I SEE U, Episode 84: Wading in Crystal Waters

House music legend Crystal Waters managed to avoid a career in selling houses to answer her calling as an award-winning singer-songwriter in a genre once labeled as niche and not real music.


House Music Icon, Crystal Waters


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Multi-platinum singer-songwriter, Crystal Waters — whose chart-topping '90s hits include "Gypsy Woman (She's Homeless)" and "100% Pure Love," — has been in the industry for over three decades. Music journalists say Waters paved the way for many Black and female artists in dance music at a time when critics quickly shunned the genre as a passing fad. Unfortunately, her new singles fail to get the attention of today's commercial radio or digital music programmers. The acclaimed singer tells I SEE U that payola still exists and she has to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars for her songs to gain airplay and notoriety. Join us as host Eddie Robinson explores the life and career of house music goddess, Crystal Waters. She chats unguarded about surviving a music industry that rewards certain white electronic dance artists but neglects DJ's and producers of color who represent the genre's original creators. The Howard University scholar also acknowledges the profound impact of how a Black, cultural phenomenon in American television played a significant role in undermining her pursuit for more stardom.


Full Transcript

Eddie Robinson: The legacy and influence of singer songwriter Crystal Waters continue to permeate today’s culture. She’s a pioneer of the industry, and Billboard Magazine named her one of the most successful dance music artists in the history of their chart rankings. But why does she have to pay the gatekeepers of music to earn radio airplay

Crystal Waters: Here, you know, we have Payola still going on. You gotta have $150,000 to get a song on the radio. A lot of people, a lot of artists won’t talk about it cuz they’re afraid this songs won’t get played.

Eddie Robinson: I’m Eddie Robinson and stay tuned as we chat candidly with house music legend, Crystal Waters, the world renowned artist shares her triumphs and challenges of sustaining a 30 year musical career and a genre once labeled as niche and not real music.

Eddie Robinson: Oh yeah, I feel you. We hear you. I SEE U.

Eddie Robinson: You’re listening to I SEE U. I’m your host Eddie Robinson with a career and brand spanning over 30 years. She is indeed an innovator. A dance music legend herself. Billboard Magazine has named her one of the most successful dance music artists in the history of the Billboard dance music charts. And in the nineties, right when I was graduating from high school in Macomb, Mississippi, she was releasing a string of domestic and international number one dance hits, particularly Gypsy Woman (She’s homeless). This track became a number one global powerhouse, mainly because of its socially conscious lyrics and incredibly infectious hook. Another track, a 1994 smash entitled 100% Pure Love was so popular that it re-entered the top 10 on Billboard’s Dance Music Charts in 2021. Thanks to a feature on the well-known TV series competition. RuPaul’s Drag Race.

Eddie Robinson: The track, drew in millions of new streams. And even pushed universal music to re-release the song with brand new remixes. But outside of her musical component, she’s been a staunch advocate for lgbtq plus rights and AIDS research.

Eddie Robinson: She just recently received Howard University’s prestigious Distinguished Postgraduate Achievement Award. But what’s next for this dance music legend? And has the mainstream finally disco-vered soon? See what I did there?

Crystal Waters: That was cute.

Eddie Robinson: The power, the energy, the creativity of this remarkable genre, or is house music still niche?

Eddie Robinson: And will it take time for some music fans to fully embrace it, to really get it? I SEE U and we’re so grateful to have with us. Award-winning, multi-platinum singer, songwriter, producer, dance music, pioneer extraordinaire, Crystal Waters. Crystal, thank you so much for being a guest on I SEE U.

Crystal Waters: Thank you so much though. Thank you for the intro. I sound wonderful.

Eddie Robinson: Well, you are wonderful and thank you tremendously, enormously for all the work that you’ve done, both on record and off the record, so to speak. You’ve, you’ve just really blossomed and, and we thank you for all that you’ve done in your career. You’ve come from a musically gifted family.

Eddie Robinson: Your father, junior waters a jazz musician, your uncle Zach Zachary, a jazz saxophonist, great aunt Ethel Waters. What one of the first black American vocalists to appear in mainstream Hollywood musicals. Actress, singer extraordinaire herself. What was it like growing up surrounded by musically inclined family members?

Crystal Waters: It was wonderful. There was always music in the house. Uh, my father used to rehearse, you know, in the living room. I had a brother who was in a band. It was great. I mean, I, myself was very shy and I would, I would just sit there and watch.

Crystal Waters: I mean, a lot of my aunts sang. And I got to go on the road with my father a lot. So it was, I, I, you know, yeah. I see now in hindsight why I still, I’m still on the road. Cause I’m, I mean, I love it.

Eddie Robinson: And what were some of the things that he kind of, kind of guided you on? Some advice, some tips in, in terms of, you know, what you should be looking out for in your life, even your father.

Crystal Waters: Yeah. Cause, cause back then he used to do a lot of, he, back then the lounges were big, like the Holiday Inn lounge. Oh. And I used to go on tour with him and a lot of it was in Indiana, Illinois, middle America. So a lot of times we were the only black people there. Interesting. So I, I always remember this.

Crystal Waters: One time he, there was this big Russian ship that had come, come in and they were all, ha we were all having dinner and they invited us on the ship and I wasn’t being very, you know, engaging, I guess you would call it. And he pulled me aside. He said, you gotta remember that you represent. More than you. You represent every black woman that in America you may be the only black person they’ll ever meet.

Crystal Waters: So you represent all of that. So you have to keep that in mind. You always say when they offer you a gift, they accept the gift. Um, you know, they offer you some candy. You don’t want it, but you take it and, you know, accept it politely. That’s the way they show how they appreciate you. So was those little stories, stuff like that, that I still carry with me today, especially when I’m traveling and touring.

Crystal Waters: And I teach to everyone around me cuz you know, it’s still places people don’t realize. You know, I, I just went to Bali and I was in the park and this Asian family came up to me and wanted to take pictures with me. And everybody said why they wanna, cause I was only, that’s the first black person they had ever met.

Crystal Waters: They’ve only seen us on tv. So, you know, I, I graciously, you know, took the picture. Other people who were like very offended by it. But if I’m the first one that you’re gonna meet, I have to represent, you know,

Eddie Robinson: You know, we’ve got the video going here for those who are listening to the audio. But Crystal Waters, you look exactly like you just jumped off the music video from 1993, 1994.

Eddie Robinson: Do you age? You look phenomenal. You look that fantastic.

Crystal Waters: It’s the lighting.

Eddie Robinson: I mean, how does it feel to know that? Music that you’ve recorded, that you’ve created. To this day, 2023 and beyond is still on the minds of music lovers all over the world.

Crystal Waters: It’s, it’s amazing. It’s ama amazing. I mean, Gypsy Woman gets remixed at least once or twice a year.

Crystal Waters: Who gets licensed? You know, I get video sent to me in these massive. Festivals and clubs. People play Gypsy Woman and the people just go crazy.

Eddie Robinson: Yeah.

Crystal Waters: I feel very blessed. Thank God I wrote that song. You know,

Crystal Waters: it, it is just amazing. I mean, for me, every day I just get up and do my thing, but it, it, sometimes you have to sit down and think about it like, wow, it’s been 30 some years and it’s still going. It’s really cool.

Eddie Robinson: Yeah. So what inspired the message of homelessness to life in this. Gypsy woman track what inspired the lyrics and all of that message in the song?

Crystal Waters: A couple things. Well, back when I wrote, it was the late eighties. I was in DC and you know, AIDS had happened, the economy had tanked, and it was a lot of, you know, despair going on. But at the same time, I had just met the Basement Boys and they asked me, I was doing more of a Sharda thing, and they asked me to take my style and put it over their beats.

Crystal Waters: So they gave me the beat. And all I had was La da dee la dee da. I was like, there’s no words that fit that little short syllable. You know what I mean? So I said, someone’s singing this song. And I thought of the woman who stood on downtown on Connecticut Avenue. I. In front of the Mayflower, and she was fully dressed in all black, full face of makeup.

Crystal Waters: Didn’t look homeless, didn’t look like anything was wrong with her. And I had this really nasty attitude, though she needs to go get a job, stop asking me for money.

Eddie Robinson: Mm.

Crystal Waters: And this local city paper did a story on her. Come to find out she had just lost her job in retail cosmetic counter. And she felt if sh if she was gonna ask people for money, she had to be respectable, look respectable and act respectable.

Crystal Waters: And that story really stuck with me. And, and at the time it was so clear that her one minute you could have a job and next minute be on the street. So that story is really about her waking up just to do her hair. Cause she cares y’all. So that’s, that’s where that song came from.

Eddie Robinson: And you would think that. When, when the track was released, it was so powerful, right? The energy of it, the, the beat, it was incredible. The rhythm. People weren’t paying attention to the lyrics.

Crystal Waters: No,

Eddie Robinson: but it was just so weird how that dynamic was occurring. I mean, did that, you know, flow into your mind as it relates to,

Crystal Waters: oh yeah,

Eddie Robinson: people are listening to the track, but really listen to the track. Hello?

Crystal Waters: Yeah, I was upset that all, all they were hearing a lot of, because you know, when I wrote it, a La da dee la dee da was only four, four to eight bars. By the time it got mixed, it was like 32 bars a lot. So I got it. But even Tony Humphries in New York, cause you probably know he was the one

Eddie Robinson: Tony Humphries

Crystal Waters: on the, on the second pressing, he was upset and he actually went to the label and made them do a little silver sticker and put on the second pressing that says she’s homeless.

Crystal Waters: So people would know what the song was about. So it wasn’t just me, but I’m so thankful that he did that. So people, I think people finally started hearing what it was about.

Eddie Robinson: You are listening to I SEE U. I’m Eddie Robinson and we’re chatting with dance music Goddess Crystal Waters and basically reminiscing about the early nineties and how her career was jumpstarted into the dance music culture.

Eddie Robinson: She’s chatting with us virtually from her studio in Washington, DC Interestingly, fast forward to, you know, being thankful. I mean, Beyoncé. Here she comes. And I’m curious as to finding out what you think of artists like Beyonce, like Drake, you know, You know, I, I see these articles that read, you know, Beyoncé saved house music.

Crystal Waters: Oh Lord, Lord,

Eddie Robinson: the hip hop artist, Drake, you know, shift the consciousness and ushering in more acceptance to house music.

Crystal Waters: What they found out, what they found out was people making a lot of money at these festivals and overseas, and they were like, let me get some of it.

Eddie Robinson: There you go.

Crystal Waters: But I’m very happy. You gotta understand when we, when I started out, we were told house music, it wasn’t gonna last, was it fad?

Crystal Waters: People said, when you gonna do real music? And they couldn’t wait to get us off the radio. So to have it last 30 years. And have it be validated by someone like Beyoncé and Drake. I’m happy. I mean, I will always be the house artist. Always will be. And I’m glad it gave more attention to the genre.

Eddie Robinson: Let’s go deeper into that, because I always thought that house music did get a bad rap because somehow in my mind I thought the reason was based on the notion that it was tied to the gay community.

Eddie Robinson: That you’d have to be gay or queer to enjoy this kind of music. And society didn’t want to have any part of that energy, especially during the AIDS epidemic. And for some reason, that’s what I, I kind of had that feeling

Eddie Robinson: right.

Crystal Waters: It’s probably was a lot, lot to do with that, but it was like the, as this started in, you know, the Black, Latino gay community were the biggest supporters.

Crystal Waters: But I’ve watched it change and go through all kind of changes over the years. Wyatt got taken off radio, well, hip hop came in and just kind of wiped us all out. Everybody got dropped, , so we went back underground. But yeah, it was, it was, I think it was a lot because it was, you know, the gay community who supported it a lot.

Crystal Waters: Now, now that I really think about it, And it’s a shame, but it still remained alive and fierce underground.

Eddie Robinson: It really did. And I remember like in the late seventies, do you remember? I mean, I was too young when this incident actually happened.

Crystal Waters: Mm-hmm.

Eddie Robinson: But I grew old as I grew older. I read about that infamous.

Eddie Robinson: Disco demolition night. I remember. You know, and it was a major league baseball promotion, which was even fascinating in mind blowing in my mind. That Major League Baseball actually put this promotion together. 98 cents admission, if you brought a disc. It was a radio.

Crystal Waters: It’s a radio disc jockey did it, a

Eddie Robinson: radio disc jockey there that did it at com. Uh, Comiskey Park in Chicago.

Eddie Robinson: For those who don’t know. In 1979, a hot July evening between games of a doubleheader between the White Sox and the Detroit lions, Detroit Tigers, a crate filled with disco records was blown up on the field. After the explosion, thousands of fans stormed the field, a riot broke out. Insanity scholars and artists have argued that this incident was.

Eddie Robinson: Possibly racist and homophobic. Do you remember or recall that incident?

Crystal Waters: I, I remember that it was like the death of disco. It was the next day there was no more disco on the radio.

Eddie Robinson: Wow.

Crystal Waters: Yeah.

Eddie Robinson: Wow.

Crystal Waters: I mean, but you know, Frankie Knuckles always said,

Eddie Robinson: Frankie Knuckles.

Crystal Waters: He said House is disco’s revenge. You know, once they, once the disco was gone, that’s when House music started.

Crystal Waters: They had to come up with another genre. Well, didn’t, you know what I mean? That’s when the new genre was being created and it turned into house music.

Eddie Robinson: And i, I heard, as you were talking earlier, you had a Sade vibe going.

Eddie Robinson: What was up with that and how did you get into house music?

Crystal Waters: I wanted to be the next Sade.

Eddie Robinson: Oh.

Crystal Waters: If you look at the Gypsy woman video, I have the ponytail, I have the red lips.

Crystal Waters: I, I was doing, you know, I come from a jazz background, so I was doing more of those smooth jazz vocals.

Eddie Robinson: Got it.

Crystal Waters: And the way I got into house music, you want the long story or the short story? Short story is I met the Basement Boys.

Eddie Robinson: The Basement Boys really sort of catapulted that house music.

Crystal Waters: I snuck into this, this

Eddie Robinson: arena,

Crystal Waters: this conference here in DC and I had my little demo tape my father had paid for, and the, the first people I saw were, were, were them, and they were really cool jackets.

Crystal Waters: I got home that night. They called me, Teddy called me, said, we love your writing style. Would you do it, you know, to some of our music. And I was like, sure. I didn’t even really know what their music was and I said, yeah, I’ll write. As long as like he said, that’s what we want you to do to keep your style, but we want you to write it over our beach.

Eddie Robinson: Interesting.

Crystal Waters: So that’s when they sent. That’s the first time I actually, you know, wrote to any house music. I only heard how music, you know, late in the clubs, late night on the radio. It was, you know, it was, I, I was still more of a Con Funk Shun band thing going on when it started killing coming in.

Eddie Robinson: Interesting. Oh, okay.

Crystal Waters: It was danceable, but it wasn’t that straight up, you know, eight. Oh eight. So that’s once I met them and got into New York. That was, that was it?

Eddie Robinson: Were you a bit nervous? I mean, here you are. I mean, because it’s definitely different than, you know, Confunction and Slave and Yeah. These, you know, other funk cats to do something over house music.

Crystal Waters: Well, it wasn’t called, it wasn’t really called house music.

Eddie Robinson: What was it called? Just dance music.

Crystal Waters: Just dance music. I still had some of the R & B’s elements in there, you know,

Eddie Robinson: eighties, late eighties.

Crystal Waters: Yes, it had a little gospel keyboard in there, here and there.

Eddie Robinson: That’s true, that’s true. Especially with the Basement Boys and all that.

Eddie Robinson: Um, with, with Frankie Knuckles, there was this inspirational sort of vibe that, that was attached to it as well. Yeah.

Eddie Robinson: Coming up. We continue our chat with singer songwriter and house music icon Crystal Waters. She’ll share some intimate details about her challenges and struggles even after the success of her number one hits. Single Gypsy woman, (She’s homeless) plus, do you remember the hit nineties comedy series In Living Color?

Eddie Robinson: A parody of her hit song aired in front of a national TV audience, mocking the lyrics to her song, and jokingly creating a spoof of her musical talent. We asked Crystal about this incident and she shares her thoughts and emotions. Of how she feels about what happened over 30 years later. I’m Eddie Robinson.

Eddie Robinson: I SEE U. A captivating segment comes your way right after this.

Eddie Robinson: If you’re enjoying this program, please be sure to subscribe to our podcast I SEE U with Eddie Robinson. You can hear all the past episodes and be notified when new episodes are released. Also, please take a minute to give us a review or comment.

Eddie Robinson: We love getting feedback from our listeners.

Eddie Robinson: You’re listening to I SEE U. I’m your host Eddie Robinson, and we’re so grateful to chat with multi-platinum recording artists, Crystal Waters, and if you’re of a certain age, then I’m sure you’ve danced to her music dozens of times on the dance floor. Gypsy Woman, (She’s Homeless), 100% Pure Love and Making Happy dance song she’s released from the nineties that actually made you feel happy.

Eddie Robinson: The Howard University graduate is here to share more about her life, her career, even a bit later. We’ll get a little preview of her new music. It’s Crystal Waters on I SEE U calling us virtually from our studio in Washington, DC.

Eddie Robinson: If you can recall, um, think back. Out of all the incidents and experiences that you’ve encountered, I’m sure as a renowned woman of color, in your recollection, what stands out to be the most intense, the most racist incident that you’ve ever experienced in your life, and still to this very day, you just can’t seem to shake it off.

Eddie Robinson: It resides in the back of your mind. And perhaps it stays there, but as you continue on, you just kind of, it’s so profound. It still stays with you.

Crystal Waters: There is a couple,

Eddie Robinson: as a woman of color and as an artist.

Crystal Waters: Well, I’ll tell you the, the first, the first time I experienced racism, I was with my mother who was very, she can pass.

Eddie Robinson: Okay.

Crystal Waters: And we were at a cosmetic counter and the woman was very nasty to me. Wouldn’t help me. And I was really hurt. And then my mom came up and she said, oh, can I help you? And it was quiet. My mom was so pissed. That’s not, it was so obvious. That’s, I think that was the first one I realized, okay, there’s something going on here, you know?

Crystal Waters: But even, but I mean, even though overseas there’s a lot of stuff, um, they still in germinated, they still have a, I dunno if it’s Santa Claus or Santa Claus, that’s helpers in blackface. And we were over there for a Christmas show. And they were doing, you know, the blackface clown thing, and I refused to perform.

Crystal Waters: I was like, it’s offensive. Uh, my road manager and everyone was like, you, you, they had eventually had to find a scene where I wasn’t with the people in blackface. So it’s, it’s, it’s, you know, it’s still there. I remember that. I didn’t think it was overseas as much, you know, as, as it was his home, but it’s still

Eddie Robinson: sure

Crystal Waters: it’s everywhere.

Eddie Robinson: That’s fascinating and you did not perform. That’s a very interesting nugget to know about. I mean, where do you think that source comes from? That, that, that, oh, that perseverance of, you know what, I don’t, I don’t care. We’re not doing this. This is,

Crystal Waters: I went to Howard University.

Eddie Robinson: There you go. That is. Explains it. The I’s dotted the T is crossed,

Crystal Waters: wasn’t having any of it. You know, I, you know, I, you know, I grew up in the ne in a, in a, in when I grew up real. I really didn’t have that. It wasn’t until I got to Howard where you could really stand up for yourself and no, you don’t have to take that. No, you can. You don’t have to be polite. And so, yeah, I think that was ingrained in me.

Eddie Robinson: Did you find yourself at one point in your career, sort of wondering, Okay, Crystal, you know what’s next? You know, I’m not quite sure I’ll be able to hold on to this singing thing, this recording music thing.

Crystal Waters: Yeah.

Eddie Robinson: Did you find yourself at one point in your career at a crossroads?

Crystal Waters: Yeah, I guess when we, when I got dropped from the label, there was some contract issues even before that with the Basement Boys. We all, it was just kind of disintegrated and then I got into another contract, so I had to act. I was in contract disputes for like six years. And I was like, okay. But every time, you know, I tried to walk away.

Crystal Waters: I was like, oh, maybe I’ll go sell real estate. So something called me back. I have a studio and it’ll be like, it will be calling me. I. Something would always happen where I would have to go and record something, and I just finally realized, you know, this is it. You know, even if I tried to go with something, always called me back.

Crystal Waters: So after, you know, I had two daughters. After they got to a nice, you know, age, I decided, all right, let’s jump back in and, um, get into it again.

Eddie Robinson: Interesting. Well those two daughters that, cuz what I was kinda reading, what drew you to working for the parole board in Washington, DC I mean, what, what, what was that experience like?

Crystal Waters: Well, I, I, I was studying computer science and they had a position for in their computer room, so,

Eddie Robinson: huh.

Crystal Waters: It was my, yeah, I got a, I got an introduction and it was crazy. And you gotta also know I have the only computer in the whole building. This is, you know, this is, I, there was only one computer, you know, in downtown DC and I had it.

Crystal Waters: But um, I used to issue warrants. I used to talk, work with the FBI all the time, and I would compute good time, you know, to reduce the. The jail rate. So I was, I would get calls from the jail and they’re like, you know, what’s, when am I getting at? What’s my good time? What’s my, you know, stuff like that. And then when I started getting famous, they would start calling and say, are you the, then I was like, I need to, um, get outta here.

Eddie Robinson: Is this post gypsy woman? She’s homeless.

Crystal Waters: Yeah. I stayed because I didn’t get it. I, you know, I had two children. I had to wear

Eddie Robinson: Crystal.

Crystal Waters: Yeah, I stayed and I kept, yeah, I took the leave of absence for like a year and a half cause keep my health insurance and all that good stuff and so, Yeah, so they would, they would call.

Eddie Robinson: Your mother recommended, you see a psychic to figure out what your future had in store. I mean,

Crystal Waters: that was part of the, part of the parole board where when I got there, well I was there and they, you know, you work for the government. They send you the paper round about how much you’re gonna make each other, each e a G one, G two, and. And I was like, I’m stay here for 10 years, right. I’m gonna be poor.

Eddie Robinson: Interesting.

Crystal Waters: So I was like, it’s gotta be something else I can do. My mom said, why don’t you go see a psychic and ask her, just so that this happened that weekend. There was a psychic fair here. Me and my friend went. I got up that morning, everything was fine. I, I get in the car and I go down. By the time I got there, I lost my voice.

Crystal Waters: I was whispering and the lady said, you’re not doing something with your voice, you need. And I was like, yeah, right, whatever. That was a easy guess. And I was really shy. I was like public speaking. Then I got back to work and told everybody, and one of my friends, like, they were all like, he loved music. You know, you, you know, you do all this stuff for music.

Crystal Waters: He said, I have a cousin that has a studio that’s looking for background singers. He said, I’ll go if you go. And I was like, sh, I’ll go. Never sang in front of anybody before we go down there. We get the job and like in, I’m in the middle of it and the light bulb goes off. This is what I want to do. This is it.

Crystal Waters: I made $600. I was rich and I just, you know, I tried to hang around the studio, but I wasn’t getting anywhere with that. And finally I put an ad in the local paper for looking for a keyboarders to co-write songs with and lucked up with someone on the Army base. The answers force armys base. And we, we created a group Modern Art. And that’s when I started, that’s when we started the um, Sade type sounds.

Eddie Robinson: Got it. Got it. And then the Sade, a type sounds and then transformed into your discovery with the Basement Boys.

Crystal Waters: Mm-hmm.

Eddie Robinson: And then booyakasha.

Crystal Waters: Yeah, it’s really all jazz. Really. A jazz vocal.

Eddie Robinson: I, um, I, I have to ask this because I know it. When, when it happened, you were like, what is this? But, you know, on that hit nineties comedy sketch show In Living Color.

Crystal Waters: Mm-hmm.

Eddie Robinson: What, what were your actress? For those who don’t know what we’re talking about here, actress Kim Wayans and she did this parody of your Gypsy Woman hit. My songs are mindless.

Eddie Robinson: First off. Did you see the skit?

Crystal Waters: Yeah, I was staying on the sofa with my boyfriend watching.

Eddie Robinson: Interesting. And what was your first thoughts, your initial thought when it came up and it popped on the screen? Go?

Crystal Waters: I just remember that I was, then I realized it was me and then I saw like the mindless, which obviously she didn’t listen to the lyrics and it said talentless.

Crystal Waters: It said a whole bunch of negative stuff. I, yes, my attorneys, my manager, they called and congratulated me and. You know, cuz the sales were coming in, you know, all that, you know, you’re gonna be infamous and da da da. But you have to understand, I have two daughters. I’m a, I’m a, I am a daughter, I’m a sister.

Crystal Waters: I have family who were really hurt. No, they had nothing to do with this entertainment. You know, they were really hurt. My kids had to go to school. School next, the next day. You have to, people don’t realize that, you know, oh, it’s a joke. Mm, not really. So I had to deal with all that. So it still, it still stings a little bit.

Crystal Waters: I, you know, I did make more money, but that, that’s not always the best payoff.

Eddie Robinson: It still stings. I heard you say that, Crystal.

Crystal Waters: Yeah. I don’t like that.

Eddie Robinson: Seriously.

Crystal Waters: I don’t, I still don’t like when people do it to other people. So I don’t know what else to say about that, but that’s,

Eddie Robinson: no, I mean, have you reached out to Kim Wayans or any of those ones?

Crystal Waters: Once.

Eddie Robinson: Okay. Okay.

Crystal Waters: She apologized to Oprah though, did she? Maybe if I become a billionaire I’ll get an apology, but you know, it wasn’t just me. If I was Whitney, it was a whole bunch of That’s right.

Eddie Robinson: Tracy Chapman.

Crystal Waters: Yeah. Yeah.

Eddie Robinson: They did a lot of parodies and it,

Crystal Waters: you know, you gotta suck it up and move on. But um, at the time, that’s really how I felt.

Eddie Robinson: You are listening to I SEE U. I’m Eddie Robinson. We’re chatting with singer songwriter and multi-platinum artist Crystal Waters. The house music icon is looking amazing. Be sure to check us out on Instagram and follow us there. Crystal is on a virtual call with us from Washington, DC. Interestingly enough, as house music grew popular, you know, it moved from those black gay spaces to wider straighter ones in the eighties and nineties.

Eddie Robinson: It also enjoyed a lot of chart, you know, music chart action. But is there something in your mind about black music and black music culture and race that should be noted here? Are people getting their due? Are are people getting their credit?

Crystal Waters: No, and I, you know, where, where House Music has gone has gone to EDM, it’s the same thing they did with Rock and Roll.

Crystal Waters: They started out with Black and it got gentrified. And I think people, I, I meet European kids that didn’t know black people did house music. They think, you know, David Guetta started house music. So, yeah, they got gentrified, they changed the name to EDM and Net. They’re making massive amount of money, the festivals and you know, that’s why you see Drake and Beyoncé doing dance.

Crystal Waters: Well, at least his house music, I mean, Even Usher did an EDM track and

Eddie Robinson: That’s right. That’s right.

Crystal Waters: So I like to remind people that you know where it came from. Someone asked me the other day that my, the interview was, um, there weren’t very many black people when house music started. How did it feel to be the only black person? And I was so livid. I was, I, who this interviewer is, but find somebody else.

Crystal Waters: I’m not dealing with this. So, so

Eddie Robinson: interesting.

Crystal Waters: Yeah. I think part of my reason why I keep going now, especially in Europe, is um, to let them know. Where it started and you know, they can always point to me, I represent more than just me. You know what I mean?

Eddie Robinson: What is it about you that so many people gravitate to you, your music, your.

Eddie Robinson: You as a person, you know, what is it that you think that makes so many people gravitate and love your style and your kind of energy that you bring? Not necessarily on the music, on the rec, with the record that we listen to, but even on stage.

Crystal Waters: Hmm. That’s a good question. I, I just know with the gay community, I just remember it being so fresh and so new and they were looking for something and that the homeless song really at the time, this is how the houses started, people being put out the houses, they had to form their own families cuz they were out on the street.

Crystal Waters: And I know that song really resonated. I. And for me, when I first got to New York, I was taken in by the houses and the, um, the dancers and the, and the drag queens and they taught me a lot about performance, emoting and makeup. And, um, hopefully it’s cause I’m being my authentic self and I’m not trying to be anything extra.

Crystal Waters: I think when I write, I write from the heart. I know when I get on stage, I do a lot of prayer before I go on stage for everyone in the audience. But I was always taught to give a little bit more than asked for, and I know that I was taught Your job is to entertain your job is to make sure everyone in there goes home happy.

Crystal Waters: Your job is not to get on stage and have everybody look at you and say how pretty you are and look at what she got on. That’s really, it’s not about you, it’s about them. So that, you know, I teach my dancers at everybody around me. You know, your job is to make sure everyone’s happy when they leave this room.

Crystal Waters: So that’s, I can tell you what I put into it. I hope. I hope that’s, What everybody gets out of it.

Eddie Robinson: and we certainly enjoyed that performance. The, the latest one over at the NAACP image awards mean that was that yeah. What was that like? I mean, that hatch have been sort of energetic and just really sort of

Crystal Waters: Yeah, I wasn’t surprised feeling the energy know.

Eddie Robinson: Oh wow.

Crystal Waters: I, I had to follow Ne-Yo first of all.

Eddie Robinson: Wow.

Crystal Waters: So, so Ne-Yo had finished, he waved. I was like, see ya. Thanks.

Eddie Robinson: Yeah. Right.

Crystal Waters: But it was nice cause everybody was surprised. The phones come out. And I always say, you know, when the gypsy comes on, the purses come out, the kids just

Eddie Robinson: purses come out, the phones come out, the, the hands go up in the air.

Crystal Waters: Yeah. I couldn’t really see who was in the audience cuz the way it was lit, but I hear a lot of fabulous people were out there.

Crystal Waters: I hope they enjoyed it. It looked, it looked really good.

Eddie Robinson: Yeah. And you look good too. Listen, what, what do you think is the key? To longevity in this music industry? Be honest. Be honest

Crystal Waters: for me. Be honest.

Eddie Robinson: Yes. Cuz some people think that they know but they don’t know.

Crystal Waters: You gotta be humble. You gotta know it’s not about you.

Crystal Waters: It’s about. What’s coming through you. You know the God source coming through you. That’s that You’re emoting to everyone else. That’s your gift. You’re here because you have that gift to share with everyone else. It’s just like being on stage. It’s not about at all coming to you. I, I, you know, I love being on the road.

Crystal Waters: I love performing. It’s not for everybody. So I’m lucky in that point. And you know, I think it’s a lot of slow and steady wins. Wins the race. This is what I love to do. I mean, people always say, you still write, you. What do you want me to go do now? You want, you want me to go sell real estate? You want me to?

Crystal Waters: I says, you know, I’m a songwriter, you know, so when they all, people always say, do what you love, and once you do that, it’s, it’s easy. I think it, you know, it’s hard to hear it sometimes, but, um, that’s what it’s

Eddie Robinson: What are the next sort of projects that we can sort of look forward to with Crystal Waters? Are there anything.

Eddie Robinson: You know, that you can share with us.

Crystal Waters: Yeah.

Eddie Robinson: You know, in terms of future projects.

Crystal Waters: Well, I’m working on a album now cuz I, I’ve, over the last years I’ve only done singles cause it’s a singles world. You know, you don’t wanna put singles World years worth of work into an album.

Eddie Robinson: Yes, yes.

Crystal Waters: It only lasts about three months. You know,

Eddie Robinson: gay, black, single man here. So yeah, I know about singles and that’s all there is. Everybody’s just looking at singles, but that’s fantastic news. Great. I can finally get some full length material from Crystal.

Crystal Waters: Yes. I’m working on the album, which Okay. Is a lot of. Kinds kind of still working with the Basement Boys.

Crystal Waters: A lot of the people that used to be a part of it, were all together. So, you know, I have my podcast, my Sirius XM show. I have a record label so when I’m getting ready to go on tour again, so I’m, I’m busy. I, I have several releases out now. I don’t, you know, so it’s always, it’s always something. You know.

Eddie Robinson: Coming up we wrap up our conversation with award-winning house music singer songwriter Crystal Waters. She’ll share details about her new music and how she really feels about the current state of the electronic dance music industry, and a genre originally created by people of color will hear her thoughts on why so many white artists gain the most popularity in dance music.

Eddie Robinson: I’m Eddie Robinson. If I SEE U, our final provocative segment right after this,

Eddie Robinson: If you’re enjoying this program, please be sure to subscribe to our podcast. I SEE U with Eddie Robinson. You can hear all the past episodes and be notified when new episodes are released. Also, please take a minute to give us a review or comment. We love getting feedback from our listeners.

Eddie Robinson: This is I SEE U. I’m Eddie Robinson and we’re chatting with house music Legend. Crystal Waters working in the business for over three decades. She’s seen the ups and downs of this here today, gone tomorrow. Music industry that once shunned house music altogether. I hosted a radio show on the airways in New York City in the early two thousands.

Eddie Robinson: When the commercial music station, WNEW, was known as Mix 102.7 FM, where hard hitting dance music was relegated to those Friday and Saturday late night broadcasts on commercial radio and now top trending artists like Beyoncé and Drake have released full length dance albums. With young hip hop artists, like NLE Choppa getting airplay as well.

Eddie Robinson: So we’re beginning to see this genre re-emerge with a newer generation returning to those same dance floors from back in the day. But for how long Crystal Waters is here to talk about her music, her career, and the challenges she’s faced along the way. She joins us from her studio in Washington, DC. You know, a few years back when I worked as a news anchor for Houston Public Media, I did an investigation on why commercial radio stations avoided playing electronic music, house music, EDM artists.

Eddie Robinson: But when those types of artists and music producers would tour, Those venues would be sold out. And in some instances, you know, we’re talking those massive venues, dance hall facilities, major theaters. The festivals.

Crystal Waters: The festivals.

Eddie Robinson: Yeah. Some of their shows are sold out within minutes.

Crystal Waters: People don’t realize that.

Eddie Robinson: Yeah, you, you may not hear their tracks on these popular commercial music radio stations. And that goes to show you the power of. Social media, TikTok, perhaps, you know, these television tie-ins, series promos, or even film trailers. What in your mind, Crystal, what does the future of house music look like

Eddie Robinson: to you?

Crystal Waters: I mean, I feel like I see it because I, I think it’s, people still just the mainstream doesn’t realize some of these festivals I’m doing, some of these parties I see a, a, a. Very vibrant culture. I see a new generation that loves to dance again. I mean, I think we went away from dancing to just pointing at a dj, but I see people loving to dance again, loving to be a part of it.

Crystal Waters: I mean, I’m doing festivals with, you know, tens of thousands of people. And they like being underground. I, so I, I still see it thriving. I’m sure there’s always a new genre open. We got now we got 10 different genres of house music, so there’s something for everybody and I’m, so, I’m sure there’s going to be more.

Crystal Waters: I will still like to see more, I see more of the white headliners though, more than I do of the black headliners. So I would, I would like to see more. It doesn’t make any sense to me why some of. The white headlines are making so much more money than the people who created it.

Eddie Robinson: What’s behind that Crystal?

Crystal Waters: It’s the gentrification. It’s um, the, the white labels will pick up, uh, David Guetta and put some money behind them. Cause there’s plenty of black DJs out there. You know, I can’t say it’s all the race card, but if that’s what it looks like, a lot of the DJs aren’t playing vocals anymore because they don’t know how to mix a vocal.

Crystal Waters: So you know why they’re getting paid more than people who know how to mix vocals, who really know how to, you know, to mix a song and make it creative. Hopefully there’s a future in that someone, you know, doing something about that and hopefully get seen and heard and talked about.

Eddie Robinson: Of all the accolades. And the awards, the ups and downs, Crystal Waters that you’ve experienced, the multi-platinum status that you’ve gained. What lessons have you learned about yourself thus far?

Crystal Waters: I learned a lot about myself to be authentic, not try to, when I say that, that’s, give you an example. I have a record label telling you to come and do a pop song when that’s not who I am.

Crystal Waters: Stuff like that. Have to really just be myself and, and I don’t wanna be cliche, but not listen to what other people say. You gotta love yourself and be happy with yourself. Feel excellent within yourself. That’s one of the things, one of my affirmations now being feeling excellent within myself and being happy with who I am and make sure I do everything that.

Crystal Waters: Plays into that, you know, so that’s something I, you know, I’ve been learning about myself. I do a lot of spiritual work, a lot of affirmations and meditation and stuff. So, you know, I’m, I’m kind of into that all day long, every day. I, I love where I am right now. I think that’s what I’ve learned about myself the most.

Eddie Robinson: Have you ever thought about going back to that easy listening Sade sound, that soothing, silky sort of vibe?

Crystal Waters: I have, I’m, I’m, yep. I, you know, I actually started a jazz album I never finished, but, but on this project, but on this project, we, we, we, so far, we’ve got two, I’ve got two straight up jazz vocals.

Crystal Waters: I redid, um, Strange Fruit with a nice Jersey house mix underneath of it. I’m sure you would understand that.

Eddie Robinson: Interesting.

Crystal Waters: And I did another one, um, another, um, track. I won’t say what it is. So, yeah. Uh, my whole idea was, is still to straight up in your face, put um, some jazz vocals over, some dance beats on a couple of tracks.

Eddie Robinson: Yeah.

Crystal Waters: Not the whole album, but Yeah.

Eddie Robinson: Yeah. Well, tell us more about your track. I gave you the world, you know, we can kind of get some more insight on, you know, the newer material that we can actually be looking out for as relates to the, the, the newer project, the new material that we should be.

Crystal Waters: Um, yeah. Okay. I, I have three releases. Let’s go back to

Eddie Robinson: Oh,

Crystal Waters: love one another.

Eddie Robinson: Love one another. Okay.

Crystal Waters: I did was Soul Central and the latest remix, uh, Robin S., heard this song and she loved it. She said, Crystal, I want to be on this track. So we brought her up in the studio. So on this latest release, Robin Vocal was on the lead and on the first release, I’m on the lead, she’s background and we’ve.

Crystal Waters: Pushed it up. That’s a really cool drive.

Eddie Robinson: Sweet.

Crystal Waters: Um, the other track is, um, to Beloved, which I did with David Anthony and I did that. We released that and I got a call from David Morales. He was like, Crystal, I gotta mix this. I love this song. He did the New York accent. I gotta mix this.

Crystal Waters: Him and Todd Terry. I was like, you know, this is a dream come true. You know how hard that would’ve been to get them on the same song back in the day.

Eddie Robinson: Interesting.

Crystal Waters: So that’s the part three. It’s a really beautiful song. He’s getting ready to go to the charts to be love.

Crystal Waters: And then the third one is gave You The World, which I did with Flash mob. He’s an Italian dj, part of the Defective Family. It was released last fall, but uh, the Milk and Sugar did this fantastic remix. See in dance music you can release whenever you want. And

Eddie Robinson: oh,

Crystal Waters: they did this re we have freedom now. So, um,

Eddie Robinson: I see that

Crystal Waters: they did this really fierce remix, so they wanted to release that.

Crystal Waters: And I’m like, you know, and I have a couple, I call ’em babies. I write songs with, with producers and I never know when they’re coming and I hand them in.

Eddie Robinson: Yeah.

Crystal Waters: I, you know, I produce my own vocal so I don’t have to worry about them sounding horrible.

Crystal Waters: And I never know when they’re gonna release it, cuz you know. You know, it’s, there’s not any restraints anymore like it used to be back in the day, so I never know when one’s gonna pop up. One of my babies are gonna pop out.

Eddie Robinson: This is I SEE U, I’m your host Eddie Robinson, chatting with singer-songwriter and multi-platinum artist Crystal Waters. You, you’re a legend. You know, you’re a, you’re a, you’re a pioneer and an innovator within this genre and. I wonder sometimes if, whether or not you’re, you know, you’re, you’re cool with some of these flyby night artists that pop in.

Eddie Robinson: We, you know, and then they, you know, they may have a little, you know, flash of popularity, but we don’t hear from them anymore.

Crystal Waters: I always tell when we, I do a shows with a lot of these people to come in and out. You never know. I said, you never know who you’re gonna meet. So always be nice if some of ’em come in with the attitudes and all that go.

Crystal Waters: I’m like, okay, but you, you like, I remember, I remember one time NSYNC Open for me. So it goes both ways. You know, you always have to be nice and you know, you see a lot of people, a lot of people I see that you don’t see the next day is because they shoot themselves in their foot. The ego is in charge and you know, they’re not pleasant to work with.

Crystal Waters: They want this, they want that. It’s a lot of, it’s their own undoing. It’s not even about the talent. I know plenty of people who sing 20 times better than I do, who multi talented, can’t get a hit, can’t, can’t buy a hit. You know what I mean? So it is asked a little bit more to do than with talent. You know,

Eddie Robinson: I’ve noticed that you, you, you do a lot of international, uh, touring and whatnot. Do you notice there’s a difference in the acceptance level of house music?

Crystal Waters: Yeah. House music is the radio of the pop music over there. They appreciate, they love it,

Eddie Robinson: but here in the states it’s different, right?

Crystal Waters: I mean, yeah, they don’t, well, you have to understand. Overseas they don’t have any rules about radio.

Crystal Waters: Well, there are rules about radio that you have to play a certain amount of. I would say non-major artists. Hmm. I can’t remember the wording of it, but here, you know, we have PA Payola still going on. You gotta have $150,000 to get a song on the radio overseas. You have to pay.

Eddie Robinson: Payola is still going on.

Crystal Waters: Yeah. Yeah. Don’t even get into that. But overseas they have rules where you have to, you have to play a certain amount of artists who aren’t in that, that, that, on a major label, I can’t remember the exact wording. So it’s a, it’s a lot fairer, easier to get on the radio and a lot of these people who are, who are the DJs get a lot more say of what’s played.

Crystal Waters: And, you know, they always love Black music and it’s, some house music is treated like fine wine. You know, they, it has to be the right taste and the right, right atmosphere and uh, so they take it very seriously.

Eddie Robinson: Do you think that dynamic would ever occur here in the states where

Eddie Robinson: you have,

Crystal Waters: Not the way radio was set up in, major labels are set up.

Crystal Waters: You can’t get on the radio if you’re not on a major label. If you do, it’s because it’s a really, really big hit. You know, it’s really, or it’s come from overseas. Like a lot of the dance stuff that gets on the radio here has started overseas and done so majorly well overseas. Like you have Sony records overseas or put dance music on the radio.

Crystal Waters: So if it does good over there, then Sony over here will pick it up and then they’ll get, but other than that,

Eddie Robinson: what can break that mold Crystal? What, what do you think can break that? Can, can destroy that paradigm? No, I’m serious cuz I feel like this is something that if we heard more of your new material, your new mixes in daily programming, commercial radio as airplay

Crystal Waters: Yeah.

Eddie Robinson: It, it would be so much better because we’re, we’re exposed to more. Creativity. I’m tired of hearing, you know, 10 songs over and over and over.

Crystal Waters: I think they took it down to 28. They’re only, they’re only allowed to have 28 in rotation. I’ll say 31. I don’t remember. So you only have, that’s all they’re playing is the same.

Crystal Waters: 31 and more. You gotta get up higher and higher to you the number one. How you stop this? I don’t know. Cause I, I see it growing cause now that the major labels have bought up Spotify, he used to be able to get on a Spotify play. Now that they own most of Spotify, it’s very hard to even get on the playlist now unless you got some money.

Crystal Waters: I don’t know how to stop it. That’s a good question. You can talk about it, but a lot of people, a lot of artists won’t talk about it cause they’re afraid their songs won’t get played. So you won’t see Nicki Minaj and anybody else talking about that. They will threaten you and not play your music. They’ll take you right off.

Crystal Waters: I mean, that’s why they get some of us, us legacy artists to come up. They’re not gonna play us anyway, to go and talk about it. And you know, as you know, I’ve, I’ve, I’ve walked on Capitol Hill trying to get paid, it’s called PPL Money.

Eddie Robinson: Yes.

Crystal Waters: Whereas overseas, whenever you hear my voice, I get, say you’re an announcer.

Crystal Waters: Whenever your voice, they hear your voice, you get paid. So overseas, whenever you hear my voice, I get paid. The radio here in America, they don’t pay. It’s only America, China, and Iran that don’t pay into, um, the P P L monies. Frank Sinatra started this fight back in the sixties to try to get radio stations to pay p p l money, and I’ve gone up to Capitol Hill a couple times to talk to people.

Crystal Waters: It’s back up there on, on the board again now.

Eddie Robinson: Okay,

Crystal Waters: so hopefully that battle will get won.

Eddie Robinson: She’s remarkable renowned. Courageous innovator, pioneer. Her name is Crystal Waters. Thank you so much for being vulnerable, being open and honest, and being a guest right here on I SEE U.

Crystal Waters: Thank you, Eddie. You were wonderful. Thank you for the interview.

Eddie Robinson: Our team includes technical director, Todd Hulslander, producer Laura Walker, editors Mark De Claudio, and Jonmitchell Goode. I SEE U is a production of Houston Public Media. Follow us on Instagram and Twitter and subscribe to our podcast wherever you listen and download your favorite shows. I’m your host and executive producer, Eddie Robinson, and I feel you. We hear you. I SEE U. Thanks so much for listening. Until next time.


This article is part of the podcast I SEE U with Eddie Robinson

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Eddie Robinson

Eddie Robinson

Executive Producer & Host, I SEE U

A native of Mississippi, Eddie started his radio career as a 10th grader, working as a music jock for a 100,000-Watt (Pop) FM station and a Country AM station simultaneously. While Mississippi Governor Ray Mabus had nominated him for the U.S. Naval Academy in 1991, Eddie had an extreme passion...

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