Last December, Bay Area rapper Clyde Carson recorded “Slow Down.” Within a couple months, a DJ named J-12 had invented a dance specifically for the song, inspiring dozens of kids to upload their own versions to YouTube. A year later, it's inescapable, with Power 106 playing it every hour on the hour. Producer Sho Nuff's smoothed-out hyphy beat and Carson's sultry hook make for a catchy combination.
Eating a lunch today of lobster sushi by the pool at the Mondrian, the 31-year-old Carson is imposing, a 6'1″ wall of solid muscle built from years of playing basketball. Dressed modestly in jeans and a black t-shirt, he has an easy smile and down-to-earth demeanor. His response to his sudden success is measured — after all, he's been working toward this for almost 13 years.
“Rap seemed more long-term [than playing basketball] – even though it's not. Careers are usually, what, two to three years?” he says. “This is my biggest song. Most of my records were regional.”
That's the typical Bay Area artist story. With a handful of exceptions, most Oakland rappers who are popular there never break into the mainstream, attracting only regional or rabid underground followings. (See: rapper Mac Dre, who, despite being deceased since 2004, only achieved household name recognition this year when Drake name checked him in “The Motto.”)
Carson recognized that early on. He was selling a project called The Story out of his trunk in 2001, but sneaking backstage at a TRL concert and meeting producer Ty Fyffe was his lucky break. “I wanted to get up out of Oakland. This was before they were playing local music on the radio, other than E-40,” he explains. Right after the towers fell, he moved to New York City and crashed with Ty Fyffe. He stayed for almost a year, tagging along with Fyffe to studio sessions with Jay-Z and Cam'ron. It bolstered his confidence, and he returned to the Bay.
In 2003, the hyphy movement had begun. He and his group, The Team, distinguished themselves by being hyphy, but silkily so. They released a project on local legend Keak da Sneak's label and got put into local radio rotation.
The Game had heard his music, and hooked him up with executives at Capitol. “As a rapper, there's no ceiling in L.A. [like there is in the Bay],” he says. He moved, got a deal in 2007 and went on tour with Game, but the timing wasn't right — the person who signed him left, the studio head passed away. So he returned to the Bay and eventually reconnected with Sho Nuff, who had produced the Team's early work.
His latest mixtape, S.T.S.A. (Something to Speak About) is completely produced by Sho Nuff, and the tape is cohesive in a way few are these days. Barely contained hyphy beats — glistening with an element of sex appeal — are complemented by Carson's gruff voice. It's music for both clubs and cars.
Appropriately so, since he now lives in L.A. But even though the relocation positioned him to finally get some traction, he never stays away from the Bay for much of a stretch. “The Bay's always coming up with new shit and if you're away too long, you'll get ancient. You wanna be in the streets to hear the new shit so when you rap, you don't sound like you a nigga who USED to live in the Bay.” On cue, out slips a “hella.”