Experiences With Racism In American South Inspired Gary Clark Jr.'s 'This Land' On his latest multigenre album, Clark is unapologetically angry. He tells NPR's Michel Martin what inspired it: "That's what came out as a result of ... life being black in this country."

Racism In American South Inspired Gary Clark Jr.'s 'This Land'

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Gary Clark Jr. has won a Grammy, played alongside superstars like the Rolling Stones, Eric Clapton and Buddy Guy, and he performed with B.B. King at the Obama White House. And yes, he can shred.


MARTIN: That's one of his new singles, "Pearl Cadillac." But if you think he's just here to entertain, well, wait until you hear his new album, "This Land," especially the title track.


GARY CLARK JR: (Singing) Paranoid and pissed off. Now that I got the money, 50 acres and a Model A right in the middle of Trump country. I told you there goes the neighborhood. Now Mr. Williams ain't so funny. I see you looking out your window, can't wait to call the police on me.

MARTIN: And Gary Clark Jr. is with us now from our studios in Culver City, Calif., to talk about that album and whatever else is on his mind. Gary Clark Jr., welcome. Thank you so much for talking with us.

CLARK JR: Thank you for having me.

MARTIN: Well, it sounds like you had a lot on your mind, actually.


MARTIN: I mean, I think, if I may say, it certainly has echoes of Woody Guthrie's classic "This Land Is My Land," but you definitely have your own perspective on it. And I just - just tell me about the the way this song came to you. Did it come to you in kind of a moment? Was it something that had been kind of percolating in you for days or weeks or maybe even years and you finally had to let it out?

CLARK JR: It was kind of all of that. It was - I was seeing the news. This was right around 2016 and the presidential election and, you know, things following that. And it was, you know, Charlottesville and Dakota pipelines and Colin Kaepernick and the NFL and the police, and I was just thinking about all of that. It reminded me of what it was like when I was a kid and certain instances that I've had, you know, where people would come up to me with the Confederate flag and call me out of my name.

And all the way up to last year, having a situation where I'm at my house and a neighbor comes up to me. And, you know, all is fine and well, and he asked me who lives here. And, like, I do. And he's like, there's no way you can live here. This isn't your house. I need to speak to the owner. And I'm like, this is my house. And things start going back and forth. And it gets a little bit tense.

And my 3-year-old son's there at the time, and he was like, you know, daddy, like, why is he so mad? Why is he so angry? And I just let it go. I was like, you know, he's having a bad day. I don't - you know, I'm not sure what what's wrong with him. And so I was like, come on, let's just go play, you know. And I didn't think of it. And it was just kind of bubbling up inside me, and I was just thinking back to how I was being treated.

And then it made me think about my mother and then my grandmother and then beyond that and just where we come from. And it's like it's 2019 and to still be at my house and be meant to feel this way like I'm not equal to or up to par or whatever, you know. I was just like, man, it made me angry. And I usually don't say anything. And I've just kept my mouth shut.

But I was in the middle of the creative process, and I had this music that I was working on. It was the music for "This Land," and I was making beats, and I was chopping samples. And all this stuff was happening, and it just bubbled up and I said, I think I got something.


CLARK JR: (Singing) We don't, we don't want your kind. We think you's (ph) a dog, boy. [Expletive] you, I'm America's son. This is where I come from. This land is mine. This land is mine. This land is mine.

My producer, Jacob Sciba, said it's angry. I don't like hearing you angry. And I said, you know what? I don't like to be angry either. And I don't like that I was provoked to be angry out in front of my house hanging out with my child, you know. And I said to him when we went into this album-making process, I want to make a true real, honest album and not hold back anything and not filter. And unfortunately, that was what happened. That's what came out. It was a result of life - being black in this country, you know, in this world.

MARTIN: There's so much to what you just said, and there's so much there on so many levels. I mean, first of all, just as kind of your own sort of take and meditation on that classic 1940s, you know, folk song which so many people learned in school. It's like this nice song that kids in elementary school learn. But also as a specific reference to a specific thing that happened to you because you do have your 40 acres, as I understand it. I mean, people will understand the 40 acres and a mule reference, but you actually do have 40 acres as I understand it.

CLARK JR: Right, 50 acres and a Model A, you know.

MARTIN: You actually do have 50 acres (laughter).

CLARK JR: You know, you're not going to give it to me, I'm going to earn it.


MARTIN: Let's play something else just to give people a sense of the range on this album. And as I said, you have a lot to say. There's 16 tracks on it. It's quite rich, And it has lots of different flavors to it. But let me play - how about - let's play some more of "Pearl Cadillac" that we heard at the beginning.


CLARK JR: (Singing) You say I owe you nothing. If I could, I'd give you the world. You make something from nothing. I thank God for such a beautiful girl he brought in this world, yeah. I remember when I left home in that pearl Cadillac.

MARTIN: You're like 6'5" aren't you? It's just funny to hear that falsetto come out of this giant - like, this giant LeBron dude.


MARTIN: Tell me about this song.

CLARK JR: That's hilarious.

MARTIN: What inspired it?

CLARK JR: That is hilarious.

MARTIN: Tell me more about this song. What inspired it?

CLARK JR: This song was inspired by 20 years - no, 15 years ago or something. I went out on tour, just had a great time. But when I was leaving, I had this pearl Cadillac 1994 sedan DeVille. And I packed up all my stuff, you know, with all of our gear. My mom said to me basically, she was like, be careful out there. You know, make me proud, you know, basically. And I was just thinking, you know, being honest and being real, having conversations with the guys in the studio, I was like, man, I got to do one for my mom.


CLARK JR: (Singing) I'm sorry all the things I did wrong. I remember when I left home in that pearl Cadillac. I was searching for some kind of way to pay you back for your love, your love, your love, your love, your love, your love, your love, your love, your love.

MARTIN: I read a review in American Songwriter that called your album "This Land" a virtual survey of black American music from blues to hip-hop to reggae and Motown to Prince and the Jackson 5. I know, nice, right? But is that something that you're striving for - not to be, you know, a catalog of black American music but to just sample everything?

CLARK JR: It's important to me, but I don't think about it like that. Yeah, I think it's important to respect where you come from. You know, if you're going to be a musician, where does all this stuff come from? Who did it first? And I also grew up in Austin, Texas. I grew up listening to soul music, my mom and dad playing records from Sly And The Family Stone, Curtis Mayfield, Luther Vandross. You know, when I started playing guitar, my dad said, you got to listen to Santana and Eric Clapton.

So people were giving me music as well - Stevie Ray Vaughan, Jimi Hendrix. When I started playing on the music scene in Austin, going up and down 6th Street, you can hear jazz, reggae, blues, Americana, country, hip-hop, EDM, you know. Everything was there. And I was intrigued by deejays. I was intrigued by horn players and all of it. I collected every single instrument pretty much that you could have. I have bagpipes for no reason. I don't know how to play them, but I just love anything that makes noise.

So consciously and subconsciously, all these influences have sucked up into me. I just put it all in one big pot of gumbo and started stirring it around and seeing what happens.


CLARK JR: (Singing) Oh, it's hard out there for a man. It's cold out on the streets. But the world is my buffet, child, and I'm just looking to eat.

MARTIN: That was Gary Clark Jr. talking about his latest album, "This Land."


CLARK JR: (Singing) I ain't trying to compete. But the world is my buffet, child, and I'm just looking to eat. And feed the babies, oh, got to feed the babies now, yeah. So come on brothers and sisters, it's the same path you walk. Come on mothers and fathers, teach the babies to talk. Come on brothers and sisters, it starts with a song.

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