Clairmont The Second
'In my opinion, every album I’ve made has been ahead of its time. I'm just not doing regular things and if I am, I'm still doing them differently'
Evan Dale // Mar 31, 2019
Clairmont The Second is ahead of his years, ahead of the game, and ahead of his time. There are few if any artist in music so fervently attached to their musical ideals and their creatively expressive morals, and even fewer that are 21 years old and four albums deep. Whether his experience, his upbringing, or his vast and varied set of musical influences and inspirations, no one has ever quite sounded like him. And that's by design. Equally influenced by classic R&B and modern hip-hop stars; by YouTube, classic videogames, and movies shot on film; by classic BET and by gospel music, Clairmont The Second is a patchwork of endless and indefinable variables. In result, his music is unique, boldly experimental, timeless, and 100% him.
In conversation with Clairmont The Second, it’s obvious that he is comfortable with who he is as an artist and an individual (though the two are seemingly inseparable). And it’s apparent that though half-a-decade into a young and vivacious career, he’s just getting started, and music isn’t the only lane pushing into his horizon.
RNGLDR: Let’s start with Toronto. At this point, it’s no secret that Toronto is a global powerhouse not just of hip-hop, not just of music, but of art and culture altogether. But that wasn’t always the case – or at least didn’t receive credit for being such a city. When you were growing up in the city, what was the perception of it as a cultural hub?
Clairmont: Growing up, I didn't look at it that deep to be honest. I thought there was a dope little scene going on here and "oh man, Toronto is blowing up as a city", but a lot of great art gets overlooked and a lot of things that are at the forefront, I personally feel shouldn't be there. Honestly, I'm not sure if it's a global powerhouse. It seems like people around the world know about Toronto as its own place now but it also feels like they don't take us as seriously as we think they do.
RNGLDR: When you were younger, did you find yourself drawing inspiration from Toronto culture and music? Or was it easier to look elsewhere for cultural and musical role models?
Clairmont: I definitely will say my lyrics now are inspired by Toronto because this is where I'm from, this is where I grew up, this is where I learned everything, etc. I didn't gain any music-making inspiration from Toronto. All my inspiration came from music genres I grew up listening to which were R&B, Neo-Soul, Jazz, Gospel, and my family. I didn't really grow up on rap music, I just grew up on music.
RNGLDR: What has it been like being a part of Toronto’s transition into one of the most sought after, celebrated hip-hop meccas on Earth?
Clairmont: I feel indifferent about it. A countable on one hand amount of artists were able to go global and Toronto thinks that our whole city is on now but look how long it took for someone else [other than those I don't really need to name] to really blow up from here. There's a ton of reasons for that. I try not to play into the hype of it because to me it's just hype which isn't real, but it also feels like the hype itself isn't real. I'd rather use my music to speak for itself than me let being from Toronto speak for me.
RNGLDR: Obviously, a culture of artistic acceptance and an explosion of local talent and their widespread recognition have been positives in Toronto’s transition. What do you think have been some of the negatives?
Clairmont: Racist venues. Lack of support. People being afraid to listen to whatever they want without approval from a big media outlet, or a big artist. There's a ton of work to do here. I'm not convinced of what everybody is saying.
RNGLDR: What are your thoughts on one of the most polarizing stars in all of music, Drake?
Clairmont: He's doing his thing. Not much to say.
RNGLDR: Though so much music comes from Toronto these days – hip-hop in particular – it’s so broad and wide-ranging. In a lot of ways, it seems that Toronto came to stand on its modern pedestal at a time that experimentalism is being held at higher regard than traditional stylings and genre. But, if you could try to describe Toronto’s sound, how would you do it?
Clairmont: It depends where you look. I'd say everything that's more experimental or more musical doesn't garner as much attention. What the world knows us for is spacious trap. That consists of a whole ton of reverb and the same 808 drum kit everybody in the world is using. I'm not bitter, I just kind of don't pay attention to what's happening here anymore unless it's more from the "underground artists".
RNGLDR: You in particular have a unique auditory aesthetic. So, if you had to describe your sound with the made-up name of a genre, what would you call it and why?
Clairmont: I'd call it "Grain". I feel like part of what makes some of my favorite movies my favorite moviesis the cinematography and a lot of those movies are shot on film. A lot of the time film contains grain and I just love the look of it. I like to make my music sound like old, classic, timeless movies. As far back as Quest For Milk & Honey I've been mixing my music to have a timeless sound. I just achieved the sound I was going for more efficiently on Lil Mont from The Ave & perfected it on Do You Drive?.
RNGLDR: We want to first say congratulations on the release of Do You Drive?. It’s such a special project that, like we discussed in our editorial, doesn’t really sound like anything else we’ve heard. What are your thoughts on the how it all came together?
Clairmont: I appreciate it, thank you. It means a lot to me. I didn't really think about it. I just started making stuff over the course of the year and it ended up being what it was. It's everything I grew up on in an album. I also spent time writing the best verses I could at this point in my life. From delivery, to flows, to cadence, to lyrics. I don't know, it was perfect.
RNGLDR: In the past, you said that you ‘… ultimately don't let what's happening around [you] influence [your] work. For ‘Lil Mont from The Ave’ [you were] trying to somewhat fit a mold while simultaneously staying true to [yourself], [your] production elements, and what [you] talk about. With the newer album, [you] just made what came naturally to [you].’ This quote was so interesting to us, so if you don’t mind, can you please elaborate on it a little further?
Clairmont: So, I definitely didn't conform on Lil Mont from The Ave - poor choice of words - but I had more of an agenda with that album. There was more thinking behind it. I knew I wanted to have fun on the album, and I wouldn't do anything I didn't want to do on it to please someone. One of the big ideas behind the album was that I wanted people to connect with the it – jump to it, so I used more 808 basses than I had before. At the same time though, I still stayed true to myself and did what naturally came to me on production. Nobody has a say in what I do. I read something the other day calling that album monotonous and I thought it was ridiculous and false. So i thought about the project: I tried to bring the trap lovers to the jazz, the R&B, and the neo-soul.
On Wezide: the beginning of the second verse is backed by one of the prettiest chord progressions I ever put together while also playing real bass on it.
Gheeze is one of my favorite beats of all time – I used 808's on it but the whole drum pattern isn't what you'd expect. Where I placed the drums, to me has way more bounce than what everyone else is doing with theirs. Not only that, but the progression changes on the pre-choruses and the sprinkling of piano throughout the second verse.
Fo Myself is one of the most dramatic beats I've ever made; I sampled one of my older songs singing, then to finish it off built a key change that ends with a neo-soul beat – like c'mon now, monotonous?
Luvin' Ona Budget is a whole ass R&B track with cold ass harmonies. I used auto-tune on the main vocal for the 1st verse but it's done tastefully to achieve the perfect feel for it.
2 Rich 4 Me is a timeless old school R&B track with dynamic production. Just re-listen, I don't really have to explain that one.
Stories is me flexing my rap skill on a level I really hadn't at the time.
Ma Homie Gawd is that same vocal sample on Fo Myself but with a whole new progression. I'm talking about God on it with my homie and our pretty serious things we've been through on a R&B, Neo-Soul, Jazzy progression. Then, not only that but the bridge after Hezi's verse has one of my favorite breakdowns ever and I'll forever perform this song just to listen to the bridge in louder speakers.
On The Clock finishes with basically an R&B track which I'm playing real bass on again. I play real bass throughout the album. Everything I rap on the album is nothing but my truth. The closest thing to me rapping over something fairly basic is The Ave in You, and funny enough I enjoyed making that song probably the most. I remember being on the phone with Beee telling her I think on this I'm gonna say things that people don't really say when they gloat. "Chilling with MY girl...", it's funny.
Basically, if you listen to the whole album again with all that in mind, you'll notice it's NEVER just me rapping over a beat loop. NEVER. I take my time with everything. I don't ever rush.
I'm never restricted. Me saying I was trying to fit a mold was a poor choice of words on my part. I just had more of an agenda but at the same time everything was natural. I don't want anybody discrediting my previous work. I think it's all amazing and I love Lil Mont from The Ave to death. That album is when everything changed for me in music.
If I could say it again, I wouldn’t use the same words.I would say that I thought about LMFTA more than I thought about Do You Drive?. It was never, "is this song too R&B? Is this song too Neo-Soul? Can someone my age in my field put out a jazz record?" It's not like I thought those things on the last project because I still did whatever I wanted on that album... It's just more of the fact that I didn't give a damn what anybody thought. I had that mindset EVEN MORE on DYD?. In my opinion, every album I’ve made has been ahead of its time. I'm just not doing regular things and if I am, I'm still doing them differently.
RNGLDR: The first time we listened to you – long before we started the magazine – we heard Project ll and Pretty was a favorite track to take away from it. Obviously, your sound is different today than it was in 2014, but there is a definite and clear foundation that you’ve built on since. What are some things about Project ll that still drive you and your music to this day? What are some elements in your music that have changed? And what do you want to rediscover about your artistry that you may have had then and don’t necessarily utilize now?
Clairmont: I'm glad you mentioned that album honestly. Means a lot to me. Pretty was 100% my favorite track on it. May be weird but Isolated, the outro track was my favorite beat at the time. I loved that beat and the harmonies on the chorus.
Project II was the beginning of me making a name for myself in the city and even a little bit outside of the country. In that age of SoundCloud, Flame Princess was the perfect song to put out and I had no idea. It has so many plays on it, it's crazy. Once in a while I go back and listen to my old projects and I still find things that hold up today – things that are extremely impressive regardless of my age. But think about it, I'm 21 now and that album came out when I was 17. When it came out, I hadn't worked on it for some time. I worked on it at 16, produced the whole thing, recorded the whole thing, mixed the whole thing, and got it mastered by the homie, Dave Plowman. He mastered it with Greg Giesbrecht with assistance from George The Pug (Which is literally Dave's pug, ahaha). I'd say that I'm the same artist it's just my taste is better and I'm WAY more polished now. Nothing's changed in terms of what music I've always liked and wanted to achieve. I just feel like I wasn't skilled enough at the time to do it. I practice a lot, though.
The one thing I had to do very recently is delete the apps off my phone and recapture the fun I used to have making music. I found it again making DYD? but lost it reading what people are saying, thinking my album isn't moving fast enough, hate, love, incorrect information, discrediting me... I'd get so furious it'd hurt my chest. I had to bounce off the social media and remember I used to do this for me and at the end of the day I'm left with me, even if all my fans turn on me. I have to be happy with what I create. I'm back in that space again.
RNGLDR: You are a rare artist in the way that – even today amongst a smattering of all-in-one creatives – you write, rap, produce, and mix by yourself. For you, does production and instrumentation drive your vocal delivery? Or does your songwriting and lyricism drive the direction of your music?
Clairmont: It changes all the time. Sometimes I'd be working on a beat and know exactly the flow I want on a song and then write to fit that flow. Sometimes I'd hear a beat and know what I want to write but the flows are up in the air. Sometimes I get random ideas in my head and record it on my phone and build around it. Sometimes I dream a sick chord progression and I record me humming it as soon as I wake up and build to it later. Sometimes I have to write down progressions if I forget how it sounds exactly. Sometimes I know what I want to write so I make a beat with the feeling. I used to write to other beats I liked and then made something that would fit. It literally can happen in anyway.
RNGLDR: Since all rappers are different in the way they approach it, we want to ask: how do you go about writing and lyricism? What’s your process?
Clairmont: I write down notes of one-liners that I think are great. Maybe not even a bar but just a sentence of how I'm feeling. Whether they're meaningful, disrespectful, or anything else you could think of, I write it down. Sometimes I'd use it to start a verse or sometimes I'd just start writing and if I get stuck, I go back to those notes and see what I can continue on with. I basically write about me and my thoughts. DYD? was probably the easiest writing process for me for some strange reason. No idea why. I do feel like they were my best verses though.
RNGLDR: For us, Do You Drive? is very reminiscent of the 2000’s mixtape era. Something about the sonic texture is so poetically imperfect, so honest, and so effortlessly cohesive that it feels like a throwback where over-production and overly-complicated storylines weren’t an issue like they are with modern albums, EP’s, and playlists. So, what are some of your favorite non-album mixtapes of the 2000’s? What was the first tape you remembering buying? And how does your background growing up in a different era affect your music today?
Clairmont: Haha, I don't know how old you thought I was. You know what's crazy, I didn't listen to many mixtapes growing up, only albums. And then even growing up it was BARELY rap music. It was more Gospel music than anything; Christian household, you know. Born in '97 internet wasn't really a thing like that. I was at my mom's house the majority of the time and I didn't have internet consistently until about Grade 6/7 which was about '08/'09. At my dad's there was internet before that, but I wasn't on internet for music, it was for games and YouTube in its early stages. I never bought music growing up. All my music consumption was through tv. The era I remember very prominently was when the south ran EVERYTHING! I didn't have an mp3, no personal laptop, or anything like that. It was like all BET. Lean With It, Rock With It. Then you got the Dirty South. Coldest samples and basslines, holy. That's something I didn't really notice until maybe a few years ago though. However, as a youngin’, the Gospel music is what molded the majority of my taste. My Dad had a serious Gospel catalog. The R&B and Neo-Soul is the stuff my brother and sister used to play. When I'd go to my Dad's, my step brother would watch BET a lot of the time and that was all my new music consumption. That's not to say my brother didn't put me on to new stuff. He put me on to that West Coast sound which was pivotal, but I grew up around a ton of different types of music and there's so many levels to what I consumed and how I did it.
But DYD? is like a melting pot of everything I grew up on with a touch of film grain added. You’ve got old school R&B, neo-soul, jazz, gospel elements – you’ve got that southern era, that West Coast stuff. You can hear everything on it.
RNGLDR: One of our favorite moments from Do You Drive? is the vocal breakdown in Grace. This jazzy, funky delivery does an amazing job of adding a new, deeper element to the tape, and is also such an interesting display of talent we didn’t necessarily know you had. The same can be said about Lume. Was it challenging to incorporate something that is out of your comfort zone? Or are you a fan of vocals who simply doesn’t utilize them often?
Clairmont: My favorite genres of music are melodic based. Melody can make or break a track for me (other than mixing). I didn't always want to be a great singer but as I grew older, I learned to love it more and more. I used to sing a lot in church when I was younger, but I stopped because I wasn't into it anymore. Then as I started taking music seriously, I always practiced singing. I also have singing vocals sprinkled throughout Project II. The singing is in the blood though. My Dad is probably one of the best singers I have ever heard in my life. I'm trying to get more into singing even more on my next release. I love it. I love singing along to music more than I like rapping along to music. Just practicing harmonies and thinking of what I would have done there vocally. I'm not naturally a gifted singer, like I don't have a voice for it, so that's where the challenge comes in. I can hit notes, but I think the cadence of the voice is part of it as well.
RNGLDR: Do you plan on incorporating more vocals in your music in the future? Or do you like the idea of the unexpectedness and shock value that they’re able to add to a track and a project in smaller doses?
Clairmont: I definitely plan to incorporate more singing in my music. I pushed further than I ever have before. I'm out here dropping full songs with only singing on it so you can definitely expect more of that. We'll see though. I won't force anything.
RNGLDR: You also direct and produce all of your own music videos. How do you develop the ideas for your videos? And is the creation of your videos an extension of your musical self? Or is it something altogether different along your creative spectrum?
Clairmont: The ideas just come to me. A lot of the time the visuals are inspired by the lyrics. I was always super artsy thanks to my family. My siblings all do more than one thing in the arts. My Dad used to paint. I do visual art as well (pencil) but one of the things I picked up was video editing. I used to make Youtube videos that were trash, but I had so much fun making them. I'd also animate cartoons. All that eventually came to me shooting my first music video later down the line. I shot it myself on my mom’s S3. From then, I just got better at it. With my videos it's just something I love to make and love putting visuals together and seeing the outcome
I became obsessed with what I put on the screen rather than how it's edited. That's why I like the Gheeze video more than Wezide. That's not to take away from any of my other videos, but those two get talked about a lot.
RNGLDR: The Ave in You is your most popular hit to date and also your most viewed music video. Can you take us through the process of developing the track and the video? If you had to speculate, what led to the track’s widespread popularity?
Clairmont: Man, I love that song. It was such a natural process. I started making the beat and then all I remember was the first line of the song and thinking it was funny. I was on the phone with Beee and I'm like "I'm gonna say this and it'll be funny. Nobody really says this. It's always about smashing someone else's girl". Then the song naturally came to me. Everything on that song though is real. Especially the breakdown on that second verse.
"Telling all these suits go screw yourself, remove yourself..."
It was just higher ups or people you think are higher ups trying to judge your art and how it rolls out and how it should be made. It was a fun song and it still one of my favorites. The video took 2 days to shoot. Ultimately, though, it was fun.
I believe the song went as big as it did because it's catchy and bouncy. People love something to repeat and something that they can dance and jump to. Although the song may seem shallow, it's never just a song to me. It all plays a roll that's needed in my life. I don't want to rap-genius the song but that's how I was feeling in that moment, so I wrote it down. I also was M.I.A online for a couple months prior to its release and people speculate, "where's Clairmont? Is he alive? Is he still making music? Did he fall off?". I knew what I was dropping was perfect, a good comeback, and it wasn't something I usually put out. I'm keeping it fresh. But even the way it was mixed wasn't your standard thing. It's not as bright as radio songs from a sonic perspective. My voice will forever sound weird to me and that's different. There are elements that separate it from everything else.
RNGLDR: Grain is a keystone exhibition of your unique flow and its ability to shift throughout a track without losing sight of the track’s direction. For you, how does flow and cadence come to you? Is it simply something natural that occurs when you’re recording over your production for the first time?
Clairmont: Basically, I'd try to think of flows that people don't really use and if they do use it how I can manipulate it to make it stand out. A lot of the time flows come from me mumbling over beats and things that I've picked up over the years as a drummer. Sometimes they immediately pop into my mind, there's no science behind my music-making. One of my favorite flows on the album is the end of the first verse in Brick. It's almost like the flow itself is a calypso beat.
RNGLDR: Your production does a great job of setting a fairly minimalist backdrop for your lyrical and vocal ability while still exploding here and there with vibrant synths and delicate keystrokes. What is your production process like and what inspires it?
Clairmont: My production process is very natural, but I do have somewhat of a formula. I'd start up Reason (Production program) and open a Rhodes sound or sometimes piano and start playing chords and trying to mix it up. I try to play chord progressions that give me a stank face, butterflies, or goosebumps. Or make me want to cry regardless of the type of song it is. Then it either gets built upon or stripped away from that base. Sometimes when I'm stuck, I sample my old songs. In fact, that's what that main synth on Grip comes from. I like all my sounds to sound vintage or when I mix it make it sound a bit older which is essentially adding warmth and taking out the high-end. High-end can sometimes give it too clean of a sound – sometimes it can just be too piercing.
RNGLDR: As a producer, a singer, and a rapper, how do you go about live performance? Do you have to bring in a DJ to control the production for you? Or do you somehow run the stage yourself?
Clairmont: Beee doesn't only shoot my videos and take my photos, but she DJs for me. I shout her out on stage, but I try not to take away from the experience of the entire show. I take my time building a set list from top to bottom depending on how much set time I get to give the audience the perfect impression of me. I love longer sets because I feel like they're more dramatic.
RNGLDR: On the subject of live performance, we run a narrative series called Dream Venue that takes the reader on a journey culminating in the perfect live show. So, if you could have the ultimate day ending in the ultimate concert, how would it unfold and who would you see perform?
Clairmont: I had to read a couple of them. They're great! Man, I don't know, I'm a pretty simple man. I love video games and food so the day would start with breakfast which I never get to have because I wake up late a lot of the time. I'd spend the day just playing classic video games with homies. Those video games where you get the best laughs to the point of hurting your abs, super intense matches, you know your Goldeneye's, Super Smash Brothers, NBA Street V2, Etc. The show would be like 500 cap. It'd be Kunta's Groove Sessions tour, you know when Kendrick did like 6 shows for TPAB's rollout. Everybody in the crowd would be loving the music and be more concerned with jumping rather than pushing to get to the front. White people not saying the n-word even if it's in the lyrics. It's a respect thing. Wesley's Theory (The Band) would have the craziest live arrangements on damn near every song. Kendrick would finish a song and between tracks be like "It's good to be out here in Toronto. Speaking of Toronto..." Then The Ave in You would start playing and everybody in the crowd would go crazy and I'd come out and do a mini surprise set. Then I'd perform Grip after and the crowd is just as crazy for that too. I'd also have Wesley's Theory backing the tracks as well. It'd be pretty nuts. That's just one of the concerts though. I have a ton more situations that would be dope with different artists I admire.
RNGLDR: And how about for you? What is your Dream Venue as the artist performing?
Clairmont: The crowd would be diverse in races and ages. People who love me for everything I do and not just one particular style. A crowd that is crazy top to bottom. A crowd that understands what everyone is there for and all their outside problems can stay outside because once everyone is in the venue and at MY show, love is the most important thing, and everyone has to work together to give each other a great experience.
RNGLDR: We also run a series called Collab Elation where we explore hypothetical collaborations that we want to see in the music industry. So, if you could have two artists work together – past or present – who would you choose and why?
Clairmont: Tyler, The Creator & Kendrick Lamar. We have yet to see it happen. Even if it's Tyler on production and Kendrick on verses it would be nuts. Those are a couple of my favorite emcees. They also make more than just music. They make experiences.
RNGLDR: And if you could collaborate with any artist from any era, who would you want to make music with and why?
Clairmont: Man, I have no idea. There's too many to choose from. Like a lot. An Andre 3000 verse would mean a lot to me. Working with Tyler on a track would be nuts. Getting to feature on Kendrick track is a crazy accomplishment. A Childish Gambino collaboration whether it's on production or vocals. Then there's more. But for the sake of your question I'd say at this moment... I don't know. I like different artists for different things.
RNGLDR: What’s coming up next for Clairmont The Second?
Clairmont: Videos. Shows. Maybe Music?