4 To Watch For: Citizen Cope

Coping with Music Business Woes

Music Features Citizen Cope
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These days it seems most artists you meet have a horror story to tell about the music business. They’re usually full of gripes about how the label didn’t properly promote their album. But Citizen Cope doesn’t have one of those stories; he has three. And his can get quite upsetting once you’ve grooved to his hip-hop-infused brand of reggae- and funk-tinged rock, an infectious blend of everything from Randy Newman and Sam Cooke to N.W.A. and KRS-One.

In the mid ’90s, the Brooklyn-based, Memphis-born Cope inked a deal with Capitol only to be dismissed after months of fighting over creative control. Deflated and depressed, the singer (born Clarence Greenwood) headed back to Washington, D.C., where he lived at the time, and came up with such gems as the dark, acoustic “Salvation,” one of the tracks that helped score him a deal with DreamWorks. His lauded self-titled debut arrived in 2002, but promptly disappeared. Yep, you guessed it, the label didn’t spend much money promoting the disc (it never even funded a proper tour, Cope notes). After guesting on Santana’s Shaman, he moved to Arista. But upon finding himself in a much-improved situation, his label chief and champion at the company, L.A. Reid, was dismissed and the label folded into RCA, temporarily leaving the fate of his brilliant follow-up, The Clarence Greenwood Recordings, in limbo.

Thankfully, label chief and music-biz icon Clive Davis, head honcho at the newly formed RCA Music Group, stepped in and gave Cope his word that the label would properly back the disc.

And the timing couldn’t be more perfect, as The Clarence Greenwood Recordings—now set for a September bow—finds Cope feeling more confident than ever as an artist, full of pride in the new album.

While his debut was somewhat pieced together, compiling songs cut at different times that would bounce from the sparseness of “Salvation” to playful, hip-hop-minded pop, this disc is a more cohesive, realized collection of songs. If he introduced us to a new style on his debut (a form of backpacker hip-hop spliced with Rasta-minded rock), he fully arrives as an artist on this new album.

“I wanted to make it sound like a record that came out in 1972. I want it to feel like you’re in a car burning down the highway, pedal to the metal with nothing in front of you but a two-lane highway, the radio blastin’, the sun shinin’, windows rolled down and a hot honey next to you,” he says with a loud laugh.” No track captures that vibe better than “Son’s Gonna Rise,” which features a slicing solo from Santana.

The disc is spiritual and filled with positive messages, which has become a Cope signature. The leadoff track “Nite Becomes Day” is about believing in and surrendering to the power of love. “Currently, things are hectic,” Cope says, “everyone wants a little more than they have, everyone’s kind of uncomfortable in the position they’re in, just kind of stressed. We’re in the middle of a war; we’re worried about terrorism. The rest of the world is feeling even more heat. It’s back into this ‘Oh, I gotta watch TV’ Reagan era.”