“People think that I ain’t got that button till they press it,” spits Clairmont The Second on “Interes-ting,” the lead single off his new mini-project, out today.
Well, it didn’t take people long to find said button after the nominations for the 2021 Juno Awards were announced last week. Perplexingly absent from the rap category was Clairmont’s album It’s Not How It Sounds, which received near-universal critical praise last year and cracked the top 10 on Complex Canada’s list of the best Canadian albums of 2020.
Clearly, Toronto rapper was just as confused as we were over the snub—he took to Twitter to sound off on it: “niggas want to ignore everything i’ve been doing and continue to do,” he wrote shortly after the nominees were unveiled. “they’re scared of me. lol they made me double check if i submitted. take that 2018 juno nom out my bio. i don’t want it.”
It’s certainly not the first time an awards show has proven itself to be woefully out of the loop. The Grammys most recently drew the ire of the world, basically, for failing to nominate The Weeknd’s album After Hours despite all its critical and commercial acclaim, leading the artist to boycott the awards “because of the secret committees.” The Junos, too, have had their fair share of misfires—2019’s Polaris Music Prize winner Haviah Mighty was snubbed last year, as was 2020’s winner Backxwash this year. And let’s not forget that time Drake hosted the 2011 Junos armed with six nominations, but was sent home empty-handed.
Still, some denizens of the Internet apparently took issue with Clairmont speaking his mind. A couple days following his original tweet, he posted a follow-up statement in order to clear the air after receiving “a few different negative energies” directed at him. “I don’t know how much i have left,” he wrote. “i really don’t. i can no longer see past a certain point. i don’t know how much i have left in me. i really don’t know. not saying i’m quitting. but i just don’t know.”
The messages were cryptic, but you get his frustration. Though he’s only 23, the staunchly independent artist—born Clairmont Humphrey II—has been at this for a while. He started drumming at four, and dropped his first mixtape at 16. Now, several critically acclaimed albums deep, he’s already established himself as one of Canada’s most gifted and forward-thinking visionaries—yet continues to be more slept-on than codeine.
For the time being, though, Clairmont’s done griping about it. He’s letting the songs speak on his behalf. “Although I was nervous about posting what I posted, I felt relieved at the same time,” he tells Complex Canada. “I think it allowed me to just be done with it; it’s in the past. So now, it’s just about making this music, back to why I started this in the first place. Forget everybody’s opinions on this stuff, man.”
While it’s only three songs long, his new project, which he informally calls “3 pce,” speaks volumes. The rapper says it’s a taste of the direction he’s headed on his next album (which, spoiler alert, is still very much on the way.) He flexes his singing chops on “my pce,” a hushed, extraterrestrial R&B love-in; he licks shots at performative phonies on “no u don’t,” a psychedlic trap banger that unravels via dissarming key changes and swelling sci-fi synths. Performed, produced, and mixed entirely by Clairmont himself, as per usual, it sounds lightyears ahead of anything else in Toronto’s hip-hop scene—which remains both his gift and his curse.
We caught up with Clairmont to chat about the Junos snub, his tweets, Canada’s outdated music infrastructure, and what’s next for him. The interview, edited and condensed for clarity, is below.
So, what’s the story behind this new 3 pce?
I actually teased the first song on it [“no u don’t”] in a little video preview I made for It’s Not How It Sounds. People were asking, “Yo, where’s this song?” when the album dropped, but I didn’t want to share it yet just because people ask for a lot of things and don’t know what they want. So, I decided to hold it hostage. I thought it would be cool to put it on the B-side of the It’s Not How It Sounds cassette tapes, but then I was like, it’d be kind of cool to do three songs. Essentially, it’s nod to what the next major project is going to sound like. I’ve been working on the next album for over a year, since 2019, but it just wasn’t the right time to put that out, you know? But it’s still there. I’m working on it as we speak.
Right. I’ve been hearing about this project. Weren’t you working on it before It’s Not How It Sounds?
Yeah, I was actually working on it like post-Do You Drive? I actually mixed and mastered that project. It was ready to go. But then I wanted to dive back in to do a remix of it. So, the plan was for It’s Not How It Sounds to be an EP of like three songs. But I don’t really make EPs; I’m about and the whole experience, so I was like, “OK, I’ll make five.” And then I was like, “OK, I’ll make two more, so seven.” And then I ended up making it what it was. So, essentially, It’s Not How It Sounds is a lob to the next one. The next one is just super special to me. It just wasn’t time yet. I can’t wait for everybody to hear it. I think people are going to be surpised.
Well, it’s fucking insane to hear you say It’s Not How It Sounds is just an appetizer for the next one. We put it on our Best Albums of 2020 list! I think it’s incredible, even if the Junos don’t agree. I saw your tweet about that.
You know what the thing is? I think people think I’m a lot more mad at those things than I am, because you can’t really hear my tone when I write these things. Like, of course, these things are annoying. You want to get recognition here and there, but it’s not about that. When I post these things, I’m laughing with my friends about it, like, “Yo, this is crazy that they actually didn’t choose me.” It’s so weird, man. Like, I’m already over it. But I’m more… What I’m hearing is people saying, “You don’t need the validation.” It’s like, I know that personally, because at the end of the day, the people who rock with the music are what’s going to push the music around. That’s what matters the most. But what I’m getting at is bigger than the Junos; it’s more about Canada’s music structure, which I think is a little bit outdated, a little bit old. And that’s what I was talking about. Fans got offended at me talking to them. Some people missed the point on who I was speaking to. And some people think I’m a lot angrier than I really am, but, you know, just give me the nom, you know what I mean? [Laughs.] I’ve been doing well for years, man, but it just seems like it’s hard to give me that nod. But I’m not even worried about that anymore.
“What I’m getting at is bigger than the Junos; it’s more about Canada’s music structure, which I think is a little bit outdated, a little bit old.”
I think it’s a worthwhile conversation to have, though. I had reservations with this year’s Juno nominations too. You were snubbed, and so were people like DijahSB, Backxwash, and even your brother’s band The OBGMs. Where do you think it comes from? Why are they missing the mark so hard and overlooking all these amazing artists?
Man, I couldn’t even tell you. I don’t know who’s actually behind most of these things. I mean, it could just be that they’re not really keeping their ears to the streets, or they’re not really choosing things based on artistic merit or the music, like they like to say they are. Or maybe I secretly knew that it was never about the music, but it was more about hype in specific places. I don’t know, man. I don’t have the answer to that. I can only speak for myself. I just feel like some people don’t see what it is. But I’m not worried about it anymore. Like, it’s getting exhausting. It’s getting exhausting being worried about people sleeping on me, and then people thinking that that’s my main thing: to kind of approach the game to wake people up. Like, that’s not why I do this. As for awards and all of that, it’s a cool little patch on your jacket. But it’s not really the be-all, end-all. I mean, they’re going to do what they do. I’m still going to do what I do. I’m beyond it. Artists are bigger than awards, man.
Right. I mean, we definitely just learned that with the Grammys snubbing The Weekend.
Yeah, like obviously, right? But I find that people kind of treat me different than they treat a bigger artist. Like, if I were to say something against awards, some people will take it the wrong way. But, you know, The Weekend went at one of the biggest awards in the world and people are behind him. Like, people are not really telling The Weekend, “Hey man, you don’t need the Grammys.” People are more like, “Yo, Grammys! What the hell?” And that’s kind of what I wanted it to be like. I really just wanted people to be like, “Damn, that’s wack that you didn’t get nominated” and just keep moving. Sometimes I just want to talk a little reckless, you know?
You know, I hear so many artists—who aren’t named Drake or The Weeknd—talk about how it’s impossible to make it in this city. It’s kind of an old conversation by now, but I feel like it still rings true. Despite there being so much talent in Toronto, it’s just super hard, especially for hip-hop artists, to get to that next level. It’s like there’s something blocking them. What do you think the problem is?
I think the mindset here just needs to be different. I don’t know why it is the way it is. Like, I’m trying to watch what I say before someone comes at me for saying the wrong things. [Laughs.] But I know for me, personally, it just seems like there’s a group of people that ride for me and will continue to do so and always talk about my records. And then on the flip side, there’s a group of people who just don’t talk about me, even though they know what I’m doing or know what I make. And some might say that, “Don’t worry about the other people that aren’t focusing on you. They’ll catch up later.” But I’ve been hearing that sentiment for years.
Like, people don’t know that my first project came out in 2013, and I only started really getting a buzz in 2014. And since then, it’s been like a slow and steady rise, which I’m not mad at. I know people can blow up too fast and they’re not ready for any of it. But for me, it’s been that same thing for years. And it’s like, yo, sooner or later, I need some financial stability, yo. [Laughs.] Like, I got family. I need to figure out ways to live off of this. I’m going to do it, regardless. I’ll do this like even if I remain broke for the rest of my life, just because this is what I love to do. But here and there, like everybody, you get the feeling of like, Damn, I need to make some money so I could live. So I could eat dinner. And that’s where I’m coming from. Like, I just need more people to talk about it, really. Just take it seriously. You could call it a hobby, but at the end of the day, it is my job and I’m happy that I get to do it full-time where I’m in an OK position. But it gets harder every year.
I feel like part of it is an infrastructure problem. Like, most of Canada’s music grant money is going to artists who don’t need it, like Grimes or The Trews. [Laughs.] The institutions in place aren’t supporting artists like you enough. It seems like it’s always the same people, like, you know, fucking Sam Roberts, who keep getting all the money and awards.
[Laughs.] I saw a tweet about that. I don’t know, man. A lot of it seems backwards. It seems like we should be helping a certain group of people and we’re not; we’re just helping the people that are in a position where they’ve already been pushed and you’re just further pushing them. But the people that really need that push don’t get it.
I see a lot of the same names, and I see a lot of names I haven’t seen, which I guess could be cool. But I think the Junos tweeted something saying that some of the awards have to do with sales or numbers, which is kind of crazy to me. You would think that it wasn’t about that entirely. Like, yes, of course, impact—especially within your own hometown, impact definitely plays a role in how things should be judged. But simultaneously, it’s like somebody has them by the balls or something. Like, “Make sure you choose our artists or else we’re not messing with you anymore.” That’s what it feels like sometimes.
There’s some backdoor shit going on.
I’m not saying that’s what it is, but like, it feels like that sometimes. I remember there was a year that at least in the rap category, everybody nominated was signed to some sort of label that’s notable. And I’m like, man, there’s independent artists here that are making moves and doing work. Like, especially me! [Laughs.] I’m unsigned and I’ve been able to do so many cool things. It’s hard, obviously, you know, funding the majority of the stuff yourself and basically running your own label, running your own production company, etcetera. And like, making the art is a good type of exhausting. I am in love with every aspect that I do, so I’m not really mad at that. But you feel like sometimes people just don’t really take in that that’s a pretty important aspect—you know, doing all these things and doing them well and having something to actually say on these records.
“I can go back to my Dreamcast and play something I did as a child and it’s just a good game. That’s what I’m trying to do with the music: make sure that it lasts, make sure I make something where I’m like, ‘Yo, this is going to be played forever.’”
Have you ever seriously considered signing with a label?
That conversation, every year it gets harder. Like, I told my girl, “Yo, if I’m 30 and I’m in the same spot and I’m still on a steady rise, then maybe I’ll sign just for some financial [stability].” But ultimately, I don’t want to be signed. Like, I’m able to do it all. I am a label. Everything that a label can offer me, I do. Things that I don’t have that they can do for me are, I guess, features with other label mates or maybe some more money behind promotion for a record. But me already doing so much of the work and being the artist, I don’t want to sign any piece of my publishing or masters or whatever it may be—my cut—to somebody who doesn’t make the music. Like, some labels offer playlist support. But I get that on my own. I’ve been on Northern Touch, Pollen, all the Canadian ones. If you’re going to come to me trying to sign me, you’ve got to some with something better than playlist support. It just feels too early to even consider it. But GRAiN is a label, man. That’s my imprint. I’m the only artist on it, obviously, but yeah. [Laughs.]
Well, I really respect what you do and I hope you keep doing it, man. I know you tweeted the other day that you were tired and not sure how much you’ve got left. I get that it’s really hard. But I hope you keep with it.
I appreciate that, man. I really appreciate everybody who reached out about what I said. I mean, what kinda sparked that is, as I said in the post, it just seems like I have a lot of people telling me, “Don’t say this.” And then I’ll have lot of people telling me, “Say this.” So with the push and pull thing, I don’t know what to do in that aspect. And then even for the music side, being hella projects deep at my age, it’s like I’m running out of…. I don’t think I’m quitting, but I think I might extend how often I drop records. I might go back to a method of waiting a year just to push things and promote them because I need to let myself breathe and write more songs. But I’ve been thinking about like, I don’t know, being an orchestrator or a mastermind behind the scenes. I haven’t decided yet. There’s no timeline on this, but yeah. People are telling me, “Keep with it, man.” Like, they need the music, but we’ll see, man. I got to think about myself too.
So you’re thinking of being an orchestrator for other artists?
Yeah. Like, just being the guy behind a bunch of cool stuff. I already have stuff lined up for that, which is really sick. I can’t talk about it yet, but we’ve got some stuff brewing. It just feels like the opportunities I’ve been getting have been a lot more—I don’t wanna say backseat, but behind the scenes.
I know last time we spoke you said you had some sort of gaming project in the works.
Yooooo! OK, that’s crazy you remember that. I can’t really talk on that. It’s so early, but it’s all up in my mind right now. That’s later down the line. But that’s crazy you remember that.
But yo, so when I started making the album that’s coming out next, there was a period of time where I was really rediscovering so many old games I used to enjoy as a kid, and trying to figure out why they’re not the same anymore. Everybody’s focusing on the wrong things when it comes to games now—they’re focused on these damn graphics and, you know, console vs. console. It’s like, bro, just make a better game! Just make a fun game! Games were so enjoyable back then. Like, it was very rare on a Neo Geo to not find a fun game. Same thing with the Dreamcast, same with the 64. Back in that era, your games had to be good, because if you made a bad game, your company was getting shut down. But it seems like some of these guys got so comfortable that they were like, “Yeah, we can afford to put out a game that’s not finished, and then we’ll just give you patches.” So, as a gamer, I’ve just been watching the industry kind of deteriorate. I’m just watching it go down in a way where it feels like the music industry in some aspects. [Laughs.] We’re focusing on the wrong things. Like, just make a good-ass game, bro! Back in the day, it was all about the replay value and making something timeless. That’s why I can go back to my Dreamcast and play something I did as a child and it’s just a good game. That’s what I’m trying to do with the music: make sure that it lasts, make sure I make something where I’m like, “Yo, this is going to be played forever.”
Damn. Sounds like you’re having fun making this next album!
Before you called, I working on this record and it was something that I dreamt of earlier today. I made sure that I got up and played it immediately, because sometimes you dream of these sounds and, you’re like, OK, I’ll do a little voice note. I have like three voice notes and I cannot make out what I was doing because I just woke up. They sound like a mess. [Laughs.] But I made sure to actually wake up and pick up my bass and play it. Like, this is the best I’ve felt in so long. I’m back in that headspace I was in when I was making Do You Drive? I have a direction with this project, but the direction is almost no direction. It’s more so just making making sure it flows well. But like, sonically, man, it’s whatever comes to me. And that’s how I’m starting to do it from this point. Like, of course, I’ve always made what I wanted to make. But I will definitely say: you have a voice in the back of your head saying, OK, do this, because this will be this record and people are going to feel it like this. But I don’t want to do that anymore. I’m tired. I’m just like, Who cares if this drum might not sound good in this situation? This is what sounds good now. This is what I’m feeling. So, I’m just super excited about how I’m going to walk into this journey. I’m so exhausted of everything else, man. [Laughs.] I just need to tap back into enjoying everything.