product of Mt. Vernon, New York, CL Smooth and former counterpart, Pete Rock, took Hip-Hop by storm with their colorful sound. The 1991 EP All Souled Out and 1992’s Mecca and the Soul Brother LP, spawned memorable cuts like They Reminisce Over You (T.R.O.Y.) and the self-titled Mecca and the Soul Brother, tagging the duos names across the walls of Hip-Hop history. After splitting up in 1995 and again after a failed effort to reconcile their differences in 2004, the duo parted ways, taking different paths in life.
While Pete Rock made a name for himself as a producer for Jim Jones and Ghostface among others, CL Smooth took a different route. Similar to Miles Davis during his, post-Cool Jazz/ pre-Fusion eras, CL took a break from music, unsure if he would ever return.
While attempting to build a life beyond music, CL Smooth went back to his roots in Mt. Vernon. Struggling to maintain a similar lifestyle to the one that his previous career had awarded, CL Smooth had to do a lot of soul searchin.
CLs up and coming release, American Me shows a more reflective and spiritual side than previously seen by the MC. Keeping in mind of the classical Hip-Hop mantra, Knowledge of self, AllHipHop.com spoke with CL Smooth about his personal growth, versatility, and return to the mic he left behind.
AllHipHop.com: With the release of the, Man On Fire Mixtape and American Me, soon to be released, how does it feel to be back in the game?
CL Smooth: It feels good. Its been a process where I did a lot of soul searching and Ive got some great music that I want the world to listen to. Im really excited about it.
AllHipHop.com: When you first took the break, did you always plan to eventually come back?
CL Smooth: I didnt really know. I was too busy building my life beyond music and making sure that I was maintaining the lifestyle that I was used to, because of music and my success in it. I was busy building, but I knew in the back of my mind that I would have to eventually prepare for it. My success beyond music would bring the success of a return. Plain and simple, people everywhere asking me, Please, we need you to come back. Once the industry started saying, Ya gotta’ come back and really do something. Thats when I really started to get myself motivated and was prepared to do it.
AllHipHop.com: A lot of early 90s rappers try to make comebacks, but have a hard time connecting with the current generation. How are you able to touch old and new fans?
CL Smooth: I think that its a basis of just being creative and talented enough. This is a great opportunity to break that stigma, to break that mold and show that having history shouldnt be your cause for not making more. I think that the new album will break that stigma of vintage artists who have a hard time coming back and making that next level of creativity work for them. This is breaking that mold.
AHH: Why name the album, American Me? Whats its significance?
CL Smooth: I think its the vibe of when you go around the world and people ask you, How do you feel about America being the most hated country in the world? How do you feel about that? That was a question that really shook the core of me. Thats what a young black man goes through everyday in America, the struggle – the struggle of segregation, the struggle of not being heard and being misunderstood, and having police as boundaries in order to have a peace. I feel like its an underdog and everybody hates you. You have to love that one; everyone hates you because you want to win. You know the odds are very slim. I took that energy, thought process, artistry, and molded it into something that I thought would motivate me in my quest to do the impossible.
AllHipHop.com: The album is supposed to be about misconceptions relating to current day issues, but more so about you. What steps are you taking to rectify or change peoples opinions and misconceptions?
CL Smooth: I think just by being creative, truthful and putting yourself out there; not caring about what people say or think about you and just giving them your all. The true form of what you go through everyday. An intimate look at what your struggles and plights are. How goal orientated and serious about life you are. I wanted to bring theses things out and share a little bit of my pain with the audience and the people that care about Hip-Hop on a level of truthfulness. Thats what I wanted to project.
AllHipHop.com: You mentioned that when you took the break, you tried to maintain a certain lifestyle in which you were accustomed. What kinds of efforts and jobs did you do to keep that intact?
CL Smooth: I think my thing was providing myself with what I earned and investing it the right way. If Im gonna be in a certain hood and represent it, I should rightfully own something in that hood, providing a shelter for the people in it. I put myself on a medium of dealing with people on an intimate level of living. Not only that, it took a lot of steps and sacrifice to be me. There was a lot of suffering due to striving to be successful. In that, certain things suffer, but you grow stronger and hopefully learn from your mistakes. You provide yourself a great life if youre serious and are honest with who you are and what youre about.
AllHipHop.com: It definitely sounds like youve grown from your experiences. When you look back on your career, were your actions based on the time and place?
CL Smooth: I feel that when I was making records as a young kid, I was basically, F**k that! It was gonna happen because I wanted it so bad. Now that I have it, its been good to me. What I want to do is feed it positivity. I love whats going on. Theres a lot of great avenues out there to work with. I just want to give people who dont know about CL Smooth, a chance to know that hes still making great music to add to the catalog. Ive been blessed to do everything in two and a half [Pete Rock & CL Smooth] albums, and now Im adding on to that catalog.
AllHipHop.com: I heard that youre quite the real estate wiz
CL Smooth: Im starting from square one. Im still in the learning process. I should have been in it years ago. When youre creative and trying to maintain a certain lifestyle, you want to create avenues where people respect you. At the same time you divert back. You could do it as a child, so you can do it as a grown man. Actually, you really cant. I wanted to show people that I could maintain a certain lifestyle that Im living. Its not too extravagant, but poor on my level isnt dead broke. This is America and you should be able to do anything that you want. I feel that with my reputation and how I was raised, it was best for me to create a life beyond music and in the end, it will rebirth a life for music.
AllHipHop.com: You mentioned that the album has a mainstream sound to it, so then why not release it on a major label opposed to an independent, like Shaman Work Recordings?
CL Smooth: I feel that you have to start from somewhere. Nobody was knocking on CLs door really and saying, “Come on CL, lets do this! I felt at the time, it was something that I had to prove. The [Man on Fire] mixtape proved that I still have it. The mixtape proved that I can still go on a track, perform, and execute what I need to execute, making people conscious of what Im doing. My demographics from the mixtape really motivated me because it was hitting high school students. Its students in Mt. Vernon and New Rochelle and where even I was, giving them access to the mixtape. It really set off a movement to what Im doing. It really assured me that Im on the right track. Im in the right demographics to make a transition as an artist coming after 10 years and really doing it.
AHH: Speaking of this, on the album at one point, you say you pioneered the Black Card Movement
CL Smooth: It was a movement, and I had to name it. You cant just have the focus on CL all the time. CL has to be his own entity. I wanted to put an umbrella under myself that people can join and grab on to. Not just ride my coattails, but ride the coattails of an umbrella that keeps you dry when it rains. It keeps you healthy. It let you know more or less that the body of work has to be serious. Coming from the basement, it was a name that I can safely say fit that mold of where I was coming from and the music that I made from the deep dark dungeons of the basement. The name signifies that.
AllHipHop.com: It’s odd to ask, but what makes CL so smooth?
CL Smooth: I think its the way that I [carry] myself after my grandfather and being raised by my grandparents. Being the son of a teenage mother while still in high school, I just developed his style and my grandmothers heart. It made a great combination for me to adopt. In the beginning of my career I just took a lot of his words and mannerisms; creating a legendary group with a unique sound and approach. Really being ahead of my time in thought processing, putting things together that has realism and reality checks to it. Just patenting myself after my grandfather, his swagger, it was something that I felt was really important to me and I thank him for that.