We can’t stop watching Atlanta. Spending twenty-something minutes per week spent inside Donald Glover’s masterpiece of a mind just isn’t enough. Hands down, one of our favorite curveball characters to pop up on the show to date has been Austin Crute, aka the Black Justin Bieber, who stole the spotlight on episode 5.
It turns out that the man behind the Black Justin Bieber’s on-screen antics and stereotype-script-flipping has a budding music career all his own. During an email conversation, we caught up with the 20-year-old Crute, who is currently studying abroad in Germany. He tells us how he got his start in music and on television; shares his views on Biebs, Glover, and Atlanta; and hits the Mr. Krabs meme at perfectly timed intervals.
Tell us about Austin Crute. When did you start making music? How did your music career begin?
I started making music around 9 or 10. I wrote my first petty little song around 5 maybe. I grew up in the church so I was always around songwriters and harmonies and such. My father and mother both would sing around the house and stuff. I was so, so shy when I was younger. I could barely look adults in the eye when I was younger. Anybody who knows me would have a hard time believing it, but because of the shyness I was very secretive with my music. Around 10 years old, my childhood best friend, Chandler Brathwaite (who is now my engineer), told me about GarageBand, and I fell in love with the program. I started reproducing my favorite songs and recording with Auto-Tune on full blast, because I was afraid of my own voice. Then I made my first real song, fully produced, fully recorded, at 11 years old. It’s called “Game Over” and it’s still on my iPod ya’ll. Of course, it was low-key garbage. I listen back now and it’s like “Aww this is cute,” but in the context of what I wanted it to be? I die when I listen to it. I got better and better, self-teaching and growing. YouTube wasn’t as much of thing back then, and I had zero patience to sit through a tutorial video, plus, honestly, I’d never thought to look up “how to produce.” I had a good catalogue of songs by 15, and when some notable people heard them, I began to work as a songwriter. Now, I’m releasing my own music and growing even more.
Over the summer, you wrote, produced, and dropped your debut mixtape, Play, which is a blend of pop, hip hop and R&B. But you began your time in the spotlight on the reality show Majors and Minors. Tell us about that.
Okay so I was a participant in a talent convention called AMTC. There I met my then-manager Billy Clark, who worked with The Writing Camp’s Evan Bogart. I flew to LA, met Evan and he began mentoring me. Then I sat down in a meeting with Gary Randall, Evan, and Billy and they wanted me to audition for Evan and Tim Bogart’s new show Majors and Minors, which Gary would be producing. There were 12 kids, 11-17 years old, who were going to compete for an RCA record deal and some amount of money I think. The whole idea was we were going to write our own song by the end of the season and perform it for the prize. And along the way, we were going to be mentored by amazing artists. We were considered the “minors” and our celebrity mentors were the “majors.” I got to meet my idols like will.i.am, Jennifer Hudson, Brandy, Ryan Tedder, Sean Kingston among others. I made some incredible friends, some of who I’m still in contact with to this day. It was a great experience. I got my first publishing deal with BMG/Chrysalis shortly after that, an opportunity that arose from having been on the show. I grew so much as an artist and a person from that experience.
Your talents span across music, film, TV, and musical theater. How do you prioritize your skill set?
I always feel that I am a musician/performer before anything else. I can do musical theatre, but honestly, my passion is not there. I see the passion in so many of my musical theatre friends. The endless amount of names they reference, all the shows they’ve all seen, the songs they know—that’s how you know somebody really loves something. I don’t have that for musical theatre. I love it, but it’s not my lifeblood. Same for film and TV. I really, really like it. But I enjoy the performance aspect of it, more than the art form. I love performing, but even more than that I love music. I could write and produce music for people for the rest of my life, but there’s a special gratification I get from being the face of the music I create. I’d say I’m a songwriter first, then singer, performer, producer, and actor in that order. No hierarchy, per say, but…preference, I guess.
How did you end up on Atlanta?
I auditioned like everyone else. I went in, I read the script, I even sang a short section of this song from Majors and Minors called “Anything.” If I remember correctly, I was sent the whole script for the episode with the sides. But between school and auditioning, I didn’t have time to read the entire script for the episode, so I had no real context as to what I was doing or who I was. I think in the end that helped for whatever reason. Maybe because I was more focused on getting the personality across than sitting there asking “actor questions” like “Okay, what’s my motivation?” and all that stuff. I honestly feel like sometimes that stuff can get in the way, it’s not that big all the time.
What, if anything, has changed for you since episode 5 of Atlanta debuted?
Well, I have gotten a lot more press for my personal artistry which has been great. I’ve gotten more offers and opportunities and some notable people have reached out to me. I’m riding the wave.
What are your thoughts on Justin Bieber?
I love Justin Bieber. I defended him when everybody spoke dirt on him because his voice hadn’t changed yet back in two-thousand-whatever. People who were literally in the 6th grade with me would say, “He sounds like a girl,” and I was like, “Trick, please. Literally do you hear yourself? We’re in chorus together you sound like a female also, we can all attest.” His music is dope, his brand is dope, I’ve always appreciated him. I’m a fan.
What’s your favorite Justin Bieber song?
*Mr. Krabs meme* That’s loaded…I think Journals was a great album. Dang, one song? For any artist that’s a lot. Hmm…I mean he’s evolved so much as an artist that, like, picking one song from one era…We all love the hits. So let me just narrow it down to “Hold Tight,” “Love Me Like You Do,” and “I’ll Show You.” I will say “Recovery” and “Confident” are two of his slept-on gems. I sound like a JB connoisseur or something, but what can I say, I’m a fan.
Do you prefer Donald Glover’s music or his acting?
Well I feel like it’s not fair for me because I haven’t spent enough time with his music to say one’s better than the other. I see him as this, like, machine that just writes shows and makes music and, if necessary, he’s a character in whatever story he’s trying to tell. He’s a storyteller. Do I like it better when he tells stories this way than that way? I don’t know. I just like it when he tells stories.
Who are your top 5 rappers?
*Mr. Krabs meme* OK, my upbringing was different than a lot of other black kids. Me being a pastor’s kid and all, and being introduced to real hip-hop a little later than the average dude, I’m going to say I’m still working on that list. I don’t have the knowledge, the experience, the wisdom, the historical context, the everything to bring my lips to form the answer that question quite yet. I’mma have to get back to the world on that one.
Who’s your favorite artist from Atlanta?
Future, right now. He’s so dope.
Growing up in Atlanta, how have you seen it change?
It was always a popping place to be you know? Like, all the movements I’ve come to love and the shifts in hip-hop and all that stemmed from Atlanta. I’ve always been so proud of Atlanta ‘cause we’ve always had the hits. Since us being popping and defining a huge part of American and black culture for generations hasn’t changed, I think a notable change is how clean it’s gotten. I feel like Atlanta has gotten so much more aesthetically pleasing in the last few years. And so many films are being shot here now. Everything shoots in Atlanta now. Just another reason we poppin’.
What’s your favorite album of 2016?
2016 isn’t over, can’t even answer this yet. I will say I’m listening to Ty Dolla $ign’s Campaign at the moment and good Lord, that is the most slept-on album of 2016.
What’s next for Austin Crute?
I am working on my next mixtape now. I’ve been studying abroad in Germany this semester and Europe is adding a lot to my global palette. Deutschland will release early 2017. You guys are the first to know its name. As far as acting, I plan to do more musical theatre and film, but it’s too premature to say what’s in the works now. Keep up with me on austincrute.com. I’m looking forward to showing everyone what’s up my sleeve.