Capella Grey details the making of his song of the year candidate “Gyalis,” why he wasn’t a fan of most new music releases this year, and how he plans to take over the music industry in the next decade for the fourth day of HNHH’s 12 Days of Christmas.

Few artists had more of a typical “breakout” year than Bronx-raised Capella Grey. Despite being around the business for years as a musician and songwriter, Capella Grey made his introduction to the world as an artist with a few quarantine releases in 2020, which paved the way for him to shock the masses with his 2021 song of the year candidate, titled “Gyalis.”

If you live around New York, or if you traveled there at all this summer, you likely already know how much of a hold “Gyalis” had on NYC residents this year. The under-two-minute-long record is so catchy that it commands multiple plays at a time, and with a “cheat code” sample from Juvenile‘s “Back That Azz Up,” the song was always destined for the spotlight.

capella grey 2021 interview

Johnny Nunez/WireImage/Getty Images

As we count down the days until Christmas with the second annual 12 Days of Christmas interview series, we caught up with Capella Grey, who spoke about his breakout year, how he plans to dominate the music business for the next decade, and why he wasn’t a fan of most new releases this year.

Learn more about one of this year’s rising stars ahead of next year, which many believe will be another huge one for Capella.

If you missed it, yesterday we spoke with JoJo for Day 3.

This interview has been slightly edited for clarity and length. Watch the interview on YouTube below.

HNHH: We can’t really talk about breakout artists in 2021 without mentioning you. Obviously, there have been a lot of ups and downs this year for everybody. What was the first half of the year like for you while you were still gaining attention on “Gyalis?”

Capella Grey: I dropped “Gyalis” on January 4th or something like that, so it’s been a whole year. At the beginning of the joint, it was more like a proving thing. I was proving that we could get on the radio without a budget. I was proving that we could do certain things without certain things. I was trying to make sure I didn’t do no scandals and no weird shit. I’d make sure everything was copacetic, and that we could get on just being ourselves. The first half of the year, I was in that mode where we could prove that we can do this for real. Second half is when we started wylin’, as you can see.

Things were picking up at the beginning. As soon as I dropped “Gyalis”, it was real organic love from the city, so it was already going crazy. But then March, April is when the labels started knocking, then June is when the radio started happening for real. It just started getting crazy. 

What goals did you set for yourself at the beginning of the year, and how did you make sure that you achieved them?

Number one on urban radio, a platinum plaque, a gold plaque. Trying to get on the radio everywhere, trying to do mad shows. I wanted to do Summer Jam. I wanted to do Powerhouse, Made in America.

And it all happened!

Yeah, c’mon. We just getting started. I hit all of them.

“Gyalis” is a clear song of the summer candidate, I would even say it’s one of the hottest songs of the year.

Song of the Year, for sure.

At what point did you know the song was gonna be so big? Did you have a hunch while you were making it?

No, I have a hunch for all of my songs. I’m not gonna lie, when I’m making all my music, I believe in all my songs. Every time I leave the booth, I leave the booth saying, “I’m not gonna lie, if the right ear is here, this is outta here.” With “Gyalis”, the right ears just heard it. It’s a marketing thing.

You dropped it on January 4. When did you record the song?

I finished it January 3rd. That was so fire about “Gyalis.” This new wave of hip-hop and this new way of putting things out, this is so fire, because now, we can just put it out. You don’t got to hold on to music for seven years, and do this, and do that. We could just put it out. As soon as I finished “Gyalis,” I dropped “Gyalis,” and it was a movie after that.

What was the inspiration behind the song?

Musically, “Back That Azz Up” is a cheat code already. Like I said before in other interviews, “Back That Azz Up”, once you hear it in the club, it’s already pandemonium as soon as those first strings hit. The beauty about hip-hop is taking one moment and transforming it into a whole different moment, so taking that vibe and turning it into an uptown-slash-Caribbean vibe, it’s different. The lyrics were inspired by regular, real-life events and other stuff—fiction, nonfiction, shit like that.

What was Juvenile’s reaction to the song? Have you spoken to him and Mannie Fresh about it?

They was super excited about it. First of all, they reached out to me, which was already OD. They reached out, and I was supposed to bring Juvenile out for Summer Jam too. It was pouring the day of Summer Jam. It was ugly that day. It was a lot of things that happened. But yeah, they supportive-supportive for real, especially because I’m acknowledging them. The pioneers, they gon’ show love if you show love too. They were big parts of hip-hop. It’s what I love. You know it’s gonna be a good vibe.

“[Mannie Fresh & Juvenile] reached out to me, which was already OD. They reached out, and I was supposed to bring Juvenile out for Summer Jam too. It was pouring the day of Summer Jam. It was ugly that day. It was a lot of things that happened”

Drake previously also sampled “Back That Azz Up” on his song “Practice.” What was your take on his interpolation?

Oh yeah, “Practice” was OD. When “Practice” came out, we all learned the lyrics and all that, especially when he dropped the video with shorty. Everything was different. I’m not gonna lie. “Practice” was a vibe. For me, flipping the “Back That Azz Up” sample into a different joint, even though me and Drake both sampled it, none of the two songs sound alike. It’s a whole different vibe. So I fuck with Drake and “Practice,” but “Gyalis” kinda going crazy.

The song did crazy numbers in New York. What did it feel like getting so much hometown love?

New York is notoriously known for being a mean city, especially because it’s so densely populated with artists and producers and all these creatives. To fit through the cracks with all the different artists and be the number one in the city or the one that people supported, that’s a huge feeling, because it’s not easy to make it even out of this city. It’s really aggressive here. It’s real mean here, so that was really dope. But we been had the city though. The “Gyalis” music video, everybody popped out.

A few days ago, you were celebrating the RIAA Gold-certified record, and then right after that, you found out that the song went Platinum.

Powerhouse, it was already crazy. Powerhouse was already a movie. I performed twice at Powerhouse. After my second performance, I’m backstage or whatever, everybody’s like, “Yo, get this solo flick real quick,” then the label surprised me with the plaque, the gold plaque. I wake up the next morning and realize that I’m platinum already. We’re kind of wylin’ this year. I didn’t even get to fully celebrate gold for 24 hours. 

capella grey 2021

Paras Griffin/Getty Images

How does it feel? It feels very sudden, but I know you’ve been working for years at this point.

I was behind-the-scenes. I was a writer and producer before, so being behind-the-scenes and watching a song go crazy that you had parts on, watching it is dope, but being a part of it—being the actual artist now? This is nuts right here. I’m not even gonna lie to you. I’m just grateful that God didn’t make me have to humble myself. I got to talk spicy the whole time, to something I produced, mixed, and mastered myself. It was a great feeling.

What was your personal pick this year for Song of the Summer?

“Gyalis”, twice. There were other songs that were dope though, so I guess tied for third after “Gyalis” at 1 and 2… [WizKid’s] “Essence” was going crazy this year. I really liked that “Damage” joint from H.E.R. [Justin Bieber‘s] “Peaches” was going crazy too, but we passed “Peaches” a couple of months ago too. I’m not gonna lie, it’s been a good run. It’s been a good year. 

We saw a lot of artists do freestyles over “Gyalis”. Which one was your favorite? 

I don’t know. It’s hard to pick a favorite. The whole industry loved “Gyalis”. They just passed it around. I like everybody’s remixes for different reasons. Like French [Montana], you’ll have certain punchlines and metaphors, like the Nate Robinson line, and just certain things. French gonna French regardless. A Boogie gonna add that vibe. He was going crazy. He was talking about the designer. He was going crazy on that. Busta Rhymes did one. Kranium… so now the international people tapping in. It got ugly. It was a little movie this summer— this year. 

You just named some of your favorites there, Busta and Kranium!

Yeah, the GOATs in there. And then on the actual remix, after the industry finished up with it, the actual remix that we put out was Chris Brown and Popcaan. My brother, I’m going crazy this year.

Considering how big the song was, I’m assuming that a lot of artists probably hit you up trying to get on that official remix. How come you went with Chris Brown and Popcaan specifically?

I don’t want to disrespect nobody, but it’s Chris Brown and Popcaan! I feel like if you wanted to be on a remix, and you find out that it’s Chris Brown and Popcaan instead, I’m sure there are no hard feelings.

Most definitely. Your profile’s elevated now. You’re becoming more of a celebrity as time goes. Are you even more of a “Gyalis” than you were at the beginning of the year?

Nah. The only difference is the tax bracket. The shorties that hit me up, it’s blue checks and all that sh*t like that. But yeah, it’s all the same. It’s the same type of vibe.

In October, you called out a few people on Clubhouse that said that “Gyalis” was not a complete record. That app felt like it was infiltrated with fake A&Rs at a certain point… What’s the worst thing that somebody told you about the record on Clubhouse because now we’ve all seen that it’s a hit?

Nah, I’ve heard some crazy sh*t, I’m not gonna lie. I heard it was a song fragment. I heard, “He don’t know what he wants to be,” “He don’t know if he wants to be a singer, a rapper, a Caribbean artist,” or whatever the f*ck because there’s everything-in-one on “Gyalis”. We proved this year that there are no rules to this music sh*t. You could do whatever the f*ck you want to do. Do what feels good. Because no lie, “Gyalis” is a one-minute and 45-second long R&B freestyle with no hook, no bridge, no verse, just vibes. Some people’s favorite part of the song is the rapping part with the little three bars where I rap. Some people’s favorite part is the more uptown part. Some people’s favorite part is the Caribbean part. We changed the rules on this. We do whatever the f*ck we want to do. That’s the tone for the decade. That’s why I say it’s gonna be a good decade, because this decade is gonna be a lot of big energy, big records, big vibes.

Touching a little bit more on Clubhouse— since it is a more recent platform, was it ever useful to you as a breaking artist? What would you suggest for artists that are getting their break through Clubhouse?

Realistically, Clubhouse is supposed to be a positive tool. You could share information, learn information, connect with real industry specialists in whatever field that you’re trying to get in. However, there’s a lot of bozos as well, so if you’re going to be on Clubhouse— it’s still useful for sure, but vibe responsibly when you on there. Take the information that you need, ignore what you don’t. Make it make sense for you. Don’t delete the app, but make it make sense for you.

And touching on other platforms— “Gyalis” had a huge moment on TikTok. What did you think about the record picking up traction on social media?

It was dope. It was everywhere, and then somebody on TikTok had sped it up, did some remix joint… I’m not gonna lie, I hate that joint. [Laughs] But it did what it did, so I’m grateful for the people that were a part of that little movement vibe, but I’m just grateful that you f*ck with the original song though. When you’re in the club, you’re not going to the club and hearing the [remix]. You want to hear the original vibe. You want to hear the original joint. It don’t matter what remixes came out or whatever— the original just went gold, the original just went platinum. This is why I love the fact that we didn’t have to lower our voice or laugh at no jokes that aren’t funny, we got to do it our way to where we’re here.

Do you use TikTok? Do you like the platform?

Nah, I be on that sh*t. I’m gonna start being on that sh*t more— make a little ones and twos every now and then.

TikTok has changed the way that many people consume, and find, music in the last few years. Do you think it’s a positive change for the industry?

I think it’s a positive thing. A new way for someone to discover music could never be bad. I just feel like there’s a lot of garbage… Let me not call anybody’s music garbage, because there’s a market for everything.

It’s always gonna be somebody’s art, regardless of whether we like it or not.

That’s a fact. That’s 1000% fact. But everybody’s able to put music on there, so it’s like everybody almost has a fair shot in going viral, because whether you’re industry or non-industry, a good song is gonna go through the cracks on TikTok. They don’t give a f*ck about anything else, besides if it’s a good quality song. So yeah, it’s positive. It’s putting everybody on the same plane.

What was your favorite viral moment of the year?

My favorite viral moment of the year was when shorty got snatched up at my show. I was performing “Gyalis,” and I don’t know. She just had a little too much dip on her chip. She jumped in front of me and started trying to twerk on me, and then her man came from the shadow realm. I don’t know where he came from. He just came out of nowhere and lifted her up. Soon as I seen her take flight, like legs in the air, dragged her out… that sh*t was crazy. But nah, other than that, I don’t be paying attention too much to them sh*t there.

In addition to “Gyalis”, you were also featured on a song with A Boogie wit the Hoodie, for Kawhi Leonard’s music project. How did all that come together?

Let me tell you right now. This whole decade, I’mma be on everybody’s song. They sprinkling me on everything. Like pause— I’m dead serious. I want to be on everything. I’mma have a Lil Wayne, T-Pain run where I’m on everything. So I got that joint right there with Kawhi, with A Boogie and them. The DreamDoll joint just dropped. The joint with Russ just went number one as well. We got joints with everybody. It’s getting ugly, bro. Joey Bada$$. It’s ugly right now. And it’s just relationships, conversation. Most of these things just be a conversation— “Yo bro, you in the studio?”, “Yeah, I’m in the studio.” “I’m in your city”, “Yo, pull up on me.” Simple. I’m the new guy here, but everybody knows I am not wasting no time. 

“This whole decade, I’mma be on everybody’s song. They sprinkling me on everything. Like pause— I’m dead serious. I want to be on everything. I’mma have a Lil Wayne, T-Pain run where I’m on everything.”

You blew up in the middle of the pandemic. In 2020, you released a few projects when you were just starting off as an artist. Before that, you were more of a writer, but it was in 2021 that you had your big breakthrough moment. What changed in your process from 2020 to 2021?

So 2020, early 2020 like January, I decided that I wanted to be an artist and slip from behind-the-scenes. When I decided that, that tape that I dropped— that was why I was able to drop it so quick. It was really just a compilation of all the songs that I was writing for other people. I just put all the references on one tape and put that out. That was really a compilation of mad different sounds and different vibes. Yea Nah I’m Out was that compilation tape. Then, at the beginning of quarantine, I had put out the Quarantape. That was dope, but I was making it for that moment. “Gyalis” was the first time that I was just on some like, “Alright, I’mma put out this joint and push a single out.” Pushing those singles out, I was never that guy, but I was like, “I’mma push this one for real, let’s see how far this goes.” And I’m one for one! I ain’t doing too shabby. 

Not doing bad at all. The world’s excited to hear more new music. You’ve been teasing a number of snippets on social media, and I’m sure you’ve got an album on the way too. When can we expect that album? Do you have a date? Is it done?

No, I don’t have the album date yet. It’s not done. There’s still some more vibes that’s missing. I just gotta make sure that it’s right. But I feel like this tape, I can’t rush, because it’s so important. It’s an important tape. A lot of people put out cool tapes, cool albums, or whatever. This is not one of those. This is an important thing. This is about to shift the whole culture for real. You can see how serious I’m being. I’m being dead serious. You see how the first time everybody heard “Gyalis”— “Yo, what the f*ck is this?” That’s this album. We have a whole decade to really introduce, for real. This the whole sound of the decade. It’s a whole new vibe. I just got to make sure everything is flowing right, everything copacetic, everything valid. You should expect it [at] the top of next year.

capella grey 2021

Rick Kern/Getty Images

For the people that have listened to your previous full-length projects, how will this one differ from those?

I feel like my sound… I don’t wanna say it got better, but I just learned so much in the past year— how to make music, how to put more of how I talk into the music, mad different styles of writing, mad different styles of producing and all that. Now it’s way better, from the skits to everything. It’s gonna feel like you’re really getting to know someone from uptown New York City, just by listening to the tape.

We’re all excited to hear it. I wanted to get your thoughts on this year’s R&B releases because with “Gyalis”— it’s a little bit of a genre-less song, but there are some R&B aspects to it. There have been some great R&B projects that dropped in 2021. What was your favorite R&B Album of the Year?

I don’t really have a favorite. I’m not gonna lie to you. I don’t want to disrespect nobody or anything like that, but one of the reasons why I even wanted to be an artist myself was because I wasn’t really getting excited about music anymore. I don’t want to disrespect nobody. I already know people are going to twist these words anyway. But for real though, as a fan of music, I just wanted to be excited about music again. I’m excited for mine that’s gonna drop. I know that. 

Were there any hip-hop albums? Or any albums, in general, that impressed you in 2021?

Nah. I feel like everybody got real comfortable this year. Everybody’s got real comfortable, it’s like, “Alright, cool. I’m famous. I could put out whatever, and they’re gonna eat it up because I’m famous.” The good thing about me is I’m not that famous yet. I got a lot to prove. Y’all catching me at a great time of my life where every song has to be… just trust me. This tape is special.

You said you’re making music for the next decade. You’re trying to be the sound of the decade and, as you said, you’re one-for-one. If you had to predict what will become a trend in hip-hop or R&B music in 2022, what do you think is going to happen?

Real content. Now you got to actually talk about something. You gon’ have to actually sing again. You gon’ have to actually get musical again. You gon’ have to actually make it make sense. There’s songs that’s gonna be good for a certain vibe, like if there’s a calm, lil club vibe if you just want to be drunk and listen to something. But I want to get everybody back into full, great bodies of work, just moving more intentionally with how you make music and everything. I just want to bring music back to hip-hop again, if that makes sense. 

Your artist name is Capella Gray. Your real name is actually Curtis Jackson. I know you’ve been asked this before in interviews…

No relation to 50 [Cent], no no no. But it’s dope though that that coincidence is there because I’m kind of hitting the game the same way he did, just on an R&B tip. 

So it’s just a pure coincidence?

Yeah. I don’t know that man.

On social media, you’re Mayor Capella Gray. Where does the “Mayor” come from?

The Mayor in New York. I’m the WiFi plug, whatever you need— musically, of course. I’m the plug, the WiFi, the mayor.

You’ve got your “A Lot Going On” vlogs that you post every once in a while. We saw you hanging out with Tory Lanez, Busta Rhymes, Fetty Wap, and a few others in Miami a few weeks ago. You also said that you worked with Russ, DreamDoll, and many others. What’s the co-sign that shocked you the most this year?

None of them really shocked me for real, I ain’t gonna lie. Most of my music— I don’t know if it’s an arrogance thing. I’m telling you, every time I leave the studio, I be like, “Yo, as soon as the white people hear this, this is a hit.” It’s the same thing. All the people that was tapping in, see? They just need to hear it one time. I am grateful, even though it was expected. I definitely am grateful for the embrace that the industry has been showing me for sure, because they moving like I’m a veteran, like I’ve been here forever. They talking to me like they been knew me.

I don’t think it’s arrogance, you’re just confident. You’re a Leo, right?

Yeah man, I’m a big Leo, the biggest Leo. I just feel like this is not the industry for “happy to be here” energy, like you can be grateful to be here for sure, but I’m among all the GOATs now. You’re supposed to step into it. We’re here.

Like you said, you performed at your first Summer Jam this year. Your first Powerhouse… And it was actually your first time attending Summer Jam too, right?

Yeah, my first time attending Summer Jam. I performed twice, I was supposed to perform three times but it was a little rainy. But yeah, that was my first time at Summer Jam performing twice. My first time at Powerhouse in New York City, I performed twice. I’m kind of going crazy. I’m trying to show you, I’m wylin’!

What’s it been like performing for these huge crowds? Because it’s really the first time that you’re exposed to that, right?

Hell yeah. This sh*t is crazy. I’m glad that I ain’t have to go through the open mic circuit or something like that, where I’m proving that the song is fire to the crowd.

And building off of that, you also had your first show at the iconic Madison Square Garden, which is a huge venue for artists.

Oh sh*t. Yes. Yup, we just did that. That was crazy, too. I was brought up by one of my favorite rappers. Meek Mill brought me on. Yeah, that’s insane. That’s nuts. It was odee. I’m at Madison… I’m from New York, I’m from Uptown. So being from Uptown performing at Madison Square Garden— that’s bigger than the Grammys.

You’ve been repping your crew, Allepac The Family. What can you tell us about the family?

Allepac the Family, this is the new Def Jam, the new Bad Boy, the new QC, the new big force in the game. We’re bringing big vibes, big energy to the game— the best producers, the best writers, the best singers, the best all that. It’s so dope that we got so many eyes on us now because of this one little minute-and-45-second long freestyle, but y’all don’t even know that it’s so much coming. We just warming up. We’re Allepac the Family, we’re here, we’re getting started and just warming up. 

It’s nice that you’re able to win with your day-ones. You partnered with Capitol Records this year for your upcoming releases. What made them the perfect fit for you?

I feel like they weren’t trying to change me. They just understood what I was trying to do. They just understood the movement. They weren’t trying to edit and tweak it, they weren’t trying to make me the “You had my heart, you had it from the start” type of R&B artist with the squinty eyes and the baby oil. They weren’t trying to do nothing extra. They just liked me exactly how I was, they understood the vision, and they were just trying to do whatever they could to help with my vision, and I respected that. So I was able to do a nice little joint venture. We consult, we figured this out together. 

Were there a lot of other offers on the table when you accepted that?

What?! It was a joke. We had the whole industry in pandemonium. Ask around. We talked to everybody. Capitol just made it make sense. Shout out to Capitol. Congrats.

This interview is part of our 12 Days of Christmas series. With Christmas and the winter holidays coming up soon, I wanted to ask you if you have any special plans for December.

I’m doing the most. I have a cheat code, because even though I’m in hip-hop and all that, we make hip-hop music, we make those type of vibes that’s gonna move the city, I’m a musician. My last job before “Gyalis”, I’m a whole organist, and everybody knows the correlation between jazz music and Christmas. It’s gonna be very lit for me right now, I’m not gonna lie to you. We’re about to be everywhere.

What does your family normally do for Christmas every year?

The most. Just the big family dinner and all that. A lot of singing, a lot of fellowship, a lot of vibes, and now this year, we particularly have a lot to be thankful for, so I’mma be dragging it.

You can do the most too because now it’s more money coming in, you’ve got a hit record.

That’s what I’m saying. We could do the most this year. This year, for Christmas? Come on. I gotta flex this Christmas.

Personally, on your wish list, what’s the one thing that you want this year?

I’m trying to find these f*cking “40 Belows”— these boots. I got the black joints, but I need the f*cking tan joints. These shoes are so fire. I just can’t find ‘em nowhere. They ain’t dropped yet, so if you got a plug, put me on! Get me right.

Finally, what can people expect from you in 2022?

A lot bro, I’m not gonna lie, from features, to the tape dropping, to more singles dropping. Movies dropping, they about to tap in. Life of a Gyalis: The Short Film. I want to do a short film for all the songs I’m about to drop. I think it’s time to drag it, do a little cinematography, get those acting chops and all that sh*t in there. 2022 gonna be a great year and this decade gonna be a great decade. That’s what I keep saying— just know. 

Is there anything I didn’t ask you that you want to touch on before we close up?

“Gyalis” is now platinum. It’s lit. Uptown, big vibes. Follow me @mayorcapellagrey. Make sure that you in tune and that you not just listening to “Gyalis”, that you’re in tune with the gang. We here. That’s basically it.