In a time when DJs are receiving nearly the same levels of acclaim that MCs are garnering, the hard work and keen business mind of Clinton Sparks are welcome with open arms. Hailing from Boston, the DJ and producer double threat is making a big name for himself these days, dropping unique mixtapes on the streets while touching other areas of the hip-hop scene.
While most DJs clutter their latest collections with freestyles and exclusives heard on every other tape out, Clinton Sparks injects refreshing doses of creativity into his releases. Producing many of the beats himself, Sparks has mastered the art of blending and recruiting artists such as Mobb Deep and Joe Budden to record exclusive tracks only heard on his tapes. On top of flooding the mixtape market, he oversees two popular websites, www.mixunit.com and www.smashwax.com, is grooming upstart Beantown group XL, and is prepping his own solo album.
Staying hungry is a key factor to longevity in the rap game, a point that ensures a bright future for Sparks. With his business sense steadily growing, his name should soon be mentioned alongside DJ Kay Slay, DJ Clue, and Big Mike without hesitation.
AllHipHop.com: For those who aren’t aware, let them know who you are and what it is that you do?
Clinton Sparks: I’m a DJ and a producer. I’m the first DJ to be on three stations in three states, live every week. I do Hot 97 in Boston, Hot 93.7 in Connecticut, and I do 92 Q. I put out mixtapes, and do production.
AllHipHop: Are you producing for any artists that people can check for?
Clinton: Right now, I’m actually working on my album. I’m gonna be the first DJ to produce his whole own album. There’s been a lot of DJ albums, but with those albums, the DJs just solicit the artists for records. I’m producing my whole album, and I got CNN, Joe Budden, Mobb Deep, Kardinal Offishal, and a lot of other heavyweights that are being confirmed.
AllHipHop: Is this album coming out independently, or on a major label?
Clinton: Well, this is how it started off. On my mixtapes, I produce a lot of the exclusives. Being on the radio, a lot of cats will come to my markets and we’ll either go in the production studio at the station where they can put verses to my beats, or they’ll do a freestyle, and I’ll end up making a beat to that verse. I started wondering how it make it bigger than just having exclusives on my mix CDs. Then I had the idea to have a whole mixtape that I would produce. That was the original idea, doing a self-produced mixtape just for the streets. I began promoting it, and artists started hitting me up. A dude like Joe Budden was like, “Yo, you better not put out an album and not have me on it!”
AllHipHop: So how long have you been involved in the mixtape game?
Clinton: I’ve been doing it for about four years I think. I first started off in my basement, as a ten-year old kid. Nobody around me was doing music, so I don’t even know what made me pick up music. But I used to try to remix Prince songs, and stuff like that in like the late 1980s, on my mom’s little stereo. As the years went by, I honed my skills and bought better equipment and started remixing popular songs. I got friendly with the DJs on major radio stations. They started hearing my remixes, and wanted to play them on their shows. So I asked myself, “How could I make myself hot enough where people hear my name and think hot music?” That’s when I decided to get my own radio show. My first radio show ever was a 20-city syndicated radio show in 1998. From there, I eventually got into making mixtapes.
AllHipHop: New tapes are being put out in the streets almost on a daily basis, so what separates a Clinton Sparks mixtape from the rest out there?
Clinton: Mine have a lot of creativity, a lot of self-produced music. Today, the mixtape game is almost getting ruined. It’s so oversaturated. Everywhere I go, and I’m in three different states so imagine how much I see it, everybody is a DJ or a rapper. Everybody has their own label or production company. That’s the same thing with mixtapes, and its like there are so many dudes doing mixtapes that aren’t hot. You already have your Kay Slays and your Big Mikes. They play the exclusive new s**t and pop their s**t over the music. We already have that. That’s them, so let them do them. To me, what makes a new mixtape DJ hot is when they find a niche, and do something different that nobody else has done. The difference between me and other people is also my intros. I’m known for my intros. The first person I ever heard do a hot intro was Juice, so I want to give respect to him. My intros always a message in them, if you pay attention. All these DJs can say what they wanna say, and pop s**t on their CDs, but if you just play three minutes of my intro then it’s a wrap.
AllHipHop: How do you go about deciding what theme each new mixtape is going to have?
Clinton: Sometimes people come to me, or sometimes my partner Daouda will come up with some ideas. Having a tight team around you and just brainstorming. Coming up with ideas, and know the market and what movies and albums are about to come out. For instance, there are two other major movie stars that I’m about to do mixtapes with. They have movies coming out around October, and when people hear them they will go crazy. Like the next mixtape I’m about to drop, I’m gonna have a first ever, Britney Spears rapping freestyle. She did 16 bars, all rapping. The curiosity factor on that will be so high, that everybody will want to at least hear it. I try to do things that will make my tapes stand out, and make people like MTV interested in them. That’s why I did one with the Wayans Brothers. A lot of these DJs think they need to have this tough guy attitude on their tapes. Like have guns and people shooting at you on the covers. Don’t get me wrong, I’ll f**k somebody up if they talk s**t, but all that isn’t what I’m about.
AllHipHop: Do you ever have any problems with artists when trying to put your mixtapes together?
Clinton: That’s another thing. When you try to get rappers on your tapes and host them, so many of these rappers are f**king Hollywood. That’s why I said, “F**k it. I’m just gonna go to Hollywood.” So I get people like the Wayans Brothers, who are real Hollywood people.
AllHipHop: The words “Get Familiar” are always associated with you, so explain where that came from?
Clinton: Get Familiar is basically just a handle. Whatever I’m doing, whether it be a mixtape or I’m on the radio. Like, get familiar with what I’m doing. When I’m breaking new music, it’s like “get familiar with this new music.” When I first started in radio, I sat in my room and tried to think of something that when you hear it, people will think of Clinton Sparks. So rather than saying “ya heard” or “nah mean,” it’s “get familiar.” When I walk down the street, people shout that out at me. Some people think my name is DJ Get Familiar (laughs).
AllHipHop: You seem to wait longer between each new tape than most DJs do. Why is that?
Clinton: If I wanted to, I could put out a new mixtape every week, but why do that? I could just go grab some mp3s and put them together on a CD. If you do that, you aren’t a DJ. You’re just a guy who puts songs on a CD. Don’t call yourself a DJ. If you notice, I don’t put DJ in front of my name, because I don’t wanna be recognized as just a DJ.
AllHipHop: What do you want to be recognized as then?
Clinton: More than just a DJ. I have the largest record pool in New England. I’m dropping my own album, and I work on the three stations. I have so much going on in the music industry. I just created a new card game for casinos that is being patented right now. We have the websites, where people can buy all of the latest mixtapes. I’m going to be a DJ for Shady Radio, which Eminem is launching on satellite radio. I have a group called XL coming out, too. XL is four young dudes from Boston that sing, rap and write. We even have start-up magazines, like a mixtape magazine and one for all throwback sneakers. DJs nowadays are like stars, you know, they aren’t just in the background anymore.