New Orleans native and lyrical arsonist Jimi Clever tells us about his journey as a rapper, how he fell knee deep into a depression that almost cost him his life, and the importance of branding. He also expresses his feelings about being compared to Eminem, why he supports Dee-1, and how 3D NA’TEE inspired him to take his career to the next level. Jimi loves ink, but there’s a story behind his artwork. Most of his tattoos display his Passion for love, music, and his cocktail creations. He desires to deliver messages thru his music that will ultimately make a difference in the lives of others. “Grab your fire extinguishers boys and girls!!! This story is laced with oodles of liquid fire!!!
Q: Fantasy: Who is Jimi Clever? Describe where you’re from and what you love about it and why? What do you miss most about being a kid? If there was one thing that you could’ve added to your life as a child what would it be? What would you take away?
A: Jimi Clever: Jimi is my name; James Marshall to be exact. I was named after Jimi Hendrix (James Marshall Hendrix). My mom named me James Marshall Barnett because she is a huge Jimi Hendrix fan. She named me after him and my older sister after Janis Joplin. With Jimi being a nick name for James, that’s where Jimi derived from. I’ve been called Jimi ever sense I was a baby. CLEVER came with hip hop. Jimi is CLEVER (clever with words) so, even if I were never an artist, I’d still be Jimi.
I’m from the Uptown New Orleans area. It is one of the prettiest parts of the city; if you ask me. It isn’t because of the buildings & structures, but because of the easy going style of living within the area; from the food, to the little shops, etc. In all other areas of the city, you tend to see one race within a specific area. It’s either predominantly Black or predominantly White, but Uptown, everyone co-exists. You meet people from all walks of life. Regardless of race, gender, orientation, or financial background it’s a great mixture.
I think that I miss what most people miss about being a kid, “BEING A KID!” When you’re grown you have bills, responsibilities, headaches, jobs, etc. When you were a kid you could just BE a kid, ((LOL)) but mostly I think I miss the awesome cartoons that we had back then. We had the BEST cartoons in the 80’s & early 90’s. I don’t know WHAT to say about the cartoons that are out today. No imagination at all… at least not how it was with US!!
If there was one thing I could add to my childhood that I missed out on, it would be having my dad around. There are things & teachings that I had to learn on my own… through my own mistakes. I could have used some male guidance back then, but other than that, I wouldn’t change a thing all of life’s experiences made me who I am today.
Q: Fantasy: There was a song called “Shine Your Lite (after hurricane Katrina)” that you recorded after hurricane Katrina. It’s a classic song and one of my favorites. 7 Years later it still holds a lot of weight and has great significance. Do you feel that it’s too late to film a video for it? Describe the journey in creating this work of art. Why did you choose its chorus? What’s the reaction that you get or have gotten from people that are fans of the song?
A: Jimi Clever:
Shine Your Lite is one of my best works. I will always cherish it because of the vast amount of my personal experience which resides within it. At the time, there were so many challenges with pushing that song, especially with trying to get clearance for the sample (Robbie Robertson, Shine Your Light–Ladder 49). This song played at the end of the movie. The movie was so touching. I knew that I would use the record at some point in time.Being that this was only 2 months after Katrina, I was still recovering from my personal losses (financially, and emotionally).
It was impossible to find the necessary Resources that were needed in order to create the huge campaign that this song deserved. To ME it still stands as the BEST Hurricane song ever written. I feel like it’s too late to do a video because everything has its time and place. Timing is everything! Even if you have a timeless record, you have to get it out at the right MOMENT in order to cement it in time. The window passed on that record so I had to move on. Especially sense our beautiful city is in full swing now with its recovery process. I’d rather not beat the dead horse named Katrina.
I’d like the song to serve as a time capsule. So if I ever become famous, fans will research my past, and discover it. A year later Katrina happened and it all spewed out of me. I emailed the song to my homey Paradox and he put the track together. I recorded it at DJ JMK’s studio in Baytown, TX (where we were all displaced at the time). I remember when people first heard the record. I remember people actually crying and thanking me for the record… it was the heaviest, most incredible record I had ever done at the time.
Q: Fantasy: People love you. You’ve been compared to artists like Eminem… how does it make you feel? In your opinion, are you under rated? How difficult is it to break into this industry? What are some of the challenges that you’ve faced? Is this business truly about “it’s all in who you know” relationships? Explain. What is your definition of a solid relationship whether it’s from business acquaintances, family, or friends?
A: Jimi Clever:
I’m really grateful that people genuinely love what I do. I used to get upset at the Eminem thing, but it’s cool. I don’t let it get to me anymore. As people get to know Jimi Clever they see that there’s a huge difference between Em and I. So, I take it in stride. Besides, being compared to an artist who sold well over 10 million copies of his 2nd album doesn’t really count as an insult in my book. ((LOL))
I do think that I am underrated as an artist. Some of my peers that are in much more privileged positions could call me for a feature instead of… “MC what’s his name?” But I understand the game. They all know I don’t really embrace the same subject matters that are “popular;” with them and the type of records that they want to make. I don’t smoke weed, I’m not a thug, never shot a gun at anyone, and I have no idea what it feels like to POP A MOLLY.
So, when they hear my subject matter, they become CLOSET Jimi Clever fans. They are afraid to take a chance on me, when it comes to the Hip Hop market place, because what I do is honest and true.
The things that I rap about are not exactly what “sells” in this industry. This in one of the many reasons that I openly and fully support Dee-1.
He represents artists like me who stay out of trouble, yet have a respectable image. Daily, I face many challenges because of this… because of the type of artist that I am. It’s always an uphill battle since positive energy in hip hop music is not “Marketable” in the eyes of the check writers. I refuse to bend and disrespect women in my music by calling them hoes, bitches, etc. I refuse to rap about weed and pills sense that’s not the type of things I do. I do believe to a certain extent that it’s all about who you know in certain aspects. It could mean the difference between paying $10,000 for a video shoot vs. having your video shot for free.
I try to balance my social effectiveness with a great business sense. My ultimate goal is to maintain a certain level of class when dealing with people. When I make a promise, I do everything in my power to keep that promise and to deliver promptly. I never up sell anything that I can’t deliver.
The positive effect that you have on people that you deal with is surprising when you deliver what you have promised within a prompt and professional manner. I stand behind those promises as an artist and as a bartender.
Q: Fantasy: You’ve really begun taking charge of your career as an artist. You write your own music, rap, print your own CD’s market & promote, etc. How important is it for artists to know the tricks of the trade? How easy is it wearing all of these hats; considering that you’re a bartender and father as well?
A: Jimi Clever:
Watching 3D Na’Tee do everything herself played a major role, in terms of inspiring and motivating me to take my career into my own hands. I have my own home recording studio, I do my own duplication, and almost everything else myself. The more self-reliant you become as an artist, the better it is for your career. If you’re a local and have a limited budget, you have to be SMART about both your spending power and your investments. Putting your money in the wrong places too soon can mean that you have stored the ingredients that could create a serious recipe for disaster. If you’re a local artist who works a Normal 9 to 5 job every day, instead of you and your crew spending 1000 bucks for a VIP section at a night club, go to Guitar Center and buy instruments instead. For approximately $900 you can set up your home studio and be ready to record in as little a time frame as one day.
MUSIC Moves the crowd, but a BRAND SELLS RECORDS—Jimi Clever
As an artist, you should work as hard as possible on building your NAME as a BRAND. The more clarity that you have on your identity, the greater your chances, when it comes to determining what direction you should move in when you’re attempting to build your brand. This will help you spend your money wisely. When your name becomes a BRAND, It becomes more tangible for your fans to pick up and hold. (logos, hats, shirts, etc.) But your brand must be catchy and visible for fans.
Fans that believe in your name and your brand will ultimately become your street team. The better your BRAND, the less money you’ll have to spend on certain promotional items. Your BRAND will begin to sell and promote itself!! It gets tough for me at times to wear all of these hats (father, bartender, love life, etc. ) But I’m so motivated to succeed at everything that I set out to accomplish that I refused to accept failure. I just make sure to cater to my personal needs. You must allow your mind and body to rest whenever possible. I am currently in need of a vacation as we speak. ((LOL))
Q: Fantasy: From your CD’s Audio Journals Vol.’s I-IV and Liquid Fire, which 6 songs from these two projects combined are your absolute favorite? Why? “Journal Entry No. 1” the song made me happy and sad at the same damn time. Happy because you’re still here to share your story and your life with us, but sad because you never know what someone’s going thru, yet they continue to press on. “You’re still standing.” Tell us about the sadness in your life back then vs. the joy that you experience now.
A: Jimi Clever:
Below is a list of songs that remind me of pivotal points in my life. They make me reflect on the things that I’ve been through.
1. Shine your Lite
2. Still Here (ft. the late Bionik Brown )
3. Deliver me (produced by Big Herc Da Hummer)
4. FLOW HEAVENLY (produced by Big Herc Da Hummer)
We did that one like 10yrs ago and it still sounds amazing to me.
5. Journal Entry no. 1 and 6.
6. There is also a song called FAITH; which will be on Audio Journals 5 CD.
It’s still hard for me to choose though. I have quite a few songs that I hold dear to my heart because they are so real. The song that you’re speaking of (Journal Entry #1) is the reflection of a dark time that I experienced in my life. I’ve been through plenty.
Back in November of 2005, my first son died two days after he was born. Two years later, I went through a bitter divorce. Only one year after that, my friend Bionik Brown died in a car accident in Denver, Colorado. Musically, he was my personal hero. With all of these different things going on in my mind and heart, Along with losing everything during my divorce I fell completely on my face. I found myself knee-deep in the deepest, darkest depression that I’ve ever felt in my entire life.
About two years ago I almost committed suicide in the living room of my sister’s apartment; where I was living at the time and sleeping on an air mattress. The only thing that stopped me was a phone call from my daughter. I thank God every day because if it weren’t for her I’m sure that I would have slit my wrist had it been anyone on the line except her. I later moved out of my sister’s apartment and into my mom’s house. I had two jobs at the time and my bicycle was the source of transportation that ensured that I made it to work at both jobs every single day. I cried myself to sleep on many nights. I began to try to sort out all the different, depressing emotions I had racing around inside of my mind and heart. During that time, I had kept myself extremely busy… going from job to job on my bike. I rode that bike for a year and a half straight.
Slowly, but surely my efforts had begun to pay off. I figured if God went through the trouble of sending my daughter to stop me from slitting my wrist on that December night, He must have plans for me. The fact that I was still alive after such a deep depression became my motivation. After my extreme and consistent hard work, my little blue bike eventually turned into a car. My recovery started to pick up steam as I eventually got my own place again. I made a promise to God and to my daughter that I would never let myself become that depressed ever again. I try to convey some of these things that I’ve been through in my music. I’m sure someone will hear it and relate directly to it. Maybe I can save someone’s life… the way God sent my daughter to save mine.
Q: Fantasy: You have a tattoo of a microphone that’s on fire and of several music notes on your body. What other types of tattoos do you have? Give us the story behind each. Would you say that being “inked” is a part of New Orleans culture?
A: Jimi Clever:
It’s not on fire… I forgive your inaccuracy on that since you have not seen me in a while. ((LOL)) It’s a sword; the microphone represents the handle of the sword. I got it in 2001 after winning a really big rap contest. I currently have nine tattoos. So, I felt it was time to get a little artwork that showed everyone around me how serious I was about my music. My upper right shoulder and arm has a black sun and a tribal design beneath it.; those were my first two tattoos. I got those when I was really young and didn’t really know who I was then. I’m currently looking into having that arm redone.
There is also a tattoo on the left side of my chest that reads “FALL IN LOVE”… I got that tattoo sometime after my divorce. During that time I had begun thinking on a more conscious level, when it came to all of the aspects of love. LOVE is the most unpredictable and uncontrolled thing on this planet. You can never predict when love will hit you. No matter how many times you say you’re done with it, you might wake up the very next day and “FALL IN LOVE.” I have another tattoo on the right side of my chest of a red heart with an infinity sign going through it that reads “BETTER WITH AGE.” I got that one after my last birthday passed.Since I’ve reached my 30’s, I’m starting to smooth out my life a lot more and my identity is becoming much more defined.
Women love this :-)…. My right hand and wrist bares a bracelet of red hearts and music notes and a single martini glass. My left forearm has a Bass and treble note in the shape of a heart. Last, but not least, I have a neck tattoo (Jimi Clever) with a music note next to it. The ladies LOVE this tattoo!!! Most of my body art work displays my Passion for love, music, and my cocktail creations. If I get any more ink, most likely I’ll be sticking to that motif.
Q: Fantasy: Most people say that there isn’t enough time in a day to get things done. For instance, provided that you agree with this statement, if you were given three additional hours in a day how would you spend them? Where would you go? What would you do? Why?
I’m usually pretty religious about planning everything I want to get done in a single day And making it happen. But with my crazy little busy life, there are never enough hours. I figure I’d use those three extra hours for personal time. Because personal time is not exactly something I like to rush. ((LOL))
Q: Fantasy: I attended Senator David Vitter’s town hall meeting. This town hall meeting took place shortly after hurricane Isaac and attendees were fired up. How would you rate Entergy New Orleans’ speed in terms of restoring power to its residents? Do you feel that it’s more important to restore power to businesses, St. Charles Ave., and the French Quarter; as opposed to elderly residents and first responders? Explain. Is having a monopoly a great idea or is competition more beneficial to customers because it gives them options? How do you feel about rate increases?
A: Jimi Clever:
There’s never a simple answer for situations like this. You can’t really rate just Entergy because the problem is not just an Entergy problem. To restore power to this many residences at once, requires assistance from every level of state government. I’m almost certain that the protocol is to always get the emergency responders back online first and foremost. Every hurricane is unpredictable.
When Katrina made landfall she moved out of the area pretty fast. Isaac however, did not. I don’t think that it’s necessary to put an Entergy worker’s life in danger just to get my power restored a few hours sooner than others. Sometimes you have to put yourself in the shoes of an Entergy worker. Imagine being hoisted 60 feet into the air on a bucket truck while it’s still raining to deal with broken power-lines. “It’s not exactly safe right?”
I was too busy being grateful that Isaac didn’t turn out much worse. People have to ask themselves,” would you rather be ALIVE and just endure a couple days without lights, or get found DEAD after a horrific flood??” In my opinion, People are holding too many damn town hall meetings & and fussing about stuff. Sometimes you just have to shut up and survive. hurricane Isaac could have been a heck of a lot worse. That’s just my opinion.
Q: Fantasy: What does the Fleur De Lis **French—Fleur (flower), Lis (lily)** symbol mean to you… where did it derived from? It’s the New Orleans Saints logo, a logo that’s used by many businesses in Louisiana and by residents that may be from the city, but have moved away. Why do you think it’s so popular? I’ve seen it on bumper stickers and all other types of memorabilia.
A: Jimi Clever:
Well you know, that’s an old symbol that came from the French. It’s supposed to be symbolic for French royalty. It was used in a lot of churches to symbolize purity and perfection. And of course this is coming from a group of People who killed the Indians and stole their land. I think some of us have a tendency to forget that. ((LOL)) I suppose you see it everywhere now… ever since Hurricane Katrina ravaged our city. A lot of folks who live here have a reenergized pride in our city. Suddenly the symbol has turned into this tangible, marketable item that is sold everywhere. It’s crazy to me. Nonetheless, it’s symbolic of the city and it reminds you of the French origin that created New Orleans. FRENCH quarter, FRENCH bread, etc. It’s all French. Pay attention.
Q: Fantasy: How do you feel after being interviewed? What’s next for Jimi Clever? How can your fans, producers, other artists, etc. get into contact with you for features, collaborations, or booking inquiries?
A: Jimi Clever:
First of all, accept my sincere apologies for taking so long to get back to you. As you know I’ve been super busy, but I feel wonderful!! This interview is the most that I’ve spoken out about the things I’ve been through since the last time we’ve talked. Since then, I have a lot more fans. They have no idea what I had to go through to get to where I am currently. This was a very healthy outlet for me and I thank you for recognizing that and putting a spotlight on me.
I am currently putting the finishing touches on AUDIO JOURNALS 5. Journal Entry no. 1which talks about my aforementioned suicide attempt, can be listened to there as well. I’m also about to shoot my very first video with director Tyler Yee. I have big things on the horizon. Fans can also check out my websiteè www.JimiClever.com. I also have a free music app which is available for free download on all Apple and android devices. Just search Jimi Clever and my app will pop up!! For features and all other endeavors, Artists can reach me at [email protected].
“We are passionate about beings that have been blessed with the ability to move mountains with their minds.”