Hold up! Stop Reminiscing! He's Back. Who's Back? C.L. Smooth. MY GOD!
For ten years we've been left in the dark by one question. With little sense of direction and no one to lead us out of our self-made entrapment, we've asked, "Where'd C.L. Smooth go?" Well, he's here and he's going to show us the way out with American Me, an album that focuses on the decade that we've all been wondering about and that brings to light issues in our own communities, much like his records have done in the past. With the same name implied smooth cadence and tricky lyricism, C.L. delivers the realness like we were back in '92. Did I mention that he's still got it!
I met with up C.L. on 134th street in Harlem, New York at the perimeter of St. Nicholas Park to see if I could get a sense of how the Mecca Don has come along since his time away from the rap game. To set the stage, or better yet, the street, NYC was sweltering, caught in the middle of a heat wave straight out of a Spike Lee Joint. For an hour we sat on a bench, talked, and downed bottles of water to ward off dehydration.
"The new album is here to set the record straight," explains C.L. as we start to get into it. "I wanted to right any misconceptions -- any stereotypes that people had about me." And it does. American Me comes through like a steamroller. The album begins with an announcer introducing C.L. Smooth as "The President," which C.L. explained is the position he'd like for himself in the rap game. He takes down and rights anyone that might cast doubt on his decision to go solo, letting you know that "this the type of heat that makes Pete (Rock) squirm."
"There's so much concentration, so much dedication put into this project. We really didn't stop to smell the roses. It was about let's grind, let's really get into this so that after the smoke clears we can enjoy ourselves and reap the fruits of our labor," says C.L.
For those that don't know, C.L. Smooth dropped one of the greatest songs known to Hip Hop, "They Reminisce Over You (T.R.O.Y)." And it's not my opinion alone. "Reminisce" continually makes it on to "best of" Hip Hop charts. The song busted out in 1992 and devastated the scene with a sort of Hip Hop nostalgia not seen before and it hasn't stopped since with its jazz samples set in place by the other half of the now disbanded "dynamic duo," Pete Rock and C.L. Smooth.
"I took time off to re-establish myself to do what I wanted to do outside the music," says C.L. "But what made me want to take a break was the disbandment of my group. At the time I felt like I needed some off time to get my mind right. To re-evaluate what I wanted to do and how I wanted to do it to make sure that when I when I came back I could really put my all into it."
Between 1992 and 1994, Pete Rock and C.L. Smooth had two major releases, "Mecca and the Soul Brother" and "The Main Ingredient." Before that, in 1991, they'd released their "All Souled Out" EP. These contributions wielded tracks like the previously mentioned "Reminisce," "Straighten it Out," "Wig Out," "Take You There," "I Got a Love," "All the Places," and "The Creator," all of which were eaten up by the growing Hip-Hop community.
"What inspired me in the past was the idea of a greater conquest. I saw my music as being a platform for success. Since then I've been working hard, enjoying life. Making sure my family's straight, making sure the music's good. I'm arranging my life so when I retire I can continue to live the lifestyle I've built."
After the duo split, C.L. made appearances on Rock's solo albums and on tracks by Leela James, Emanon and others. In 2003 a rumor spread that Pete Rock and C.L. were joining up for a reunion album but in the end nothing came from that corner. C.L. did not move on any of his own projects until recently.
"I think people telling me, 'we need you, we need you, we need you' made me want to get back in the game. And then after a while you got to say, 'well hey man I got to get back in there somehow.'
"I don't follow the same methods that I did before because I'm dealing with a much different, much wiser, more mature mind. Things are a lot more calculated in my approach, in the formatting in the delivery." According to Smooth, back in 1992, it could sometimes take him a whole day to do one verse. He says now he can write at least one song per day. "I've been able to turn my process of writing into a science. I've learned how to tap directly into that source."
C.L .Smooth's return has come in full force for 2006. He's been performing all over the East Coast, released a video for the acclaimed street single "Smoke in the Air," and in January 2006 C.L. teamed up with mix-tape king J.Period to put together a compilation of Freestyles called "Man On Fire."
C.L. Smooth's new album chronicles the development and maturation of C.L. Smooth. He explains that this album was built to be something that he could add to his collection of previous material but could still show future growth. In effect we're listening to the evolution of C.L. musically and mentally.
Ironically, during this period of rebirth, inspiration for "American Me" came from death, "from the tragedy of losing my grandfather, who was a great artistic and personal inspiration [and] losing my uncle Doc (the greatest)," he confides. "These losses had an effect on me that I needed to put into the music."
When it comes to his writing, C.L. follows the same recipe that he has used throughout his career: He mixes his life and politics with word play. When you listen to his flow, you absorb more than you realize. "I'm covering an inside look on the ten years that I was off.
"I'm living all my music."