Music

All Play and 'No Paperwork': An Interview with L.A.Z of Clear Soul Forces

LP cover, No Paperwork

"Natural born liberal consumer of music", Jarrel Lowman (aka L.A.Z), talks about his EP, No Paperwork, a mixture of hip-hop, smoking jazz, and calloused-fingered blues.

Best known as one quarter of hip-hop mischief-makers Clear Soul Forces, Jarrel Lowman (aka L.A.Z) has spent the last six years barbing the grooves of his troupe's elephantine boom-bap with jackknifed rhymes. As one element in the four-piece outfit, Lowman has offered a no-nonsense approach to his poetic deployments; his cavernous timbre (reminiscent of a young Roots Manuva) has impelled some of the most psychically-alert verses to emerge from the canons of hip-hop of his generation.

Clear Soul Forces don't exactly have the clout of some of their more prolific and, therefore, more celebrated contemporaries. But their ability to draw from the limits of their practice and produce engaging and estimable work proves that good ideas are behind some of the music business' greatest successes. Lowman has always been game to allow the autonomy of his talents to work (humbly) in tandem with the talents of others; the ego-shouldering you hear on any Clear Soul Forces record is merely the genial roughhousing of four pranksters putting up verbal dukes over the bang and bluster of an MPC sampler. This year, however, Lowman has offered an unadulterated slice of his personality on a little six-track EP that reveals a flipside to his usually explosive demeanor in Clear Soul Forces.

Rum-soaked and heavily blunted, No Paperwork is a slow burn that smoulders with a mixture of hip-hop, smoking jazz, and calloused-fingered blues. Recorded under his Clear Soul Forces alias L.A.Z, Lowman offers a delivery that forgoes his usual fighting-talk rhymes for a fashion more ruminative and relaxed. With no less than five producers on board for the EP, No Paperwork waxes heavily on the life of a 20-something approaching his 30s. Six dreamlike enterprises of hip-hop are surveyed in numbers like "Gettahead", a toffee-stretched groove of cocoa-blues, and "Keez", a bold strut of synth-pad glimmering boom-bap. "TGI Fried Daze" consolidates the strains of Eddie Kendricks funk into a slow jam of head-nodding poetry while the night-spun beat-odysseys of "Celestial Vibes" and "Loco Dough" swathe L.A.Z's rhymes in electro-ambience. He signs off on the shuffling space oddity of "Optomist".

While the promise of Clear Soul Force's return is great, Lowman, in the meantime, is cutting as many side projects as he can hold under his belt. He speaks to PopMatters about his work with Clear Soul Forces as well as his solo ventures.

Please tell me a little about how you got into making music and what your earliest hip-hop influences were growing up.

My mother is a big hip-hop head and between her and my stepdad who was a DJ, hip-hop was alive in my house. It's always been a part of my life. We had speakers set up throughout the crib, so hip-hop was always prevalent. I got my love for it in Colorado and really started developing it when I met my group members from Clear Soul Forces.

My earliest influences were joints my family played and the rappers' music I used to download, like 36 Mafia, Diplomats, Clipse, Kool Moe Dee, Geto Boys, Sir Mix-a-Lot, Outkast, Heavy D, A Tribe Called Quest, Chubb Rock, Biz Markie – it's too many to name, honestly.

How did the collective Clear Soul Forces come about? How did you come to meet the other members of the group?

It's a crazy story. I was in college and met E-Fav while I was pledging my fraternity (Phi Beta Sigma) and he connected me with his cousin Ilajide, who I started working on music with. A mutual friend at my college named Robo Robb had a record label called Hi Hill Records that he ran with his homie Odai, who was on the basketball team with Noveliss. They threw these showcases and the three of us met Noveliss by chance at their event. Just off respect for the talent, we started mobbing out to shows together as four solo artists and got the group going after we met Roycem who suggested it.

Still from "Celestial Vibes" (above)

Clear Soul Forces has so far recorded and released five full-length albums since 2010. Can you discuss the progression of the band's sound since the very first project/album? Where would you say the band's sound is at, these days?

I feel like our discography is a rollercoaster in a good way. When we first started out, the only way we could get beats was by downloading off the internet. We added a new feather in our cap with every release musically and became better rappers too. It's weird being in the midst of it because I'm just living and working; I couldn't tell you where we were until after that phase is complete.

Clear Soul Forces is mainly a four-member collective. Each member brings a set of skills and their own flavour to the group. What do you think you bring in terms of style and presence? What do you add to help shape the band and its sound?

I'm a natural born liberal consumer of music, so my level of openness to sounds, flows and patterns is second nature. I'm also not a perfectionist, which is good when you're in a group setting.

Your EP No Paperwork explores a wide range of styles. I was surprised to hear some stronger leanings of soul, a softer side to offset the harder swagger and brusque delivery of your work in Clear Soul Forces. Can you discuss making the EP and what you set out to achieve in terms of its sound and style? What particular influences went into this EP that might separate it from your work in Clear Soul Forces?

That EP was magical to me. I really wanted folks to know I could balance talking about a topic from different sides and have them view me as a true MC. My ear for beats is dope, in my opinion, so I think from start to finish it took heads on a ride that only I could take them on. I was just more focused on how I could do that as opposed to playing my position in Clear Soul Forces which, to me, is more about hook-writing and helping maintain a vibe.

Are you planning anymore solo material? What are you currently at work on musically?

I'm definitely dropping more solo music in the near future and some more visuals off of the No Paperwork EP. I have another group called Da Illaz with my DJ named Illadope, so you'll soon hear some of the stuff we've been working on. People Under Detroit is coming soon!

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