CL Smooth, a.k.a. the Mecca Don, came onto the scene in the early 90s with his partner and producer Pete Rock following Heavy D. and The Boyz as one of the landmark groups to hail from Mount Vernon, NY. He and Pete managed to put out an EP and two well received albums before CL hung up the mic while at his peak. It was their chemistry, Pete’s obscure jazzy beats and CL’s penchant for thought provoking rhymes that led to the creation of classics like Straighten it Out, Mecca and the Soul Brother, and what many have called the greatest hip hop song of all time They Reminisce Over You. After ten years out of the game, CL is back sans his former partner to close the final chapter with his album ‘American Me.’ Unfortunately, there’s no love loss between he and Pete. So if you were expecting or hoping for a reunion you might as well give that up. Peep the interview as CL breaks down the relationship with he and Pete and discusses his past, present and future.
Halftime: So let’s take it back. What got you into hip hop and made you say rhyming is gonna be your profession?
CL Smooth: I grew up listening to jazz with my grandfather and that just gave me a newfound love for music and I just took that with me throughout the years.
Halftime: How did it translate from jazz to hip hop? What kinda things did you see that were similar that attracted you?
CL: Ahh man just the way the artists formulated with the different instruments, hearing lead vocalists and instrumentalists and just having the curiosity as a young kid. Back then there weren’t any video games to keep you in the house so either you were physically doing something or you weren’t doing anything at all. It was a point where you had to choose something. I loved sports and I loved music so it was either one of the two.
Halftime: How did coming up in Mt. Vernon influence you as an artist?
CL: Well it is a small town so everyone knows everybody if you grew up in the town or you have family there. I was just blessed to come there as a young teenager, take my high school years and really elevate in that small town. I had a great grandmother that recently died and she was one of the first black women to own a home in that town. She was one of the first college graduates to be in that town. The town is very historic so I felt that if I could do something positive that would make my great grandmother say that’s my great grandson I knew I was on the right track. It wasn’t really hard when you’re coming after a legendary group like Heavy D and the Boyz. It was just about passing the torch so to speak.
Halftime: You mentioned Heavy D. How did him being from that area and already putting it on the map help you coming into the game and what kinda relationship did you have with him coming up?
CL: Well, I had a relationship with him from fighting in the street and him coming to me about one of his homies saying we gotta squash this. [He was like] this is getting too crazy, people are getting hurt and we need to come together at some point. I guess he cared enough to bring me to the side and not escalate the problem but alleviate the problem. That’s when I found out he was much more mature and focused on being a man than what was out here. When I picked up on that and realized how small I looked even though I may have been in the right or justified for defending myself. That was the first point where I was like lead by example.
Halftime: Heavy D’s crew was in the streets scrappin? I wouldn’t think of him as a cat in the streets like that.
CL: Trouble T-Roy was always the catalyst for all of it. Trouble T-Roy was a tough dude. He didn’t just dance, he’d dance on your head too. So it was to the point where you are gonna defend yourself or you’re gonna hold that and go through the rest of your life, career, in the streets or wherever you go. That fight was historic for that town.
CL: No doubt. When you fighting in front of Big Lou’s and you can get the whole town to empty out that’s a big thing. It seemed like you had the rich folks on one side that was traveling the world and the street dudes on the other side hustling.
Marcus: Yea, you did mention that ‘Meeting in front of Big Lou’s fighting in the street.’
Jbutters: Yea, I knew the line but I didn’t think that’s how he met Heavy D and all of them too.
CL: It was about who was strongest. It was the gladiator’s school so it’s gonna have that tension. It was a small town so you had tension in town and out of town and the thing about Mt. Vernon dudes they would go anywhere and do their thing.
Halftime: Yea, I always heard stories about cats from Mt. Vernon going to the Edenwald projects or whatever fighting.
CL: Yea, that’s where you got the rep from and the biggest soldiers came outta Mt. Vernon. People think they only come from Harlem or Brooklyn. I’ve seen a Mt. Vernon dude tear a Harlem dude and a Brooklyn dude up at the same time.
Halftime: I remember the YG’z used to be big out there.
CL: No question that was one of the leading catalysts. We all came up together in the struggle and what I try to do is write about it.
Halftime: How did you and Pete meet up back then?
CL: We met up through school. He lived on the same block as Heavy D. They’re family. It was just a matter of after school him having a desire to make music and me having a desire to be an artist that really brought us together.
Halftime: I was reading an interview of yours and it said you really studied LL coming up and how he was one of your major influences. What was it about him that you admired and what things did you pick up watching him?
CL: His professionalism. Sometimes the things that you key on you really can’t define until you experience it yourself but I would always loved his professionalism and the way he approached things. When we went out to dinner he always told me ‘˜I try to stay away from the things that make me old.’ I understood what he was saying but at the same time I needed that elder statesman behind me to show me. Growing up at 20 or 21 you’re starting your professional career but I wasn’t one of those dudes that wanted to be considered young. I wanted to be looked at as a grown man or an old man because my whole vibe was even though I’m 21 it was more like I was 41. So I grew out of that YG shit immediately after I started seeing the world. That really helped me with that whole straggling the fence of the street and being professional knowing what to feed both sides.
Halftime: The influence ya’ll had was something positive but you still had respect amongst the street hooligans. What were your intentions for the first album and what message were you trying to send?
CL: I was just trying to show people that even though it’s a young gun type of world and all my friends want to do this and that shoot people and be that gangster, I want you to understand that I come from a rich history of black men. I come from a great bloodline. It’s like that dog that’s not a regular dog you see on the street. It’s a top of the line dog that when you see on the street and see it doing wrong you know it’s not maximizing its potential. I want people to know that if I’m doing wrong a lot of people will come to me and say that ain’t you brother. He’s not for you. You come from a different scale of people than that. Not that they are economically above but culturally, bloodline wise and even with lessons. I came up with lessons so there is no excuse why I should have been a failure at anything. I came up with the lessons of how to survive, how to be a man, and how to conduct yourself around anybody. A lot of times I would use brute force and I had to use my brain to get out of a lot of stuff. Once I started learning I don’t have to throw punches to get my point across it was like someone enlightened me. I can talk my way out of this now. I don’t have to pick u a gun or hurt nobody. Once I started talking my way out of things, my friends started looking at me different. He’s not knocking them out any more he’s changing. That’s where the struggle begins when people don’t realize change is good and the same is lame. We can’t go through life thinking the same way and doing the same shit. I can look at guys now who are 36 or 37 like me and they are still doing the same shit because they never allowed themselves to think any differently and they’ve suffered over that.
So thinking and maturing and knowing in your heart that you are a leader you have to go out and lead brother. You can’t satisfy the pack by following the pack. If you’re meant to lead the pack then lead. If it’s to righteousness then it’s to righteousness and if it’s to war then it’s to war but wherever you lead them you must be the leader and catalyst for where you end up at. When I talk about music you can’t help but talk to me about life because they’re intertwined. A lot of rappers rhyme about selling drugs or that they’re gonna kill people and that they have all the money and bitches but it’s not conducive to their everyday living. What about your grandmother? You stashing cracks in your grandmother’s house, how does she feel about that? My grandmother told me to move over to my grandfather’s house. That’s something to write about. I’m unsuccessful as a crack dealer so how can I be beyond this. Am I the follower? Yes, because I’m not even a success at doing something wrong. If you can look at that in plain English then you will be able to correct that. If you are not going to correct that then this is how you end up in jail, using your own drugs or killed. Nowadays there are no rules. Just the other day I’m seeing a snitch walk past me like ain’t nothing wrong. We all read the paper and seen the name but yet they can exist. Now here’s another obstacle you have to go through. The streets aren’t the same anymore. Over 50 percent of the thugs you consider tough dudes are snitches. So how do you get past that? Who wants to be a thug or a gangsta right now when you’re really a snitch? The true gangsta that lives by the code of my era isn’t talking. We’re just doing because we already got the lessons. You have to go find them. It’s about everyday life when you talk about music. If you’re not talking about everyday life then you can’t possibly be talking about my music. I’m talking about the streets and that’s where I’m going with this ‘American Me’ album. It’s like a campaign for presidency. Either you’re new or you’re old there’s no in between so that must be created. Where can I go beyond a nigga not pulling up his pants and being a grown ass man? There is none but once you have that and you get an opportunity to go to these record execs you realize their not in the streets. They don’t know nothing. So you hear the differences. They don’t have that connection or the hunger to go in there do what they got to do and get out. It’s not about being in the streets it’s about getting out of the streets and moving. There not moving with it or connecting with these young dudes. These young dudes ain’t calling them godfather and respecting them. I’m making them respect me. I’m about two words. The most I talk is in interviews. That’s where I can talk and have no boundaries but in the streets it’s two words brother. But when they get that food I notice the thugs can’t help but want to be around me. It’s the energy they want that they can’t get because it ain’t out here anymore. All the dudes older than me are dead and gone. I used to walk with a 50 year old man that did 25 years in prison and five straight years in a box. So I’m not going to prison because I’m walking with a portable prison. I’m skipping over that part. That’s what you’re supposed to do. Walk with somebody that did the years for you. That’s where I’m at right now.
Halftime: I’ve always heard you say on the records that you were going to retire when you were 30. Why return now? When you said I’m out you was out like no one really heard from you.
CL: Yea, I always said that and I was out by 25. I think what brought me back was walking these streets and getting tired of people saying please come back. I’m not here because I want to be here. I’m here because the people said we need you back. They wanted me back but they didn’t know how I was gonna come and when I gave them that shock value they wanted me to have them Lupe Fiasco tracks. They thought I wanted to come like that. When I first saw Lupe and how the public was embracing that music I thought to myself this is how they still want me to come. They want me to be like him and be a little kid who grows up happy that he’s getting tracks but that’s not where I’m at. I’m either going hard or going home. I went hard once and I had Pete Rock with me and I gave them that. They didn’t bite my lines but once I left the positive stuff alone and went right into what I was dealing with without cursing or offending people that’s when I started getting the press and shock value that I wanted. They was like he’s getting serious going back to that YG movement, that soldier movement because sometimes you have to fight a war to have peace. That’s where I am right now. I’m going to war with other rappers. I’m being competitive, I’m not just glad to be here. I want to take over. I can sit in my house and have a better time with my friends. I want to come in and dominate. I’m here to build on this foundation. You have so many records you can expound on. A lot of these records I have like ‘American Me’ ‘Smoke in the Ar’ and ‘Warm Outside’ I wouldn’t even have if I was in the circle of that whole group thing. When you’re in a group you’re confined by what the group likes. You’re confined to what the group will allow you to do. Even though I’m the lead vocalist and writing everything if he don’t like it I can’t say it. That’s where we’re at right now. Now it’s the freedom out of those chains and you don’t have to be that house nigga. You the field nigga now. You’re coming through breaking the chains and saying fuck that masta shit. He’s your master but I’m ready to revolt and if you’re not ready to revolt motherfucker then you are going to get the same thing he get. That’s the bottom line this is about the black man’s plight. That’s why I needed to take ten years off just to write about stuff. If your shit is real then you have to take time out to write about it. Why are you coming back when you said you were leaving at 30? I left before 30 but the book was not finished. I have to finish the chapter. I’m not even looking past this album. I’m saying here it is in your face take that and if you want more you’ll demand more. I’m not going to just give you more because I feel I’m back. You’re going to dictate what it is and what you want. If you don’t want no more then I’m satisfied that I got it all out of my system.
Halftime: You’re talking about the new path and going solo and what obviously comes with that is people on the outside looking in saying I wish it was like this or like that. A lot of people point to the chemistry that you and Pete had’¦
CL: Oh hell yeah.
Halftime: Before we even go into how that switched what do you think it was that made you guys such a perfect match in terms of what each of you brought to the table?
CL: We basically groomed it from the nurturing stage, from the pause button stage. We took it to certain levels and we grew together. His beats weren’t better than my rhymes and my rhymes weren’t better than his beats. They grew together. Once you have two entities like that working together and growing together it’s like an assembly line. Everything is clicking and we can do 3, 4, or 5 songs a day. All it is is run up the hill and write and run back down the hill. Or he’ll call you up like oh my god I made this beat come down here and get it. Come get it, go up the block write it, and come back down the block. It’s the influence and enthusiasm that’s got two young dudes trying to punctuate their lives or their careers. It wasn’t a surprise to me when he started producing all of these records. At the same time I am the catalyst that made everybody say this dude is a great producer or that this dude is a great emcee. I don’t see any emcee on the planet that would have taken Tom Scott and made ‘˜Reminisce.’ I don’t see any rapper on planet earth that would have taken ‘Straighten it Out’ and made it that or take ‘Lots of Lovin’ and make it that. Or ‘Take You There.’ A lot of dudes did the ‘˜keep rising to the top’ but they ain’t make it that. It’s to the point where my idols are remaking my records. The Mary’s and LL’s. Mary redid ‘Searching’ and LL redid ‘Take You There.’ Everything is a circle and it comes back to the beginning.
Halftime: How would you describe the process of working with Pete versus working with other producers that really showed how special that relationship was?
CL: We were so private that to get in a session with us was so rare you’d have to know us. Now you’re getting to the point where the producer is that feature. People ask why there aren’t any features on the new album and I’m like that is the feature. Nobody ever really worked with me. I built my whole career off of one producer. Who’s done that?
Halftime: Yea, nobody has ever really done that.
CL: The thing is it was great to have a bunch of producers who want to work with you and build that chemistry. I feel honored. I was happy to make it work and for people to like the chemistry and say he can do it without Pete Rock. We didn’t think he could but he can. That for some reason makes them want to see it even more when they see success. They see CL come through and it’s like all he needs is Pete but it’s not that simple. It’s like carrying a murderer around. A dude who just like to pop his gun off every minute. If he’s nervous he’s gonna pop his gun, if he’s happy he’s gonna pop his gun. After a while you’re dropping bodies everywhere so we’re not really accomplishing anything. I’m just waiting for you to slip up and shoot me in the back of my head and that’s not how it’s gonna go. I need people who are with me cuz they’re with me and not because they feel that they are anointed. You ain’t anointed nigga you gotta start all over again and court me like you court one of your bitches. If it ain’t gonna be like that then you gotta step aside because this is a campaign. This is a presidency that’s already running and if you’re not adding on you just trying to destroy then we’re gonna have a problem B. We’re gonna have a problem if you can’t stick to being you, stick to your script and do your job. Why don’t people ask why didn’t Pete Rock knock on my door and be like hey let me make your solo album. [Why didn’t Pete say] I’m tired of people coming to me asking about you let me make your solo album. I don’t have to talk to you or travel with you but I can make money off you. A smart man is going to do that. A dumb motherfucker is gonna sit in his house and keep all the shit to himself and grovel. That’s the difference between a leader and a motherfucker who has lost his mind and lost his way. We’re not going to fool each other because it is what it is. If CL lost his way we don’t have to talk about it anymore he’s groveling in the pit but that’s not what’s happening.
We’re on a campaign of righteousness saying he’s the new shit he’s the new president. He’s coming out of nowhere and saying these old school rappers can’t just come back. He’s making it even harder because ya’ll come back with that bullshit and he comes back with the real shit. That made my job even harder because you feeding the people bullshit and you know it. You got the name just like me and the vision but you come with the bullshit because you’re team ain’t ready, you ain’t ready and you’re doing it for the money. We all do it for the money but at some point you have to do it because you are just so hungry to win. You are so hungry to be successful that nothing will deny you. Money, bitches, and toys are just apart of the game. It isn’t the avenue or the goal we are trying to reach. All of that comes with it. We’re trying to crush motherfuckers and let them know we’re not here to bow to shit. We got a song for everyone of ya’ll so we can perform with the Talib’s or the 50’s or Kenny G we don’t care. We’re non-offensive but we’re coming with that movement and CL is the catalyst and that president.
Halftime: I want to go back to where you were saying artists were remaking your songs. What kinda feeling went through your body when Mr. Cheeks came up to and said he wanted to remake ‘Reminisce?’
CL: I didn’t get no feeling. What kinda feeling are you supposed to get when a dude comes up to you and says I want to remake one of your greatest songs? Like what do you think you’re gonna bring it higher?
CL: Where do you think you’re going to bring it? What do you think you’re gonna be Aunt Joyce now? You gonna be Uncle Doc?
Halftime: I didn’t even see it like that?
CL: I see it that way. That’s not like asking me for a $1 that’s like a bum asking me for $100. Do what you do because you want to do it not because you get my permission to do it. That’s like offensive. Like I’m going with your ex-wife now is that alright? What the fuck are you asking me for? I don’t have no comment to that cuz that’s not where my mind is at. I don’t rehash. I’m not gonna run back and recreate ‘Hip Hop Hooray’ and say hey Treach you like that? I’m not gonna do no shit like that cuz I know where my mind and creative spirit is at. I’m going for the goals that are attainable not rehashing someone else’s shit. I can feel honored but everybody don’t feel honored by that. Do what you do and I’ll do what I do and hopefully at the end of the day it will come out positive.
Halftime: Just by talking to you I know that you are into jazz. With your attitude now you kinda remind me of a Thelonious Monk of hiphop because he didn’t stand for no shit.
CL: Oh hell yea. The Count Basie’s, Thelonius Monk’s, Miles Davis’, the Earl Klugh’s. There are so many of them and I just love that vibe of just that originality. That George Benson vibe, anything intertwined with that social consciousness or awareness of what to build around you to be successful. It’s not just jazz but all music from Avril Lavigne to Evanescence. I’m listening to Janis Joplin now crazy. I’m getting a rich history of music now. That’s where I’m at. I just enjoy the history of music and being apart of it because it can influence you. You can hear something so wack and then after hearing it 100 times it becomes good to you.
Halftime: Speaking of being apart of the history of music a lot of people point to your first EP ‘All Souled Out’ as an important piece of music in the early 90s. Could you describe the making of that EP and how it affected hip hop culture at that time?
CL: Well, I’m not too sure because I wasn’t focused on what was going on. I was just focused on being happy to start something. I’m literally making something and apart of something and really visualizing certain things. Around that time it was just a great time to have something like I started something and I finished it. Just making the ‘Creator’ and ‘Mecca and The Soul Brother,’ ‘All Souled Out,’ ‘Good Life,’ and ‘Go with The Flow’ just gave me the opportunity to say I could get better. I could really do what I need to do to be successful in this. When I looked at the people and their response I guess that made me motivated to say we’re doing the right thing. You got the Q-Tips and Ice Cubes saying you did well with this one six song EP. Just to see that Ice Cube and Dr. Dre know your name that shit’s crazy.
Halftime: Obviously after that you dropped the album with mad classics on it. A couple things on the album itself, was there a conscious decision to limit the cursing on it and could you talk a bit about Reminisce and when you started writing that.
CL: Well, limiting the curses was so that people didn’t get misconstrued about the concept and vibe from which I was coming from. Plus I wanted everybody to get an opportunity to listen to my music so I tried to limit that part of the creativity the cursing. Like Lupe said I can see you writing curses where it’s warranted. Like he’s not calling a girl a bitch he’s saying in this situation she’s a bitch and that there are people like that in the world. As far as Reminisce its like how can you curse when you come from loyal, smart, upstanding people? I’m the only one with no degree out of all of these people. I come from them so I wanted people to see that I was dealing with a higher power. We can talk shit off the record but I’m not going to go all the way downtown and talk shit and hear it everyday. That was probably around the time I didn’t listen to myself at all. I’d write something and didn’t like hearing myself on the radio or nothing. Something about it I didn’t like hearing. It’s only up to this project where I can listen to myself like I listen to somebody else. I only heard one other person say that and that’s Mary. I heard her say she just started listening to herself. I hated hearing myself. I couldn’t sit there and enjoy listening to myself. I used to watch Heavy D ride down the block listening to his songs and I thought that nigga was so weird. I was like this guy is really weird or on his own fucking dick. I didn’t know what he was doing or that I gotta listen to myself to make sure I’m on the right bass or that I’m not repeating myself or coming with the same flow. Then I understood it but on the average I’m like the rest of my friends who have nothing to do with the industry but I’m in the industry thinking like what a weird motherfucker. You playing music riding down the block and it’s you. Then you start adopting the things that are weird to you and start seeing the relevance.
Then it’s like damn maybe I’m weird too. But it’s good to be able to sit down with your friends and listen to yourself and not be embarrassed. I feel very liberated right now and I think that’s partly because I don’t have any handcuffs on me creatively. I don’t have to worry about what a dude feels like. That ain’t me. I always had to write like that. It’s like I gotta write for you too? I’m a soldier. You’re whole shit is being a chef and mine’s is being a swordsman. How do you be like oh ok you like swords take this butter knife and play with that.
Halftime: When a group has one emcee and one producer you always end up hearing the emcee say that they can’t wait to do their solo so I can get my point of views across. What were some of those things you had to pull back on a little bit?
CL: I guess just everything. It’s like you’re dealing with a nut genius. So on the things where you make a mistake he might be like hell no I like that. You as the balancer might have to give or take or just give give give to finish this certain project. It depends on what mood he is in and what authoritative figure he feels like he is today. He might feel like ultimately you’re on MY beat. You’re on my beat, this is my song so I’m going to take my song and go over here with it. That’s kind of a clash of creativity cuz I’m over here saying once my voice is on this shit it’s no longer yours it’s mine. It’s ours if anything but it’s mostly mine because I have to come out and perform it. That was the clash of two leaders. After a while you got somebody over here saying you should be doing this and somebody in my ear saying he ain’t doing enough. We’re trying to commit to 30 dates and he’s saying he can only do 3 because he gotta go to the studio. Everything that built him and built us you have to feed. You can’t just say oh they like me because I’m a great producer. They like you because you made legendary songs with your legendary group and they said hey we want a piece of that too. Not to say that they just like you or your beat. Probably there was that time. I give him his props he was a great great producer and at that time we came out it was the year of the producer. That was when hip hop was being established and developing that whole 90s sound.
Halftime: Now on allhiphop.com there were a couple of interviews with you guys and fans were hurt because there definitely seemed to be some love lost between you two to say the least. He was talking about carrying you and you were like ‘make my beats faggot’ and everyone was like woah what’s going on?
CL: Yea, like you’re gonna come to me. The proof is there that’s why I was so upset. For so many years I don’t say nothing. People have been asking me what do you think and I’m like I don’t think nothing. I’m living my life and doing my thing. He’s still in the industry. So for him to come back to me with anything other than a beat is a fucking violation. So I’m looking at it like this any project Pete Rock ever had ‘“ pick one- he had to always get CL on one of them fucking tracks. So in that essence just doing plain and simple research here’s Pete Rock Soul Survivor, Soul Survivor 2, here’s Pete Rock Soul Survivor 800, CL is on everyone of those projects even to the point where he don’t ask me. He’s like this is my beat your lyrics are on it so I just put it on there.
Halftime: He was coming at you like that?
CL: Oh man he came at me. People who feel like they’re your brother or that they know you or that you owe them something they gonna rock with you like that. The thing is a dude of my caliber knows he ain’t gonna mess with me like that. It’s always a weasel that’s gonna nitpick me. Once you go upside the weasel’s head it’s foul. He’s all over the ground accosted. With my nature and temperament it looks like I’m a bully. It looks like I’m jumping on this kid’s back because he always cries wolf. Oh he hit me or oh he threatened me and I can’t work under these conditions! But what about me [he’s like] don’t come to the studio with your manager, don’t come with nobody. You always want me to be by myself and now I don’t have any proof of how you’re acting like a jackass. I need people to see what you’re doing not hear what you’re doing. So now your personality is taking on the project. It ain’t doing nothing and I’m seeing you want your wife and everybody to get behind it but let’s get somebody more professional whose neutral who has a great interest in both of us. She only has a great interest in you. And then after ten years why you want to get around me and still do the same faggot ass shit. That’s like the old girlfriend who can’t take no for an answer. Yo I don’t want you no more but you still keep coming back every three or four years. Somebody just told me the other day he had a check for me. I’m like yo he’s not fucking resting. He’s still baiting me with this little lame ass fish. I’m in the ocean and you’re still at this fucking pond. I’m catching big fish and you’re still using these little guppies to catch me man that shit ain’t gonna work. Stop antagonizing me, go run around and chase ghosts and do what you do. I don’t have time to fix everything. [But you know what] we went on a great tour. A great, great tour.
Halftime: Yea, I heard about that.
CL: Yo this shit was so incredible and the motherfucker did nothing but interviews about how it could be better and that I wasn’t really prepared. I said oh shit this dude is crazy. Then on top of that we’re doing interviews and he’s kicking tables over. This is your tour, this is about you and I’m just here assisting you. This is your shit why are you gonna kick over tables and flip out talking about ‘I’ve been touring and doing interviews all day fuck this!’
Halftime: He was just spazzing out in the middle of the interview?
CL: Yo kicking chairs over like yo I’m finished with this interview. You’re like the dude who everyone says he’s harmless but as soon as you turn your back he’s like that grown ass kid on Bugs Bunny with a diaper on and he’s a grown ass man. You’re not innocent. You appear to be innocent but you’re just a bank robbing, gun slinging motherfucker. You’re not innocent you play on that baby shit. It’s just that I don’t play on the baby shit. I’m a realist. I gotta be around the thugs and the killers having them say poor Pete leave Pete alone. You know how Pete is. Everyone says it and you feel bad for him. My man died and he got into a big fight with Pete. He said the worst thing he ever did was fight Pete. That was the only thing he regretted. I looked at him like he had three heads. I’m like as much shit as you did the only thing you regret is having a fight with him? He said yea. I understood it in a way because the shit is beneath you to be fighting. Why you want to argue with CL? Anybody on this planet who deals with music would not treat CL like that. I don’t feel bad either cuz anyone who encounters the Pete Rock experience knows it comes with the same exact shit. Sometimes I really do get tired of talking about him but I want people to understand that this is my brother and I love him from a far. I couldn’t love him from near. I gotta love the process we got because there are only a few people who had a really great impact on my life and he’s one of them. I could look at it from a negative way but that would stunt my growth. It’s about moving on and showing him that hey you made a big mistake man. You don’t have to struggle. You’re struggling because of ignorance and selfishness. You want to be the one to get the praise. If we hang out and they’re not feeling him more than they are feeling me he ain’t feeling it. I’m saying where are you getting this shit from? Where is this coming from? It’s like when everyone said the shine will be taken away from me this is the shit that’s gonna break him. I’m saying how when all I fight to be is normal. I’m not saying I’m perfect I’m just fighting to be normal. I don’t need nobody telling me how great I am everyday. I know I’m great. I know when I get on the basketball court and play six, seven or eight games I know I’m a great dude cuz I can still come out here and have fun. I know I can go to the gym and run ninety minutes on the treadmill. I know I can do that because it took dedication and preparation. So you can’t tell me I can’t make it work with Pete Rock but Pete Rock don’t want to see CL eat and that’s alright cuz CL is gonna take that energy and that positive motivation and do the same thing he did with you with it. He’s helping me because I don’t think the fire would really be there if he didn’t spark the disappointment of not doing that reunion album. I wouldn’t have even felt this way but ultimately I have to thank this dude for sparking me. For making me so angry that I’m going to get this dude back by making the best album I could possibly make so his peers gotta say you know what Pete you fucked up buddy. You know what Pete you should have done his records what’s wrong with you? You could sit at home and barricade yourself but why can’t you make money off of that dude? Why can’t you give the people what they want? If the people want it who gives a fuck if you don’t like him. Let the people get what they want and then you can move on. I gave you what you want people, what do you want me to be stuck with this motherfucker forever? We’re not the Ojays. This is not the Spinners or the Temptations. This is basically built to move on. There’s one producer and one emcee. How long do you want to hear these motherfuckers together? At some point it has to drown out.
Halftime: That’s true but nostalgia is strong as hell. That’s what always seems to force a reunion that maybe should never occur.
CL: Yo it could have happened but your mind has to be there brother. You have to surround yourself with people that will allow that to happen. It cannot be I’m the nigga and you’re fucked up. I’m going to fix you and we’re gonna do an album. Are you fucking crazy? Come on man. That’s like somebody the other day that was working with me. They’re telling me yo I just got an apartment I gotta pay for this shit. What? Nigga, I have three houses what point are you trying to make? You’re paying rent to own and people are paying me rent to live. This is my job. I’m showing you I’m successful on many levels. I didn’t go back and sell crack or get arrested eight times to get to the point where I’m gonna make a new album. I showed ya’ll I’m a premier hustler. Ya’ll don’t know what I’m hustling but ya’ll know I’m getting it. They can’t say I’m selling drugs all they can say is whatever you’re selling I know you don’t need to rap anymore. So you taking that vibe and saying now I’m gonna pay for my own shit. I’m gonna get in the studio and I’m gonna make this happen and work with some new producers: Arsonist of the Heatmakerz, KG, Divine Milz the whole crew giving me beats and making legitimate songs. ‘Call on Me’ where I’m talking about my childhood, sleeping on grandma’s couch being that crack dealer, being lost, being fucked up and having to change my ways and actions and be a man. That sounds like Reminisce. I got this beat from this Italian dude straight from Italy and it sounds like jazz. I’m rapping on it and it’s like here goes the next joint. Here’s the shit that everybody wanted to hear and Pete Rock could have done it. I know people are gonna say Pete Rock did it. You can get whatever you want out of this game, you just have to be able to understand how to play it. I would love to work with anyone who wants to work with me because that’s the great part about it.
People don’t understand that you can’t create with someone who doesn’t want you to have nothing. You have to create with the people who are willing to say here I made a beat for you not take my beat, do something with it and bring it back. I was here for the inception from the pause button. How do you do interviews saying me and my man started from the pause button but you want to charge me for getting a beat from you. You want to charge CL money to get a beat from you? I don’t understand that. We don’t even have to go there I want to show you more to prove to you. I want to show you that you’re wrong more than hurt you. I want to show you that I’m worth something more than saying fuck you. It’s not about that it’s more like fuck this situation let’s move onto a better one. It’s not fair to the people but I’m pretty sure when I saw the creativity level, that it had to be approached a certain way I knew we wouldn’t have made it. It’s like a boxer that doesn’t want to train. Certain people in this business are very scared of success. I understand because they come out the woodwork. They’re out to hurt you or do this or that. When it’s dying down people think that you’re past tense and they won’t bother you anymore. You love to live through that. I want to do songs for Jim Jones and Ghostface but I don’t want no recognition. I want recognition but not the shit that comes with it. Come on you doing Jim Jones and Ghostface why can’t you do CL? Even more for CL. Then you want to charge me $10,000 or $25,000 like this is ’92. Come on baby let’s do it like it needs to be done. But you know what I got some great producers that want to work and the vibe is different and the love is different and that’s what you need to make a successful record anyway. If people are just doing you a favor it really doesn’t sound right.
Halftime: At this point you have the recognition so it’s not like you couldn’t get beats from anybody you want anyway.
CL: But you want the people to have what they want man. You want people to have a piece of Pete Rock even if it’s one record. The more successful I am the sorrier people are that I didn’t bring Pete along. That’s what it is now. When he’s on it’s like you’re alright but you should get with CL man. Then when CL come it’s like damn Pete fucked up he should be on this great album why is he being an asshole? At least get one record on it. He can’t give you one record? Nah cuz that one record will push back my whole album because he’ll be demanding shit talking about my record, my shit my shit but that’s not how it goes baby. We all trying to build something here and if we come to Pete Rock he thinks he’s saving the whole ship with his drill. How are you gonna save the ship when you are drilling the holes in it? That basically sums up that Pete Rock [situation] and the disappointment in me. It was a disappointment that it didn’t happen. It’s like ok we broke up fine. Now you come back ten years later to do the same shit again. That hurt me even more like why? You saw me sweep all that shit away get a new slate just to have you come back and call me to fuck with me like that. That was crazy and then to go around the world with your girlfriend and fuck with me too. It seems like he’s gotten worse. And I’m the one that never goes to the public or anything to talk so everybody is thinking CL is this fucking drug induced motherfucker and it’s really not that way. Then when people see me it’s like I thought you were in a coffin or digging out the garbage. I heard so many things about you and no ones heard from you and you walking around with a $2,000 suit on while they trying to figure out where did you get $2,000 from.
Halftime: Word, I’ve heard rumors that you were working at labels to one rumor where cats were saying you were working as a parking attendant. It’s all over the world.
CL: All crazy type of shit but all of that hype and controversy you bring that into the studio and you make it happen. That’s the motivating factor that people think your life is that way and then they get to see how you really live. They like man you don’t have one gray hair, you got all your teeth, you’re doing your thing going to the gym everyday living good. You got your $60,000 truck in your driveway. This wasn’t paid for with rap this was paid for with my brain work and my understanding that I’m a man and I gotta take my scraps and make something out of it. And I did. I made an empire and these dudes say you know what let me follow the general because the general knows what he’s doing. I had to start from somewhere low. I had to start from that. I wasn’t able to do what I wanted to do off the bat, there was a time when everything had to be liquidated. On that same song, ‘Call on Me,’ I tell you I lose everything dawg. I lose everything and like the book of Job I get everything back. I got double for my trouble. This is all creativity that Pete Rock is missing. You think this shit is bouncing off of his walls? No way and when his peers get an opportunity to sit down and listen to my shit they’re floored. I got songs that will bring motherfuckers to tears and they gotta understand this shit is real. I lived every bar, every single song I live it. I don’t get mad at Pete, I show Pete the way now. I was just so disappointed how the shit was just public knowledge that you’re fucking me over. You think I’m gonna come back after ten years and be like Pete do me a favor?
I rocked shows with your back turned, pants hanging down with the crack of your ass showing. I’m waiting for the next record to come on and you don’t got it ready but my professionalism is still getting me geared up to do the damn thing and get it over and have great shows. They are booking us two and three more times with 2,000 and 3,000 people in the joint. I’m scared of his interviews because I always feel like I have to defend myself for nothing. Why do I have to be the evil person? I can be that evil person but compensate me for being your whipping boy. Just like you left me in the hood with these terrorists. You said hold them down because I have to go to the studio. As soon as I’m done with this studio shit we out. Two or three months later I’m still here with these motherfuckers. You gotta pay me to sit here now and that’s what I told him. If we’re not gonna go get any of my money which is on the road cuz I ain’t a producer waiting up for Shaq to come over my house with Queen Latifah. I ain’t waiting for that shit. I’m waiting to go on the road and promote this new album we got. We ain’t gonna do it behind you producing a Jeru the Damaja remix. We ain’t gonna do it like that so my vibe is totally different from Pete’s. If Pete Rock is my brother he is a punk ass brother to me.
CL: He’s a punk ass brother to me and everybody got some. You got your gay cousin, your nutty uncle and your punk ass brother and that’s what it is. I can’t help it because it’s four square miles of what it’s all about. His family should be like wow how the fuck you letting CL come around making these great songs and you’re too pigheaded to say let me get in on that. Let me give him something because I need it too. I need to be apart of that run too. Everybody wants to talk about Pete Rock like he’s this great guy. He’s a great guy ten years ago. So you want me to drag this fossil with me to make me feel like what that I’m doing something right? The people want what they want and a lot of times when the people got what they wanted like ‘The Love Thing’ and ‘Appreciate’ they threw that shit to the wayside because he surrounded it with bullshit. He didn’t keep going. [He didn’t go,] ‘Hey you made ‘Love Thing’ that shit sounded crazy or you made ‘Appreciate’ let’s keep it going baby!’ Nope instead, ‘It’s my album, my shit, I’m going out and doing my shit with my niggas.’ Ok cool. The only time I get to grace your presence is if I’m backing you up on your promotional tour for your little raggedy ass album. Come on baby what about CL? You think he ever went out on tour and was like this is just about CL. It ain’t about me right now it’s about my rapper this is his time. I had my time listen to my beats. He’s not doing that he’s looking like he is waiting on an invitation from Armageddon to drop something on me or put it in the mail. I’m just upset the people didn’t get what they wanted. They’re gonna get it but not from him. All they are gonna do is feel sorry for him because he is not apart of this movement. Why didn’t you get just one from Pete? I could have put one of those ‘Love Things’ or ‘Appreciate’ on my album and say that’s Pete Rock right there but all he’d do is drag me through litigation saying that’s his record. The business I had with the record was after six months you relinquish all rights of the song to me. He got mad at me over that. I’m like what do you want me to do keep making you records just to see them fall by the wayside and not pick one of them up and try to run with it?
Who have you built beyond me? You should be asking yourself who have you built beyond me? What record has come out after Pete Rock and CL Smooth in this town? And this is what they call ‘˜Money Earnin’ Mount Vernon. You got Yonkers eating like it’s going out of style. How are you not breaking other artists? I would respect him and the industry would respect him 100% if he broke a brand new artist, broke him a new Eminem and said fuck you CL Smooth. I don’t got to do those Snoop and Dre records anymore I got Eminem and I got 50 after that but that’s not happening. He’s not allowing himself to be there so I was very disappointed. I speak on it when it’s presented to me and I feel like I need to speak on it. I feel like people need to know it’s not selfishness on my part. I demand excellence and when you demand excellence you will not take shit. You work hard and give it 100% and a nigga think he can just throw you some SP 1200 shit. Niggas ain’t even working on that motherfucking shit no more B. You think you can come with that regular take it to the next level shit and everything has the same motherfucking drum pattern in it. All you’re doing is speeding it up and slowing it down, what is that? You’re being fucking lazy. If you can’t get a fucking orchestra in here, some horn players or your own Soul Brother band in here by now you ain’t fucking doing it. You ain’t being Pete Rock. If we gotta pay for all of these samples you’re not Pete Rock no more, you’re whoever you sample. That’s my whole shit. We gotta grow dawg. You can’t be on your own dick in this game. You gotta be humble and be like if you still got it and you’re connected to the streets what do you want? If I walk into his house with a mink coat on he’ll make me a beat and I’ll be like that shit is crazy. He’ll be like yea I was looking at your mink coat and it just made me make a beat. So I’m figuring oh this nigga is coming back. We’re really doing our thing right now and that shit will last for a hot minute and then it just got disappointing and aggravating. I didn’t hide what I felt. I’m like yo what the fuck are you doing? I didn’t come back here to be playing no kid games. This is not what I want to do talking to your woman about my business. I want to talk to you. Now you want my woman to talk to you and your woman to talk to me like what the fuck is this. My woman is just supposed to be over there and be happy and make the sandwiches and shit and serve the kool-aid.
Halftime: Haha, oh shit
CL: How is she gonna relate to pause button and sample clearing? If you ask her who Tom Scott is she is gonna say who someone up the block? She don’t know nothing so why are you gonna have my woman come up in there and say we need to be doing this. Fuck outta here. You need to be making sandwiches and kool-aid that’s what you need to be doing, going to make it with extra sugar in it. None of that my woman is running our business. We don’t fuck around like that B. We gonna get some professional motherfuckers that know what they are doing and we ain’t gotta fuck them to get answers. A nigga like Pete Rock all he had to do was one thing to shut me the fuck up listen to your own records. Listen to your own records. I recently had a problem with my management. I had to relinquish my management cuz my joint was coming out September 19th and he’s acting like a Pete Rock nigga. I said yo all you gotta do is listen to ‘Straighten It Out’ where I said ‘˜Let the management work for me because I don’t need the unnecessary hostility.’ That means you ain’t listening either. I’m telling you what I don’t want. If I’m telling you I don’t want no problem with you but you’re still fucking with me then you’re not listening and you’re not focused. So what do you want me to do if I’m striving for perfection? It’s only right that I move on and get with people that want to work with me. It’s different when you gotta dude who’s forced to work with rather than wants to work with you. The music sounds different. The approach and creativity is different. The things that you lack they fill in with their motivation and enthusiasm and when you don’t that…
I used to come into a session and he don’t want me in the session when he’s laying it down. He wants to leave first have me lay it down and then he come back. What? Who the fuck do you think you are? You really think that this is gonna work? Come on man that’s why your woman doesn’t need to be running shit cuz she thinks that shit will work. She wants you to be a fucking model what is that? She telling you you’re pretty and you’re the ugliest motherfucker I ever seen! Your ass needs to be behind the track board instead of taking pictures of your ugly ass. That’s why every record got his big ass face in front of the joint. You think that’s gonna sell, nigga are you crazy? You’re better off painting your face and letting it sell. You ain’t hiding nothing from me I know what it is. When you figure people out they hate that shit. I could figure it out in five minutes I don’t need to take five weeks or eight sessions. I can figure it out in five minutes if I want to hang with you. That’s why I got a little tiny circle so there is no room for mistakes. You go within this circle and fuck around you look isolated and you feel funny because you’re in this circle fucking up. You thought you could come in here without getting your ass bit. That’s what happened. You still want to play games like I’m the mighty Pete Rock well then feed your fucking family.
Halftime: It sounds like until you feel he comes off his ego this is never gonna happen.
CL: What are you gonna wait until a nigga is 48 years old?
Halftime: This is over.
CL: What are you gonna do? I am gonna be in the movies. I’m trying to be Denzel. You’re not gonna get a 40 year old CL coming back five years later with a Pete Rock. Pete Rock already got gray hair from his bullshit. The least he could do is make my beats and shut the fuck up.
CL: That’s the least he could do. A nigga want to be heard well play them fucking tracks. That’s all you have to do. I don’t have to talk to you or none of that shit just two or three hours sitting in the studio doing my shit. It ain’t no we gotta sit down and talk? Talk about what? Talk about that next record and if you ain’t talking about that next record then Arsonist will, Kay Gee will, Mike Lowe will and the Italian nigga who can’t speak no English will.
Halftime: Speaking of the new situation how did you link up with Shaman Works?
CL: Shaman Works was like a joint venture. It’s not even like I’m an artist on there. I’m taking home the lion’s share of the profit and I get to keep my masters and my publishing. It’s just a deal I felt I couldn’t refuse. It allowed me to get right into the studio and work, have the creative freedom to do what I want to do and finally create a solo album. It just worked out. The independence and freedom of it allowed me to see the intricacies of how you run your business. You don’t take for granted that you have this big machine of a major label creating this net for you that really ain’t there. Independently it gives you an opportunity to see that you can build your own net. You don’t have to create a false image that there is a net behind this machine when you fall and crack your head open. You create your own net so if you fall you know your net is there waiting to catch you. It gave me the opportunity to really know my business, appreciate from the bottom up the creativity, the business, the marketing and promotion and make the best possible project. I know that the more successful I am the more these major labels are gonna want to interrupt everything and get a piece of that. Ultimately, as long as the music is not suffering it doesn’t matter if I’m on Timbuktu Records I’m gonna eat.
Halftime: I read one of your interviews and you said you were a mainstream artist and that you don’t fit in the underground. Did you look at some of the major labels and see what they were offering or did you already develop the area you wanted to be in?
CL: Nah, what I said was I’m gonna do numbers first and let the numbers speak. I can always come up into the office with all of the great records and wait weeks at a time to hear we’re gonna have this big meeting and you have 15 minutes to display this whole project and what it’s about. Realistically, as men we know numbers speak higher than pitching an idea or hearing the potentials of an idea. When you see the numbers and you have nothing to do with that then you are gonna try harder to get yourself into that meeting. I’d rather do the numbers than say ok I didn’t know on the independent level we were gonna make this big album so let’s go to a major. Nah, let’s do some numbers and the majors will court us. Right now we gotta do numbers and find out how we can get this black hawk shit off the ground with Shaman Works.
Halftime: I don’t know how deep you want to get into it but ten years is a long time to not be making money off of rap so what was going on at that time that you were doing to maintain?
CL: I was just creating my life beyond the music. When the music stops what are you, who are you and what are you about? What I was doing was creating that. With my finances I like to live a certain lifestyle. So in order for me to live a certain lifestyle I have to find out how can I maintain this lifestyle and at the same time if I decide to come back to music can I come back and not affect my way of living. I had to go to other avenues like real estate and dumping my money. Instead of buying 3 or 4 cars, buy 1 car, buy a house, rent it out and do what you gotta do. Get with your woman and she’s buying houses and renting them out. You partner with her and do what you gotta do to make it happen. You got friends over here and they got an office and you’re helping them do the books, put in your wages and bet against the gamblers and then you got another income. Then you take your loans and take money from that and loan people money and you take a percentage every week like a loan shark. That’s how you survive. That was my hustle. It seasoned my hustle. Everything I’m doing is a legitimate hustle other than bookmaking or some crazy shit like that. My Italian homie really motivated me knowing that we the hustlers. [He’d say] we got that hustle game down pat man. We can do this without hurting ourselves and we had all the help from the elder statesman. All the Italians would help us and help our store. Originally we weren’t allowed to do that but we got the help of the boss and we did our thing. It was a blessing man to go and invest your money. You know what it taught me, how to respect a dollar.
Me and my homie used to put all of our change together and buy a nickel bag. Now to see where we’re at now and to see him where he’s at. I mean he used to live in his mother’s garage living out of Poland Spring bottles. This was a dude who easily had $300,000 or 400,000 thousand in cash so we both fell down. The whole point is how you get back up. Once we got back up and started rolling I’m telling you I didn’t miss a beat and that’s what gave me the opportunity to run into Pete Rock and for Pete Rock to say yo we need to do it for the people. So when you’re talking like that I’m figuring ok maybe we can do it. We went through the whole gamut of me and my homie owning a car wash and all that shit. All of that groundwork to get to this point. I felt myself heading for the wrong path, heading for a doom. You gotta be able to fight that temptation cuz when you’re on your way down you know you’re being kicked, spit on and stomped cuz not everybody likes you the way you think they do. They might envy you so you’re gonna get kicked. [People are like] I see you sitting in the car wash all day and you’re helping the workers you shouldn’t be doing that. What should I be doing then? I can do this in Attica. I see niggas getting ten cent a day doing license plates and you’re worried about me making sure this nigga’s rims is shiny? You’re crazy this is my joint. This is me and my white boy’s joint and this is how we roll until we find a better way. I remember sitting there in the car wash and the white boy is so upset. I came to him like what’s wrong? He was like I’m so upset man cuz this nigga Pete Rock is on the radio talking shit about you. He’s talking about how he don’t need you and that you’ll never be back and that ya’ll are never getting back together again and how you keep calling him. I said what? He said yea and the reason why I’m upset is because I watch him call here. I watch him page you and call here and tell you to do something on his album and then he get on the radio and do that dumb shit. I said yea that’s how it is but we’ll have our time. All of that was lessons and look where I’m at now and look where he’s at. He’s got his own garage, a big house, 2 or three cars, a new baby and he just bought a condo by the water. He’s doing his thing. I’m like come on man this is dudes who worked from nothing. So here’s Pete Rock I was successful with him, here’s Nicky Dawgs I’m successful with him and now here’s Shaman Works and I’m gonna be successful with them. Even with my woman and I’m successful with her so me and every one of my partners were successful. So how are you coming to me like you’re doing me a favor? I’m fixing the paneling on your house buddy. That’s my whole thing so if we’re not getting any credit over here then we’re gonna take it. Sometimes power is not given it’s taken. Sometimes you have to crawl before you walk and we suffered to get to this. So Pete Rock and the public should give us a lot more respect. The industry should give us more respect and we’re not asking for it we’re demanding it because we earned it.
Halftime: Last question what are some of your favorite moments in hip hop?
CL: Aww man I think my favorite thing was us going on Arsenio Hall. That was one and another one was really just being able to travel the world. When you can get to travel the world and have fans and be an artist people really like and respect was a great stepping stone to really build on. I’m always embarrassed when things don’t go right and you’re misunderstood when the people you think know you don’t really know you. When you have to defend yourself it doesn’t really make sense. This is a game of ups and downs and pain and glory. To be successful people have to sacrifice and people have to suffer. My family has suffered because I haven’t been able to be that father that I needed to be. I wasn’t there because I was too busy chasing the goals and the aspirations. So my whole thing is I want to make something out of all of these adventures and ups and downs. I want to be able to make something for my kids. They’re getting big and I have to create that whole image of this is what you should do and these are the mistakes I made and this is what you don’t have to do. All you have to do is maintain and focus on the goals that you need and everything will be ok. Even to this day little CL says Uncle Pete. I can’t tell him that ain’t your fucking uncle but he loves him. I don’t take that love away. I’m disappointed but he don’t have to be. All you had to do was think about him and do the right thing but that motivation wasn’t good enough. That’s where I’m at with the music right now. I’m totally happy. I do some interviews and they make me recognize what my mistakes are but I’m able to talk about it like therapy. I’m able to get the expression out and not make those mistakes again. I feel like everything I talk about deserves to be painted.
Pete Rock & CL Smooth Albums:
The Main Ingredient (1994)
Mecca and the Soul Brother (1992)
All Souled Out EP (1991)
The Outsider (2007)
American Me (2006)
Walk the fine, short line, and put the needle to the grind
Representin’ one kind, seeing eye for the blind
Witness what I carry on bears a further purpose
From how we do slam a few, then you want to purchase
A dialogue of funk, you love to pop it in your trunk
I win, more disciplined than a Show-lin monk
Pete Rock and C.L., well set to spark it
The powerful target to destroy the black market
But when you say black, listen, I don’t know, you lose me
I guess another beggar can afford to be choosey
I come to the maximum, artist on a major label
Any duplication of this one is fatal
On one to five, I gotta hit ya live
Beat your ass with my tape, any race or shape
Cuz if they got mine, they got yours too
But together here’s what we gotta do