A Mosaic of Styles: Clark D’s WHAT A LIFE

'WHAT A LIFE' acts as a mosaic of contemporary rap styles. Throughout this collection of music Clark D maintains a style that is his own through his introspective style and his baroque, genre-blending approach to producing.
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At only 23 years old, Clark D has already been through a lot. As is explained in his interview with Vanyaland, he experienced a sudden lung collapse in 2019 which was followed by a difficult six month recovery period. During this recovery, Clark D re-evaluated his aims within hip-hop as his goals were temporarily put aside to focus on getting better and coming back to rap with important ideas to offer.

Clark explained that his aim is largely to act as a role model for those who are living in “very draining environments,” and that, having grown up in Mattapan, a suburb of Boston, he felt that there was a lack of positive examples for him and his friends to look up to. Importantly, he also discusses the way that, as he has grown, he has witnessed change among himself and people around him. He saw fear-inducing medical changes when he was stuck in the hospital after his lung collapsed, and he watched his friends lose their love for creating music and art as they grew up and were forced to change their paths in order to stay financially solvent.

Through all of this, Clark D held on tightly to his creativity (and has also earned a degree in Audio Engineering), having made numerous EPs since 2019 and three LPs since 2020. On WHAT A LIFE, his latest project, that creativity is expressed beautifully. 

WHAT A LIFE acts as a mosaic of contemporary rap styles. The first five tracks rapidly put the listener through a series of rap subgenres while maintaining a house-style that gives Clark a distinct character throughout the record. “THE IRONY OF IT ALL” opens with an eerie voiceover which shouts, “Good luck tryna stay alive!” It’s similar to the way that Curtis Mayfield introduced himself on “(Don’t Worry) If There’s A Hell Below We’re All Going to Go,” booming into the soundscape with his now famous “Sisters! N***as! Whiteys!” before the beat descends into a choppy collection of reversed sounds.

The adventurous style and sonic references do not stop here, though. “THE IRONY OF IT ALL” has the energetic drums, strings, smooth flow and ad-libs reminiscent of many modern takes on ‘80s boom-bap (a la Joey Bada$$), “4LIFERS” aligns with the sounds of Travis Scott and Playboi Carti as it leans into a bass-heavy sound pushed further by ad-libs, reverb and echo effects along with an infectiously catchy hook. By the end of the album, which lasts just 29 minutes, the style is more redolent of Earl Sweatshirt’s intensely abstract Some Rap Songs and the beats of J Dilla, who is directly referenced on the final track, “MEMORIES (outro)” with a buried sample of his trademark riser, and the use of repeated choppy vocal samples also brings Dilla’s style to mind. 

With his introspective lyrics, Clark D also aligns himself with modern stalwarts like Saba, J. Cole or Kendrick Lamar. “A TYPICAL HOOD STORY / GUILT” sees the influence of Lamar’s “Sing About Me, I’m Dying of Thirst” with its drums and focus on storytelling. The beat-switch in the middle of the track acts as a way for Clark D to remind his listener that he may have many influences but he remains very much his own artist. The flow on “SURVIVAL OF THE FITTEST” also showcases D’s magnificent rapping ability. The majority of the album sees him calmly flowing over the mellow beats (all self-produced, too), but on this track he steps up to a different level as his lines almost merge into one another, and the transition into the harsher, more emotional and poetic second verse is beautiful as Clark discusses his feelings and experiences watching the dreams of his friends fade away, explaining how “When I grew up, 20 bucks was a n***as allowance, now I need more than a thousand,” and explaining the difficulty in seeing “many n***as fall, I’ve been trying not to cry, I’ve been watching from a distance, I just hope that you alive.”

Clark D’s merging of styles is at its best on “LUNCH BREAK,” a track that begins with a gospel sound thanks to the pipe organ, piano and chipmunk-soul vocal samples/auto-tuned singing. It breaks into a light-hearted, celebratory track discussing Clark’s current lifestyle, enjoying his youth and making the most of his successes. 

If anything summarizes the album, along with the philosophies proposed by Clark D’s music, it is the shortest track on the album, “COMPLICATED (Interlude)”. Clark explains: “Start off young with a heart of gold, seen a few things now you’re on your own. Am I supposed to be here? I don’t know yet, but who the f*ck knows anything anyway? She don’t, he don’t, I don’t either, either way we all gon’ face the ether.” 

Throughout this collection of music Clark D maintains a style that is his own through his introspective style and his baroque, genre-blending approach to producing. It’s an exciting album from a young talent, building anticipation for Clark’s next work.