At the dawn of the culture, the disc jockey was a vital component to the presentation of Hip Hop music, even more so than the emcee. Groundbreaking teams like Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five, DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince, and Eric B. & Rakim even put the man behind the turntables as the lead on the marquee.
Eventually all the emphasis was placed squarely on the rapper, and the deejay was marginalized as an accessory. But the person controlling the pulse of live shows is starting to get recognized as a legitimate performer once again. A prime example of this transition is the Jamaican born DJ named Genius.
The rise of Atlanta’s new crop of rap stars such as Travis Porter, Migos, and Sy Ari Da Kid can be directly connected to Genius (born Carson Clarke). However, in the tradition of the DJ/rapper tandems of yesteryear, Genius has established a strong working bond with the Northside’s K Camp.
“I have that chemistry with Camp. He’s King Slum and I’m Prince Slum. We’re both springing this Slum Lord movement,” Genius informs AllHipHop.com. “When you see us live, it’s a Slum show. I have my parts that I do, and he has his parts he does.”
Camp and Genius have maintained a successful partnership and friendship ever since the Georgia Southern University graduate co-hosted Camp’s 2011 Become A Fan mixtape. The two A-town representatives collaborated for several other projects including K.I.S.S. Pt 2 and SlumLords.
“We just developed a friendship back then, even out of the studio,’” Genius states. “I was really f*cking with him before a lot of the stuff was happening. I was playing his records in the club. I was doing his mixtapes. So we linked up during that period.”
After spending time on the road with Verse Simmonds, Genius hooked back up with Camp to serve as his official DJ. The close association recently spawned the new single "Po' Up & Go Up" off Genius’ forthcoming album Prince Slum.
Like all of his releases, Genius essentially takes on the role of an A&R for Prince Slum. His hands-on approach to crafting the tracks is more in line with a movie director putting the various necessary pieces together to form a completed film.
Genius recorded over 150 songs with in-house producers Bobby Kritical, Big Fruit, Flair Fifth, Beat Attikz, and Musik MajorX. He is narrowing the list of potential cuts down by testing the music with his peers, and his experience as a deejay has provided him with the uncanny skill of selecting the songs that will likely resonate with club-friendly fans.
“Listeners can expect some dope ass music. As a DJ, all you play is hit records. You’re not playing interludes off n*gga’s album. You’re playing hit records all night long. That’s all I’ve been doing for years,” says Genius. “So I feel like over time my ears have been trained to hear great music. During this whole creative process, I’m really in the studio with the producer like, ‘No, take that sound out. Put this sound in. Do the beat this way. Sequence it this way.’”
Before he became DJ Genius, Carson Clarke was an immigrant from the Westmoreland Parish in Jamaica. He originally lived with his farmer father and teacher mother in a rural section of the Caribbean nation. At 13, Clarke relocated to live with his aunt in Decatur, Georgia. The teenager raised on reggae and dancehall instantly became the recipient of a major culture shock.
“All I had seen on a little black-and-white TV was a commercialized America,” he explains. “They don’t really show the hood on TV, so in my mind I’m coming to this suburban neighborhood with white kids. But none of that happened. I moved into the hood.”
By 14, Clarke had bought his first turntables and the Virtual DJ software. This was the initial steps into his other passion. The self-described “computer nerd” picked up the tag “Genius” for his ability to build computers without any formal training.
Genius also used his technological knowhow to burn music onto CDs for his classmates. After graduating from Towers High School, he earned a degree in Information Technology & Information Systems at Georgia Southern in Statesboro.
At the same time, Clarke started DJing local parties and promoting events while also creating official mixtapes. He teamed with Robert Graham and Curtis Williams to form Hu$$le Hard Entertainment. As his notoriety in Southeastern Georgia grew, Genius’ music/computer crossover continued when he returned to Atlanta to provide tech support to law firms in the city.
“DJing and music was always my first love, so I said I got to be in the clubs, I got to do these mixtapes,” says Genius. “When I got off work, I went to the studio. I went to different events to network. I met DJ Teknikz who’s over at Street Execs. He’s really the one that showed me direction in the game.”
From there, Genius made moves to become one of the most sought after music creators in Atlanta. Within two years, he was putting out buzzworthy full collections with features from Camp, Sy Ari, Simmonds, Gucci Mane, Waka Flocka Flame, Scotty ATL, Two-9, and Jody Breeze. Some of the top production minds in the ATL - Zaytoven, Sonny Digital, K.E. on the Track, TM88, Key! - were lacing him with beats.
“At the end of 2012, I put out my first real A&R project called Virtuoso. That’s the brand that we’ve been pushing since 2012 - virtuoso, constantly chasing perfection. I’m always trying to get to the top and be perfect at whatever I take on,” Genius declares.
The music director continued the story of Virtuoso with 2013’s Virtuoso: The Man. The compilation was virtually a Petri dish for the rising rap talents that are springing from Atlanta at the moment.
“I had records with K Camp, Sy Ari Da Kid, Gucci - if you look at that project’s tracklist it had a lot of artists that are popping now in Atlanta,” says Genius. “It just shows them in earlier stages when we were just trying to get up out the mud."
Genius is now back in album mode. He has been grinding out studio sessions for over 2 years in preparation for the Prince Slum LP. This project is set to include more of his voice. A good number of hooks were written and performed by the album curator - an illustration the space between Genius the DJ and Genius the recording artist is shrinking.
“It’s a thin line between being a DJ and an artist in today’s society. Everything in today’s society is covered by how you market things,” conveys Genius. “I realize to take it to the next level as a DJ you have to be marketed as an artist. Your social media, your videos - whatever you’re doing, you have to do so much more as a DJ now.”
That extra effort from Genius is not only about establishing himself as a brand, but it also includes putting on for his city. He does not surrender to the criticism often placed on Atlanta’s love for 808s, trap references, and strip club-ready tunes.
“What people from the outside looking it don’t see is that in Atlanta this music is a culture, it’s a lifestyle. We’re not making music to try to please somebody that don’t live here,” Genius states. “We’re portraying what’s really going on in the culture in Atlanta. If you’re not from Atlanta or live here, then you wouldn’t really understand it.”
Despite the national perception of Atlanta Hip Hop, Genius has firsthand knowledge of the real diversity in Georgia’s capital city. Whether it’s the radio friendly style of K Camp, the alternative offerings of Raury, the lyricism of Cyhi Da Prynce, the cool guy vibe of Scotty ATL, the street sound of Tracy T, or the virtuosity of Genius, the cast of A-Town’s current rap drive is vast. And the DJ/artist is open to embracing all sections of the ATL scene.
“Music is art. There is no right way to do music, there is no wrong way to do music. I feel like that’s the number one stigma in Hip Hop,” expresses Genius. “Kendrick [Lamar] is one of the dopest, but everybody doesn’t have to make music like Kendrick. Everybody doesn’t have to be super-lyrical.”
Read other installments of AllHipHop’s #ATLRiseUp series here.
Purchase Genius’ Virtuoso: The Man on iTunes and stream the project below.