Clairmont the Second is done being Toronto's best-kept secret
With a new album, the rapper talks about the struggles of making it and why fans aren't 'being loud enough'
In the weeks leading up to the release of his new album, It's Not How It Sounds, Clairmont the Second announced it in a unique way: the Toronto rapper took to Twitter to vent his frustrations over being slept on.
"I been too damn nice for a while but I'm fed up," he wrote. "Year after year I been bussin' my ass making these great albums, videos, and content period out my shallow pockets and they're falling on deaf ears and eyes. Dying out months later. Not anymore, man."
I'm not putting out another banger of an album and it goes unnoticed. Done playing around. Being nice is dead.<br><br>JULY 10TH I'M BLOWING OUT YOUR DAMN SPEAKERS.—@CTSecond
It's Not How It Sounds, released July 10, is Clairmont's second album in two years, having released Do You Drive? in 2019. As fans have come to expect from the staunchly independent artist, Clairmont also produced, mixed and played every instrument on the album — save for one track, "Clockout," which was produced by his brother/manager Cola. The album shows the young artist's growth, displaying Clairmont's finely honed skills at blending various genres, from trap to gospel, all while incorporating elements such as retro video game sounds, blistering Dr. Dre-inspired synths and sumptuous jazz chords. The result is a sound distinctly his own.
"Apparently I'm in all these music conversations, but the numbers aren't reflecting that. They are not reflecting the financial struggle," Clairmont says over the phone. "When people are telling me, 'You're famous, you're famous.' I'm like, 'I'm not famous. I am decently known in my hometown.'"
If anything, the tweets were a call to arms, a plea to his fans to help spread the good word. You can't help but be reminded of the grassroots initiative from another independent artist, Chance the Rapper, who's mobilized his fanbase in unique ways, including creating a website that helped fans contact radio stations and ask them to play songs from his 2016 independent album Coloring Book.
"How many times am I going to make an album and I'm going to, you know, get a thousand Twitter followers in a year?" Clairmont says. "The way the system is set up and the way the industry is set up, it's not easy for somebody in my position. I need people to stop trying to keep me a secret. I need people to tap into what I'm doing. I need people to ride for me. They're not being loud enough."
That frustration also comes through in Clairmont's music, which at times is urgent and immediate, particularly on the blistering track "Dun," where he proclaims, "I'm dun letting ya'll slide."
Throughout the album, Clairmont also seems to make many references to our new living conditions under COVID-19, even though the songs were recorded in 2019 and early 2020, before the global pandemic.
On "Wait," it can feel like he's talking about how working from home is his new normal, rapping, "I make figures in my home, so I never have to leave."
On "Gun Finger," Clairmont talks about going outside only for necessities, even though the song was recorded last year and originally intended for his next album (which he says is already "60 to 75 per cent" finished). "I never hang on the strip, get what I need then I dip," he raps.
"People are like, 'Clairmont is eerily timed to what's going on in the world,' with like, I'm done going outside, and it's just like, no, this is just who I am," he says. "It just ended up lining up with everything going on, kind of just me being by myself and whatnot. It's pretty insane how everything kind of, I don't want to say worked out because obviously things aren't really working out, but the way it aligned, content-wise, with what everybody is kind of going through right now."
COVID-19 has forced Clairmont, like any musician, to rethink his strategy, which originally would have included a string of live concerts.
"We were set, we were ready for this year," he says. "If you listen to this project, it is ready for the stage. It was going to slap. Just even 'Dream' being the slow song, I just know that's such a universal song. When we bring this to the road, it's going to do what it needs to do, and that all got shut down. I can't keep doing internet concerts. It's not the same."
Even though the struggles of going independent are very real, now more so than ever, Clairmont's still not interested in signing with a label, and prefers the freedom of being able to pursue his craft on his own terms. Clairmont's team remains small, with him handling his own social media, as well as directing and editing his music videos. Aside from his brother, Cola, his other longtime collaborator and "right hand" is Beee, who handles cinematography and photos (the two won a Prism Prize special achievement award in 2019 for their work together).
"We've been having label conversations since maybe 2014, 2015," he says. "But if it was just about the money, it would look a lot different. My career would look a lot different. My music may even sound a lot different. But when a label is actually putting figures on the table, I can't just be like, 'Let's do this.' I have to be sure with whoever is giving me money, what are they holding over my head?"
Referencing a famous approach to music championed by Prince — owning your masters and having complete control over your vision — Clairmont says being independent allows him, above all, to maintain his integrity, even in uncertain times.
Now there's a new formula that nobody knows, and we're still trying to figure it out. It definitely makes me nervous. It scares me.- Clairmont the Second
"Nobody knows the answers, especially now with this whole COVID thing going on," he says. "Now there's a new formula that nobody knows, and we're still trying to figure it out. It definitely makes me nervous. It scares me."
Despite the increasing challenges, the independent path is one he's carved out for himself ever since releasing his first mixtapes while still in high school, and one that he has no intentions on straying from.
"Music is something I take very seriously. It's not just something I do to get money or to get rich and famous, because if I wanted to do that I could," he says. "I already know the route that I'm taking is a long one, but it's a good thing. I do get frustrated because you have to remain patient, even though after a while that patience runs out. But I always feel like I have my integrity and I pride myself in staying true to what I do and what I create."