Clinton Sparks Talks Balancing Solo Singing Career With Production For Rick Ross And Lady Gaga
Exclusive: Mr. "Get Familiar" explains how his move to singing Pop/Rock tunes on Interscope fits into a larger plan that still includes Hip Hop.
Even during Hip Hop’s most opulent, Hype Williams million dollar video days, when television personalities were using the word “bling” years after it had been played out, the helicopter was reserved for moments of extreme extravagance. You avoid the chopper for the same reason you initially think about bringing it out—people don’t forget a fucking helicopter. And, if the money should stop flowing in, nobody wants the fiscally irresponsible stench of an unnecessary helicopter attached to them the same way Hammer will be forever linked to that bowling alley in the mansion he eventually lost to bankruptcy. Clinton Sparks wants the helicopter.
“I’ve always been a performer, even before I was a DJ,” Sparks explains, after practicing being lowered into the Palms Casino’s Moon nightclub for a residency performance via—yes, you guessed it, a helicopter. “What’s exciting about The Palms is that I’ve finally gotten with somebody that understands my big ideas and is willing to support them. I feel I think too big, and I’m not Michael Jackson. So when I have Michael Jackson ideas but not a Michael Jackson budget and the talent around me to be able to implement my ideas, it’s frustrating.”
Despite having credits on at least one high-profile Hip Hop project for the last few years—2010’s “She Crazy” on Rick Ross’s Ashes To Ashes , 2009’s Chester French & Clinton Sparks Present: Jacques Jams, Vol. 1 —it’s easy to assume Sparks has been flying under Hip Hop’s radar. And maybe that’s because his “Michael Jackson” ideas have manifested themselves in the form of him dressing like Willy Wonka and paying a bunch of little people to dress like Oopma Loompas for a performance, securing writing and/or co-production credits on Lady Gaga and Akon projects, and cutting tracks with decidedly un-Hip Hop artists such as LMFAO and Jo Jo. Oh yeah, Clinton Sparks also sings now too. So if you happened to run across recent footage of him diddy-bopping across soundstages while crooning the lyrics he wrote, you might have had no choice but to come to one conclusion.
“I definitely want to convey to my original Hip Hop fanbase that I’m not abandoning them or turning my back on them,” Sparks explained. “I’m doing it all. I fuck with Hip Hop! And I fuck with everything else…I just fuck with people, bro.”
Deejaying, like all of Clinton Sparks other jobs—radio host, dancer, running a record pool, delivering the actual records—presented itself as the byproduct of being a workaholic and building mutually beneficial relationships. He always wanted to be a writer, producer and composer, but once he landed a radio gig, his original aspirations presented a bit of a conflict of interest.
“When my deejay friends in radio would tell record labels about my beats, I could see how they didn’t give a shit,” Sparks recalled. “They looked at me as the deejay’s friend from around the way who’s trying to get on making beats. So I was like, ‘Damn, what do have to do to make them care?’”
A cliché is a cliché for a reason—it’s at least partially based on a common truth. In Spark’s case, he figured if he couldn’t beat them he’d join them. That led to a five-year plan, which luckily (or unluckily depending on how you view it) coincided with his friend Akon having a public relations shitstorm on his hands. Having once cornered the market on mostly non-threatening R&B music with a Hip Hop edge and some international appeal, Akon had royally pissed off his corporate sponsors and mainstream fans by the time 2007 rolled around. There were reports of him having multiple wives, he was filmed dry-humping a girl who later turned out to be 14-years-old, and then invited an irate fan onstage and tossed him back into a crowd. Verizon responded by terminating its sponsorship of the Gwen Stefani’s and Akon’s “Great Escape” tour and pulling Akon from a print advertising campaign.
Clinton Sparks, who Akon credited as the first deejay to give his “Locked Up” single national exposure, responded with a track he wrote as part of his five-year plan to become a triple threat entertainer.
“I hit him up like, ‘Remember when you had a story to tell and no one would listen?’” Sparks said. “‘Well, I need you to help me paint this picture.’ Once he agreed, I told him I would find out his schedule and meet him on the road.”
What resulted is likely the kind of Hollywood ending the execs at E!—a network which also employs Clinton Sparks as a host, by the way—probably drool over. Sparks sang “Sorry, Blame It On Me,” a song he originally penned about relationships with his girlfriend, mother and father, for Akon on a tour bus. After a few minor tweaks, the song peaked at the number seven spot on Billboard magazine’s “Hot 100” chart, where it spent 15 weeks before being certified platinum. Word spread, and in addition to landing the gig at the Palms, executives and A&R from all the major labels were interested in Spark’s services. Clinton ultimately took an artist deal as well as a production deal with Interscope Records.
“The music that I’ve put out in the past nine months are part of about 100 records that I recorded when I got the record deal,” Sparks added. “That’s why I just threw those records out to just get them out there and let people start swallowing the pill that I’m singing.”
But the real question is, after years of “getting familiar” will fans swallow the pill of seeing Clinton rock with the likes of Fall Out Boy’s Patrick Stump, Jordan Knight of New Kids on the Block Fame, and Lady Gaga? A bunch of the people working under Jimmy Iovine think so. And Sparks thinks so too, because he’s been thinking that way his whole life.
“In high school, I was the kid that was friends with every single social group, but I didn’t fit in with any of them,” Sparks recalled. “I was my own guy, but I was cool with everybody. That’s kind of what the world has come to, because music used to be so segregated, and there would be such a line in the sand…Rap is over here and Rock is over there. It’s not like that anymore. Black kids are skateboarding and white kids are fucking rapping. There are no boundaries anymore. We’re just one big team, having fun and trying to be awesome together. It’s perfect if you’re someone like me that loves all types of music and doesn’t want to be frustrated by just playing one type of music.”
Now that the boundaries have been removed and the checks have been signed, can Clinton Sparks bring his high school social experience worldwide and blend the Wu-Tang Clan and Weezer at the same global party? That remains to be seen. In the meantime, there’s a helicopter waiting.