the unknown side of what's bumpin' in the trucks

The Carmel Kid: CL Smooth

In posse on 2006/11/17 at 4:48 pm

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Just got off the phone with CL Smooth‘s manager Nick, while trying to set up an interview for sometime today. Right after we’d agreed on a late afternoon phoner, I hung up, only to have Nick call me back seconds later to remind me that CL did not respond well to questions about his past and present relationship with former partner Pete Rock (although Pete does contribute beats to his new LP American Me). I’m pretty sure that people ask about Pete Rock out of a sense of nostalgia, so it’s kinda sad that The Carmel Kid is so touchy about The Chocolate Boy Wonder. CL’s in Montreal November 29th.

The name of New York-based MC CL Smooth is synonymous with the golden age of early-’90s hip hop, where along with a young DJ/producer named Pete Rock, the two pumped out classic albums like Mecca and the Soul Brother and The Main Ingredient. CL recently returned to the hip hop game after a lengthy absence with the Man on Fire Mixtape, with J Period, and now American Me, his first full-length solo LP. I spoke to Carmel Kid over the phone from his home in New York.

SC: What do you want old and new fans of CL Smooth to come away with after hearing American Me?

CL Smooth: I just want people to know that I’m committed to doing my best work, and that I respect the history of great music. I’ve done my homework, and I just want everybody to enjoy themselves. This is entertainment, and I want to entertain the people with something conscious—nothing preachy, but something conscious. I’m an artist who basically always has something to say.

SC: Now, I know you’ve had a few projects trickle out over the years, but why has it taken so long for you to come back in a major way?

CLS: It’s just the gradual process of living life, and having something to talk about. I live everything that I write about, so that time has given me a chance to live and really see what my life is beyond the music, and get to feel it and taste it, absorb it and appreciate it. It’s given me a new perspective on what it means to return, and with what intensity and at what level.

SC: Was there ever a time when you had decided that you weren’t going to make music anymore?

CLS: Sure. In just trying to find myself, I learned that music is something that you never put down, but something that you live. I’m one of those people who’ve been blessed to live their music and relate to the people not only in spiritual form, but in physical form as well. It’s really about going through the hard times and getting better.

SC: When fans and music writers get nostalgic, and want to talk to you about Pete Rock and CL Smooth back in the day, does that frustrate you?

CLS: Not at all, because it’s something that I’ve been so blessed to build on. A lot of people don’t get the opportunity to talk about things they did 10 years ago, and I appreciate that people respect my come-up, and recognize that I in turn respected my craft. I know what it means to them too, and it’s a great appreciation to build on.

SC: With such a distinct voice, and almost no MCs that sound like CLSmooth, who did you try to emulate on the microphone when you were starting out?

CL: I would always emulate my grandfather. If I could take any song that I liked, and put my grandfather’s personality and the way he talks into it, then basically you have CL Smooth. There’s certain voices that have their own traits and pattern. You have people like Snoop, Jay-Z, Tupac, Biggie, Nas and myself, who have a voice and presence that can’t really be duplicated.


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