Latin Caribbean singer, songwriter and producer Cruz Rock is a man on a mission. And that mission is to promote soca in the Latin world.
The singer of hits Like This and Be Mine with Jamaican dancehall king Beenie Man explained the mission is tied to his mixed parentage. Rock, real name Frankie Garcia, is the child of a Trinidadian mother and a Puerto Rican father and was born and raised on the island of Saint Croix, US Virgin Islands.
His grandfather was a Trinidadian electrician from San Fernando and in the early 1970s, he and other Trinis went to Saint Croix to help run the oil plant. He eventually sent for Rock's grandmothers, mother and her sisters when his mother was 15 years old.
"My mom spent most of her childhood in Trinidad. And she is a straight-up Trini. She talks like a Trini, she eats like a Trini, everything she does is Trini."
And how was it growing up in St Croix? Rock said it was a small island but very diverse.
"A lot of different people come to get citizenship. It is like being in America but on an island."
He said the Trini influence on the Virgin Islands is very heavy as well as the Puerto Rican influence. He recalled growing up was a culture shock as people knew very little about Trinidadians and as a half-Trinidadian, half-Puerto Rican they would ask him questions.
"(They would ask) 'what I was'? 'Why I look the way I look?' I was different from everyone else. It had its ups and its downs. There were times kids would pick on you."
He recalled as he got older and people matured they learned to embrace the Trini culture.
"They especially loved soca and calypso. People embraced the Trini vibes."
And speaking of Trini vibes, did Rock grow up with Trini music being played at home? He said his mother is Indian and would play traditional Indian music and chutney.
"Once in a while, you would hear Sparrow or Kitchener."
And Rock recalled loving the traditional Indian music.
"I was always closer to the Trini side. I'm a mama's boy. I love everything about my mom. I love roti. I was a fat little kid. I could not stop eating roti, curry goat and dhal and rice."
Rock also had music influences from his Puerto Rican side. He is named after American salsa singer Frankie Ruiz, his father plays keyboards in a salsa band, his sister is a singer, he has a brother who is a drummer and he has a brother who is a deejay.
"Music runs in the family."
From the age of five, he began learning to play instruments, namely keyboards from his father, drums from his uncle, and some guitar as well.
"At first I was not into it. I would just do it for fun."
A journey into sound
Rock's said he was always multi-talented, being involved in the visual arts, namely drawing and painting, and also sports. At one point he wanted to go to the NBA.
"I wanted to do everything. My imagination was just running wild. I felt inside I was supposed to be something great. And beyond just what people (said I should be)."
He said his family on the Trini side are all engineers, electricians and chemists and they were pushing him to be an engineer and get a job in oil like his grandfather.
"But I always felt there was something different in me."
Nevertheless, he went to school to be an engineer and studied industrial design at the Columbus College Art and Design in Columbus, Ohio, and at art school, he met a lot of multi-talented people like himself.
"If they paint they would also be dancers, or if not dancers singers. But they were still visual artists. And in school, we all fed off each other's energy."
And he discovered becoming an engineer was not for him.
"I told my mom one day that it just wasn't me. I am not like everyone else. I am a free-spirited artist, not a numbers guy."
He decided to go into the entertainment industry and when he left school he got a job at MTV's pan-Caribbean television channel Tempo as their head graphic designer.
During his time at Tempo, he received exposure to the music industry and had the opportunity to meet a lot of Caribbean artists.
"The moment I landed the job at Tempo I thought 'This has to be a sign.' I got a degree in one thing and jumped into entertainment and I was surrounded by artists I looked up to all my life. It was definitely a turning point."
From reggae to soca
Rock began fully pursuing his music career. He began with reggae, which is one of his first loves, and released his first album Temperature Rise in 2011. He also won number one Break Out Caribbean Artist in L3 Magazine, a Caribbean-Urban publication from North America.
"It started to solidify the dream and thoughts being something big in entertainment."
In 2014 he found success with the song, In the Spirit, featuring reggae legend Akae Beka better known as Midnite. In 2015 he released his sophomore album Soul Rebel which he described as an experimental kind of album.
"I was dipping more into the reggae world."
Rock recalled when he first started making music he did not have any direction and began searching for who he was as an artist.
"Even though when I look in the mirror I knew what I was looking at, I felt people weren't accepting who I was. Being mixed, one side was saying 'do Latin' while the other side was saying 'be a Trini'. Being from the Virgin Islands they said 'do reggae' because that's what we do. It was like a tug of war.
"Only now in my career, I can just be me."
He began doing Latin music and he was "super successful."
"It got calls from all over the world. The music started to really take off."
He describes his music now as a blend of Latin and soca, though it is not traditional soca. He explained his recent song Toa Toa, which features Amara La Negra from reality show Love and Hip Hop, is a "melting pot" with a little bit of soca, dancehall and dembow/reggaeton. He plans to release a video for Toa Toa before the end of the year.
Rock has also been reaching out to TT artists and has received a couple of responses.
"I love Patrice (Roberts) and of course, Machel. I would love to do a song with Machel. Bunji as well. I opened up a couple shows for him. Kerwyn as well. Kes. I have a whole list. I love all of the music. I definitely looking forward to working with them. Hopefully, they are receptive to what I am doing to bring Trini music in the Latin world. So many dancehall artists get love, it's time for Trini artists to get love as well."
And how have Latin audiences responded to his attempts to introduce soca?
"They love soca. Dancehall is more traditional amongst Latin crowds while soca is still in the building stages in terms of worldwide recognition."
He recalled his 2020 soca song Sabrosa received great reception and his team shot the video in Colombia.
"They love the sound over there."
On the tone of his music, Rock said it is very fun and upbeat.
"I like to make fun music. I like things bright. (And) I like to sing things for women, a lot of smooth music as well. When I do reggae I talk about positive things, the whole rasta culture, and the whole Caribbean vibe. And I try to keep it diverse as well."
In 2019 he was nominated for Best New International Artist in the Luna Latin Music Awards which took place in Colombia after creating a string of Latin hits that put him on tour in South America and the Dominican Republic. The South American tour included Colombia, Panama, Ecuador and Peru. Rock said the audiences are used to Latin music but hearing someone from the Caribbean doing Latin music was intriguing to them.
Rock said wherever he goes he wants to carry the Trini flag.
"When people hear 'Caribbean', they always think Jamaica. I want to carry the flag into these places and inform them about TT music and the culture as well."
His music has been featured on airlines such as Air Austral and the 2019 Puerto Rican comedy film Los Domirriqueños 2.
In 2020 Rock released his song Be Mine, which is a collaboration with Jamaican dancehall icon Beenie Man. He recalled that during his South American tour he realised they listened to a lot of old-school dancehall music.
"We started to dissect the music and said, 'let's remake something from back in the day.'"
They discovered the Buy Out Riddim from 2001 and did a remake of it. He sent it to his manager and he was "blown away" by it. His manager suggested they send it to Beenie Man.
"The first time Beenie heard it and he loved it."
They shot the video in Jamaica and Rock said Beenie Man appreciated him as a Latino coming to his country for the filming.
"He was wonderful. He is one of my good friends now."
He expressed hope that as things ease up with the pandemic restrictions he would be able to perform with Beenie Man.
And speaking of collaborations, Rock is also hopeful of collaborating with artists with Trini roots like Cardi B and Nicki Minaj. He would also like to collaborate with Rihanna, Jay-Z and Nas.
"The sky's the limit."
Rock said his end goal is to win a Grammy, either a Latin Grammy or the regular Grammys.
"Either one would be great."
He would also like to sell out Madison Square Garden in New York, a feat which he has seen Machel Montano perform.
He took the opportunity to shout out "the whole of Trinidad" and all of his Trini friends who live abroad. He said he does not know most of his family who lives in Trinidad.
"If you see this and you're a Jagroop from San Fernando, link up."
With all his passion for TT one would assume he is a frequent visitor to the country, but Rock said he has only been to Trinidad once when he was a child.
"I don't remember too much. But it was a wonderful experience. We went to San Fernando."
He expressed hope that his planned collaborations with TT artists would lead to him visiting Trinidad more often.
On his music, Rock said he has taken a step back from making albums.
"I am more trying to find myself and making music I feel represents me."
He is currently working on his EP (short album) and it will include Be Mine, Toa Toa, and his most recent song Like This, featuring American singer LV The Artist, which recently hit a million streams. He is planning to drop the EP next year and said it will feature a couple of big-name Trinidad artists.
"I will not drop it until I get some Trini on there to get some sauce."
Rock also sent a "big up" to all his new fans and asked them to look him up.
"And enjoy the process as I transition and try to bring Trini to the Latin world."
For more info on the musician, you can check out his website www.cruzrock.com or you can find him on Instagram @cruzrock.