it like coming from that city and the state of Ohio, growing up knowing you wanted to do music? We’ve seen some artists come up from that state and find success over the years but what was it like for you watching it?
Christon Gray: It’s a safe place to learn. We don’t have a lot of innovation in music that’s popular so it’s a safe place to learn. We have John Legend from there, we got Kid Cudi, we got Machine Gun Kelly, we got Bow Wow, we got 21 pilots, Black Keys is from Akron, list can go on and on but it’s very diverse, a little bit of everything. So it’s a great place to learn, watch, but not a good place to take off.
Parlé Mag: Did you have to move out the state yourself even for a little while to find success?
Christon Gray: Oh no, I still live in Columbus, Ohio, but I got a great team in Dallas, great team in New York and a great team in Toronto, all over the place. Got a production team in L.A., and people in Columbus trying to do something different there as well.
Parlé Mag: I know you had a couple of other options, but why did you decide to sign with Kirk and Fo Yo Soul Recordings?
Christon Gray: I decided to sigh to sign with Soul because I saw an ability to continue the work that Kirk is already doing in the church community as a whole. His last album, Losing My Religion, I think was a statement and a challenge not only to the Gospel community but to the Christian community as a whole. And he’s the one that could make that statement so I think me being a little bit younger and representing the next generation I can continue to carry that message. And then also, working with Kirk it gives me the ability to have a safe haven to work within the mainstream because he has a lot of those relationships already. And so I can find myself a creative space even within the mainstream without having to be—well I can’t say I won’t be accused, but even with the accusation of compromising my message I have someone like Kirk backing me and Fo Your Soul as a family unit, they’ve just shown me over time that they really believe in me and believe in what I have. So those three things added together for a great confirmation that this was a really good situation for me.
Parlé Mag: What’s the best piece of advice you’ve gotten from Kirk?
Christon Gray: He gave me a phrase, I don’t know if it subconsciously caused me to name the album, but he gave me the phrase, “Glory is fleeting” and to remember that it’s not about you.
Parlé Mag: You also quote that phrase on the album, sounds like it means a lot to you. What does that phrase mean to you, I know you already said it’s not about you, but beyond that?
Christon Gray: It’s something that I battle with and think every person battles within themselves, is the need for recognition and admiration; sometimes even just because we work so hard at what we do, and we’re artists, so we want people to respect not only the art but respect the creator. I’m like shesh, I don’t want to fall too far to one extreme where I don’t want the recognition, but at the same time I don’t want to get in the way. I want people to see who created me and created this whole perspective, which is God. So just keep it all in the forefront.
Parlé Mag: You’ve said that you don’t consider yourself a Gospel artist, but trying to get your message out, there will be people who question your motives and even your spirituality. How are you able to navigate through that and still remain persistent in delivering your message and getting your music out?
Christon Gray: Well one, I expect it and I welcome it. I think that us being a very consumer driven nation, we’re very acclimated to brands and what they represent and we basically want you to stick to what you’re talking about. Don’t change your message now that you’ve gone big, I get it. I expect pushback and I’m not defensive or hostile about it. I think it grants an opportunity to have a discussion that hasn’t been had. The second thing is I just let the music and the work speak for itself. I think the main thing that you need to find in any brand or in my case, in any artist, is consistency. So it’s not like I’m out here doing anything differently than since I first started doing music 15 years ago. It’s the same Chris, it’s the same message. It’s just been hard to find a home. And whether I do or don’t it’s the same approach to my music as it’s been in the past.
Parlé Mag: The partnership between you and Kirk seems perfect, since you both seem to want the same thing, what were your thoughts on Kirk appearing on the Kanye track? Even he got some backlash for doing that.
Christon Gray: I’m sure he expected it. You know, Kirk contacted me a few days before he went to meet with Kanye. He hit me up just to tell me to keep him in prayer. He was really excited about the opportunity. I know he been knowing Kanye for a while, but he also wanted to make sure that he wasn’t just jumping into something out of musical excitement. I think Kirk is aware of his position as well. Now I thought that it was great, I thought it was admirable. I think that him choosing to work with Kanye and working with him publicly is a statement that even though the perception is that we are not the same and even if that is the reality, I’m not afraid to work with somebody who I believe in and be there for them at the same time. I think that just bypasses a lot of the expectations of people as a whole and I think it proves the work associated with what Kirk represents as opposed to compromising it. So I was just glad when I saw it. I was like, I’m just happy someone is looking out for Kanye because I saw a lot of what Kanye was putting out publicly and there seemed to be a lot of concern about him in general. I think Kirk being the guy that he is, he’s that person that Kanye should be working with.