Clever is the Alabama rapper you need to hear.
Clever is an enigmatic talent. The Alabama native is currently in the midst of blowing up after his appearance on Juice WRLD's most recent album A Death Race For Love. The release of last year's "When Only You Will Do" put him on people's radar and once he featured on "Ring Ring," everybody had the same question on their minds: Who Is Clever?
For over a decade, the recording artist has been honing his craft, learning the ins and outs of the business and adapting to his surroundings. The rising star started as a poet, writing rhymes before transitioning into the world of music. You may be asking yourself why it took so long for Clever to start gaining nationwide attention. A few years ago, his phone was not as busy as it is today. Nowadays, people like 21 Savage, the Migos, Lil Baby, G Herbo and more are trying to get in the studio with him. Things weren't always that way though.
After a stint in prison and a label deal gone wrong, Clever is finally back on his feet and he's ready to make a major impact. Offering something that nobody else in the game can quite encapsulate, the Alabama musician is on pace to end the year in stellar fashion. Following the release of his new project Who Is Clever?, we spoke with the artist to learn more about what he's all about.
Read our full interview below, edited for clarity and length.
HNHH: What’s good Clever, how you doing?
Clever: I’m good. I’m getting my face tatted at the moment.
You’re getting your face tatted?
As we speak, yeah.
What are you getting?
I’m actually covering one up. I’ma get an umbrella under my eye.
Any meaning for that, or you just felt like getting an umbrella?
Like teardrops, like raindrops. There’s no great meaning behind it, no. It’s just the best thing I could come up with to cover up this ugly ass tat that I got.
I feel you on that bro. It’s a pleasure to speak with you. I wanted to start off with the question on everybody’s mind: Who is Clever?
You know, I’m trying to get to know him myself. I’m just an artist from Alabama, bro. Just trying to make my way one song at a time. We’ve done a lot of singles. This album was for the fans, to kind of give them something, I feel like it wasn’t sitting around waiting for shit. It was time to pull the trigger. But to tell you who I am, to make it simple, I’m just an everyday artist trying to make a way.
I respect that. There’s not a lot of information about you online. I read somewhere that you had been making music for over a decade, you said you’re from Alabama. Tell us about your upbringing. What led you to this path?
Well, early on I was writing poetry. Eventually, I transitioned into hip-hop music. At first, I was doing more straight-rap type stuff. I was a 106 & Park “Freestyle Friday” champion, way back when. On BET, I did BET Spring Bling’s freestyle battle. I won that back in 2006, and we’re talking about a long time ago. At some point, I had a good following around town, in my hometown which is a small city in Alabama. I got asked to have my own radio show on a local clear channel station and did that for a good bit. Eventually, I did some time, got into some trouble, it held me back a good bit. I got into a shitty deal, which held me back another four years, or so. During that time I was writing songs for other people. I got a placement with Snoop Dogg, Kurupt, some old-school heads. I was writing everything under the sun, really. I got with a lot of different publishing companies out in LA and was writing songs with David Foster and a bunch of cats. I wrote a whole album for this Israel duo that was translating from Hebrew to English.
Shit, that’s fucking cool.
Yeah, bro. I wrote fucking opera songs, I wrote Christmas songs, I wrote em’ all. But at some point, once I got out of the shitty deal, it was time to get back to doing some solo shit, and getting back to work, and doing what it is that I do. As soon as we got out of the deal, the first song and video we did was “When Only You Will Do.” We got a lot of game, a lot of traction off of“When Only You Will Do” and loyalty, and things like that. We ended up linking with Lil Bibby. That’s kind of what put me and Juice [WRLD] together. After that, it’s just been left and right. People coming at us, wanting to do records. Right now we’re talking to Post Malone about possibly bringing him into the picture. So it’s just one thing on to the next bro.
Yeah, that’s what I’ve been seeing. You’ve been chilling with Post a lot. Personally, I think that you two have this kind of vibe that would sound perfect together on a track. You both go for that little vibrato vibe, like extreme melody-making.
Have you guys been in the studio together?
No, you know we got a record we been working on. I’ve already done my piece of it, he already knows every word to it, so I imagine he’s gonna play with it. I think it’s going to be a done deal. Me and Tyla Yahweh just laid one down. Me and Skrillex got a record that’s going to come out soon. I even chit chatted with Justin Bieber about doing a song with him on his new album.
You're going crazy out here right now, Clever!
You know, it’s looking up. Hopefully, we can get some of those nailed down. But I’m ready to do solo shit too. I got a bunch of solo records just sitting on the shelf that’s itching to go. A lot of the songs you hear on the EP are songs that I love personally. But, we have a gang of that shit. There are at least 60-75 songs that are just as good, if not better then those records, that are just sitting around. It was time to put some of that out. I felt like we only had four or five records out for a long time and it was really time for people to sit down and get to listen to a good bit of what we do.
Absolutely. It’s nice to see you blowing up. Do you remember the exact moment that you fell in love with music?
Man, growing up my mother used to clean this church. I would go down there and chill in the sanctuary. I was maybe 7 or 8 years-old and I would just bang on the piano. I ended up learning how to run the soundboard at that place. Just trying to figure out how to turn the microphone on took me eight or nine trips of going with her just to go play around in church while she was doing her thing. So, I think around that point. My dad, once upon a time we was going down a road and he was playing this old John Mellencamp record, and he paused the record and told me what the line said. He rewound it back and it was a funny ass line, he played it back and we had a good laugh about it. I think just that bond, knowing that it creates that type of bond between two people, just did it for me. Writing poetry, it just seemed like music was the only thing I wasn’t writing at that time. I began to love it when I saw it as a challenge, lyrically. Everybody sings in the shower, but it’s another thing to lay it down. Once you start listening to yourself and critiquing yourself, I mean…I was always a competitive person and trying to be the best at everything I did. So for me, music was more than just an escape from reality. It was something that I wanted to strive to be better at. I think at some point it’s too late to turn back and you gotta just keep trucking. But, I mean it’s hard to say exactly when I fell in love with it. I’ve always been in love with music, who hasn’t?
That's amazing. Your new EP, Who is Clever?, I feel like it’s going to be an introduction to your music for a lot of people. What kind of experience do you want people to get out of it?
For me, it’s really satisfying when people relate to the music in a way that helps them get through things, or feel some kind of emotional connection to what I do. But, at the same time I wanted to turn their heads and make them say “Who this is?”, you know what I’m saying? Like, who the fuck is this Clever dude? So, melodically I try to do things that make you say, “Wow, this is a little bit different.” That’s what I really want them to get out of it. Just that this is something new and it’s not the same old bullshit songs concept-wise. It may be in the ballpark, but it’s a little unpredictable at the same time. Something new, something fresh.
I think that’s special though because that’s something people are always looking for. People are going to hear that and right away, that’s something that makes somebody a fan.
Yeah, absolutely. There’s so much music that’s put out by record companies and stuff like that, and they try to do whatever is already working and it makes sense from a financial standpoint. But, when you look at the greats like Michael Jackson, Frank Sinatra, Elvis Presley, and The Beatles, they weren’t necessarily doing what the guys before them were doing. They were doing something ground-breaking. At this point in music, I feel like people think that it’s so hard to do something that hasn’t been done before, but you’re never going to get anywhere close to doing that just trying to take what inspires you to do this and just mimicking that. For me, it’s all about pushing it further.
For sure. From your lyrics, I get a sense that you’re a very deep, almost philosophical person. Is that fair to say?
There's a lot of thematic content about heartbreak, drugs, and things along those lines on this project. Is it therapeutic for you to sing about this type of stuff and get that out in the world?
Absolutely. A lot of it early on was a means of escape. Once you write it, it’s almost like you’re putting it down, whether you’re writing on pen and pad, or on your phone, or just listening to it on an mp3 of some sort, you get it off your chest and put it somewhere else. So, for me, it’s almost just as therapeutic as the artist as it is for the listener to listen to it and relate to it. I can almost see a timeline from how I felt in that moment when I listen to an old song. I listen to the records, I’m one of my biggest critics, but I listen to my music a lot. More than I listen to anybody else. I’m listening to my shit over and over trying to make it what it is. It’s also therapeutic for me just to challenge myself when it comes to wordplay, metaphors, and double entendres, and so forth. It’s a game, in a sense. You’re really reaching to try to say something that’s never been said and put it in a way that only you can say it. It’s therapeutic in a lot of ways, especially emotionally when you can get it off your chest and put it down somewhere else.
What goes through your mind when you’re writing that kind of stuff, especially songs like “Wooden Box” and "Commissary." I feel like those are some of the most powerful songs on the project.
Right, well, “Wooden Box” just comes from experience. It may relate to you in a different way or hit you a little hard. But just reliving the experiences on paper or a record is a therapeutic thing for me. But “Wooden Box” and “Commissary” are in the same ballpark, it relates to the same subject. The feeling that goes into each song is always the same. You’re trying to dig as deep as you can into what you experienced in hopes that those who experienced the same thing can relate to it, or vibe to it.
You were talking about Juice WRLD before. I wanted to ask about the “Ring Ring” collaboration because I feel like that’s what introduced you to more of a mainstream audience this year. Tell me about how you guys linked up.
Well it was through G Money and Lil Bibby. Me and Karltin had already been sharing a lot of the early video clips that we hadn’t released yet on his page. We were holding on to them for a minute. Lil Bibby came across them, somehow G Money came across them through MyMixtapez. MyMixtapez hit us up and was really vibing to our shit early on. They hit up G Money, who is Lil Bibby’s brother. Juice WRLD is signed to the same independent production company that I’m also with that’s owned by Lil Bibby. When I went to LA to meet with Bibby and G Money for the first time, Juice WRLD was there. It was in his Airbnb that they were all kicking it. He was recording a song with Kodak [Black], I think, and Ski Mask, and a bunch of those cats from No Jumper. But when I walked in I was introduced to everybody and Juice had already listened to “Loyalty.” He was like, “Yo, you’re the dude that sings that 'Loyalty' song” and the song hadn’t come out yet. But he had heard the snippet and of course he heard the mp3 through Bibby and G Money. He was rocking with it early on and once we met, and hung out for a little bit, smoked one, this, that, and the other, we was instantly cool. He has a passion for music, I was also a freestyle guy way back when, and he does a lot of freestyles so I respect him as a freestyle artist. Once we chit-chatted it was all love. When it came time for him to release an album, I was first in line to get a feature. I was actually going to be on the song with him and Seezyn that went on the Spiderman soundtrack, but it kind of fell through. But his album came not long after that and I was lucky enough to get a slot.
Is there anyone in particular that you really want to work with in the future?
That’s a great question. There are several artists that I would love to work with. It’s funny, people would think that I’m reaching out to a lot of people trying to get features, spending a shit ton of money. The truth is, we haven’t asked for a feature yet, and they’re all coming to us. Luckily we’ve been blessed to have that come to us. But I think anybody that has a cool sound that’s not trying to ride that industry standard “This is what music should sound like”, there's no formula to music you know? I think that anybody that has an interesting something about their songwriting wise, or locally, I would love to work with them. I don’t know if I have anybody in particular. There are some interesting artists out there. I was a huge fan of Jay-Z. At some point, I would love to have a record with Jigga, man.
That would be sick actually! You said a lot of people have been calling you, and you previously said that 21 Savage, Lil Baby, Timbaland, Migos, and those kinds of guys were reaching out to you. Is there anybody else that’s banging your line these days?
Well, I get a lot of people. As I said, Justin Bieber just hit us up a couple of days ago. I’m going to do a record with him, I think, for his album. Post Malone, everyone that kind of came into the picture were not too shy about blasting it on Instagram. It’s left and right, I get a lot of producers that are really dope. Me and Tank God are gonna do some stuff. Me and Tyla Yahweh got some stuff coming out. The NoCap tape, I’m thinking about doing a tape with Rylo Rodriguez.
That’s one of my favorite songs on the project, by the way. The “Apartments” joint. I love it.
Yeah, so I can’t wait. We got a record that’s coming out called “Hold Back The River” that’s going to be on NoCap’s project. Then we got a video for it. I think we’re going to drop on Worldstar or something, not sure. But it’s hopefully going to come out within the next week or two. But I love the Alabama thing. NoCap is from Alabama, Rylo Rodriguez is from Alabama, and so am I. So to do it for the home state is dope.
What kind of advice would you give to somebody that’s still hustling to make it in the music business?
I would say stick to one thing and try to master it. Because a lot of people get on a different wave. You see some people that got famous from YouTube, or back in the day it was MySpace. You had a couple of MySpace cats that got big. There was a SoundCloud wave where there was a number of people that got big on that platform. I think if you focus on one platform and really put your energy into that, you don’t want to spread yourself too thin on a bunch of platforms, you don’t want to be absent on other platforms, but I think you should focus on one if you’re looking to gain followers. But honestly, the best advice would be to stop following the norm. Just start doing something that’s a little different. If you look at people who are going around trolling and trying to mimic them, it’s the same old shit. There’s nothing different, everybody takes almost the same approach in music today. At the end of the day, you gotta have dope ass music so you need to do something different to turn people’s heads and stand out. Stick to one platform, try to master that shit, and do something that they never heard before. Don’t bring the same shit to the table, no one wants to hear that shit again.
Facts. Now that the EP is out, what’s on tap for the rest of the year?
Yeah, we’re going to be performing at the Day N Vegas Festival in a few weeks. Then, I really want to drop the NoCap tape. I think his label is waiting and they want to drop his solo project first. We’ve been talking about doing a “Stick By My Side” remix. I’m hoping that that’s going to come out at some point this year. Then it’s all about finishing some of the features we got going with Post, Justin Bieber, me and [YFN] Lucci doing a song. We got a lot of shit coming. We don’t stop. Of course we’re preparing to do another big run in 2020, but 19’ not over yet, and I think we still got time. This years nowhere near over, a couple of months can do a lot. We got more shit to drop. The “Hold Back The River” joint was going to be on this EP with NoCap, but it’s going to be on his project. We could drop that video any day now. I’m hoping to drop that and the “Stick By My Side” remix before this year is over with.
That’s exciting man, honestly I’m really happy to see that people are actually picking up on you. It’s nice to see you succeed, and it’s really nice to be able to talk to you.
For sure, bro. I love HotNewHipHop.
I hope you enjoy the rest of your day. Take care.