The Alabama rapper opens up...
Blurring the lines between many notable genres with his woozy and charismatic sound is *Clever*, the multitalented artist whose fearless attitude and distinct blend has caught the eyes of many across the globe. Although the mysterious figure may be fairly new to your ears, his impeccable pen game is behind some boast-worthy records from Snoop Dog, Mobb Deep, Ice Cube, and many more. Not to mention features on Justin Bieber’s album ‘Changes’ to his break-out appearance on Juice WRLD’s ‘Death Race For Love’ album – the list really does go on.
From starting out as a poet, to kicking ass in Battle Raps in the suburbs of Alabama, he is now signed to Post Malone’s label Posty Co. whereby he recently dropped his debut album ‘Crazy’ that enabled his intricate thought process and attention to detail take centre stage throughout.
Spread across 13 tracks that are each filled with hidden messages and quirky ideas – one of which being that it’s in sync with Tim Burton’s film ‘The Nightmare Before Christmas’, Clever really has created a lane of his own that separates him from the rest.
For a debut album, the Alabama native pulled out all the stops for this one with guest appearances from several huge names including Lil Wayne, Chris Brown, Lil Baby, Post Malone, Juice WRLD and Isaiah Lyric - this conceptual body of work is a key turning point in what’s looking like a very successful career ahead.
Following the release of his debut album 'Crazy', Clash got the chance to catch up with him over the now classic covid-friendly space of Zoom to speak about all thing’s music, the impact Juice WRLD had on him and much more.
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*I don’t know what its like for you in regard to lockdown where you are, but how have you been finding it?*
I’m in Alabama and we’re already going back to the stores without masks on. The bigger cities may be a little stricter, but I do a lot of travelling as well so going to LA is definitely crazy! But I am in a small town with nobody in it (laughs) - so we are back too normal over here!
*I read that you started writing poetry when you were younger, and this was how your journey into music had started. How did this transition from poetry to music happen?*
Well, I think poetry and music are very similar! There is a lot of rhyming, it’s trying to get emotional and striking a chord. Being encouraged from a young age for my skills in regard to writing poetry really gave me a lot of confidence when it came to writing in the future. Every English or Literature class I took, I already felt like I had excelled in some of those departments when it came to writing essays or poems.
When it came to lyrics, I started by reading some that a buddy of mine was listening to that was in a CD insert and I thought “Wow! This is garbage!” (laughs) I wanted to out-write that person! I was big on music from a young age, I used to sing in Church so when I saw the opportunity to write some stuff, I took it and started adding melodies to my poetry - I still look at it like that today! A lot of my songs are poetic to a degree, little by little I attempted to write songs and make it more Hip-Hop which is a little easier in comparison to writing a melody to the song. Nowadays, most Hip-Hop has melody to it, I used to think singing was corny, slowly but surely it took over my music!
*What kind of artists did you grow up listening to?*
My mother used to listen to Earth, Wind & Fire, Kool & the Gang and people like that. My father listened to Led Zeppelin and Lynyrd Skynyrd, I think you can hear my Hip-Hop and Rock roots in my music from my parents growing up. As a youngster, I listened to Jay-Z, I am a huge fan of him; I love his delivery, wordplay, and rhyme schemes. Lyrically, if Robert Plant and Jay-Z had a baby, abandoned it in a dumpster somewhere and it took them a long time to get where they were going, that would be me! (laughs)
*Did you used to take your time and study music?*
Absolutely! Jay-Z had an album called ‘The Blueprint’ that really inspired me. I don’t know if I would write down his lyrics, but I memorized a lot of his records, his cadence poured over into my music. Melodically, I was inspired by Robert Plant or maybe even Rod Stewart who has a very distinct vocal and when you hear him on the radio you know that it’s him. That’s what I thought music should be, something that was distinct and sets you apart from everyone else but at the same time, it has elements from other inspirations, you know.
*How did your artist name come about?*
I used to battle rap, that’s how I started out! From poetry to writing music, I immediately jumped into battle rapping locally around the age of 14. At the time, I was going by my last name and I ended up in a battle rap, this guy kept coming at me saying that he was going to take the ‘W’ from me, which is a win, so I was countering him and saying that I would give him the ‘L’ [loss]. I ended up saying “You can call me ‘Clever’ because I won’t see an 'L' ever” and after the show, somebody came up to me and said, “Did you say your name was Clever?” and I couldn’t figure out why he thought so, he explained it to me, and I thought that’s a pretty good story to tell if I’m ever asked about my name! I was 14, it wasn’t too early to change it and it was fitting for an artist who was trying to be witty lyrically.
From that point, I’ve always been called Clever – “Never fear, Clever is here!” (laughs).
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*Would you ever go back to battle rapping?*
Absolutely! I was a 106 & Park Freestyle Friday champion on BET, I did some Spring Bling competitions and when I was 16, I was noticed by a DJ and he put me on his show to take calls where I would battle rap people live on the air – I have a lot of that in me! Honestly, I would love to sit and spar with someone, but some of my favourite rappers like Jay-Z and Nas would go back and forth on a record and I could definitely see myself going bar for bar. There are a lot of rappers who are popping right now that I could eat alphabet soup and sh*t better lyrics than some of them! (laughs) I’m open, if you want to battle then we can do this! I’m not scared of anybody so if I’m not the best at it, then you can convince me otherwise. (laughs)
*That’s the energy that we like to hear! I read that you wrote for several big names like Snoop Dog. Was that before you stepped out as your own artist?*
No, I had put out a lot of stuff beforehand and built up a buzz around my hometown and different surrounding cities. However, I got into a bad deal out in LA and was stuck in it for around four to five years, during that time the woman that would become my manager today was a talent scout at the time and was telling me to come out there.
I was crashing on her couch and living from cups of noodles and really struggling. During that time frame, I decided to write songs for other people as a means of networking and trying to make ends meet. - Songwriting kind of forced itself on me, I was going to be in the music industry one way or another if it didn’t work out being an artist. Coming from a poetic background, doing battle rapping and doing my own music, there wasn’t any type of music that I couldn’t write so I started pitching a few songs for the people I ended up writing for, from Snoop Dog, Kurupt, DJ Muggs and other cool people.
Eventually, I got in with David Foster who is a huge 16 times Grammy award winning producer and he does more jazz. I started writing songs for some of his artists, I ended up writing Opera songs, I was writing Christmas songs, and I did a project with Haim Saban who’s this billionaire who owns the Power Rangers. He had several Israeli artists who were trying to break out in America, and I translated a full album from Hebrew to English for this duo – I was trying to do anything and everything so that I could to get my feet in the door, even if I had to go through the window, I was coming!
*Wow! You’re a man of many talents then!*
Thank you! (laughs) I was a man of many hoops is what I would say!
*You’re the first artist to be signed to Post Malone’s label!*
Well, people keep saying that but Tyla Yaweh was the first signee – I am the second artist! I was the first artist beside Juice WRLD that was signed to Grade A, it was just me and him at one point and then a couple of months later we signed The Kid LAROI. When I signed with Posty Co., it was just me, Post, and Tyla Yaweh – I have a trio on both sides!
*How did signing did come about? Was it completely out of the blue or?*
Well, in a sense! I had been dropping records and I had a lot of support from WorldStarHipHop, I had gained recognition from G Herbo, NLE Choppa, Rylo Rodriguez – the list kept going on and on and the features kept pouring in! I was on Juice WRLD’s sophomore album and it opened a lot of doors for me, a bunch of different artists were reaching out. I did a record called 'Stick By My Side' that has NLE Choppa on it, I had seen a video surfacing of Post Malone singing my music for around three months before I ever linked up with him. We didn’t know each other but he was becoming a fan of my music.
Me and Tyla Yaweh are close, he had facetimed me earlier one week and Post Malone was digging through his phone and ended up facetiming me randomly out of the blue. I’m going to pick up thinking it was Tyla, but it was Post Malone (laughs) and he’s smoking a cig and said, “Whats up bro, I really mess with your music” and I told him I was a fan of his as well; when you meet Post, he’s really down to earth to be where he is!
The moment you meet him you are already playing beer pong or talking about everything under the sun and from that call we started to chit chat on the phone – he even caught my six-year-old on the phone once and started following him on Instagram! (laughs) He’s just a goofy dude, he’s almost like a long-lost brother when you meet him, and he invited me down to the Dallas Cowboys games out in Las Vegas as well as some of his tour dates to hang out.
We linked up for the first time and we just hit it off. I was sitting at Madison Square Garden and they were playing my records through the speakers in the concert hall, and he had a part in that! We travelled around and it wasn’t long before he was asking me about my situation and wanted to be a part of it. Juice knew of the deal before he passed, he never got to see that through, and I wish he was here to see that today because he was really excited about it. I took an L the day he left, and I think the world did too.
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*You’ve recently released your debut album ‘Crazy’ – which is dope! Did you go into it with a running concept or idea? Is it just a collection of songs? What is this album to you?*
Some of it feels like a collection of songs because it was what I was feeling at the time but there are a bunch of little of things that tie it together as far as a concept goes. I was a big fan of Pink Floyd and there ‘The Dark Side Of The Moon’ album, there are a lot of Easter eggs on this album that are similar to the hidden meanings and messages that they used to do back in those days. There are sound effects from start to finish that sync up with ‘The Nightmare Before Christmas’ movie. They used to say that if you stoned enough and listened to ‘The Dark Side Of The Moon’ you could watch it with The Wizard of Oz and it would work together, I think that was a coincidence, but we deliberately took some sound effects and synced it with The Nightmare Before Christmas.
The album itself is a tribute to Juice WLRD, it’s not entirely about him but there’s a lot in the album that pays a big tribute to him. I wouldn’t be on this call today without him, he really opened up a lot of doors for me. I thought that it was only right. I’ve waited my whole life to have this debut at Republic, I could have made it about anything, but I made it about him for the right reasons. It syncs with ‘The Nightmare Before Christmas’ because Juice died right before Christmas in December and I’m a huge Tim Burton fan. The ninth song in the album is titled ‘99’ which is a play on his “999” thing and it’s 21 second moment of silence for his 21 years.
I don’t really let out all the Easter eggs I let my fans dig through them but there is one that just surfaced on TikTok that people are talking about, it’s about the secret song on the album. In the 90s the last track would go off and there would be a huge space and a song would start up.
So, we put a big space at the end of the album that’s 999 seconds of space which is a play on “999” and a secret song begins which contains hidden messages. The first letter of the first line, the second letter of the second line, so on and so forth, spell out “F*ck Yellowcard” – Yellowcard is a band that were suing Juice, they may be hurting for money so they’re reaching right now, but they tried suing him for like $15,000,000 over the 'Lucid Dreams' melody. They claimed that he jacked some of the melody for his own and it was a middle finger to them, I guess. There is a lot more in that song and throughout the album, the tracklist itself spells ‘Juice WRLD Is Alive’ going down the first letters. A lot of people love that kind of stuff and it’s something for his fans that they can learn to love and have fun with.
Juice is definitely alive within my music. I think music makes a musician immortal in a sense; I could die today and you could listen to me tomorrow and still feel my thoughts. The sad truth is that people will listen to you after you’ve gone maybe even more so than they would if you were here.
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*Is there any advice he ever gave you that has stuck with you since?*
I learnt a lot from Juice just through experience, I was blessed to sit through studio sessions with him. I sat in around 30 different sessions of his and if you sit in just one, you will get six or seven records out of it! (laughs) He would literally sit down and do seven or eight songs back-to-back, listen to them for a couple of days and do another session.
I think he inspired me to keep creating regardless. I watched him go from nothing to something in a sense, I got with him in around 2018 which was his year and I watched him grow. It’s a lot of pressure but he handled it well and kept on truckin’.
*What was it like working with the likes of Chris Brown and Lil Wayne? You have some incredible names on this album!*
For me, I have known those names for a long time. Lil Wayne is one of my biggest influences as an artist and it was a humbling experience to be next to greats who have had huge careers. I just want to get on songs like that and try to out-do them! (laughs) From a battle rap standpoint I’ll be like: “Everyone listen to this new Wayne verse and then listen to me” (laughs).
To have a debut project that has that many big names, people don’t realise that the record companies aren’t piecing those link ups together. It’s mainly the artist that you see with the features that are linking up with them somehow, whether they met backstage or just through networking. You do an agreement outside of the company for “x” amount of dollars and then try to figure side artist agreements – it’s a whole process!
Every artist that we have done a feature with to this point, has been someone who has heard me somehow along the way and reached out to me. It wasn’t an easy album to get cleared but we made it happen!
*Did any of these songs challenge you in anyway at all?*
Yes! The ‘Life’s A Mess II’ with Juice was a process because I was on the record before Halsey was and I got plucked off it at some point. They put Halsey on it and changed the beat, so it was different from the original version and I wanted to make it the way Juice wanted it to preserve his discography. A lot of people were already used to the first version.
It was hard to get a song cleared with him, back in the day it would have been easier for me but now it’s a little different with his label and stuff. Interscope gave us a lot of grief over that song, we got grief over the beat and just having it on the album period. To be signed to Post and Juice at the same time and have them on a record together was very fitting, but it was a struggle!
*Putting the music aside, what does Clever like to do for fun?*
Me and wife love riding on a four-wheeler and it’s very therapeutic! Music is really about all I do, I’m ready to go on tour! On my off days, we do just about anything! I have a lot of money invested in cars, I take a vacation at least once a week.
*Oh wow, I wish I could! (laughs)*
I work whilst I vacate, I’m at home today but when we are here, we have a lot of paintball guns, so we’re either doing that or my son is big on R-C stuff, so we have a boat that goes 50mph and a plane that goes as high as you want it to! I’m also big on gaming and play a lot of Fortnite and do a Twitch stream once every blue moon! (laughs)
*What else can we expect to see from you this coming year?*
We are already working on a second album! I know this is a bold statement, but I think the features on this next album are even crazier than the first! I have a record with Chris Brown on his album featuring Young Thug as well, I have one with Post on his album and we’re also working on the Space Jam soundtrack and trying to get placements on different games – little by little! Just trying to keep truckin’!
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'Crazy' is out now.
Words: *Elle Evans*
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The Alabama rapper opens up...