C.L. Smooth: The Rebirth Of Cool
C.L. Smooth was one of the most influential MC's to grace our ear drums from the early to mid 90's, but following a debut EP and two classic LP's, he disappeared. After a ten year hiatus from the Hip-Hop scene, he's returned with that distinctive voice and sounding just as polished as ever. This truly is the return of the Mecca.
The year is 1992, the album, Mecca and the Soul Brother. An unforgettable horn sample starts off one of the greatest Hip-Hop songs of all time, They Reminisce Over You (T.R.O.Y). Even when that song is played in this age of iced out, Bentley driving, getting money Hip-Hop, it still has a major effect on those who first heard it back in 1992 and for the younger generation that is hearing it now, for the first time. The people behind such a song, none other than Pete Rock and C.L. Smooth.
Pete Rock and C.L. Smooth were the epitome of what a DJ/producer and an MC should sound like, and be like. If RUN DMC started the blueprint for the MC/DJ act, back in the 80's, then Pete Rock and C.L. took it as their own in the 90's as they molded it into something that most hip-hop tandems haven't been able to duplicate in their own careers. Since their last studio album together, The Main Ingredient back in 1994, C.L. has been relatively quiet throughout the Hip-Hop world, while Pete Rock has maintained a steady pace making his rounds, still crafting head banging beats for hip-hops' elite, and putting out his own compilation albums.
On the last Pete Rock compilation album, Soul Survivor 2,, released back in 2004 we were entertained by some of the most talented and gifted lyricists' that the game has to offer. The Carmel King lent his vocals on a few tracks, and for some brief moments, we were taken back to a golden era in Hip-Hop and experienced the chemistry that the pair initially shared and that made them trend setters for the genre. Most importantly though, we heard that unmistakable voice and smooth delivery of the Mecca Don himself. It seemed like his trademark flow was frozen in time and waiting to be thawed out at the right moment, and there is no better time then the present. With his first studio album in over ten years, American Me I had a chance to talk with C.L. Smooth as he discusses the direction in which Hip-hop is headed, the break up of himself and Pete Rock and plenty more.
During the making of this album, did you feel any added pressure to try and introduce yourself to a younger hip-hop audience that might not be that familiar with your previous work?
No, no not really I don't think I would have come back if that was one of the pressures I would have had. I just wanted to be comfortable and be sure that I would maximize my potential and do what needs to be done at being successful at making music and having people enjoy it.
How do you feel about the current state of Hip-Hop? Do you feel like its moving in a positive direction?
I think its moving in a good direction cause there's a lot more opportunities out there to do the positive things with your music. Then when I first started so you know I think that it's positive you what I mean overall I think some of the talent is lacking now or watered down because you have everybody trying to make music now but you know as far as growth the whole genre of music has grown.
It seems that New York has lost a little bit of its swagger as of late, with the emergence of the south and Midwest. Why do you think the spot light has gotten away from hip-hops birthplace?
I'm not too sure; it's just about everybody getting a turn. I don't think the Yankees can win it every year, so give someone else the opportunity; you have Atlanta, you have L.A etc. And hip-hop is so big now its so wide spread its like this should be expected that it would grow all over the country, planet and all over the world. Even in foreign countries you have rap music New York is the Mecca of music, of Hip-Hop so we shouldn't feel inferior to anybody who's coming up and trying to make the situation much bigger then it is. New York shouldn't have nothing to be ashamed of because NY wasnt at the spot from the bottom, NY was already established all they have to do is build on what they created where as opposed to somebody else it looks like that we fell off because we were sprouting new beginnings, new plants and new flowers the whole new nest makes it seems like, we been doing it so long that its old now so you have to look at it from that scenario, in that aspect.
Usually after an artist debuts their album, most of the time they find themselves impatiently waiting for Soundscan numbers. Do you find yourself feeding into that frenzy?
I just want to be successful you know what I mean. I'm gonna take the same approach as everybody else that wants to have a successful project and you know that's the bottom line. I don't think its feeding into anything. I love when artists take it upon themselves to really feel important about their project if they did good, they wanna know that the people and the public is buying it. I don't really feed into the negativity of looking at it from that way, I think of it as artists being very concerned about their project and who want it to win.
Being away from Hip-Hop for a while, did you find the album making process to be a little difficult this time around?
The only thing I felt was difficult was the process of getting beats, cause I spent my career basically with one producer, and it wasn't hard. All I'd do was go in the basement and all my stuff was laid out for me. But now you have to go around and get ya new sound. You have to get someone that not only likes to work with you, but wants to work with you, and knows about your history and knows what you need, to take it to the next level. A lot of producers just love making music and never know how to develop an artist the producers I went to, I very much respected and it was a process of trying to get the project to be successful and I think C.L. can ride off a great project rather then trying to build C.L. up. Let C.L. build himself up and let the producers make what they need to make in order for C.L. to be successful at what he does.
I heard somewhere that there was supposed to be a reunion album in the works between you and Pete Rock. Whatever happened to that situation?
We were supposed to get back but it didn't work out because we had these different views points to what success is to us. Whether your best friends or not, or grew up together or not, when you spend time away from each other, you change, you have different view points, you learn, you grow wiser and if you can't coagulate and you can't understand that, ya not gonna be successful. I've learned that the keys to success are coming together, having a common bond and a common understanding of where you guys need to go in order to be successful. To make a long story short, just be on the same page.
So are you guys gonna get back?
Me, I'm always gonna keep a positive aspect. Right now anything is possible, as long as I stay on a successful scale of what I'm doing, anything is possible. If unsuccessful then that's kind of like a far fetched cry from what I need to accomplish, I don't I cant look forward to anything else but American Me because this is something I have to prove before I can answer any other questions about returns or reunions.
Being a pure lyricist such as yourself, did you feel any need to simplify your lyrics a little bit since it seems like most of today's audience basically only cares for catchy hooks and nice beats?
I think my success was built on making great music they that I grew up making it and I didn't see any reason to change my formula because I began successful with it, I was successful with it, and I wanted to return successful with it and let people know with the success came a measure of growth and I wanted to give people an opportunity to focus on it and see it and get a chance to be entertained by it. So I didn't see any reason to put pressure on myself and try and be better than when I first started.
Why is it that you think some artists lack longevity? Do you think its the failure of them not reinventing themselves?
I feel you have to reinvent yourself, its a must and you must take chances. Life is about the choices you make and the chances you take I put those lyrics all in the music this is a project that gives some opportunity to work with some lessons in my time off of not making music, I had to work with some lessons, and wisdom. And the wisdom that was instilled in me to allow me to return, I wanted share with everybody.
After sitting on the sidelines for a while, what made you finally decide to get back in the game?
I wanted to give my kids an opportunity to really see me get down from a young age they weren't born in this game and never really had to go through any struggles in the game. So I just wanted them to see where their fathers history came from and allow them to have an opportunity to see me perform and people in the streets wanting me to come back. So I wanted to give the people want they wanted.
So is there gonna be another album after this?
I'm not sure I don't wanna speculate or go that far and take one step at a time. I know when I started I didn't wanna go past this album unless the people said keep going C.L. or unless the people want more, and I stand fully committed to American Me and no success will go beyond it if I'm not successful with this.
Since you first started your career, what are some of the major changes that you've seen in Hip-Hop over the past few years?
I noticed that people have an incredible spending spree; they are free to do whatever they want and support themselves to the maximum and I want to able to do the same with my earnings etc. Every artist has a goal. Either its to buy gold chains, houses or cars, or just to support their family. And wanna be able to accomplish my goals with the opportunities that are out here.
What do you think are the makings of a true MC?
Everything he talks, he lives it. Everything he says has a validity of truth to it and that's what I feel makes a great MC.
Now it seems that everyone is taking something from someone else and adding it to their own repertoire, do you think that there is any originality left?
There is, but you just have to find it now as opposed to an era when you could have gotten all good music that's not there anymore. Everybody dared to be different in the era where I came out of, nobody was the same, nobody wanted to be the same actually, in this era where basically everybody to be the same or do the same thing, it just gives my opportunity greater validation to be successful because it should be easier
Is there anyone in the game right now that you are a fan of?
I'm just a fan of anyone that's successful. I'm very bias when it comes to that and very narrow minded when it comes to that. I'm not with the people that are trying to push their music onto people, I'm with the people that naturally get anointed like only the top 5 percentile is the elite and I wanna be of that company because I'm coming back with the reinvention and the commitment to be excellent and I know a lot of people are afraid of excellence but I'm totally built for it because I took time out to rebuild and reinvent myself to be successful at it.
What are the advantages, and or disadvantages to releasing albums on independent labels, as opposed to releasing them on the majors?
I had the opportunity to do both. The majors are very successful in a way but now this is a great opportunity to show that the independent route is another option to go. A lot of majors aren't knocking down your door until you go to that independent company and prove yourself, and that's what C.L. is doing and that what I really put my mind to. I'm not gonna go chase down these majors yet, I'm gonna prove to them that I can make money on my own and it gives me an opportunity to know where my economic status is and be a businessman also on an independent, you don't have that backbone like on a major that are doing all the things for you and how it all leads to you benefiting from. Its more of like a do it yourself thing. Its either out ya trunk, or out ya living room it humbles you totally and teaches you about your business and how far you can go.
What do you think the key factors are in staying consistent and relevant in Hip-Hop?
Just be true to yourself and know what the people want. If you take a little extra time. You know what ya homies want, you know what the girls want, but always know what the people want there is a wide scale of people that love music period. They wanna get the opportunity to love hip-hop, but their not, because people aren't taking time out to really respect the craft and get it across like they use to. Its either the lack of talent, the words they use that might offend some, or they are just not trendy enough.
Now a days, it seems like standard practice for some artists to stir up controversy with other artists to boost their own sales, what are you thoughts on that?
I think its the luck of the draw. How can you plan to shoot yourself, how can you plan to go to jail, how could you plan to be in confrontations where you have to defend ya life, honor and respect. Those are things I've grown out of, I never thought I could get that positive energy form something that negative I've been in these streets and I'm still in these streets and I got into the music so the streets wouldn't control my success rate of where I'm going. Music is another track other than the streets so I didn't wanna tangle wanna get the tracks, I didn't want the fork in the road I wanted my track to be my track and the music track to be another track life is short, and the world is not anointed to you. Its all a process of working hard and staying committed and starting what you finished.
Today when you pick up an album, its usually a who's, who of guest appearance spots. But on all the albums you released, there were never really any collaborations, was there any particular reason for that?
I just wanted the opportunity to listen to myself. If I create a great song, I didn't wanna have to do half the song when the other artist isn't there. I wanted to give people an opportunity to know that some artist don't need all that, they don't need to water down their music, and they don't need 80 appearances on their album. I'm a lyricist, a true pioneer of the game, I wanna show you that I can make a record, not only that, I can make an album. I do have features, my features are the producers a great opportunity would be for a great producer to work with the legendary C.L. Smooth, and I even went over to Italy to get some music. So that would be a great opportunity and a great chance for someone to put that on their resume.
Right now the theme in Hip-Hop is about getting money, selling drugs, etc. How do you keep your creative process from going along with that typical formula?
You don't exclude it, you put it in its place to where its conducive to what youre saying everybody has a bum on their block, everybody has a hustler on their block, everybody has a nosey person on their block etc. Its all about how do you get through that everyday and you wanna give people an opportunity to hear that.
Do you think a little bit of compromise is necessary to move units in today's industry?
I only compromise my business moves, not the art. It is just what it is art. It has nothing to do what the world thinks, other then when I'm finished. If I'm painting a picture wait till I'm finished to make your judgment. Its all about what's true to you and being true to yourself and that youre able to give the people something they appreciate. People appreciate realness, and honesty.