Rarely nowadays is there an artist or a song that really sticks in the minds of hip-hop heads worldwide. I know as you read this you know exactly where you were when you first heard “T.R.O.Y.”. I was sitting on the couch in my basement at the tender age of 15 watching Dee Barns on the short lived video show “Pump It Up”. It’s now 14 years later and I just turned 29, yet one of the legends of the game is still out there and relevant. That legend is CL Smooth. “American Me” is his debut solo album and drops October 17th on Shaman Works. I got a chance to delve into the mind of CL Smooth and find what he has been doing these last 10 years. Though he has made several guest shots on various projects, it’s time for that voice to speak out and bring hip-hop back. As he said “it’s not older, it’s better”
What’s been going on?
I have a great, great project coming out, “American Me” which is the first solo album from CL Smooth. I’m very excited and very blessed.
I just have to say it’s a real honor for me to interview a legend, but I have to ask, where have you been?
The pleasure is all mine. I have just been taking time off and to build things beyond the music. There was a time where I didn’t like where I was. Instead of chasing a dollar I wanted to get my mind right and see what I wanted to do and maintain a certain lifestyle that I want to live. Overall, just rekindle a new love for the music.
How does it feel to be considered a legend in hip-hop?
I feel honored. If you work hard for something you shouldn’t have to always fight against it or feel that it is a negative stigma. I would love to carry that torch and be a legend. First of all I’m always getting called old school now, it’s going to take some time to get used to that. To be called a legend in the same breath it kind of just balances out.
The question on everybody’s mind is, will Pete Rock be on the album, have you guys been working together or is it truly finished?
I try to take the positive route. I did a great song, like I have always done for one of his projects. There was one in particular called “Love Thing” that I felt that didn’t get it’s just due. I wanted to put it together with other great songs rather than on a compilation album and make it a part of something that is special, and rightfully it should be. I think once I took that song and put it on my album and made it a part of other great songs with other great producers it really showed what the people were missing. It’s not their fault that it’s not an entity that is there and valid, but I wanted to give them the opportunity to get something of that type of caliber of record on the album. Hopefully this will open the eyes of the public to see that CL, regardless of who is with him, you will always get great music.
The album is called “American Me” and it drops on October 31st?
Now you’re signed to Shaman Works as an artist?
It was really a joint venture; I’m not really an artist on the label but just a great business deal. I take home a nice share of the profit and the percentages are in my favor. It’s a great opportunity to keep my masters and I wanted to keep that moving because business is important to me.
Your initial offering was “Warm Outside”, about a year or so ago, how have you been received by the fans since?
I feel the buzz has really been growing. Compare this year to last year it’s a much bigger buzz. People have appreciated the natural buzz that I have been building. The buzz isn’t industry formulated or some elaborate marketing plan. It’s clearly from going out of your trunk and building your own thing, your own movement, and your own rapport with the people.
Do you feel you are coming back, or you never really left?
I definitely feel like I am coming back and I definitely left, and I left for a reason, so people could miss me and appreciate good music. You never stop learning. That’s what I had to do, take a step back and learn, go back to school and get naturally rebuilt. I had to get some good people around me and make sure that my team is strong and my circle is strong. It’s benefiting me right now.
What do you feel you bring to hip-hop in 2006?
I feel like I am bringing a level of maturity, nobody stays young forever and time waits for no man. I want to build a great thing where if you decide to pull up your pants one day, you can do that…
….while maintaining that street credibility and that street love and to stand up a say I’m a man and I can do that. There are certain things that you grow out of eventually. You have to create a medium for that and an audience for that so young people aren’t afraid to grow up. That is our problem right now in music that we are getting all this money but we are not growing up. We aren’t showing that we have any class with money, we just have money.
We have been told that this album is going to be a rawer more street CL Smooth, how do you think the public will take that?
I think the public always wanted me to go right at it and be competitive. They didn’t want me to lollygag and sit there and lullaby this to death. They wanted me to do things that I am capable of doing. They wanted me to live the soundtrack to the streets that I was blessed to be a part of. They wanted me to do that “Death Becomes You” or that “One in a Million”. They wanted me to do that “Down With the King”, that energy, that position, that right of passage where he’s not passive. He’s being smooth, but he’s also being direct and candid about his life. Going from grandma’s couch and losing your house and your car to having 10 times more.
So the album tells the story of what has been going on since you left the game?
It gives an inside look, not where you are in my business but gives you an idea of the experiences that I have been through. Those experiences have so much familiarity no matter what level of life you are on.
The newest single is “American Me”, who produced that one?
It’s produced by Arsonist of the Heatmakers.
Why not go with a more high profile producer for your first official single?
First of all it’s a great great track; it’s a BB King track. At that time I always wanted to perform at BB Kings and that would be my coming out party. Arsonist has a great ear for music and a great creativity for music. It has a balance of underground and mainstream, it has a political message that I wanted to bring to it. The first time I heard it, it brought out a lot of creative juices and I felt that people need that side of me, as a creative artist.
Can you tell us a little about the forthcoming album “American Me”? Will there be featured guests and who is producing for you?
I wanted to bring it back to a time where artists do their own work. A lot of times I go to shows where big artists perform with other big artists and when it’s time to do their music only half the music people are there to hear the biggest record of the artist’s project. I built my reputation and my career off one producer. The producers are the features to me on the album. That is how I wanted to attack it creatively. Personally I wanted to work with the people that wanted to work with me, and wanted me to win. It wasn’t about the name and to go get the names and pay all this money for a track and what not. It was about the people who wanted to work with me and know the history of where you are coming from and what you can build together.
Are you going to be touring and really trying to get back out there and connect with the fans for this release?
The tour will most likely start sometime in October. I have been doing a lot of stuff in the states, festivals and such. I was overseas for a while and did some stuff in Italy. That’s where I got a couple of producers. Squatter who is a part of the 159 All-Stars who is a platinum producer over there did “CL Smooth Unplugged” which has a jazzy feel and a real live band feel and came out real nice. I wanted to do a little something different but keep that core CL Smooth. It’s like “Mecca and the Soul Brother” slash “Main Ingredient”, “All Souled Out” with that 2006 formula to it. It’s not older it’s just better.
I’m starting to ask this question a lot, so I’ll pose it you. In 2006 which do you feel is more important, beats or rhymes.
When I first started clearly it was beats. Pete Rock’s reputation by far exceeded mine. What I had was a face and a voice. It wasn’t in a time where people where really listening to lyrics they were listening to the beats and the beats made them listen to the lyrics. Now it’s a role reversal and people want to know what you are saying, if you are not saying anything then they are not listening to your beats. Right now I’m right where I want to be lyrically and how artistic I am at formulating my songs and putting them together.
So would you sign with a major again?
I would if my splits are the same as now and getting the same respect as I am now. If I had the creative freedom to do what I want to do and create what I want to create, I would. It’s a bigger stage and a bigger opportunity for me to be heard all around the world. Though the underground art is highly respected let’s not forget CL Smooth is a mainstream artist.
We hope that this is just the beginning of a new Chapter in the book called CL Smooth, any last words?
I appreciate everybody for their patience and I want to be invited out there for a show. I want to be out there doing a few shows and giving the people a chance to look at my showcase and see how valid I am to take the position of being the King of Hip-Hop.
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