Clemons may be the rookie of the group, but his resume is already stacked. After relocating from New Jersey to Los Angeles in the late 2010s, he began working with artists like Jeremih. Then, a collaboration with Jeremih led to his connection with Kanye. Next thing he knew, his vocals ended up on “All Mine.” He later popped up in his signature red beanie during Sunday Services around the country.
Now, his voice is all over Jesus Is King. You may recognize his high-pitched vocals on the chorus of “Water,” singing “take the chlorine out our conversation” or his melodious “ooh-ooh, ooh-ooh oh” with Ty Dolla Sign on “Everything We Need.” He tells Complex that both records stemmed from conversations with Kanye about Christ and religion. “A lot of the best songs come from conversations,” he notes. “Being around Kanye has been like the best time to absorb my surroundings. I try to listen, because you’ll hear a lot of the things that you want to know, without even having to ask.”
Now, Clemons is working on his solo material. He recently dropped his single “4 Letter Word,” which serves as a love letter to God or a loved one. He’s also working on a solo project that he’s not ready to talk about just yet. As for his relationship with Kanye, it’s unclear whether he will appear on the upcoming Jesus Is Born album or not, but if he were asked to return, he says it would be a “dream come true.”
Complex spoke with Ant Clemons about his contributions to Jesus Is King, Sunday Service, and what’s next for his solo career. The interview, lightly edited for clarity, is below.
How did you first meet Kanye?
I actually got a chance to meet him for the first time in the studio while working on Teyana Taylor’s album. The way that “All Mine” came about, I was working on the record with my brother Jeremih, and he had got the call to go down to Wyoming. When the song came out, and it had my original vocals on it, I’m like, “What is going on?! This is completely nuts.” I get a call from Kanye's people, and they’re like, “Hey, we want you to work on Teyana Taylor’s album. Is this cool?” So, my first time meeting Kanye was in the studio working on “Hurry.” It was the greatest thing that had ever happened at that point. To be able to build a relationship with somebody that I’ve idolized and admired my entire life, it’s really indescribable.
Kanye’s like, ‘Take the chlorine out of our conversation.’ And I’m like, ‘That’s a Kanye West bar if I’ve ever heard it in my life.’
Can you walk me through the making of “Water?”
It was literally like a conversation. A lot of the best songs come from conversations. Being around Kanye has been the best time to absorb my surroundings. I try not to be the one that comes in like, “Oh, I’ve got every answer.” I try to listen, because you’ll hear a lot of the things that you want to know, without even having to ask. Kanye and I were talking with a couple of other guys, and Kanye was saying how he felt about being with Christ. He felt like we should be fluid as water. He was spitting the lines out in conversation. Kanye’s like, “Take the chlorine out of our conversation.” And I’m like, “That’s a Kanye West bar if I’ve ever heard it in my life.” He’s like, “All right. Let’s make it a record.” I got the instrumental, he passed me over the beat, and we did the song Tuesday. On Thursday before Easter Sunday at Coachella, I get a call saying, “Hey, we got to teach it to the choir, because we’re doing ‘Water’ at Coachella.” It was amazing. It was in God's timing.
What was the energy like performing the song at Coachella? It seemed like the crowd was very responsive and moved.
I’m ecstatic that the energy was there! My biggest thing is that the message was received, because I feel like we’re nothing but vessels anyway. We set out on a mission to make sure that the Gospel was spoken, and I feel like that’s what we achieved. At least on top of that mountain. But as a fan myself, you can’t tell me that I’m not living the greatest life on Earth. Standing next to the Kanye West, on a mountain, singing about God. It was a dream come true. In front of 50,000 people on Easter Sunday, at Coachella, it was the greatest thing that’s ever happened.
After your conversation kickstarted the recording session, what was it like stepping into the booth and laying down vocals?
My biggest thing is trying not to be the person that’s like, “Oh, look at me.” I try to remove myself completely, and ask, “What would God want me to do?” I'm always praying before I get in the booth. I pray that this comes out the way that I hear it, or that He intends it. But, it’s really not too much thinking. It’s just a feeling, and I let the feeling ride and dictate the ways to get to the message that we were delivering.
you can’t tell me that I’m not living the greatest life on Earth. Standing next to the Kanye West, on a mountain, singing about God. It was a dream come true.
What can you tell us about your contribution to “Everything We Need?”
I’m just excited to be a part of a record with Kanye West and Ty Dolla $ign, a second time. It’s just like getting struck by lightning twice. The very first song out the gate, I’m on a record with two of my favorite artists of all time. Then I get blessed with being able to sing about God on a record with these guys.
The first record you worked on with Kanye and Ty was “All Mine.” How do you go from a song “All Mine” to a song like “Water?” They’re very different lyrically.
Honestly, I think progression just happens naturally as people. Art imitates life. So where people in their lives are is a reflection of the art they’re bringing to the table. When we were in that space of doing “All Mine,” I felt like we may have all been in that place. But for us to all be aligned and be in this place for Jesus Is King, I think is a beautiful forward-moving motion that is the best thing, just to see the progression.
What’s the story behind your new solo song “4 Letter Word”?
It was actually one of the first records I did with these two producers named The Roommates. They’re phenomenal producers. I wanted to write a record about God, like how Musiq Soulchild’s “Love” song is. The song was originally entitled “God,” and then it got changed to “Love” so it would be a little more commercially acceptable. So I’m like, “Well if God is love, then 4 Letter Word is like the person that showed me how to love from the beginning of time, which was my Lord and Savior.” So, if we can make a cool way of saying this in conversation and make it feel like it’s a relationship song, but it’s a multipurpose record, I think it will be super dope.
The first time I met Timbaland, he's like, “Man, Kanye was talking about you nonstop. You’re one of his favorite artists. I got to hear some records.”
We did it originally just over the guitars, and it was one of the songs that was the first of five or six songs we did that day. We finished really, really quick. We didn’t really think too much about it. It was probably two or three takes, and then it was done in 15 minutes. But as we got done with the song, I held onto it for a little bit, just listening to it as much as I possibly could, because I really enjoyed the record. But in the midst of all the other songs I was working on, it just kept getting tossed around. Fast forward to December of the following year, where I’m actually in the studio with Timbaland and Kanye, working on Kanye's project. Kanye had been talking a lot about me to Timbaland. The first time I met Timbaland, he's like, “Man, Kanye was talking about you nonstop. You’re one of his favorite artists. I got to hear some records.” So I sent him 10 songs, and in those ten, “4 Letter Word” was probably the fifth or sixth. After I sent the record over, about all of a week and a half later, Timbaland sends me back a file randomly. I’m like, “What is this?” It's “4 Letter Word,” but with Timbaland drums on it. I lost my mind! He hit me back saying, “Yo, I just had to put drums on it bro. I love this song.” He said, “What I love more about the song is just the story behind it, you making a song about God, but it’s still, like I said, your love letter to God. But I can apply this to how I feel about a relationship I went through. And man, yo, I love this record.”
So, back and forth with Timbaland was amazing. I got the chance to tell him, like, “If we’re going to do this, I need your Timbaland sound throughout it. I want you to be an element in the music, because that’s what you brought to the table.”
Do you find that your fans and listeners are catching both of those meanings to the song?
I have been getting a lot of both sides. A lot of people have been hitting me up like, “Yo, this song relates to me and what I’m going through right now.” A couple of my guys was like, “Yo, you’re talking to my girl, like from me. This is amazing, this is everything I wanted to say to her.” I’ve gotten a couple of other people that have just been, “Wow, I’m on this walk with Christ right now, and I feel like this is speaking to me.” I love how music gives that umbrella of, it’s up to interpretation. But through my personal experience, I haven’t felt that 100% in any relationship that’s been in the physical from with someone like that, outside of like, my mother and my father. But when I really started understanding who God was, and how He operated in my life, I was like, “I haven’t received this yet from the person that I’m supposed to, but when it comes this song, it will be about her in that time.”
I’m classically trained in the Lord.
You’ve already worked big artists like Kanye West to Timbaland. What do you think it is about you and your artistry that sticks out to them?
I like to think I bring a smile to people’s faces in the room. Outside of that, I don’t think it’s anything too special from what I’m doing. When your time is your time, it’s truly your time. So, I think it's a mixture of both. I bring happiness and the place where I feel the happiest the most is in a studio. [Publicist Christian McCurdy: “And your melodies. He was going crazy about your melody and delivery on ‘All Mine’ when he first heard it.”] Oh, yeah, he said he's never heard anything like that before, which was like, wild, to me.
Are you classically trained?
I’m classically trained in the Lord. I can play the piano a little bit by ear, but when it comes to singing, I've just been singing my entire life. There's always been singing in my house, from my dad and my mom. And my sisters love singing.
What's something that you've learned from working with major artists like Kanye?
The blessing of actually being in a room with artists is having these conversations with them, and asking questions that you don’t really get the answer to from an interview. My biggest thing was, how do you manage being this superstar and having time for your family? Finding the answers from all the people I’ve had the chance to work with helped shape the way I carve out time for my family now and work. That’s one of the things I can definitely take away from being in a room with these amazing artists. But outside of that, the lesson is just to be yourself, because coming into a lot of these rooms, they’re not expecting me to be anyone but myself. Once you tap into that natural youth and whatever that God-given gift is that you have, that’s what’s going to draw people to you.
Kanye announced a new album called Jesus Is Born is dropping this Christmas. Will you be featured on that project?
I can’t answer that. But if it’s up to me, I would love to. It would be a dream come true again.
What’s next for you? And big collaborations for 2020?
I am dropping a single pretty soon that I’m super excited about. I have a feature on it that I can’t talk about, but I am crazy excited about it. That’s about all I can say about that.