By Carl Kozlowski
There are thousands of aspiring rap stars in Los Angeles, along with even more rock singers hoping for a break. But few of them are combining rock and rap in as innovative a fashion as Clive Aden, a native of South LA who now lives in Los Feliz and has been transfixing audiences citywide for the past four years with his dynamic stage presence and inventive lyrics.
Following a recent tour up the California coast with Canadian rapper Fresh Kils, and amid a packed recording schedule with an array of producers competing for his attention, Aden is racing to keep up with the sudden rush of opportunities.
In April, he headlined a show at the exclusive Clive Davis Theater in downtown LA’s Grammy Museum after winning a contest entered by hundreds of performers, and this Saturday he’s performing at the second annual Power Festival in South LA before headlining the Artists Eclectic Playground show at Pasadena’s Old Towne Pub.
“I consider myself an artist, not just a musician, and definitely not a rapper,” says Aden, who counts Eminem, The Temptations and System of a Down as his top musical influences. “I sing the hooks to all my songs, prefer to play with a live rock band, and I act and do graphic design. I still love rap music but I don’t want to be put in that category. I feel people automatically assume because I’m a young, black, hip guy and how I dress. They think I’m going to do stuff just like on the radio and then I surprise them. I’m very adamant that I’m not a rapper. Think Linkin Park – the lead singer raps on rock songs all the time but he doesn’t get called a rapper.”
“Did I forget to mention I have ADHD and I pay attention, I can get a lady when I’m in the penitentiary, on a quarter century to life, I make the sun come out at night, and I hate the things I like just like my life, and I can surf on a tornado with my boogie board, talk to Michael Jackson on my Ouija board, grant a wish to a genie…” – Clive Aden’s “Mr. Impossible”
“Mr. Impossible” has become Aden’s breakout hit with live audiences and those lucky enough to possess a copy of his self-made and distributed CD, which was deemed good enough to be included in the official swag bag given by the Grammy Awards to thousands of industry attendees in February. It reflects his boundlessly confident spirit, a sense of possibility he has possessed since he recalls teachers told him in fifth grade that he would become the first black president.
“I had planned to be the first black president, and no need to explain how that turned out because it’s already evident, now that dream’s irrelevant, my plan on having a position as a politician doin hella shit has gone away, Obama beat me to the punch, maybe one day when I get some dough I’ll take him out for lunch, just so I could give him props and tell my man congratulations, and show my appreciation for the history he’s making…” – “Plans” by Clive Aden
But don’t let the abundant confidence Aden displays in “Mr. Impossible” fool you into thinking that he’s just another self-centered, arrogant star on the make. As a teenager, he worked with the activist group South Central Youth Empowered through Action, an offshoot of long-standing South LA group The Community Coalition, to bring awareness of the stated public school system’s unfair educational discrepancies to Sacramento lawmakers – and helped win the battle to bring college-track courses to any state public school student who wants to take them.
In fact, Aden’s interest in social justice issues was so intense that he never even attempted to write creatively until he started free-styling with some local Latino rappers in 2009. But once he started, he was instantly hooked and quickly became a fixture on the local music and spoken-word scenes with his band The Strangers.
“Because I’m still messed up, I still got issues with my trust, I still sometimes contemplate suicide, and I look up at the sky and scream I wish that I would die, and I cry, I shed tears for them kids up in Newtown ask God way, why God why? Aye I’m so sick of it, I’m sick of waitin, does anybody hear me? Can I get an Amen, and I’m sick of myself and I’m sick of fake friends…” – “I’m Sick” by Clive Aden
“All my stuff is just realness, and even my fun songs are real, with true emotion and true feeling,” says Aden. “I write about the state of the world through my perspective. Newtown really hit me hard to accept that that happened. I tried to suppress those feelings and everywhere I went I saw people so emotional. I always ran away from feelings and emotions and things that make me feel those kinds of ways. But that day I was crying and asking God why that would happen. It was 20 kids who haven’t lived life yet and couldn’t defend themselves. Why does it happen? It really got to me.” n
Clive Aden performs Saturday at the 2nd Annual Power Festival in Martin Luther King Park, located at 39th St. and Western Ave., Los Angeles. Gates open at 1 p.m. Admission is free. Visit cocosouthla.org/powerfest.
He also performs at 8 p.m. Monday at the Artists Eclectic Playground show at Old Towne Pub, 66 N. Fair Oaks Ave., Pasadena. Call (626) 577-6583 or visit theoldtownepub.com.