For Capella Grey, his music and New York City are pretty much synonymous. The sounds of uptown, for example, have always filtered into his musicianship, from the language he uses in his raps to the swaggering tempos he employs. The Bronx native, 26, says it was New Yorkers who championed his music so hard that it went from turntables in the club to spots on numerous Billboard charts: “They tell the DJs, ‘This is what we’re rocking with all summer. Play this song. Play it again. Play it again, as a matter of fact.'” And it’s the unpredictable, ever-changing brand of chaos that only New Yorkers can make look cool that defines his breakout song “Gyalis,” which doesn’t conform to traditional song structure, instead shaking things up before listeners get comfortable with any one moment.
Though the song’s roots are firmly planted in New York, its branches are steadily spreading across the country. “Gyalis” marks his first entry on the Billboard Hot 100, where the song currently sits at a No. 71 peak in its third week on the chart, while reaching a new high at No. 9 on Hot R&B Songs. And with a new record label home in Capitol Records, a recent music video for his breakthrough hit and planned remixes for the track on the way, national recognition appears to be on the horizon — though he maintains that he’ll always remain true to New York hip-hop culture. “There’s a whole bunch of places from [uptown New York] that shaped my sound and everything about how I do music, and as a man,” he says.
Below, Grey tells Billboard about the song construction of “Gyalis,” why he wanted to include its famous Juvenile sample, his upbringing and more.
How did “Gyalis” come together?
I was in L.A. at the time. I made the beat and got in the booth real quick, and after I recorded on it, I added a little more to the beat and then recorded on it some more and mixed it on my laptop. It just popped in my head, it wasn’t too much of a buildup or anything like that. When the “Back That Azz Up” sample plays in the club, it’s a big moment. Turning that into a whole uptown type of feel, I felt like that really shook the room. Once I got the inspiration for it, I just went for it.
Why did you forgo a traditional song structure for the track?
When I make music, I try to just do what feels good. Once I’m done on [a] topic, I’m out. With “Gyalis,” there’s no hook, no bridge, no verse, no nothing, just vibes. It’s just a series of moments — I kind of produce like a DJ. Some people’s favorite part is the two and a half bars where I was rapping. Then it switched into this Caribbean vibe. The lingo switches to whatever. It just sounds like uptown. There are no rules to it.
How did growing up in New York City influence you as a musician?
I lived in the Bronx, I lived in [a] co-op, I lived near 241st [Street], I lived in Mt. Vernon — I just lived everywhere uptown. Growing up on the church scene, I got those musical elements. And being in NYC, there were a whole bunch of different artists that came up from the city that really inspired me on a hip-hop standpoint. I kind of write how I talk, so a lot of the lingo is really New York City. And even the tempo of it — the BPMs and stuff — be chilling. It just don’t sound like nowhere else.
Why do you think “Gyalis” was your breakthrough hit?
[New Yorkers] were calling it the song of the summer since February. If they like something in New York City, they aggressively like it and get behind it and support it for real. It took off organically. There was no viral dance, challenge or crazy hashtag that we created to get it going. The city just decided that this was the vibe it was going with.
You recently signed with Capitol Records. Why was that the right fit for you?
Capitol just understood the vision I was trying to go with [in] my music and my career — how I want to set it up, how I want to do certain things, [and] the different avenues I want to go into, whether it’s movies or all the other things I want to do. They understood the sound I was trying to build. They understood what I’m trying to do for New York City. They understood what I was trying to do for the culture, period. They weren’t trying to change it at all; they were trying to use whatever resources they had to amplify what I already had going on. I know mad artists that came in sounding one way and the label wanted them to look or sound a different way. But [Capitol] just loved what I had going on. It was a no-brainer.
What’s coming next for you?
The industry has been embracing me. Big celebrities and legends have been recording with me — there are mad remixes on the way. It’s looking like the year of “Gyalis.” There’s more music on the way. We just getting started. “Gyalis” is the tip of the iceberg. I want to bring [the culture] back to New York. I don’t like that when New York artists get lit, the first thing they do is turn up in other cities. Why not keep the energy here? Bring the vibes back to where hip-hop started.