On the Come Up: Chrystel Bagrou
By Jennifer Wilson Walker, ASCAP Membership Coordinator, Rhythm & Soul • March 24, 2020
ASCAP “On the Come Up” chronicles ASCAP’s rising urban songwriters and producers.
Atlanta’s urban music community is full of massive musical talent threatening to burst into the spotlight. ASCAP member Chrystel Bagrou is one of the ATL’s many future icons who’s been making a name for herself recently - both with her own music, and co-writes on the Grammy-nominated Revenge of the Dreamers III comp, from the famed Dreamville collective. As we wait patiently for Bagrou’s next project to drop (she offers some tantalizing details below), we asked her to reflect on her story so far.
Let’s start at the beginning. Where are you from originally?
I was born and raised in Salt Lake City, Utah. My family is from Ivory Coast-- Côte d'Ivoire,
West Africa, and I moved to Atlanta probably almost five years ago now.
Can you tell me little about how your life was in Salt Lake City, some of the things you were doing and what you did for fun?
I always was doing music. Even when I was younger, I danced a lot. I was a pretty avid athlete. I played a lot of sports. Basketball was kind of like the main sport—that and track. I wrote songs for fun.
Did you play any instruments? How long did you play?
Yeah, I played piano. I still play. I don’t play as much. When I was younger I did so many activities and things, and it was hard to choose. I couldn’t do everything, so I ended up stopping piano lessons when I was 12, I think. But I learned enough to still be able to play while I sing.
It sounds like you were super well-rounded as a child with sports and music, and dance. Do you think all of that shaped who you are as a creative?
Definitely. I think that sports shaped my mentality growing up, because I’m pretty competitive with myself. I like to improve… I’m always looking at how I’m doing, how to improve on how I’m doing, how I can get better, how I can one-up myself...
Your family is from Ivory Coast. Did you listen to music that was influenced by the music your family would hear in Africa?
Definitely, especially when I was younger. I always was hearing a lot of West African artists. A lot of artists like Ernesto Djédjé, who’s from the same tribe as my mom is, the Bété tribe. A lot of Congolese rumba, a lot of Senegalese music, too like Youssou N’dour. I was always listening to different music. Not just pop music, but a lot of music where I had no idea what they were saying, but I think that shaped how I listen to music…It shapes a deeper understanding of how music is more about the feeling than it is about the words. I focus on melodies and rhythms, percussion and bass music and Afrobeat and African-influenced music, because of what I was hearing when I was growing up.
In Atlanta, they call people who aren’t originally from here “transplants.” I feel like Atlanta transplants associate their first memories of the city to the music. When you moved here in 2015, what was the hottest song on the radio?
The thing is, my family moved here before I did. I was still in Utah when my family came here, so I was back and forth a little bit before I officially moved here. But I remember getting [to Atlanta] and being so culture shocked with, like, what the heck is going on? It’s so different when you know you have no return flight! What I remember at the time is Migos…I remember “Fight Night” was hot when I started coming here a lot, and “Walk It Talk It.”
Tell me about your grind. You got here. Did you hit the ground running, or did it take a minute to acclimate?
I definitely hit the ground running. The crazy thing is that one of my childhood friend’s [parents] are from Cameroon. When my parents first moved [to Utah] from Ivory Coast, my dad and a couple other mostly French-speaking West Africans started a collective of people, like family. We celebrated birthdays and holidays, and if somebody needed money to go back home, because a relative died, everyone would kind of help ‘em out. It was called Unity.
She actually moved to Atlanta…when she came to school, and we had mutual friends from Utah, she had a friend who was a producer that was working out of Astro Studios. Back then it was called Zac’s. She was like “Yeah, you’ve got to link up.” His name was Marc Rose. He basically became a mentor…He started working with this artist, and was like, “I really like your records. What do you think about writing?” and I was like, “It’s not what I’m really trying to do, but if I can get more studio time, sure. Why not?” After that, more people started to know my name in the city, and it snowballed from there.
The cool thing about Atlanta, especially in music...everybody kind of helps everybody, and it’s really a big community effort.
And then there was Dreamville. How did your involvement with them come about?
I worked with two of the A&Rs that were helping put them together. One is Maine, who still works with Dreamville a little bit. The other is my manager Lucas Helmer, who also works with StreamCut. They were putting it together, and Dreamville told them they wanted some more songwriters. I literally didn’t even mention wanting to go, because I was like, “Why would I be invited?”
The day that everyone started posting their golden tickets…they were like, “Alright. Here’s yours!” And I was like, “What? What do you mean, here’s mine?” and they were like, “You’re going to the Dreamville sessions.” That same night, I went, and we wrote “BUSSIT” with Ari Lennox.
Nice. And you were nominated for a Grammy. Congratulations on that, too. How did it feel?
That was crazy. I remember Maine texted me, “Wake up. You’re Grammy-nominated.” I woke up probably around six, and I read that, and it didn’t register, and I went back to sleep. I was kind of half asleep...then I was like, “Wait. Did I just read that right?” My phone was going crazy…Even after I saw that Dreamville was nominated for Best Rap Album, I still was like, okay. Then about 20 minutes later, I was like, “I was nominated for a Grammy. That’s crazy.” Being Grammy-nominated has always been one of my aspirations.
What’s coming in the future?
Definitely still working. I’ve started wrapping on my first project that’s about to drop next month, called Prey. It’s a three track project. I just shot some live videos for content purposes that are really fire. It’s a conceptual kind of project. I’m on the hook for [Rema’s] new song call, “Beamer…” It’s like the #1 song in Nigeria right now.
I’m working with a production duo called DJDS. They’ve done a lot of stuff with Kanye and Khalid…I’m continuing to work.
Follow Chrystel on Instagram at @chrystelbagrou