Cautious Clay is self-aware. He’s thoughtful and takes his time with words. He also wants to be the best he can be. Knowing these things about the young alternative R&B artist, it’s no wonder he chose a moniker that pays homage to one of the GOATs: Muhammad Ali, aka Cassius Clay.
The 24-year-old singer/producer/multi-instrumentalist recently dropped his first EP, Blood Type, a six-song collection the Brooklyn-based artist calls his “magnum opus.” When asked how it feels to release his first project, his gratitude can be felt over the phone. “It’s just amazing that something like this can resonate with so many people, so quickly,” he gushes. “It feels super humbling and affirming artistically.”
For years, Cautious produced other people’s work before taking the leap to make his own music. Having lived on both sides gives him a whole different perspective of the process and finished product. “I was making beats for friends and doing remixes and was in a completely different world,” he explains. “Now, doing my own thing, it’s been a cool process to be able to do that and make something that speaks to what I’m proud of.”
Billboard got more in depth with the budding artist about his transition from producer to singer, collaborating with Petit Biscuit and how Blood Type represents the identity he developed.
You worked as a producer for years. What made you decide to pursue your own project?
It’s something I’ve always had an itch for, to be honest. I’ve always been low-key ambitious about what I want to do. I’ve always made things for the sake of creating something new—whether it’s through this project or production work—I’ve always liked testing my creative boundaries. This past year has been such an amazing time for me as a lyricist and vocalist, and whenever I take on a new project I really get into the details of it. So these past years where I’ve been a producer, I was getting as heady as possible with it. I feel like I have so much more of an affinity for singing and coming up with interesting melodies and it comes so naturally to me, so I thought that was easier than producing the same snare for 10 hours. That’s kind of where it’s been.
Blood Type is my magnum opus—what I feel really represents that process, that identity that I developed.
How long did it take you to complete the EP?
Last summer is when I really started to hammer out ideas. I was still learning how to record my voice—figuring out structure while still giving my own flavor and emotion to it. This project has allowed me to craft the sound that I have today and continue to create more music.
The songs on the EP seem to be a mix of self-analysis and dissections of relationships. What inspired this album?
“Blood type” is really just another way to say your identity, so I sat down and picked these songs based on different narratives I was talking about in each song. “Juliet & Caesar” was more about a lustful relationship and “Cold War” was more about commitment and also the frustration of lack of commitment, so there were a lot of different perspectives I wanted to take while I was picking these songs. “Elsewhere” is me expressing a frustration with student debt and not having the ability to escape from situations that you might have to face.
Blood Type as a whole is really just discussing the varying interactions you have with people, whether they’re your friends, co-workers or a sexual partner. In whole, Blood Type is the identity I’m expressing in all of those situations.
What do you want listeners to gain from this EP?
I would like my listeners to be more intentional with their time and the people they hang out with. Make sure you’re surrounding yourself with people who are worth your time. I feel like when you’re creating an identity for yourself, the people you surround yourself with will determine your own personal self-worth.
I know that’s really heady and deep, but that’s what the lyrics are about. You could also listen to the record and be like, “That snare’s dope. Sick beat. I love the vocal harmonies.” Those are all aspects I want people to like as well and I want people to listen to it for. I think it’s the perfect record for either situation.
You went to George Washington University to study jazz saxophone. What made you decide to switch gears to focus on R&B?
To be honest, I’ve always been so into the feel of music but have never been invested in the theory of it all, because music has been something that has always just flowed through my veins naturally. I would always skate by and improvise the parts in rehearsal rather than actually learn the parts [laughs].
I think unless you’re part of a certain culture, jazz is becoming something that’s conservatory and has a similar preservation as something like classical music would have, so it’s an art that’s important but I think there’s not a whole lot of innovation. And I say that with a whole lot of reservation because, to me, jazz is the backbone of a lot of creativity. I just think the culture of it can be very frustrating for a lot of artists. I’ve always had a desire to make music without those restrictions.
Since you have production experience, did you produce Blood Type?
Everything that you’re hearing is me. I did have a master engineer and friends who did a little bit of additional production, but pretty much it stops with me in terms of all the mixing and heavy handed production.
What would you say are the benefits of working by yourself?
For me, I have full control over the creative process. I come from the background of a SoundCloud producer, so I’ve been exposed to so many different types of sounds I kind of know what I want because I spent so much time figuring that out on my own. So unless somebody who mixes major records wants to help me, I don’t need to spend money on that. I also would need to trust that person. This is my art. I’ve always had a strong opinion about that, because I know what I want. I don’t know the technicalities of it, but I can hear it.
Were there ever any moments during the process where you wished there was someone there to spitball ideas off of?
Oh my God, yes. I wish there was a clone of myself who could have done all this legwork, because it is sometimes daunting. I started in the summer, so I had a lot of time to sit with it and figure it out, but having someone who you know you can trust and who knows what they’re doing is always an advantage.
You collaborated with Petit Biscuit on “Wake Up” off last year’s Presence. How did that come about?
His management just reached out, and I had been doing some songwriting before my project came out, so I came up with a melody and they really liked it. From there, they wanted to get Bipolar Sunshine involved, so he wrote the verses on it. It was cool because I don’t think they were going to put the song on the project originally. That was one of the first signs to me that this writing thing is working out.
Who else do you hope to collaborate with in the future?
There are some collaborations that I’m working on that I’m definitely excited about. Working with Syd would be cool, also Tyler. The Creator, SZA.
What are your goals for 2018?
I have a lot of new music that I’m working on and a great video for “Cold War” that’s coming out soon. I’ve got some music with different production that I’ve been working on that I’m really stoked about and some interesting collaborations.
Does that mean we can expect another album from you this year?
Yeah, definitely. I’m excited. There’s a lot of stuff I made last year that I’ve been revisiting, so I’m just trying to keep it going.