Clyde Guevara grew up in Red Hook, Brooklyn with multiple siblings, including a brother named JAH who he was very close with. JAH ended up serving a lengthy jail sentence, and a month after he got out, he was shot and killed. Clyde tried to seek justice himself, but the murder remains unsolved. As a result of the trouble stirring all around him, Clyde left the housing projects in Brooklyn and moved to Los Angeles, focusing solely on making music. That music ended up being a project called freeJAH, and it's coming out on July 20, the two-year anniversary of his brother's death.
"Before he passed, JAH told me if I didn’t make it out the hood, he wouldn’t be shit," Clyde says. "That conversation still hurts and haunts me. I promised him that wouldn’t happen. I kept my word."
Clyde's music balances a modern approach with traditional skills, and his songs range from dark and moody to carefree and composed, but his energy and intensity is unwavering. "I was going through a lot of shit in New York so the music was a little darker," he explains. "In L.A., life’s a little brighter and so is some of the music. It didn’t change anything, just added another chapter to the story. I’m me wherever I am."
Can you introduce yourself?
Clyde Guevara. I’m from Red Hook, Brooklyn, NY.
Being from New York, do you feel a connection with hip-hop history?
I feel a connection to hip-hop, but I don’t think it’s because I’m from NY. I could’ve been from Milwaukee and still...
Who were some of the rappers you looked up to when you were younger?
Nas, Ye, Jay, Jeezy, Snoop, Wayne, Pharrell, Gucci, just people I believe or whoever was making good shit. I just always liked authentic people and good music. Rapper, singer, producer, whoever.
What music are you really listening to now?
A lot of old reggae and shit my granny used to bump. Bob Marley, Sizzla, Earth, Wind & Fire, Stevie Wonder. I appreciate their messages and vulnerability a lot more listening now. Shit makes me wanna be a better songwriter.
There's such a generational gap these days, but it sounds like some of your music is rooted in hip-hop tradition. Is that something that just comes naturally for you?
I guess it’s natural. I don’t force anything. I think with every new generation there’s a new gap. People don’t like change. Especially older people. Key to life is balance.
I’m still growing as a person and artist, but I feel like I found my purpose. Now I’m TRYING TO live in it.
You jump between really modern sounding, melodic songs, and more traditional rap. Do you go into the studio knowing what you're going to make? Do those styles change with your mood, or is the potential for both always there?
Sound is evolving and I love it. I grew up listening to a lot of different music. So my influences aren’t just from rap. That’s where the melodies come from. I usually just do what the beat tells me to. Sometimes it’s rapping, sometimes it’s more melodic.
Can you talk about your upbringing a little? What were some of the major things that happened in your life that shaped who you are as a person and artist?
Grew up in the projects. Shit had its pros and cons. It made me who I am today so I’m thankful. My brother being killed changed my perspective on a lot of shit. But even before then, growing up in the projects, then going to high school, meeting goth kids with purple hair that smoked hella weed, fly ass Asians with all the Jordans, white suburban kids selling drugs, shit that’s when I realized how much we’re all alike. The hood is everywhere. Shit changed my perspective. I’m still growing as a person and artist, but I feel like I found my purpose. Now I’m trying to live in it.
So you're now based in L.A. right? What was that change like?
It’s love. I got in some trouble in New York and had to make a change. L.A. was an opportunity for me to take my music career serious. I’m grateful, but I’m still Red Hook. Just Brooklyn, California now.
How did that affect the music you make?
I was going through a lot of shit in New York so the music was a little darker. In L.A., life’s a little brighter and so is some of the music. It didn’t change anything, just added another chapter to the story. I’m me wherever I am.
Can you tell us about this upcoming project and what it means to you?
It’s titled freeJAH. It’s my first project and It’s dedicated to my brother, JAH. It’ll be out on July 20th, the two-year anniversary of his passing on. Before he passed, JAH told me if I didn’t make it out the hood, he wouldn’t be shit. That conversation still hurts and haunts me. I promised him that wouldn’t happen. I kept my word.
Does this feel cathartic at all, like you're closing a chapter and moving on? Obviously something like that stays with you forever, but do you think it will always fuel the music you make in some way, or did you get that out on this project?
Cathartic... somewhat. It’s more about keeping my word and helping my family. That’s the relief. I dealt with the emotions for a while, but now, JAH passing is more like confirmation for my beliefs about death. It’s just a door to a new beginning. I still feel him. Energy never dies. He’ll inspire me forever. Forever fuel the music.
Can you speak on that outro of this project over the "Quiet Storm" beat? What's the story behind that audio?
That was a freestyle I put out a while ago. The audio that you heard on the outro was JAH listening and rapping the lyrics to it before me passed. I took the audio from one of his Facebook live videos. There’s a part of the freestyle where I’m rapping about him and he starts rapping along with me. Shit's hella eerie sometimes.