The history of the independent musical artist is usually marked by challenges and hopes of “making it big” and, of course, signing a recording contract with a major record label. For rapper JR Clark, his journey as an independent artist has brought challenges, but also success without a major label contract. Here’s how JR Clark found stability and success as a freelance artist.
Roderick: Hello JR, it’s a pleasure to talk to you.
JR Clark: Of course, thank you for this interview.
Roderick: So JR, let’s talk about your origins, where are you from?
JR Clark: Well, I grew up in Virginia, Newport News/Virginia Beach.
Roderick: I don’t think Virginia is recognized enough for the artists she produces.
JR Clark: Of course we have Missy Elliot, Timbaland, Pharell, Pusha T. The list goes on.
Roderick: When did you know you wanted to be a rapper?
JR Clark: I was actually a studio engineer at first, but I got tired of recording people [laughs].
Roderick: What made the job of engineer tiring?
JR Clark: People couldn’t pay their studio bill, so in my mid-twenties I decided to get into rapping. I knew the structure and concepts of songs, and I understood how to make songs.
Roderick: What were your inspirations as a rapper?
JR Clark: When I started rapping, I was on youtube typing “chill beats”, and this Curren$y guy kept coming back. I found out he was a rapper and started looking for him on Datpiff.
Roderick: You were natural then?
JR Clark: Musically, of course, but I took my time to get the sound right. When I started, mumble rap was so important. I tried this sound and I was like, this ain’t for me [laughs].
Roderick: You are currently an independent musical artist. What has been the biggest challenge so far?
JR Clark: I can’t say there was just a challenge. I will say that as a freelance artist you have to make more phone calls yourself. You need to be involved at almost every step.
Roderick: For you, what is the biggest difference between being independent and signing on a major?
JR Clark: The majors have the money, and when they give you a budget, you have to pay it back. For me, the difference is to have the machine of a big company behind you. Music labels are businesses, I wish more artists understood that.
Roderick: When did you feel like you finally made it?
JR Clark: You know, I guess I feel that way right now. Life as a freelance artist is awesome, I would say just having stability in my career is amazing.
JR Clark: I went shopping recently and came across Rick Ross and then Santana. We were all buying things from the same place. To me, it’s a reminder that you have the power to make your own dreams come true.
Roderick: It’s incredible. Have you had the chance to work or play with major artists recently?
JR Clark: Thank you. I played with Pop Smoke and it was definitely a big deal. I just did the 420ish festival – everyone was there: Rick Ross, city girls, Gucci Mane, etc.
Roderick: I heard you went to Regent University? I know they have a law school, are you a lawyer?
JR Clark: No way, I’m not a lawyer [laughs]. I studied Criminal Justice as an undergraduate and completed my Masters at Regent University in Government Studies.
Roderick: What inspired you to study criminal justice?
JR Clark: I knew so many people, even family members in federal prison. I think it was my way of figuring out how not to end up in the same place I saw the others.
Roderick: How does your training influence your music?
JR Clark: I was formally educated and educated through life experiences and these influences are reflected in my music. I was on the street at one point, so that’s part of my story. Today I rap about my life now.
I’ve traveled to so many different countries, and I’m also a businessman. I integrate all my experiences, I don’t just talk about the street.
Roderick: Speaking of travel, will you be taking your music overseas soon?
JR Clark: In fact, I’m going to Colombia soon, but it’s for a vacation with my family.
Roderick: Oh, do you speak Spanish?
JR Clark: In fact, many people don’t know that. My mother is Latina—Haitian and Dominican.
Roderick: Very cool. You know, reggaeton is making a comeback, and I feel like Latin music, especially Caribbean music, is doing really well right now. Have you ever thought about doing reggaeton?
JR Clark: Yeah! I just did a reggaeton song called “El Trafico”. But the Latin music that I really like is more old school like bachata and salsa. I’m not sure Reggaeton is my path, but it’s good to branch out.
Roderick: So you have a new project, an EP called, My state of mind: the prelude. Can you tell me a bit about what people can expect?
JR Clark: I wanted to do a project that was relatable, relaxing music that reflected everyday people, the things we go through. my state of mind reflects where I am in life – the ups and downs, the joy, everything really.
Roderick: I like this. Is there a song you really connect with from the EP?
JR Clark: My favorite at the moment is “Perception”. I talk about everything, and the way the song hits straight sets the tone for the whole project.
Roderick: Any advice for an up-and-coming independent music artist?
JR Clark: If the music business is what you want to do, you need to research what you’re getting into. Second, you must have income to fund what you do – your job, an investor, both, whatever. Third, understand what kind of artist you want to be – your image, your style, and your voice.
JR Clark: Focus on your musical skills. Today, people are so focused on influence and fame. I don’t even tell most people I’m a rapper [laughs].
If music is what you want to do, be qualified to her. Influence is not success. You can be very famous and very broken. An independent music artist should focus on talent, skill, and success, not just fame.
Roderick: What are your musical goals for 2022?
JR Clark: Uh… maybe working with a major, but the timing has to be right.
Roderick: Okay last question. What do you want your legacy to be?
JR Clark: Ultimately, I want to leave a legacy that tells others, you can own your stuff. I want to have inspired others to own their art and create wealth.
Roderick: Hats off JR Thanks for taking the time to talk to me
JR Clark: With pleasure Roderick, thank you for inviting me.
Listen to JR Clark’s new EP: My state of mind: the preludenow available on all streaming platforms.