Clairmont The Second is barely a year out of high school, and already four projects deep. Earlier this month, the 18 year-old dropped his latest album, Quest for Milk and Honey. He calls the project his most cohesive release yet, and he wants listeners to hear the effort he poured into it. QFMAH exist as a unique compilation of sonic textures, all of which stand out from the dark, murky sound his city currently favors. The rapper and producer took a break from prepping his first headlining show at the Drake Underground, to talk about growing up in the west side of Toronto. We also hear about the evolution of his sound, and what we can expect from him in the near future.
I just saw you live for the first time this year. You were at a CMW showcase, and you had an awesome, energetic set. You got off the stage and danced in the middle of the crowd. Is dancing something you’ve always done?
Yeah! Actually before I rapped, I was a dancer. I was part of a community called Just BGRAPHIC. I met people there and danced. In that period, I transitioned from dancing to rapping.
Before we get ahead of ourselves, let’s talk about the album. You just dropped Quest for Milk and Honey. How would you describe the sound? It’s not traditional sounding hip-hop, but it has that flair.
I would say, neo-soul and R&B infused with rap. I play a bit of piano and I’m a huge fan of neo-soul chords. I love gospel too. I like using hip-hop beats, but I want it to be more melodic.
Did you grow up listening to all of those genres?
I actually grew up listening to gospel, like 80% of the time. My parents are Christian, so that’s all they played in the house. You know, Kirk Franklin, Fred Hammond, Hezekiah Walker, all of those guys. And then 10% of the time was neo-soul, and the least amount of music I heard was rap music. I knew rappers, but it was mainly gospel and neo-soul.
So what what made you interested in hip-hop?
My brother has been doing music forever. He’s in a band called The OBGMS. He taught me how to make beats on FL Studio when I was five. From then on I started making instrumentals. I used to rap here and there, but I never took it as seriously as I do now. I didn’t ever think about being a famous rapper. Actually, my brother very recently found a recording of me when I was five or six. It was of me freestlying and it was garbage [laughs] but it’s crazy looking back and seeing how things have fallen into place more than a decade later.
So, when did you begin to pursue music, take it more seriously?
In grade 9, I made a song with a few people and it was kind of trash. I mean, I thought I was good, until I got the response and reception. My only goal was that I wanted to be better than my friends on that song. We were a group called Xpert Detour. The song’s actually still on YouTube. My brother was rapping at the time, and I had no idea he could rap the way he did. He was a big inspiration for me. My older brother is the reason I rap the way I do.
When you were in this competitive mindset, were you already thinking of stories that you wanted to tell?
I didn’t know I had stories to tell. When I was midway through grade 10, I started to work on my first project, Becoming A Gentleman. That’s when I realized I had stuff to talk about. When I dropped Project II, it was a more refined way of storytelling. Then I dropped the mixtape, because I needed more content, but I wanted to show people that I could really rap. Around then, I started to talk about bigger issues, about police, about being black, religious views.
Quest for Milk and Honey is like my last two projects, but at more advanced stage. With QFMAH, I want people to hear what I’m saying and take it to heart.
Do you think this is your most cohesive project yet?
Definitely, and it’s hands down the best project I’ve ever done. I stand by that very confidently. I think it’s one of the best projects from Toronto this year. While I was making it, I wanted it to be in contention for the best album from Toronto, and the best of 2016. I worked more than a year and a half on this. I engineered the whole thing. I produced all of the beats. I wanted to do something different and turn heads.
It would be remiss of me to not mention this question from one my friends, who is the biggest fan of your’s by the way. He says that you sound so unlike what people are listening to nowadays. How does it feel to be producing music for people that are older and more unlike the average hip-hop fan?
I think that’s cool because the type of music I make, I want a cult following. I want a lot of fans, of course, but I’d prefer a devoted cult following. I don’t want wave-riders who disappear within a year when you're not hot. The cult fans will tell you when something’s whack. I want that. I don’t want to conform or compromise my sound. When I first started making music, my age group was not messing with me at all. Everyone that came to my shows and listened to my music, were older than I was. No one in high-school cared about me.
I went to a Bryson Tiller and Anderson .Paak show last month. It was funny seeing the contrast in both fan groups, and how they were coexisting for a minute. I went to the show, sort of foolishly, expecting that everyone would be into both artists equally. When the show started and .Paak opened, a good amount of the younger audience wasn’t feeling him that much.
That makes me so mad, because Anderson .Paak is one of my favorite artists right now. It makes so much sense though, because he’s too soulful for these kids.
Do you think those younger audiences aren’t latching onto that particular sound because they haven’t experienced that type of soul before? Why is this current wave resonating so well with people right now?
People are becoming conditioned to this trapish, outer space kind of sound. I feel that’s kind of problematic because people with undeniable talent aren’t getting the recognition they deserve. Everything blowing up in Toronto right now has that similar vibe. The people that are making boom bap, neo soul, or R&B, aren’t doing as well. The mindset of most kids is that if it doesn’t bump in the club, they’re not bumping it at all.
Kendrick’s one of those artists that’s very obviously trying to break that wall. He can balance sonics and content. It's like, everyone just assumes "Swimming Pools" is a party song, but it’s not the message of the song at all.
With Quest for Milk and Honey, I tried to balance the sound too. Kendrick Lamar does that perfectly. What you saw at that show, I don’t know if we can change that. I think it’s a status thing too. We need to stop making people big, without focusing on how talented they are. People don’t realize that they’re the ones who make someone blow up. I don’t think people recognize that yet. Forget a co-sign, I want people to make artists big themselves.
The most iconic albums have an individual sound. You shouldn't always be able to time stamp something and say, that’s obviously an album from 2016.
We live in a time where if I were to play jazz, people would call it elevator music. You know it’s kind of sad. My older brother’s a musician, my dad’s a musician, I was lucky to see that sort of talent. You can be a rapper today, and not even rap. It’s kind of sad that people don’t appreciate genres that have paved the way. You don’t even have to listen to those genres, but you need to respect them.
That’s very true. Along those lines, I think the consistency of your projects is something really interesting. We haven’t had to wait too much in between your releases.
QFMAH took a lot out of me. I want people to hear that when they push play. I don’t know when I’m going to work on my next project. My plan was to do this album, and to do enough damage to take me out of the city. I want to live a little, come back, and do something different. I’d love to do a tour, or be on someone else’s tour. I just want to live a little before I work on my next release.
Since you dropped Project II, you’ve been getting a lot of comparisons to Chance The Rapper. Do you think that’s a fair or are you tired of hearing that?
I think it used to be fair. After I dropped QFMAH, I don’t think it can be like that anymore. I didn’t listen to Chance for a long time. He’s one of my favorite artists now, but I don't think we rap or write the same way. People say we dance alike on stage. People have told me that I kind of look like him [laughs]. I try to stray away from it, I just want to be my own artist.
People are quick to compare artists if they can’t identify or label a sound immediately.
What’s it like growing up in Weston? Do you feel a disconnect from the city, and does that actively change your viewpoint of Toronto?
For sure. The west side of Toronto is very different. People want to say “Toronto’s Toronto” but it’s not. The things that happen in the west end are very different from downtown. I’m not a hard guy, but the west side is hard. I’ll say this, the west side is not represented in music. Even listening to Drake. He has a very east side mentality. I can’t explain exactly what it is, but it’s very east-sounding. I want to make music that represents the west.
I went to high school with J-Soul, he’s one of those people that I’m looking to that are signed. I went to his show at the Mod Club. It was a beautiful thing to see, someone from my area on a stage like that. One of the thoughts that came into my head during the show was: what do the teachers at my school think of this? The majority of teachers see us and don’t think we’ll be on stages like that but we’re doing it. That was an inspiring night.
You're prepping for your very first headlining show. Can you give us more details?
Yes! It’s going to be on July 28th at the Drake Underground, and it’s all ages. It’s gonna be sick. For my live show, I want to put something together that you can’t get on an MP3. I want some cool live aspects that people will remember when they leave. This show is going to be big, and I can’t wait.
You can catch Clairmont The Second at The Drake Underground on July 28th. Advance tickets to the show can be purchased here. You can also get Quest for Milk and Honey on iTunes, or stream it on Soundcloud.