On Wednesday, (November 3rd), HipHopDX spoke with Mr. Penn a/k/a C.L. Smooth about the follow-up to his 2006 debut, American Me. One of the co-creators, along with “The Creator” Pete Rock, of one of the most impressive duos in Hip Hop history, and two of the most cherished collaborative full-lengths ever, 1992’s Mecca & The Soul Brother (a deluxe box set of which was recently released) and 1994’s The Main Ingredient, also spoke about the possibility of new Pete Rock & C.L. Smooth music to trail recent performances of the seemingly reunified on-again-off-again twosome.
While clearly guarded, and at times purposefully cryptic, during his discussion with DX regarding the state of affairs between the Caramel King and the Chocolate Boy Wonder, C.L. spoke in a slightly more revealing manner regarding his planned Emancipation, which Outkast affiliate he is currently working with, and which of his two certified classics the Mount Vernon, New York native (by way of Queens) would take with him in a hypothetical “Soul Survivor” scenario.
HipHopDX: I’m sitting here with a copy of the May 2004 issue of Elemental magazine in front of me…the issue featuring the cover story with you and Pete talking about your plans to finally record a third full-length together following your amazing collaborations on Soul Survivor II. By the time that issue of Elemental hit stands y’all had already split again. So what happened to keep y’all separated for the last six years?
C.L. Smooth: I just think creative differences – business [differences] and creatively. I think instead of growing together we grew apart.
DX: Is it more a business relationship would you say than a personal relationship?
C.L. Smooth: Uh…yeah I would say that. Yes.
DX: I can’t tell you personally how amped up I was after hearing “Fly Till I Die” and “It’s A Love Thing” – I thought y’all was about to come with The Main Ingredient Vol. 2 for real!
C.L. Smooth: Well, it’s like a daily process. I don’t get my hopes up. I don’t like to get the people’s hopes up. I think [Pete Rock] likes to word things and say things that you know – I guess he interprets it his way, and I can’t control that. So, I like to do things in moderation, and really do more work than talk and [not] say we’re gonna do this and say we’re gonna do that and nothing materializes. ‘Cause I’m very open to whatever needs to be done the right way. And if it’s not gonna be done the right way then you know…we don’t need to do anything at all. But, as of now it’s a daily process and I just appreciate taking one day at a time doing the right thing.
DX: And, just out of curiosity, did you only launch your solo career because that reunion project with Pete fell apart?
C.L. Smooth: No, I always wanted to. I think that should be a next element of what the group is about: having your own individuality and coming together.
DX: Now, American Me, it had some joints on it: the title-track, “Smoke In The Air.” But, obviously it didn’t feel exactly the same without Pete’s production. Do you feel like your best music is made as “Da Two”?
C.L. Smooth: No. I feel like that’s good music, and the other thing is good music. It just didn’t have the publicity. It didn’t have anything on it. It was just a project that I wanted to put together because I wanted to show people that I still have what it takes to make great music. Not that I’m at [that] level, it was just a development thing and I wanted to prove that skillfully yes, there’s still something there that can be tapped into in case there are other producers out there who admire my career and admire what I did back then up ‘til now and have something to contribute.
DX: [On “American Me” you spit], “If there was any doubt before I can never return / Watch and learn / This the type of heat that make Pete squirm.” Did you feel like you needed to prove to Pete you could do it dolo?
C.L. Smooth: At that time you needed to prove that you could just do it. Like, you could just start something and complete it. And it was never done, so I just wanted to let him know that it could be done, with or without you.
DX: And just one last question sorta regarding you guys performing together again and everything: Can you just explain how y’all reconnected?
CL Smooth: I just think you wanna do the right thing and it’s a daily process. So, if you wanna collaborate on something, or you want an opportunity, or you see something out there that you can’t get without your partner, or you just wanna put something together personally or privately, and you wanna work with somebody who it’s already established, then that’s the situations that we look at and we face everyday when we have to look at each other, and when we have to deal with each other. Other than that, it’s a daily process but life is good. And when life is good you acquire a lot of patience. So, that’s what I’ve acquired: a lot of patience, a lot of thinking before you do. And those are the traits that I wanna practice, and I want those to be my bad habits instead of indecisiveness and inattentiveness and not enough drive to wanna be the best. It’s not just good for me to be in the game, but I wanna be the best at what I do. And the best at what I do takes development, it takes practice, it takes everything that was prepared from day one. And when you leave these things alone because you think that you already established and what have you, then we have to always go back to the beginning. The beginning is doing it and developing it the right way so that the magic is there and the people are not cheated out of the music that I know that could be made.
DX: So just to be blunt, this was you reaching out to Pete?
C.L. Smooth: I wasn’t reaching out to anybody. It’s just two people collaborating. You have a whole ton of people out there who wanna see a Pete Rock & C.L. Smooth show. It has nothing to do with what I think. Understand me, my opinion does not count, it’s what the people want. So I have no – At the end of the day I can think I’m right all the time. It has no bearing. It’s what the people wanna see. And if that’s what they wanna see, then that’s what I’m gonna give ‘em the opportunity [to see] if the opportunity presents itself. So, I don’t push anything, I don’t interject, I just let the opportunity present itself and I’m either left with the question to accept it or reject it. So I’m gonna take the highroad and try to make the best out of something that wasn’t really the best.
DX: Switching gears here, what’s Corey Penn being emancipated from with your sophomore solo LP?
C.L. Smooth: I think it’s just the fact that you have a lot to say, and you’re alleviating yourself. It’s like being comfortable in your skin now. And you’re grown, and you’ve emancipated yourself from all the things that a lot people go through everyday. But you just go through it on another level. And you giving people an…insight on what you’re talking about and your experiences, whether successful or unsuccessful.
DX: Your publicist mentioned to me that you’re about to go to Atlanta to finish up recording the album. Who in the ATL are you going down there to work with?
C.L. Smooth: Oh there’s a few producers down there that’s great. Just the atmosphere alone [is great], not besides the music… It’s a place where I live – it’s one of the places where I live. So I feel comfortable there. It’s a nice getaway from New York – not too far away, but just a contrast where you’re able to just be laidback and think more clearly.
DX: I was just curious if we’re gonna hear CL Smooth over some DJ Toomp or something like that?
C.L. Smooth: Nah. No, not at all. I like the element where I come from. I mean, I like diversity; I’m always willing to try different things. I think that’s a part of music that people like to box you into: the core sound of what they used to hearing you [rhyme over]… But I don’t shut anything out. You gotta be open. And it’s not just chasing names, it’s those unknown names like [me and Pete Rock] were that developed a career. So you wanna give people a chance that admired you to get the opportunity to work with you at least, or present something to you.
DX: Speaking of, you got Mike Loe and Rsonist of The Heatmakerz behind the boards again?
C.L. Smooth: Um…that I’m not too sure. Like I said, I’m open for everybody. I’m not just keyed in on one thing, or one producer, or one sound. I’m looking to develop – Even with one producer that I’m comfortable with, I’m willing to do a whole album with. I’m not with chasing a whole bunch of producers. I just wanted to work with people without any restrictions – just make songs. And that’s what American Me was, it was something that just allowed me to make songs.
DX: Can you reveal who you’ve worked with so far though?
C.L. Smooth: Well right now I’m working extensively with this producer named DJ Speedy outta Atlanta. A really, really nice guy. He really has a lot of concepts and a lot of confidence and swagger in himself, and in his music and his development of songs.
DX: He’s like down with Outkast, right?
C.L. Smooth: Um…he has that type of sound. If you wanna equate it to how diverse it is, it can be that diverse. I’ve worked with him on a couple of songs early, but now going heavyweight into a project I’m really excited about working with him. That one producer really has my attention.
DX: And you know – I don’t wanna keep saying his name, but it’s just mandatory that I ask if Pete is involved at all?
C.L. Smooth: Well, I would hope so. But like I said before, it’s a daily process. So, hopefully with the track record that we have now…I talk to him extensively now, so we’re kinda tuned in to what needs to be – the elements and ingredients that it’s gonna take for us to do something together, and separately. So, I’m not worried about that part, I’m just worried about just getting started and being involved and being busy into it and just very excited about the outcome.
DX: It sounds like it’s kinda early in the process, so do you got a label lined up to release the album?
C.L. Smooth: Well there’s a lot of expectations out there, there’s a lot of hopes out there – even coming from Pete’s side. He has a lot of ideas and things that he wants to bring across with his black book and his connections. So I don’t think anything should be a problem on that end. I just rely on the creative side and let the business side – it will definitely take care of itself.
DX: Speaking of that creative side…have you lined up any collaborations, or anybody that you plan on rockin’ the mic with?
C.L. Smooth: Well just recently I just got finished working with John Legend on a project with The Roots [on Wake Up!]. So I’m hoping to work with him again. He was a great motivational tool to wanna get back in the studio, and just wanna be professional at whatever you do. So, I’m very excited to work with guys of that caliber…
DX: After your classic collabo with AZ, “Magic Hour,” I would love to hear more tag teaming from two of the smoothest Rap cats in the game.
C.L. Smooth: Absolutely. There’s a lot of ideas that I can pick from the public and the people who wanna hear some great music. And not only great music, but something coming from a great artist with great projects. Whether it’s a collaboration with his group or solo, I just want to give people an opportunity to get with a great project that really is in dire need for Rap music.
DX: I’m just gonna go ahead and say it, man: You and Pete fucked up, you made too many great songs together. [Laughs] If you hadn’t done that, if there had been at least one dud, no one would be asking when y’all are gonna get back together. [Laughs]
C.L. Smooth: Right. Yep, absolutely. But I’m very happy with the process of just being able to work right now, and being able to at least sit at the table and converse with my partner about certain things, as far as the group is concerned, and as far as personal lives are concerned. At least have a decent conversation and moving towards the right direction.
DX: And I guess the final, most important, question I have for you: You’re stranded on an island and can only have either Mecca & The Soul Brother or The Main Ingredient to listen to, which do you choose?
C.L. Smooth: Uh…I would choose…Mecca & The Soul Brother.
DX: Word, word, any particular reason?
C.L. Smooth: ‘Cause its “Reminisce.” And I’d rather listen to that all day, and “Straighten It Out,” and “Can’t Front On Me.” It’s just a Bible. You’d rather be stuck with a Bible than a pamphlet.
DX: …But if you happen to run into any chicks on that island you’re gonna want a copy of The Main Ingredient. [Laughs]
C.L. Smooth: You’re gonna want a copy of The Main Ingredient, absolutely. But if you wanna have any right sanity of…how you don’t wanna live like a savage, you gotta have Mecca & The Soul Brother.
DX: Yeah, definitely. Those are two albums that…it’s the continuation for sure, the duality of man.
C.L. Smooth: Yeah, I hope we can build a pyramid with it. One more would really, really be nice. When you think of it more and more you try not to get so ahead of yourself because it’s so exciting to think about. More and more as day goes by it looks more and more brighter than it did. [But] I’m not gonna lie to you and say that okay, it’s like before, ‘cause it really isn’t. So, I’ll just leave it at that.