If you put your ear to the El Paso earth, a good listener will catch the faint rumble of a desert daisy bashing its way through the surface. The approaching week will see a flower burst into bloom by way of written word wizardry, an upcoming pivotal performance and an ensuing storm of supporters chanting her name.
In the past 7 years, Krystall Poppin’s tectonic career shifts have catapulted her to an unforseen career peak thus far, and recent upheavals have pushed the mountain of her music journey to new heights.
Come May 21, the Latina rapper will shine as bright as the El Paso star in the biggest performance of her hip hop orbit, heating up the stage for headliner Cardi B at the El Paso County Coliseum.
“I still can’t believe it,” Krystall Poppin said of the invitation to perform as the opening act. “To this day, I’m like, is this really happening?”
Krystall, who also goes by KP, was on the Halos and Horns tour with Houston rapper GT Garza when her manager DS Junior got the call from the Cardi B concert promoters. For KP and her team, it could potentially be the climactic moment they’ve been waiting for in their years-long pilgrimage with her music.
“I’m doing everything in my power that I put on the best show possible and that everyone knows who Krystall Poppin is at the end of that show,” she said.
Her Power and its Path
So what is the origin of this Poppin power?
A good chunk of it is siphoned from the unconditional support of her immediate team, long-time manager DS Junior and her DJ, 3AM who have been alongside KP for the majority of her musical path.
That path began in 2012 when the early seeds of hip hop were planted in a young woman named Krystal Garcia, whose poetry channeled its way out one night during a rap cypher at a house party. The words flowed out of her in clean cadence, candidly impressing the audience with the surprise of her verbal ferocity.
Not only was she a female jumping fearlessly into a pit of male lyricists, she was a female that could rap well. With a slight push of inner confidence, Krystal Garcia unknowingly gave birth to her rap career as Krystall Poppin.
Shortly after, KP was approached by a local rap group requesting her vocals for one of their songs. They brought studio equipment to her home, and it was in her bedroom where KP recorded her first track as a rapper with the group. She immediately called in her mom for parental endorsement.
“I asked her, ‘you wanna hear it?’ and she said ok,” KP reminisces with a giant grin. “I put the headphones on her, and I could hear the song starting, and as soon as she heard my voice she started crying. I wanted to cry and I knew at that very moment she supported me.”
And the tears followed from the rest of KP’s family, who has been on board since day one of her life as a musician.
“They probably believed in it more than I did at the moment,” she said. “And I just want to do everything I can to make sure I make it, for them. Because at the end of the day, when I think of my success in my head, it’s not me just in a mansion chillin’ in a jacuzzi. My vision is to have a huge ranch with my whole family living in there, no worries, living our best lives together.”
Over the years, her new creative outlet led her to collaborate with other hungry artists and producers in El Paso, including well-known local group, Live From the Da Corner (LFDC) crew with Tobias Brown and Mikey Cloud. She juggled several performances with LFDC and as an independent artist both locally and nationally, further polishing her naturally infectious stage presence and surging her digital following to thousands.
The early orbit of her career circled around the release of her first full solo project “Starstruck” with SoundStage 9 records in 2016.
She had moved to Las Vegas with DS Junior about a year prior and returned to El Paso to complete the project at McGee Studios. A billboard promoting her album release on I-10 reinforced her tenacity to make it as a rap artist.
“Everyone was excited, they were like, Krystall Poppin, she’s doing this, she’s doing that,” KP said. “All attention was on us.”
Her single, Miss Poppin garnered tens of thousands of views on YouTube, bringing the likes of local celebrities Chuck Debroder and DJ Jonny Kage. To the eyes of her fans, KP was headed to the top with nothing stopping her.
And then she stopped.
It was 2016, not long after the release of “Starstruck” when the sudden disappearance of her visual rap resume became evident on her digital networks. KP was gone, and she would remain in the social media shadows for two years before fans would hear another pop from Miss Poppin.
“After the album released, I realized there was so much that I didn’t know,” she explained. “I just felt that I needed to take the time to really understand what I wanted, what I wanted to do and how I wanted to do it because up until that point I was basically being told what to do.”
KP, though in good hands with producers and immediate supporters, was uncomfortably standing solely on her rapping skillset, with no knowledge of the complexities behind the scenes from recording to management to running her social media.
“This is what I wanted to do my whole life, and I needed to know the ropes, I needed to know what was going on” she said. “So, I decided to take a step back, out of the eyes of the public, so I could find myself, discover who I was and what kind of music I wanted to make, the sound I wanted.”
A spiral of confusion would send KP’s outlook on music to near extinction as internal battles with doubt, identity and homesickness poisoned the once unstoppable desert daisy.
Secrets in Vegas
Curiosity and exploration held together the marrow of KP’s creative spirit amidst her musical enigma. Barely keeping her dimming desire afloat while feeling anchored in the uncertainty of her music direction, she immersed herself into experimental avenues in search of what was missing.
This was a trying moment for her tens of thousands of fans and particularly DS Junior, the hardworking, full-time mastermind behind her explosive image and visual production.
“It was hard for me as a manager because we had already gained so much traction, we had already invested so much of everything” DS said. “The city was loving it, we were doing all this work and it was getting to the point where we were starting to see the fruits of her work.”
Nonetheless, DS Junior fully supported KP’s decision to take a step back, even embracing the unforeseen chasm by joining her creative trials. She dabbled with the bass, learning from teachers on YouTube and began toying with software to produce her own beats. KP also tinkered with a piano and guitar, even stretching her vocals beyond rapping to sing collabs with DS Junior.
Before fully committing as Krystall Poppin’s manager, DS Junior once pursued a music career as a vocalist and collaborator with other local rappers, including Tobias Brown.
A silver lining to KP’s sudden public detachment was the rebirth of his talents, awakening him to form what they call their “secret band.”
“It’s going to come to light someday,” she laughed as she revealed one of the big mysteries behind her cyber silence. “We haven’t performed yet or anything like that, we just made the music, and we have so much music! It’s totally not what you would expect from us, it’s crazy.”
Rap and hip hop were obsolete in the duo’s music venture that experimental year in Las Vegas.
KP was learning how to produce, DS was once again playing instruments; it was the artist play time they never had time for during their “Starstruck” hustle.
“It made me happy to see him in the studio, creating,” KP beamed. “Not only was he creating, he was inventing this sound, and the vocals that I was experimenting with just… felt so good.”
With both their spirits reawakened and refreshed, the idea to road trip across the country in a camper came to light. The conversation was a subtle knock from destiny, as DS Junior later came to realize.
“As we were going through the process of creating all that, I’m looking at my phone’s notes from years before,” DS said. “I find a note from two, three years earlier that said ‘buy an RV, go around the country, make a blog, work on music.’ Whaaat?!”
DS Junior stared at the note in shock, realizing he had planted this very seed himself, and it was now manifesting into reality.
“I just couldn’t believe that we were at this point in time now doing that,” he exclaimed.
As their idea came to life and their vision of a music studio on wheels began to take shape, KP once again began to feel confident in her artistic skin to the point of yearning for her musical roots in hip hop.
“Once we started renovating the RV, I started missing rap,” she said. “I couldn’t leave it alone, so I started writing my raps again and it was crazy because I was sharper. A year of experimenting with the band made me a better rapper.”
Raps and a RV
Two concurrent evolutions – KP’s new music and the RV road trip – matured under wraps through 2017. By the spring of ’18, the story of the “Honey Whip” had gone public for the world to watch on YouTube as Krystall Poppin’, DS Junior and his younger brother Hiram Santoy documented their cross-country tour across 26 cities to meet new people, absorb culture and grow as artists.
“I feel the music I make now, is totally because of the experiences on the road,” KP said of her evolving sound. “My world is so much bigger now, I feel that broadened my vision for my writing as well.”
KP’s credits her storytelling evolution to interactions with strangers, collaborations with new artists and even the rocky times on the road. New, saturated layers of inspiration came from watching others’ creative processes while witnessing the compounding growth of her audience in full support of her journey as the Honey Whip hopped from town to town.
“The craziest thing is just running into people and them just believing in it, me and DS” KP said of her grassroots tour. “When I jumped into it, I believed in it with myall heart and my soul, but meeting others, and them seeing what’s going on saying things like ‘wow, you’re on to something’ it just feels so good.”
The buildup of buzz with their Honey Whip odyssey caught the attention of local media stations and awoke her musically dormant online personality. KP was back full force with what she felt was ripe sound, dropping her first single in 2 years: Timmy Tah.
“We decided to put that one out first because I felt it really displayed the direction I wanted to go in now,” she said of the new music. “It went really well, I think people were really accepting to it.”
The evolved style KP adopted in Timmy Tah may have shaken away some of her older fan base, but the ballooning of her new audience was happening so quickly that it was hardly noticeable.
“It may not be the same as the music she started with,” DS chipped in. “Definitely a new sound, more fresh, more comfortable.”
KP’s musical maturity was palpable across the board. Her smile was brighter, her self-care was evident and her sound was notably sharper. It took the complete severing of her dream to rediscover the fire that led to its inception in the first place. It was by far the best career move for a rising star that was now shooting across the industry sky.
Heads turned during the cross-country cruise on the Honey Whip, which was partially documented on YouTube while the crew awaits potential network interest. KP was approached by rising Houston rapper GT Garza and invited to join his Halos and Horns tour in early 2019, rerouting the Honey Whip’s GPS and bringing on an old comrade from LFDC.
Remember Tobias Brown? An old friend of DS Junior and LFDC member that once shared the vibrant stage energy with KP would rejoin the Krystall Poppin crew as her DJ only weeks after his decision to begin learning the craft.
“When they got the tour going, I had actually just bought my first piece of DJ equipment,” 3AM said. “I told myself, just in case something pops off, and sure enough, something popped off!”
It was a perfect coincidence for 3AM to venture into DJing as the Halos and Horns tour launched. But it almost didn’t happen.
“I told him about the tour, and at first he said no,” DS laughed. “He was going to get some job, but then he called me back and said, ‘let’s go on tour!’”
The connection between the trio is infectiously inspirational. The sequence of events that brought them all to this point in time had been destiny’s meticulous plan all along.
“We already kind of had a little bit of history on stage together, and everything just kind of fell into place,” KP said of her team.
For 3AM, the journey is a no brainer, believing strongly that their connection is purposeful. His profession in film and his own music history pairs well with the creative capacities of DS Junior’s production abilities and KP’s internal fire that lights the way.
“I feel like we’ve got to a point where we have a product where there’s enough people putting time into it, enough dedication that it’s moving,” he said. “We in the front seat with our hands up!”
The KP Chronicles Continue
What’s next for KP and the Honey Whip crew? As the big day hovers over hours-long show practices and heavy promotion, KP, DS Junior and 3AM replenish their spirits at their El Paso homes any chance they get.
Scribbled dates, file stacks and a mountain of memory cards litter DS Junior’s mobile desk backpack. The team buzzes from city to city completing the Halos and Horns tour with intermittent rehearsals for the Cardi B concert coming up May 21.
At the same time, new projects are sprouting in Houston and Atlanta as the name Krystall Poppin’ reverberates off her road trip travels and new music releases.
Stay with us for Part 2 of the KP Chronicles: Life After Cardi B.