Tracks like "Back Up Off Me" and "Bounce" were city-wide juke anthems, and Clent's Beatdown Crew—which was stacked with young DJs like Rashad, Spinn, RP Boo and Magic Mike—ran the skating rink and house party circuit. Together they established the polyrhythmic, bass-heavy footwork sound that pumped through their DJ mixers more than a decade before the name TEKLIFE had ever been uttered.
Now a dedicated father and respected ghetto house veteran, Clent's first solo effort on Planet Mu is set to come out in April. The five-track release, Hyper Feet, has been a long time coming, so we're celebrating with an exclusive DJ Clent orginal mix and a little chat about his past, his inspirations, and his hopes for the future.
So, besides the Bangs and Works compilations, this is your first release on Planet Mu. How does it feel?
It feels cool. It's real big because its a bigger label. But I've been putting out music with Godfather on Database/Juke Trax since "Back Up Off Me", and that was like, 2004. Previous to that I had records on Dance Mania. I was like the last new artist on Dance Mania. [Planet Mu] has a much broader audience, though. The scope is bigger, and it's getting to people I would never have thought would be listening to this music.
Are you excited to be getting that kind of attention?
I'm super excited because to be honest, I started my own label [Beatdown Productions], and all these blogs and website I've sent them emails, this that and a third trying to get a writeup for my releases and nobody got back to me. The minute Planet Mu says they're going to put my record out, they're posting and tweeting everything.
Did that piss you off?
It did piss me off a little bit, I'm not gonna lie to you. If you wouldn't write about me before, how come you can write about me now? It's the same me. On the other hand, I know how the world works. If I go directly to the source, there might be resistance because I'm not the person that they're used to dealing with. I just take it in stride. Thanks for talking about me at all, you know what I'm saying?
Planet Mu often picks up on younger artists who are just beginning their careers, whereas when it comes to footwork tracks, they're dealing with artists like you, Rashad, Traxman, RP Boo, who are veteran DJs who earned their respect locally years ago. How do you think that makes your experience different?
I can't say it really makes a difference. Doors are going to open, and it's definitely going to be easier for me because of the Planet Mu release. It'll be easier for a blog to talk to me or about me, and it may even be easier for me to get bookings at parties, which is crazy because I haven't stopped putting out music. But I still feel like I have to prove myself. The game changes, the style changes, the music evolves. Every time I sit down in the lab I make about ten tracks, and out of ten tracks I only keep two. A lot of times, you won't even hear those, because my music needs to be competitive. I don't go to nobody's SoundCloud and listen to nobody's tracks because I don't want to be influenced by what someone else is doing. So when someone hears a Clent track, you're gonna know Clent made it. I'll throw those tracks on the thumb drive and listen to them in the car on repeat over and over again before it would ever hit the SoundCloud or a label, because if it don't sound like Clent, I can't put it out.
Can you tell me a little about your relationship coming up with some of the Chicago guys who are also on Planet Mu?
All of us pretty much grew up together. Rashad and Spinn are from the South Suburbs, I'm from the projects in the Low End, and [RP] Boo is from 59th. House-O-Matics was this dance crew that threw parties every weekend, and that was the first time I met RP Boo. He wasn't even making tracks then; he was just spinning records. He said I amazed him because I came in the party at like 16 years old and played my own tracks. He said he'd never seen anybody do that before besides Sluggo, Deeon and Milton. Approximately one month later I went to another House-O-Matics party to DJ and that's when I met Spinn and Rashad. And that was like 96, 97. Then later on I taught Magic Mike how to DJ and make tracks. We grew up together on 39th. Then I started Beatdown. That was me, Mike, RP Boo, Spinn and Rashad. We were all crew together. After meeting at the party, Rashad used to come over my my place to make tracks because I was the first one with an MPC. We had a real good relationship back then. If we talk today, we're still brothers in some way, shape or form because it wasn't just one of us that made the footwork sound. It was a collective. So when you hear a newer, younger cat, you're going to hear remnants of all of us. I can't say I'm the creator, I can't say Boo was the creator, I can't say Rashad was the creator. I can say we created that sound. At the time we basically just took over all the parties because we had all the tracks. Me and Boo used to get all the parties because Boo had all the connections. So we would play parties and then let Mike and Rashad and Spinn get on. I wanted all of us to shine. I was also putting out a lot of mixtapes and CDs. I've got 26 mixtapes under my belt. I would play their tracks on my CDs. And then they would come out with their own CDs, and so on. We were all crew.
Was it easier to release music locally and make money from it back then?
Yeah, I've got 26 mixtapes and the lowest number of units I ever sold of one tape was 5000. You talk to someone like Waxmaster, and he's sold 20,000 units from one tape. The money was definitely there then. [Dance Mania label owner] Ray Barney closing down definitely changed that, because he wasn't just the label, he was distribution too. So if we had 500 tapes made, he would buy 250 of them directly from us because he was supplying other stores across the country. Losing him hurt a lot. Then Best Buy and Walmart came around, which ended up forcing all the mom and pop stores to close, because why would I pay $16 or $17 for a CD when I could get it for $8 at Walmart? George's Music Store was one of the biggest stores on the West Side, well, actually one of the biggest stores in the city. Now it's gone. That trickled down and hurt us because after that we didn't have any way to sell our tapes. Before that, I remember being 17, and riding around for one day and making like $2000 legally off of CDs or tapes. I was young, and I didn't know what to do with the money so I just bought a whole bunch of Jordans and tricked it off. Now I wish I could make that money but, it is what it is.
Wasn't there still a demand though? What happened to all the people that were buying your music?
A lot of them grew up. The parties stopped. I was in my 20s still doing juke parties, so if I didn't sell my mixtapes at the stores, I would sell them at the parties. But once that whole scene died out, it was just the club. If I play at a hip-hop club, I can only play, and this is pushing it, 15 minutes of juke at the most. I've played it on the radio, and it got to the point where they told me I can't play juke on the radio no more. That's one of the reasons I left [Power 92]. There are still people that want the music but it's different now. It's all on the internet and I could make way more money off a cassette than mp3s.
What do you make of this resurgence in interest from the outside which, from the time the Chicago scene was at its peak, is a difference of at least 10 years?
To be honest with you, when we were all making tracks in the 90s, me, Rashad and Spinn, we were kids. We were 17, 18 years old. We never thought that our music would leave Chicago. I never thought that my "Back Up Off Me" record would get to Detroit. Godfather loved it, and since Dance Mania had closed, he asked me if he could repress it. That was unexpected. I did it because I love making music, and for the footworkers who would come to the parties. Now, since there are no more ghetto house and juke parties, I just do it for therapy. If I have a bad day I just make some music to get it out, get it out of my system. I never thought it would get to where it is now, where track makers are doing tours. I never saw that coming. But I love it.
Where have you toured?
I've been to New York once, Detroit countless times… and that's it.
Well, with this release, and further releases down the line, you could be touring not only the States, but the world. Are you excited?
I'm very excited. It shows that hard work does pay off. Sometimes it takes a little longer than others, but eventually it does pay off. I just keep pushing. My day will come.
What inspires you?
My kids. My son Corey—he wants to make tracks, he wants to be DJ Corey. I push it for them, because at the end of the day, it keeps me safe, it keeps me out of trouble, it keeps him happy. If I don't do it for nobody else in this world, I do it for him. He believes in me and he believes in the music. I gotta do what I gotta do so when he's able and ready to take over, he can, and the world will be wide open for him. My kids are my motivation because that money takes care of them.
Wasn't your mom a DJ? You have house music in you blood right?
I would say more disco, soul and funk. She met my father DJing. My mother eventually stopped DJing and became a Sheriff. And my father, I don't know. We lost contact. When my mom did the wash, she would play music, and she had her turntables set up in the basement and she would play L.T.D., Frankie Beverly and Maze, Earth Wind and Fire, One Way. A lot of the tracks you hear me sample, that's the music I grew up to, so I just turned it around for this generation. She would yell for me to me to come down, I was around seven years old, and she would let me play on her turntables.
So do you think you would have been a DJ if it wasn't for your upbringing?
No, probably not. I'd probably just be real deep into music. Being around all those records and playing on turntables at such a young age, that's what did it for me. My love for house music was different though. My neighbors used to throw a house party every weekend. I was about ten years old, so this was around 1990. I remember them playing "Magic Feet" [by Mike Dunn], and "Work That Motherfucker" [by Steve Poindexter]. We had balconies, so I would just sit on the balcony and listen to the music from the apartment over. And that's where my love for house music came from. Where you are in New York, if you're walking down the street in a black neighborhood, all you'll hear is hip-hop. In Chicago, in the last 80s, early 90s, all you would hear is [house] tracks. Everyone had a dance group. I was even part of a dance group on my block.
What was your dance group called?
Um, [laughs] what was it? Lake Park Dancers. We danced in a couple of the parades. It was just different. Growing up, all we heard was tracks. I wasn't really even that into hip-hop. I liked EPMD and all of that but what really caught my attention was house. Then about '90, '91 I started getting DJ Deeon mix tapes. Both of us are from the Low End. Someone would come on my block with a DJ Deeon mixtape and I would have to copy it. Then I met DJ Greedy, who showed me the drum machine. Here's play, here's record, you're on your own. I remember driving around, dropping CDs off at stores, and we're listening to the mixtape, and we stop at a light. It would be the summertime, windows down, radio up, and we're playing tracks, and the girls at the bus stop would start dancing and stuff, and we'd just throw 'em a mixtape. That's how it was. Now you don't hear too many people riding around listening to tracks anymore.
Do you see that type of experience happening again?
Outside of Chicago, yeah. Chicago, we don't stick with each other. We're too quick to stab somebody in the back. There's no support system in Chicago. You talk to a Chicago rapper, they're going to tell you the same thing. So, I don't see it happening here; I see it happening somewhere else. Japan they got footwork groups and stuff so, its amazing to me. I believe there are people out there riding around in their car listening to our music.
Where do you see yourself in the future?
I hope for the best. I don't know. I don't know what's going to happen but it's going to be something good. Something that will help me take care of my family. That's what it's all about. Some people say, "Speak things into existence."
Like, fake it till you make it. I've been there.
Exactly. I can't do that. I don't know how to be anything but real to anybody. I'm just Clent. But I'm not going to stop, whether any label deals with me or not, because I'm going to keep on doing me.
DJ Clent - Super THOT (unreleased)
DJ Clent - Ain't Nobody (unreleased)
DJ Clent - Clent's oh so hott (unreleased)
DJ Clent - Beat the Pussy (Moveltraxx)
DJ Clent - Free DJ Milton (unreleased)
DJ Clent - D J P J C (feat. DJ Deeon) (Beatdown House)
DJ Clent - Blood on the Leaves (Beatdown House)
DJ Clent - Enchanted (Beatdown House)
DJ Clent - Let the Bass Go (Beatdown House)
DJ Clent - Grooving in the Sunshine (Beatdown House)
DJ Clent - Bassline (unreleased)
DJ Clent - That Fuka (unreleased)
DJ Corey - The Circle (feat DJ Clent) (unreleased)
DJ Clent - Bounce (Juke Trax)
DJ Clent - Bounce Trap Remix (Juke Trax)
DJ Clent - Back Up Off Me (Juke Trax)
DJ Clent - Back Up Off Me Trap Remix (feat. Majik Myke) (Juke Trax)
DJ Clent - Pop the P (feat. Majik Myke) (Juke Trax)
DJ Clent - Signing Off (unreleased)
DJ Clent - Try Again (feat. RP Boo) (unreleased)
DJ Clent - Don't Go Down (Planet Mu)
DJ Clent - Hyper Feet (Planet Mu)
DJ Clent - Don't Leave Me (baby) (Planet Mu)
DJ Clent - DJ Clent's #1 (Planet Mu)
DJ Clent - Cat Shit (Juke Trax)
DJ Clent - Clent's Cocky (Booty Tune)
DJ Clent - After Dark (Halsted Street Ent.)
DJ Clent - Clent's Kneedeep (Moveltraxx)
DJ Clent - Clent's Dog Catcher (Planet Mu)
DJ Clent - Dye Rydaz (Beatdown House)
DJ Clent - From tha Back (unreleased)
DJ Clent - House in this House (unreleased) Pre-order DJ Clent's Hyper Feet EP from Planet Mu now, out April 6.
Oliver Rivard is a writer, artist, and videographer living in Bushwick, Brooklyn. Follow him - @DETEKSELEKT