When Clear Soul Forces hit the stage at Public Assembly, it was immediately clear that they are a force to be reckoned with. Starting off their brief set with “Keep it Movin,” a sharp and riveting lyrical crossfire, L.A.Z. (formerly known as Wimpy), Ilajide, E-fav and Noveliss (formerly known as J-roc) made it very apparent that their 12 hour drive from Detroit was not just some random road trip. Energized, amplified and dedicated, they were in Brooklyn for a reason: to perform for people rather than tables and chairs. Accordingly, knowing that their audience was more mobile than the average piece of furniture, they kept it movin.
With 4 people on a rather small stage, their situation was far from ideal, but they made it work. Switching microphones, picking up dropped equipment, untangling cords and hyping each other with Dipset-level ad-libbing and enthusiasm, Clear Soul Forces delivered. The crowd was simply amazed that such raw energy and passion could emanate from such young artists. If they had been the headliners, an encore would have been demanded, not requested.
A few hours before they took the stage by storm, the Force sat down with us to discuss what they’ve been up to since our last interview, what they’ll be doing for the next few months, video games, revolutions and much more.
RESPECT: We interviewed you guys last year. Since then, you’ve released and album and done dozens of concerts. What other big things have happened in the past year?
E-fav. : The documentary with Red Bull.
L.A.Z.: We count shows as major accomplishments. We put together our first show ourselves. It was an album release party. That was real monumental.
Where was it held?
Collectively: In Detroit.
Noveliss: Detroit…The Old Miami. We’ve also put out the video for “Get No Better.” That shit has like almost 600,000 views. We put out our “Stick’ Em” video too.
E-fav.: We also got added to the Brooklyn Hip-Hop Festival. The funny story is that we tried to get on there the last time we were here performing at Public Assembly for Show & Prove. We won the one that was here, but we lost the one at the Brooklyn Bowl.
So what do you all hope to have accomplished by this time next year?
Noveliss: Definitely touring. Like a solid, steady tour so that we can just be gone all the time and make money doing what we love.
Are there any definite places that you want to go?
Noveliss: Out of the country for sure. Germany, Japan. We all just want to see the world and show everybody our music.
E-fav: Being in Detroit all the time sometimes makes you feel boxed in. Every time we go anywhere and do a show it’s a good time because we’re outta there. Detroit isn’t a bad place or anything. We’re just ready to get connected and reach out to more people.
You said in a previous interview that you all met Royce outside of a recording session. Have y’all been able to stay in contact with him? Is he like a mentor?
L.A.Z.: No…It ain’t nothing like that, honestly. He was featured in the documentary with Red Bull and that was the first time we had seen him since that first chance meeting. Actually, we tried to give him a CD one night.
Noveliss: We see him randomly. He knows us and shit.
Ilajide: We’ll see him and he’ll be like, “Oh, what’s up? How’s everything going? Keep going.” That type of stuff.
Noveliss: We haven’t sat in the studio with the nigga.
L.A.Z.: He did say that he wanted to hear our album, but we just haven’t had a chance to sit down and play it for him.
Are there any other Detroit emcees or producers that you really want to work with?
Collectively: Black Milk.
E-fav: I want to work with Nick Speed. When Nick Speed works with artists from Detroit, it always results in a good album. Stretch Money and Danny Brown are good examples of that.
Ilajide: I want to work with Mr. Porter.
Noveliss: There’s actually a bunch of people that we’re cool with and want to work with. Everyone is just so busy. Some people think that in order for you to be respected, you have to do a song with somebody, but that’s not true. We’re still cool with everybody. Just because we haven’t done a lot of features with people doesn’t mean we have any issues. It’ll come one day.
On Detroit Revolution(s), y’all don’t have a lot of features.
Noveliss: We don’t have any features!
Do y’all want to change that for your next project?
Ilajide: I always try to take advice from them and they’ve been telling me that we need more voices. I think we will try to change that on upcoming projects. We’re working on something right now. We’re working on a project called “Fab Five” with Nameless. I think we’re going to branch off and try to do mini EPs and small projects with different producers and try to deliver a different type of sound. I feel like that will be us exploring the group outside of me and give everyone a chance to rap outside of my stuff. I like rapping over other shit too. So we’ll do all that, but then when we come back together, we’ll still just do our own thing.
E-fav.: One reason we don’t have too many voices or too many producers is to maintain the consistency of the sound. We wanted it to have a consistent feel throughout the whole thing so we didn’t venture too far out producer-wise. So when it comes down to a CSF album or something, I don’t know whether it will be all him [Ilajide], but it will definitely be consistent. It’s gonna be something that flows, no matter what.
Ilajide: Plus, a lot of the time we don’t even have enough room for ourselves. I’ll be ready to add my verse, but I’ll be like y’all already killed it.
E-fav.: That’s what happened with “Strangers in the Night.” They [Noveliss and L.A.Z.] wrote their verses and we were like…we concede.
So when y’all are making songs, you’re really aware of each others’ strengths and weaknesses?
Noveliss: I don’t think any of us have any weaknesses.
E-fav.: We definitely play to each other’s strengths though.
Noveliss: Yeah. We’ve been at points where we thought we had weaknesses , but it turns out that it’s not a weakness. It’s just something we hadn’t tried before. I think that if you’re a real-ass group and you do shit as a team then together there is no weakness because you’re working as a unit.
Ilajide: Any weaknesses that we’ve had, everybody else has been good in other areas and vice versa. At one point J-roc (Noveliss) was like, “I ain’t good with the hooks,” but now he’s coming up with all of them. We’ve just been around each other so long. When I first started out, their lyrics were above mine because I was the youngest one, but just being in the lion’s den with them made me have to step it up real quick. We’re just strong. We’re a force!
So y’all titled the album “Detroit Revolutions.” If y’all are trying to start a revolution, what songs would you say are the manifesto for that revolution?
E-fav: I’m gonna answer that question a couple different ways. It’s “Detroit Revolution.” The “s” is optional. A revolution is a complete cycle. It’s a complete circle. So you’re getting back to where you started from. The “s” is on there because we feel like there are a lot of other artists as well in the city that are also making amazing music. This is our contribution to the scene. The album kinda took on a life of it’s own when it came out. I don’t know if we ever sat down and were like, “What’s the manifesto?” or tried to write a soundtrack to the revolution *laughs.* But that world revolution is powerful in itself. So we knew that we would get looked at in that particular light. People ask “Are y’all trying to revolutionize hip-hop or something?” We say we’re just trying to remind people of the good stuff, where it started and that you can build on that. You don’t have to go totally fuckin’ dubstep left field with it.
Being from Detroit, do y’all feel that there is a huge legacy to live up to? A lot of good music has come out of Detroit.
Ilajide: Shit, Eminem! J Dilla. Royce. Elzhi. Black Milk. It’s a lot to live up to. Eminem is one of the greatest rappers in the world. A lot of people sleep on the early stuff…
Noveliss: A lot of people definitely sleep on old Eminem. I don’t even want to get into it because I’ll talk forever. He’s the fucking best rapper of all time.
L.A.Z.: For me, I’d say that there’s definitely a lot of shit to live up to because of the legacy. But as far as pressure, it’s only a pressure situation if you make it one. I feel like a lot of the time what happens to people is that they stop listening to songs as just songs. You’re piling a lot on your plate if you’re listening to J Dilla and you’re trying to measure yourself to that nigga like “Man, I gotta get my snare just like his!” Just listen to the fucking song. You’re used to it. Don’t turn on Marshall Mathers LP and be like “Fuck, his flow is killing mine!” Just listen to the fucking song. You’re used to it. So if there’s any pressure, that’s because of us, because we changed our mind state. And we haven’t. Songs are just songs. They’re nice, they’re talented, that was their contribution. When you turn the song off, just make your music. We’ve still gotta carry on and do our own shit.
So I feel obligated to ask y’all this. Y’all play a lot of video games. A lot of references within songs are from fighting games. Are those the games that you most often play together?
Noveliss: We always play Marvel vs. Capcom 2.
L.A.Z. : Matter of fact, we just played that recently.
Noveliss: Ilajide and L.A.Z. are fucking amazing at that game. I try to get with them. But Super Smash Bros. on Gamecube…I’m the fucking greatest player of all time.
L.A.Z.: He’s going to go on record and say that.
Ilajide: We used to go at it in Mortal Kombat too! We would be out for blood, man. I can’t speak for everyone else, but I was definitely a nerd. When everyone else was outside playing, I was inside on the video games.
So how does it feel to no longer have to perform for chairs and tables?
L.A.Z: That shit feels good. For real. You know in your heart that you’re better than that and you just feel like, why aren’t the paying attention? I know that’s how we honestly used to feel. Knowing that you put your all into something, to really see the fruits of your labor just feels good. We could easily still be performing in front of tables and chairs. Some of it’s about talent, but it’s also about luck too. You can’t understate that shit.
E-fav.: We took a lot of risks and a lot of chances to put ourselves in places where things might happen. We always tell this story, but forreal, we really did gas up that one-eyed Cobalt to…
Ilajide: Let me just pause you, dog. Dog, we were so crazy. We drove a Cobalt with just one headlight all the way to Atlanta. I got pulled over 3 times in one night. We weren’t even on A3C. We were just trying to get on it. It’s unbelievable that we made it there and back. We had to go through Ohio, dog!
Noveliss: We’ve done a lot of stupid, crazy shit. So don’t think that we don’t deserve to here. When other people get paid, they go buy fucking hats and shirts and shit, we use that shit to do something that will make us better and will put us in a better position.
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