Chicago has been under a musical microscope lately, being heavily criticized for what’s known as drill music. With its lyrics about guns, gangs and drugs, some view it as nothing more than rap music that provokes drugs and murder.
If drill music is what is defining the Chicago hip-hop scene right now then Clark Airlines is the anti-Chicago rapper. More focused on being a rapping Evel Knievel than shooting up his enemies in a gun fight, his sound is vibrant and breathes life into a culture that is dying from nursery school beats and childlike one-liners.
Refusing to fall in line and compromise his artistry, Clark Airlines records his music in the studio he built with his late father and proves that the Chicago hip-hop scene is still as diverse as the city.
When did you first begin rapping?
I started low-key when I was like 4, but I’ve been rapping seriously since like ’07. I started off making beats—that’s what people don’t know. Then I was like, I’m about to try and rap on these joints, and I started kicking some funky flows, and I liked how it sounded.
It definitely was like “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star.” It started off like opposite toposite—I was just making up words. It got serious when I linked up with my Nigerian buddy Goozy. That’s when I knew I could do this. He brought this different sound to rap. Goozy is like a Nigerian Nate Dogg. This year, when I dropped my first tape, Between The Lines, March 25, Fake Shore [Drive] picked it up, and from there everybody has been somewhat grabbing everything I’ve been putting out.
You started rapping on ’07, but it took you until 2012 to put out your first mixtape. Why is that?
I was more so doing the group thing. I’m more solo now. That’s what took me so long. We was rapping—me, Goozy, Dell—then we started adding people, but you know, it didn’t work out as well as I’d planned, so I ended up doing the solo thing. I’m pretty much still rocking with Goozy though.
What was the name of the band?
The Come Up. TCU started off because I shot a movie when I was younger, when I was like 12. It was a porn. [Laughs] Naw, it wasn’t porn. It was just a regular movie. Remember the 50 Cent movie Get Rich Or Die Tryin’? That’s where I got my idea from. I was going to base my life off of his movie, and I’ve been sticking with that name [TCU] ever since. I was in high school, not 12. My bad. I was like 14 or 15. Man, and around that time Eminem inspired my rap career. After watching 8 Mile I got real motivated.
In the “Sippin’ While Whippin’” video you are out on top of a car while driving down Chicago’s Lake Shore Drive expressway. Lake Shore Drive is nothing to play with. What provokes you to do some of these daring stunts?
People have ADD nowadays, so I didn’t want to put a video out with me just like rapping with my shirt off with a whole bunch of dudes in the kitchen cooking chicken. So I was like, man, let me do something that’s going to make them say, “I need to watch the rest of this video because cuz is on top of a car.” And if you watch the end I jump over three cars. I got like springs in my legs. It’s crazy, man. That’s why this name is Clark Airlines. I just be flying.
Have you ever endured any injuries from the stunts?
Yeah, that jumping over the cars—that really hurt. I dented the roof of the car and everything. It was Goozy’s car. He let me borrow it, he was asleep, so he really didn’t know. If you look closely, he’s in one of the cars I jumped over. He’s asleep so he didn’t even pay attention. I fixed the roof right before he woke up.
You have a song called “My Ex Sallie Mae.” Who is that?
I broke up with her because I couldn’t pay her back. She’s not too happy with me at all. We just got off the phone with each other. She still calls me. I got two years in at the Art Institute Of Chicago studying media arts and animation. The whole Pixar, 3-D animation thing is what I was going for, but I started getting into music and film around that time. I tried to change my major actually, and they were like “No, you have to start over.” I wasn’t started over, bring them credits over. They wouldn’t do it, so…
There is this emergence of rappers that produce, such as Big K.R.I.T and J. Cole, then there are producers that rap, such as Hit Boy. How did you decide which one you would put in the forefront?
When I was doing the beats—and no one would ever hear my beats unless you break into my computer. When I was doing the beats I was like, “This shit is hard.” I was down in the studio for like three days making one beat. It takes up too much time, so I’m like, “Which one can I get done quicker?” And it was rapping. And [producing] is not something I love doing. If you love it you’re going to figure it out and do it. A lot of people think I still do beats, but I stopped. I just know how to pick a good beat.
What is the music scene like in Chicago?
It’s rough. The drill music is taking over right now. It’s Chief Keef type of music. They call it drill music. It’s cool. It has its ups and downs. I feel like with drill music, you got people that don’t do drill music doing it. Don’t do something that ain’t you. I like to innovate, so when everybody is doing this I’m like, “What is everybody not doing?” I call it high life music. It actually comes from Nigeria. It’s called high life music over there, but I infused it with rap and hip-hop, so I call it hip-hop high life music.
Chicago gets a bad rap (no pun intended) for its artists not supporting one another. Have you experienced that?
Yeah, I started off working with a lot of people that are somewhat buzzing right now, and now they are giving me this cold shoulder. I’ve never been that type of person. I’m always trying to unify everything, but I was told I need to be more selfish, and now I see why especially out here. You gotta just do you. You can’t work with everybody because everybody ain’t for you—they are all for themselves.
They hit me with jam a couple times, and I was like, “What?” I don’t lash out like I could. And don’t get me wrong: A lot of these cats I’m 40-billion-times better than, and they still hit me with the move about not being able to do features or on some concert shit. But with every downfall there is always a greater blessing.