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Clever’s Humble Beginnings and Crazed Creativity

Coming off the spiralling creativity of his debut album Crazy, the Alabama artist talks us through his songwriting process, advice for upcoming artists, and the impact of Juice WRLD.

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“All my favourite artists were out of their mind a little,” Clever tells me over our morning Zoom call. It’s evident throughout his music, as he pairs intricately written bars with passionate vibrato croons for oddball and undeniably catchy results. It’s what helped him steal the show on his feature for Justin Bieber’s 2020 track ‘Forever’, and landed him as the first signee on Post Malone’s Posty Co label. But now, he’s exploring that side of his psyche in an even more in-depth manner on his newly released debut album Crazy

Spanning over 13 songs, Clever’s Crazy is an open-book of vulnerable lyricism and arena-ready choruses, pairing the modern sounds of trap with the loudness of rock and the atmosphere of an orchestra. His vocal experimentations are supported by features from the likes of Lil Wayne, Lil Baby, Post Malone, and more, who delve into his world of controlled chaos for more-than-satisfying results. He also used this debut record to pay tribute to the late, great Juice WLRD, who opened the industry doors to Clever in 2019 with their Death Race 4 Love collaboration ‘Ring Ring’. It’s insane that at age 35, after over a decade of grinding in the game and doing everything from ghostwriting to battle raps, that Clever would only be on the horizon of his debut album in 2021. But hey, what does the album title tell you? 

In celebration of the new project, we talked with Clever about his creative process, advice for upcoming artists, and the impact Juice WRLD has had on the world. 

Congratulations on the album, man. Crazy is the perfect title for it because it’s been a wild ride for you to get where you are. How are you feeling?
Well, you know, it’s been a wild ride. We’ve got a lot of great co-signs. You know, I’m more excited about what’s to come. I think the album’s going to do some things. The numbers are doubling and tripling on Spotify monthly listeners and so forth. I’m already working on the next album, and it may seem odd to say, but I think the features on the next album are going to be even crazier than this one. It is crazy to think where I’m at right now. 

There’s a quote from your Instagram where you write “There’s a fine line between genius and crazy, I snorted that a long time ago.” I love this because I think you need to lean into that crazy side to find those strokes of genius. How did this notion help you create this album?
I was just thinking earlier how I would love to do an album where every song I was, like, high on something really strange. I think that you have to kind of get in touch with that crazy side while creating. All my favourite artists were out of their minds just a little. So I think it’s good to kind of tap into that and and and kind of bring yourself out.

I love the symbolism of ‘Rolls Royce Umbrella’, where you celebrate your current success, but also recognise that ‘Champagne showers can’t make flowers bloom.’ How do you find the balance of popping bottles in success, with the pressure that the champagne is on you to pour?
I come from humble beginnings, so you have to keep all of this in mind, and not forget where you came from. It’s just as easy to go up, as it is to come back down. I like how you took note of that because it’s not strictly a celebratory song. It’s more about the concept that if I’m going to cry, I’d rather cry in a Lamborghini [Laughs]. So it means a lot to me because I came from so little and have achieved so much. Now, I’m just rolling with the pressure of having to keep it up. 

I love the line from ‘Life’s a Mess II’ ‘There was once a hole in my heart, that heart was hurting, ‘till I took a peek inside, lately I’ve been soul searching.” I think that lyric resonates because people often learn the most when they’re forced to face their shit. Do you think you’ve grown as a person approaching pain in this way?
Absolutely. I think you always have to dig in a little to find out what is truly bothering you, and that’s why it’s one of my favourite lines from the song. To go through the pain and let it out on a track, you’re putting yourself out there for the whole world to embrace, and it’s a constant search to truly find out who you are. 

Artists often say music is like therapy, and in therapy, you have to dig through a lot of stuff to find the light at the end of the tunnel. Do you feel this way while you create? 

That’s basically what music is to me. It’s a means of escape. I feel like if I put my feelings or troubles in my notepad, that they’re no longer a part of me. And instead of pain plaguing my thoughts, they become something for the outside world to digest and resonate with. They’re no longer my burden. 

Creating songs that resonate and that people can relate to seem to be one of your strongest points. How do you approach that while in the studio?
I think I just naturally have a universal way of writing. I try not to make my lyrics too specific to a situation, but at the same time, I think you have to dig in deep and also make it about yourself. I think if you just put your feelings out there, they’re going to find another person who is feeling the same way. I think when you focus on trying to make something relatable rather than being authentic, is when it becomes fabricated. 

The project also serves as a tribute to Juice WRLD, with the tracklist spelling out the message ‘Juice WRLD Is Alive’, as well as the 9th track ‘99’ being an ode to the positive mantra he lived by. How do you think your relationship with him laid the foundation for this album?
I’ve been waiting a long time to have this debut album at Republic, and I could have made it about anything. But I chose to make it about Juice and give him the tribute because I feel like I wouldn’t be on this call without Juice. He opened a lot of doors for me. And, you know, it came from a place of, you know, 10 years from now, I’m not going to have the same fans. I think while I still have time on this earth, you know, my new fans from here to in the future should know that that Juice is the reason I am here making music today. I added those messages and tributes because the Juice fans I think appreciate and relate to it, and while I am open to criticism or backlash with this, at the end of the day, Juice was my brother. His memory helps me strive to continue doing better. 

How would you like Juice to be remembered?
As an amazing, versatile talent. His freestyle and recording abilities were just insane. And I felt like, you know, he got to smell the roses before leaving this earth. But, you know, of course, after you’re gone, I feel like you get even more. And it’s an odd thing to go through as a music artist. But I also feel like music makes you immortal in a sense because you could die today, and they could listen to your thoughts tomorrow. I think they will continue with Juice because he meant a lot to lots of people. I think he will be remembered for being that light in a lot of lives. I get a lot of comments every day, a lot of messages every day, people talking about my music and what it did for them. And they go into great detail. But I also get those same messages from Juice fans who just want it to be known that he helped them through adversity. As an artist, you have to deal with a lot of you like a therapist. And I think that he was a therapist to a lot of his fans. And, you know, I think that will live on for a long time. 

You’ve found a lot of longevity in this game through a lot of avenues. You’ve battle rapped, ghostwritten, and more to get to this place where you are today. I think for a lot of up-and-comers, this type of journey can be daunting. What would your advice be?
A lot of artists will sit around and brag about how they’ve only been doing it 6 months or one year. And that’s a great achievement, but it also lacks substance initially. I think you need to experience life to be at your best as an artist, and that if you haven’t made it by your mid-20s, that the journey isn’t over yet. Keep it going, and you will find people that love your craft. Some people will hate it, but people will love it as well. I think the most important thing I’d tell an upcoming artist is to not let the outside world dictate who you are because those inner thoughts are so powerful. Keep living off dreams, Spaghetti-O’s and never settle for anything. It’s all about being who you truly are. 

Just lastly for me my man, what’s the rest of 2020 looking like for Clever?
Regardless of where I am or what I’m doing, I’m still going to be taking phone calls, doing Zoom interviews, and creating. I love to work. I think this year, I’m going to try and stack my chips up. I hope touring comes back again as well. But in the meantime, I have a record on Post Malone’s upcoming album, I’m working on a record for the Space Jam album, and I’m trying to get a placement on Madden 22. I also just pitched for XXL, which I don’t know if I’ll get, but I am grateful for the opportunity nonetheless. I just want to keep cooking, and hopefully get this second album done by the Summertime. 

Follow Clever here and stream the debut album Crazy below.

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