INTERVIEW: Craig Xen speaks on Members Only, XXXTentacion and his new EP.
This week marks the one-year anniversary of XXXTentacion's tragic death. One of the core artists in the Members Only collective, XXX had an impact on his immediate surroundings and on the entire world, connecting with a group of young people who live life every day with worry, fear, anxiety and depression. During his time on Earth, the late rapper crafted several singles that would become early classics, like "SAD!," and his closest friends, family and collaborators are doing everything in their power to keep his memory alive. That brings us to Houston artist Craig Xen. Having lived with Jahseh, Xen knows X better than anybody else. He was often in the studio with him and lived through tons of crazy experiences with the rapper. If you think of it, he is the logical choice to take over from where X left off and Broken Kids Club is where that all begins.
Craig Xen and XXXTentacion came up at around the same time. They were both creating heavy music and they gravitated towards each other, building a tight bond, which eventually culminated in Craig Xen joining Members Only. After the release of Members Only Vol. 4, Xen felt it was time to make a proper impact by himself, showing everybody what he's all about and growing his personal brand.
We had the pleasure of speaking with Craig on June 17, just days before the release of Broken Kids Club, to learn more about the project, his connection to Members Only, and where he might be headed next.
Read our full interview below, edited slightly for clarity and length.
Craig Xen: What’s going on man?
HNHH: Not much man. It’s a pleasure to speak with you. Thank you so much for coming to the office.
Yeah. I appreciate you having me.
No worries man. I know you’ve lived in a few different places: Houston, Los Angeles, Florida, etc. Where do you consider home?
I’d say where my brothers are at. Wherever my people are at. I feel at home with certain people because I move around so much, now especially, just getting off tour. Anytime, at a show, after work, the meet and greets, or just performing is when I feel most at home. There's no specific geographical location. It’s more so with a certain group of people.
I feel you. Home is a feeling.
It is. I can’t deny going back to my mom’s in Houston, but my mom is home. It doesn’t matter. If I see my mom in LA, sometimes she’ll be travelling and I’ll see her out and that feels like home too. Yeah, it’s a feeling bro.
I know your father was in prison. I wanted to ask if you hear from him ever.
It’s funny you say that. I guess he was released recently because somehow he got my phone number and he texted me so I auto-replied since I didn’t know the number. I hit him with “Sorry, I can’t talk right now” and then he sent me a selfie of himself. I didn’t respond. I had to change my number a few times also. He’s out somewhere.
So, you guys don’t have a good relationship?
I’d say we just don’t have a relationship. It’s not necessarily bad, it’s just that I learned how to do everything without him. I think a part of me when I was younger was really resentful that he was locked up but, as I got older, I learned to forgive and understand. I’ve just been so busy and it's such a touchy spot to make time to develop that relationship.
I read somewhere that he was friends with DJ Screw?
I actually don’t know where that came from. There was some misinformation that I was DJ Screw’s nephew, which would’ve been really badass. I don’t know how close they were but I know my dad and my uncle hung around SUC and hung around those guys. I didn’t ask too many questions but one of my uncles produced for the Geto Boys. Rest in peace to Bushwick man.
For real man. You’ve got your Broken Kids Club project coming out on Wednesday. How would you describe it?
I haven’t heard anything like it be released this year. It’s for after the party. It’s not necessarily party music. It’s for after the party, when all the smoke clears and everyone goes home and you’re still up late at night and you have to deal with your emotions.
There’s a lot of people that need music like that. X was making music like that too.
Absolutely, I’d say X, Peep, Mac was hitting that spot.
RIP to all three of those dudes. How did you come up with the title Broken Kids Club?
Yeah, there was this girl named Julia and we were hanging out, talking about how sometimes you’ll be in a room and you won’t necessarily know everybody, you’ll go to a party and not know anybody but you feel certain people on certain vibrations resonate with you. It’s a resiliency thing. You can detect people who have been through shit. I felt like I wanted to be and I needed to be the voice for the kids and I wanted them to know that not only are they not alone but it’s okay to not be “perfect.” It’s okay that you’re struggling with depression, it’s okay that you're struggling with anxiety, it’s okay that you didn’t grow up with a picture-perfect household. Sometimes some kids who grow up in picture-perfect households are broken on the inside also. I felt like it’s a club. I felt like there was no title to it but we can detect people like ourselves who are resilient.
You’re part of Members Only. What's it like to be in such a tight collective of talented artists?
I’d say we're all brothers before we’re rappers or recording artists or performers. We hang out. We’ve spent so much more time together bullshitting and kicking it than we do making music and I think you can attribute such an organic sound over the past years and projects to that: just friends making music together. That’s what it’s always been. Obviously, everybody's working really hard on their solo stuff right now and we’re all really proud of each other. Everybody's got their own moves to make and then we all come together for the Members Only tour. We’re always ready to come together and have all of us in one spot.
What's it like being on tour and seeing all the different types of people that fuck with you?
So many different backgrounds. At the meet and greet, I’ll sit there until the venue kicks me out. That's another thing. When I was younger and I would go shows, I remember there were two artists that I paid for meet and greets with. I took a picture with one of them and that was it and I was like “When I get in that position, I’m gonna meet and greet and get to kick it with my fans.” I’m grateful that I’m in a position where I’m able to help so many people in so many different ways. Just having kids come up to me, some of them have similar backgrounds, some come from opposite socioeconomic backgrounds but it’s really cool man.
Who did you pay for meet and greets with?
One time was Wiz Khalifa and, I don’t know what the limit was, but there were so many people. I remember with Wiz it was a good experience. I told him I wanna make music and he said “chase your dreams” and we took a picture. Regardless of that being a cliché response or not, it gave me so much inspiration and motivation that I remember watching him perform after that and I knew one day I was gonna be on that stage. That night I went and recorded my first song and I think him just sharing his energy with me really inspired me.
Have you spoken to Wiz since then?
Nah, I haven’t spoken to Wiz yet. It’s coming though.
I wanted to also ask how you met XXXTentacion.
We met on Twitter and we both had maybe a couple of songs out. We just fucked with each other. The first time we got to hang out was when he came to LA, I wanted him to stay at my crib, we had been talking for a while. He came when I was asleep so I didn’t see the text message until the next morning but there were so many people staying at the crib that there wasn’t enough room for him and his manager at the time. I know Ski [Mask the Slump God] was with him. He told me “Man, I really appreciate the gesture.” He ended up getting a hotel. The first time we hung out after that was the South Side Suicide tour with Pouya and the $uicideBoy$. When we met, instantly there was a connection. At the time, both of our music was really heavy and hard-hitting so we decided, since we were both openers for them on tour, that we’d share a set. I knew his music, he knew my music, he fucked with me, I fucked with him so when we met it clicked, so we decided to share a set. It was phenomenal man. It was an experience. I remember every show there was something we couldn’t do. There was one time he performed in his boxers. That was funny as shit. I remember the guys with Buffet Boys were like “Hey man, can you guys not do that at the next show?” Then, the next show would be some other shit. Me and him were like “One day we're gonna have our own tour,” because we didn’t wanna disrespect anybody, we were just in the moment. After that tour, we just ended up kicking it. I think I ended up staying in Miami for like two weeks and we just hung out. That’s when I met all the guys. I met Flyboy Tarantino. That’s when I got to meet everybody and he was like, “You wanna be in Members Only?” I was like “Sure.” It was a really natural, organic thing.
What’s your favourite memory with him?
I’d say whenever we were riding three-wheelers. We would go at like three, four in the morning. We would argue like brothers do and, we were living together at the time, so I’d go to my room, he’d go to his room, time would pass, three or four hours, then I would go knock on his door or he’d knock on my door and the ice-breaker was always “You wanna go riding?” That was our thing. We’d ride these three-wheeled motorcycles. Just riding those around. There were a couple of times where we’d go invite girls over and they’d hop on the bar and we’d go to a bar. Just go kick it man. Those rides were really special to me because they were a time where he wasn’t X. He had his helmet on and nobody could tell who he was. There was nobody on the roads; it was just us. That was our thing. Good memories.
Tomorrow marks the one year anniversary of his death. If you could tell him anything tomorrow, what would it be and why?
It’s hard to encapsulate that into one statement. Not only that, but he’s still here. Just because he’s not here physically, I know he’s still here in spirit. He experiences all the growth. I felt like his energy was there with us and the fans on tour. We would play a lot of his music and everybody would get lit and hype. I would just tell him how proud I was and still am of him and how many people he’s helped. I remember that was his biggest thing. He just didn’t want anybody to feel alone. I just wish he could see the impact the way that we see it. I would just tell him that he did it. He wanted to be a legend and he did it. Not on like some underground shit, not even on some mainstream shit, timeless music-- a legend.
You just released "RUN IT BACK!" with X. What does that song mean to you?
To me, that song is such an important piece to the culture because a lot of the new fans either don’t know about the roots of his sound or haven’t gotten into the older work, whatever it may be. Personally, I love the song, not only because we made it in person, but I can remember all the times where we listened to it together. We were really listening to it a lot when we got into working out. We got a CrossFit membership together which was a funny story too because, for some reason, he just wouldn’t carry around a fucking card so we went to sign up for personal training at a CrossFit and the guy was like “It’ll be [x] amount of money” and Jah was like “Alright, can you help me count this shit?” He just pulled out hella bands. So, we listened to that song a lot pre-, and post-CrossFit. I feel like it’s really important for the culture, for the OG fans to have that itch satisfied like “Oh man, I want that old X so bad” because we made that song when he still had half black and half blonde hair. It’s one of those. It's an artifact, a fossil dude.
As a creative, I’ve grown to appreciate something about every artist. I feel that every artist is a genius in their own way and their own fashion. It’s hard for me to dislike an artist because I feel every artist is special in their own way, whether it be lyrically or sonically. There’s always something that I can take and appreciate from an artist. With Eminem, it was his resiliency. That was also the first album that I bought, The Eminem Show. I remember my uncle didn’t fuck with it so that was the first rebellious thing that I had. I had a CD player and I would listen to it and his pain resonated with me. Him being an outsider and being proud and speaking firmly, saying “Yes, I’m different and I’m not gonna fucking change for anybody,” helped me with my confidence in that area and, “If my uncle doesn’t like it, fuck him.” I love this shit. You don’t have to like this shit, I like it which was really rare for a kid like me because I was heavily influenced by my uncle and idolized him. I’d say Lil B, in high school, when I was going through a dark time in my life, he helped me find courage. He made being positive cool to me, and being yourself cool, and being raw and unfiltered cool. I think that’s somewhere Eminem and Lil B both meet. They’re both really rare and unfiltered with what they say. I still got love for Lil B to this day. I feel like he’s set so many trends and opened so many doors for so many artists. Even the way he went about business, being independent and his marketing and the way he released a lot of free music, I love the way that he moved and that he genuinely felt great being himself.
After Broken Kids Club, what’s coming next?
I’m gonna be working on my album and in between, I’m gonna be releasing singles and I’m definitely gonna drop a bunch of videos. I’d say there’s gonna be collabs, there’s gonna be solo singles and there’s gonna be a new album coming. People have found out about me through features and now I’m ready to show them that this is my solo work and this is me.
Is there anything you want to add about Broken Kids Club?
The only thing I would touch on is that I used the EP as an introduction to the movement. I feel like, me personally, there’s no movement right now, there’s nobody doing what I’m doing and I feel like it’s really important to the culture and to the kids that they know what it is and that the doors are open for them to be apart of the Broken Kids Club. I wanna welcome them somewhere where they feel at home and that’s something that’s hard to come across. For instance, at shows we mosh but we’re not actually trying to hurt anybody, nobody came to fight. We’re just trying to let all that negative energy out in a healthy way. That’s the same thing I do with music and I hope the way that they digest it. Even with my loud, angry shit, I told my fans, "Don’t go fighting anybody to this shit." You can scream as loud as you want. You can swing at the air as much as you want. I just want my music to be used as a tool to get that negative energy out and for them to know that they are not alone.
STREAM CRAIG XEN'S "BROKEN KIDS CLUB" HERE.