- Words Cal McIntyre
- Photography Willem Verbeeck
- Fashion Martin Tordby
Craig Xen is the Members Only rapper practising tenderness and using music to encourage himself and his listeners to cope in healthier ways with the release of his EP 'Broken Kids Club'.
Houston, Texas is known historically for almost setting the bar within rap and hip-hop music. So many legends have emerged from H-Town and cemented their place within their own halls of fame – a hall that is idolised within Texas. With such a high calibre of talent and in an age where everyone is craving their 15 minutes, who or what does it take to break through the ether and noise?
Enter Members Only Collective, and within that, Craig Xen. Aimed at switching up the Houston agenda, Craig Xen masterfully merges the worlds of British Punk with the flow of American rappers. Through experimentation and armed with his stanzas, Xen began using the internet as an outlet for his early work, having not yet found his creative tribe. Naturally, the powers that be began bringing people into Xen’s life that were going through similar experiences as Craig, or just loved the music he was creating. Fast forward a few years and you have the Members Only collective. Formed in 2014 in Floride, the ongoing collective consists of exactly what Craig was looking for – his creative family.
Growing up as a creative can be a particularly lonely path to walk. Idle feelings, being an outsider, or not being understood can wreak havoc in a period that’s already tough to endure. Finding your people is a case of trial and error, but when you’ve found them it’s like souls being brought to each other in an unspoken way. Craig Xen felt this almost instantly, and that’s when the music started coming in waves and throws. Working with the other members including the sadly deceased XXXTentacion, Killstation, Flyboy Tarantino and Ski Mask the Slump God; the collective began creating music that people were craving. Soon, flocks of people were being herded to them through the explosive, angry and powerful sounds they were hearing, and more importantly, relating to.
That’s not to say Craig Xen can fall into a trope of being an ‘angry person’ because his music has a certain power to it. When I actually call up Craig his voice exudes a stillness. A certain stoic tone that has a domino effect on those who hear it. The reason behind the calm waters Craig Xen possesses is simply that he releases all the negativity within his music; all the hurt and pain transcribed into rap motion. Using his talent and platform to understand himself, to use the dark and spin it into light, and to be kind to himself is the message Craig Xen is leaving behind, and teaching his fans to do so for themselves. With his debut commercial EP Broken Kids Club free in the world, it’s not what you would expect to hear. Read our conversation below before you dive into his vulnerable and diverse new album as we chat tenderness, connecting to the universe as one, Courage the Cowardly Dog, and if humans are actually the aliens.
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How does it feel to finally have “Broken Kids Club” out in the world for everyone to listen to?
It’s amazing, more than anything I’m excited – I’m always excited to release new music. I make my music for my fans as well as myself. I don’t listen to my music personally beyond the creative process, and then I go on to the next song, the next creation. Anytime I release music, it’s all new to my fans and that brings a new spark to it for me as well.
I’m grateful because I accomplished what I set out to do with the project – a lot of people cried a lot of people felt emotions and associated the writing with themselves and I’m glad I could bring out those emotions and help people process them. Music can help you, music is therapeutic as opposed to drugs and negative coping mechanisms.
How does it feel to have found a home in Members Only collective?
It feels like I’ve found what I was searching for in music because I didn’t know how to find it for a while. I haven’t reached all of my goals or anything like that, but emotionally when I set out in music it wasn’t really a career choice, it was more like I was creating music to express myself and find people I could relate to. In high school, I didn’t feel that I connected with more than one, so when I was introduced to all the guys I felt like we all understood each other from adolescence to issues at home. Feeling like we all didn’t really fit in anywhere meant we could always be a home for each other.
We’ve been able to grow through a lot of our negative times and bad times and make music out of bad shit. A lot of our friends get into drugs, are in and out of trouble, and I’m grateful that we’re able to come together and have commonalities that aren’t always positive but will turn all our negatives into positives. Everybody comes back from a war in their life, and you can tell the therapist how you feel, but when you really begin to heal is when somebody else coming back from the war is in that room with you, because they share those same traumas.
What does it feel like when you’re performing on stage and feel one with the audience?
It feels like an out of body experience because I’m not in my head. There’s no thinking, the most thinking I do is deciding the first song I’m going to come out to.
From the moment I grab the microphone it’s a very spiritual experience – I let myself go, I let myself be and I just go impulsively I go off of the fans energy. Once I went out to the crowd and I just felt compelled to have everyone make a big circle and we all just sat down together and sung the song “Now or Never”. There’s no way I can jump up and down and be 110 percent without having that energy reciprocated. I run off their energy. I’ll go down into the crowd, I’ll talk with them and remind them they’re not alone.
A big thing I always like to do is tell them that I understand we’re all going through something, we’re all going through a lot, especially because a lot of the fans are younger.
They’re teenagers and that’s a hard time for anybody, especially in this day and age its especially hard. I always tell them, “lets decide to get all of our negative energy out, beat that shit, and end tonight with a fresh start. We’re going to get all of the energy out, leave all that negativity in this building when you leave”, and I think it helps a lot.
I’ve noticed you’re very into spirituality and energy, and it plays a positive force in your life and music and how you interact with your fans. How did you begin that journey within yourself?
When I was 16 I began to question everything. I was raised Catholic and I went to a private school until 6th grade. During school days they would take us and make us kneel. Church was sitting, standing, kneeling– I was never able to contest the ideas or the beliefs. I was very rebellious, I still conformed but as I got older I started to question it and I didn’t feel like anybody would give me a valid reason or answer and I just felt they were saying what they were told to tell me. So when I was 15 or 16 I started doing my own research. I don’t have anything against religion, but I do believe that spirituality and religion are two different things.
I do believe there is a higher power and there’s one source and we’re all connected. Spirituality for me is more about giving and seeing how much I can be of service to the world and other people and I feel like when I discovered that that’s more of my reason.
I remember I was 17 and I was watching ants build this massive mound in my backyard in Texas and they built this massive mound in a couple of days and I realised the ants didn’t care about their differences or themselves, they were all working together to create something beautiful. I just thought, “why don’t we work more like ants?” If we could work together and help each other imagine how many big beautiful things we could build.
A lot of people are making great beautiful things every day but a lot of times I feel like ego and pride get in the way. I can say that it still does for me sometimes. I think for some people religion worked and they were able to find a spiritual aspect within that part of the church, but for me personally, my spirituality came from a different place, learning that not everything I was taught was right and not everything that this person was saying about their religion was right. But we can have completely different religions and still spiritually connect.
I wanted to ask about some of your favourite memories since being a part of Members Only – things that will stay with you forever?
The Revenge tour is the main one. That was amazing because prior to that, all of our shows were like fifteen to twenty people, maybe fifty.
We were travelling for ninety or so days with our friends and a lot of us hadn’t even left the state. I had seen a bit of the USA but a lot of the guys hadn’t, we were in LA and some of them cried because it was such a breath-taking experience for them. It was an incredible experience to see how everyone was reacting to different cultures and terrains, weather, food. It was beautiful to watch everyone grow through that. I remember thinking, “this is it, if I croak today I’m happy”. Whatever anyone’s idea of success may be is personal to them, but to me that was a beautiful time for us, being able to share positive experiences and see the world together, that was probably the most beautiful memory.
I bet you can’t wait to get back on tour then?
I’m so excited to get back on tour! On the last tour, every time we hit a new city or place, we would hit the natural attractions, hike, go to different lakes, different sites and apart from connecting with the fans that was the best part. Money comes and goes but the experiences and the memories last. If I’m travelling and I only have to be at the venue for three hours that leaves an eight-hour window to explore the city, I don’t want to sleep in the hotel room I want to go and see things. I’m super excited, there were so many times I was in awe at the different natural environments I saw.
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Sounds like you’re doing it the right way, seeing the world rather than looking at it through a window. This one is a bit random and off-topic, but I think some of your fans want to know, talk us through some of your favourite tattoos.
On the left side above my ear, I have a puzzle piece and it reminds me that I’m part of the bigger picture and that the worst place I can be is a place between my left and my right ear, it’s called my brain. I’ve learnt the best place I can be and to get out of my head is to help other people and be of service to the world and every time I see that puzzle piece it reminds me that it’s not all about me.
I also have Courage The Cowardly Dog freaking out on my right hand. It reminds me that I’m not the only one that feels scared and has moments of cowardice and looking at him freaking out reminds me I’m not alone.
Could you talk more about why having positive and honest messages about mental health and emotions in your music is important for you and especially in Broken Kids Club?
Whenever I’m going through a bad time, apart from talking to people I’m close with I think about the emotion through music. You have to process this shit and I know that a lot of other people also go through these things. I thought ‘I need to start talking about it’. It was terrifying but I’m glad that I did it because a lot of the people who feel the same way don’t know how to deal with it or talk about it. Or they don’t know why they feel that way, being alone and not knowing how to process those emotions – that was the motivation for the project.
Last question, what do you think is out there beyond us?
I do believe in that and sometimes I feel like what is beyond us is part of us. I know that we have a kind of sixth sense, so who’s to say there aren’t other beings that we can’t sense. The 6th sense is our intuitiveness but maybe we can’t experience them because we can’t touch them with our senses.
Beyond that sometimes I feel like we’re the aliens. Looking at each human and how different we look, if I was an extra-terrestrial coming to look at earth I’d be like, “I don’t know what the fuck is going on here, this is crazy”. If I saw a human being driving a car that would terrify me. Also, the way we just slap concrete over everything and destroy and multiply. The planet is in flames right now with climate change. We literally are a cancer man. I feel like people will wake up and changes will be made. Unfortunately, it will only be when the problem becomes their problem personally. When people walk outside, and they can’t breathe then they’ll be like, “what the fuck, this is ridiculous!” All we can do is try our best.