The rapper and lyricist, who hails from Rosedale Queens, recently made his debut with his first single and video, “Straight Outta Wall Street”, which he also helped direct along with award-winnnig filmmaker Jan Lucanus. And with lyrics like “My only option is to get paid off/You got two: to get laid off or Madoff” and “Rest in Peace B.I.G. baby, baby/Long live A.I.G. baby, baby”, Bowen has a fresh twist to add to the underdog's message – one that delves into the psychology of a Wall Street/financial sector fat cat while putting them in check, and sympathizing with the 99 percent while simultaneously poking a bit of fun at both.
Ironically the rapper wasn't really interested in hip hop before his break. After the economic collapse in '08 and the economic bailout, the writing bug found him and he felt the need to express his thoughts on current events. As the American economy spiraled downward, Bowen – a computer programmer – found himself rising up creatively and penned “Straight Outta Wall Street”.
The rapper took some time to speak with the Queens Ledger-Brooklyn Star about his work, his song and self-made video and his fearless attitude toward life and pursuing his dreams.
LF: So what prompted “Straight Outta Wall Street”?
CB: It started in ‘08 after whole economic collapse. A couple of friends of mine called me up and asked if there were any openings at my company. People were losing jobs, I read about some committing homicide – what's so funny is I would see people bashing small time gangstas for crimes that affect a few people as opposed to big time “bankstas” who could commit crimes that can affect millions of people globally.
Ironically I was listening to “Straight Outta Compton” and watching the video for the first time ever when this whole economic crisis was going on and I thought of doing a parody called “straight outta Wall Street”. But I wrote a few lyrics, and got a good response from friends so then I decided to write a real song to an original beat.
LF: You wrote the song, what happened after that?
CB: I found a producer, sound engineer, cinematographer and actors online and from people I knew. I knew the director of the video, Jan Lucanus because we both went to NYU. I began recording and it was funny because I'd never rapped a day in my life. And I was never even really into hip hop before that point; I was more into reggae and soca music ... but I started to get into the underground hip hop scene.
Then I realized I love writing and putting words together – and that's funny too because I used to hate writing.
LF: You're new to this whole thing but you have a song, which you wrote to an original beat, a music video and some other songs. Do you consider yourself an artist?
CB: I don't consider myself a professional recording artist; rather lyricist and a casual artist who only intermittently produces work when and if I feel inspired to.
LF: You said that you weren't even into hip hop. What were people's responses when you told them that you wanted to try rapping?
CB: Some people were hating on me before hand. Someone close to my family asked me why was I rapping; he actually said to me: 'stick to programming you have a degree from NYU why are you going to go and rap for?'
I told him I have a creative outlet, I want to express myself using this art form of hip hop and so I did
when he saw the video he called me up and said 'hey Clarence, that was an awesome video'.
LF: How was the transition from sitting at a desk at a computer to being creative in this way? Were you fearful at any point?
CB: At one point in time was a bit fearful but normally I'm just fearless. I finished song in '09 I said if i don't do it now I'm going to have regrets later on in life. I said to myself, what am i going to lose? And it's funny because a lot of people criticize the OWS movement; a lot of people criticize anything that goes against status quo but the top one percent is fearless; they don't really care.
They're not going to accept the norm so anybody who goes against the norm in a way is part of the top one percent – even the 99 percenters. The people who protested believed in something that went against the norm so in a way, in mind frame I would consider them the top one percent.
LF: So tell me about the video. What is it saying?
CB: One person thought I was making fun of the middle class but actually I was making fun of the middle class and the 99 percent. I'm playing two roles – Money C, the “banskta” and Middle C, who lost his job. I'm mocking the lives of corrupted bankers who I refer to as “banksters”. It basically shows the perspective of the life in the eyes of a “bankster” and the narrative is from a point of Money C. Money C doesn't care how Middle C feels.
LF: Okay, so you're playing two roles – Middle C and Money C. But who is Clarence Bowen?
CB: I'm sexy and intelligent, no I'm just joking. Really, I'm just a guy that's an observer of the world and what's going on. I'm a very analytical guy. I like to express myself and I don't really care too much; I don't hold back. I'm a man with ideas who executes them. I do work for a corporation and even though I wrote the song I had fun with it. I took a very serious situation and turned it into something insightful but comical.
I started pretty late doing this and maybe I'm not what people think an artist should be but I just go with the flow.
LF: So what is your message? What do you want people to get out of your music?
CB: That I'm very diverse kind of guy, I'm not limited to one topic. I could rap about politics can write a song about politics, economics can also write a song about erotic stuff. I'm not limited to one part genre or type of hip hop/topic.
LF: What's next for you?
CB: I have a few other songs and another will be released in the summer but really I'm willing to go wherever the road takes me.
LF: You basically decided you wanted to do something and did it. What makes you so determined?
CB: I don't want to be the old man on my death bed saying 'I wish i did this', 'I wish I did that, could've would've should've. This video will remain here permanently when I have children and grandchildren they will see the video and that's what really matters to me.
It's not about it blowing up, it's about spreading a message. The song itself spreads a message and that right there is priceless. Having it part of my legacy is also priceless.
LF: What has the feedback been like so far? And what do you hope to accomplish on this ride?
CB: A week ago a colleague came up to me and said, “Clarence, you inspire me”. She was impressed by the video and pursuing her own thing now not being held back. It's not important if it gets a million hits or even 2,000 hits, that's not that important; what's really important is that I can inspire someone. At least I affected the life of one person; the fact that she came up to me and told me that, meant a lot.
LF: What's your advice to others thinking of following their dream, regardless of how unlike them that dream might seem?
CB: Just do it. If you really want to succeed in life you have to get out of your comfort zone. And if you want it that bad, ask yourself this: years from now, would you regret not actually trying to cross that barrier? If you think you'll regret it then the answer is just do it.
For more information on Clarence Bowen, follow him on Twitter, @MrClarenceBowen. You can also check out his “Straight Outta Wall Street” video on his YouTube page.