Ant Clemons might be a name you’re still getting acquainted with, but the New Jersey native is worthy of an immense amount of respect and attention. In just the last two years, Clemons has found himself working alongside artists like Beyonce, Justin Timberlake, Ty Dolla Sign, Jeremih, Chance The Rapper, Cordae, and more. All of it came as a result of landing a writing credit and background vocals on “All Mine” from Kanye West’s eighth album, Ye. While the project may have endured lukewarm reviews, the song turned out to be one of the album’s brightest moments.
“It was a song I did with my brother, Jeremih,” Clemons said during an interview with Uproxx. “It grew legs and moved and I had no idea that it was moving as fast as it was moving.” The record opened a multitude of doors for the singer, but just before folks could box him in as a songwriter, Clemons arrived with his debut project, Happy 2 Be Here, at the beginning of 2020. The 8-track effort delivered features from Timbaland, Pharrell, and Ty Dolla Sign and granted him the opportunity to establish his name as a lead artist, one he achieved as he earned a Best R&B Album Grammy nomination for it.
While the singer is — I’m sorry, I have to — happy to be here, winning the Grammy award would make things even sweeter. “I want to win Grammys, so God willing, I win this 2021 Best R&B Album Grammy,” he declared. “If this not this year, then it’s going to be the year after that, or the year after that because I know what’s meant for me is meant for me.”
In a few days, Ant Clemons will learn whether or not he’ll take home the coveted Grammy award. However, before that, we spoke to the singer about Happy 2 Be Here, life before fame, his songwriting style, and what he hopes is next for him.
You just celebrated the one-year anniversary of Happy 2 Be Here with the new song “June 1st.” It commemorates the day Kanye dropped his 2018 album Ye, one that you had a writing credit on. I can only assume the next few days after that moment were an absolute whirlwind, but I wanna hear from you. How did things really change after June 1st, 2018?
All of it was just surreal. It had been a whirlwind of just emotions and a culmination of hard work and perseverance, like meeting at one time in real life. It’s crazy when you think about those things. It’s like okay, yeah, there’ll be a milestone moment along the journey somewhere, but I can’t wait for it. I don’t even know what that looks like to me at this point. I was just working, so in it, just trying to figure out what my big break was going to be. What was going to be my Big Sean rapping for Kanye moment or like J. Cole going to New York and giving Hov the CD that he never heard or like Drake and Jas Prince and their relationship and then getting the call to go meet Wayne. Where was my validation from the people that I thought were great? That’s what I was constantly seeking and I kind of gave that up. I was like, you know, I’m done chasing this moment, and the moment I gave up looking forward to it, it happened for me. I talked to my friends about this, and I always laugh and joke about it, but I feel like I never went home because the me that came home [after working with Kanye] was Ant Clemens the artist that is on the song with Kanye that’s on the radio right now that just went No. 8 on the Billboard Hot 100. I was trying to catch up to it as it was happening in real life.
Your debut album, Happy 2 Be Here sounds like a drawn-out moment of gratitude, one that you of course earned through hard work and patience. Outside of working with Kanye, what about the journey before that June 1st day are you most grateful for?
If I began this list, one, I would say God. I’m just appreciative of the Lord. Then my parents, both my mom and my dad being my support system, like really telling me and my two sisters that we can literally do anything with Christ that strengthens us. So instilling that in us early gave me the confidence to succeed at anything. I didn’t really have any fear of being inadequate of anything because I knew I could conquer anything cause I always had God with me. But in human form, every single person along the journey from my big sister, who was the first person that grabbed me up and say, “Yo, we going to Cali, let’s let’s figure this out,” to my brothers Scott, Ali, and Dre, who allowed me to stay at their house and just write one song a day instead of rent. My brother Ray Keys introduced me to my brother Bongo [ByTheWay]. Both Ray and Bongo are like my bros for life. Bongo introduced me to The Game, Jeremih, and Ty Dolla Sign and I’m meeting all these people I’ve always dreamed of working with. It was so cool having moments of like, wow, I’m really right here looking across from The Game or looking across a Ty Dolla Sign, and they actually care about what I have to say.
I feel like the phrase, “Happy 2 Be Here,” also lives in your songwriting world. We’ve seen you in rooms with the likes on SZA, Ty Dolla Sign, Justin Timberlake, Wale, and more. What is your favorite aspect of writing with other artists?
Being able to walk in a room and see someone that you’ve only seen on television is an experience that I just don’t think I’ll ever just get over. I keep that in me because I choose to be happy to be here because we do have some form of a choice as to which emotion we’ll give light to and I want to choose happiness every day. For me, being happy to be here, just looking around, taking a moment, actually breathing, and thanking God just for right now, helps me to remember that I could be somewhere else. I could be doing something completely different than what I’m doing right now and this might not be where I want to be, but I got to be happy to be here to get to where I want to go. So not in the space of I’m fearful of the blessings going away, but I want to make sure my heart posture is correct at all times. Walking in a room with someone that I’ve always wanted to work with is a great feeling when you’re songwriting. Working with brand new people that you’ve never met before, that you just have the common love of music is a fun thing. I like creating and if I can catch a vibe with you in the studio because you also like to create it, we gon’ make it happen.
What’s the process of songwriting like for you? Are you introverted or extroverted? Do you knock it out quickly or is it a drawn-out process? How’s it work for you?
I like to think I draw it out quickly, the process is pretty fast now. It’s kind of repetition like shooting a jump shot, the mechanics of making sure you have your elbow tucked in, the follow-through. Once you do it a certain amount of times, no matter what course you go to, you’re able to get into your groove. I used to be a little introverted because I was just shy. I didn’t want people to know what I did, but my personality is extroverted, if you will. So I like people to be included in my deepest thoughts. It’s like, well, how does this make you feel? How does this sound? Is this coming out the way I want it to sound? I like feeding ideas off of people. For me, the writing process used to be writing in my phone and to a beat. Now I hate listening to beats, I don’t want to hear no beats, don’t you send me no beats! For me, when I hear the music for the first time, I want to be able to react to it and if I can’t record it and I heard it on the phone, it’s like I’ll be trying to recreate my very first reaction to it. It might be because I’m just so ADD when it comes to creating that it’s so freestyle-based, I get to whatever it is I want to get to and then it’s on to the next one.
And speaking of that Grammy, where were you when you found out you got nominated? How’d you celebrate the news?
I’ve been still trying to figure out if it’s real, to be honest. I woke up to a whole bunch of messages and stuff, and my friends were blowing me up. I went on Twitter and I saw Gayle King say, Best R&B Album, the nominations are and then say Ant Clemons and I was like she knows my name?? It really didn’t hit me until I was listening to the Joe Budden Podcast and I heard Joe say “Ant Clemons,” I was like, “wow, this is a thing.” I celebrated by being in the studio, but I’m in the studio all the time. I went right back to work, just super excited and I’m still in a space of shock that this is even a thing. I loved Happy 2 Be Here, I loved working on those records, but I had no clue that people felt the same way. To be nominated and to be accepted by your peers is such a cool thing.
I saw that you recently made a virtual visit to your alma mater, Burlington County Institute of Technology, to speak to students. Why did you feel it was important to head back there.
Man, I can’t tell you how cool it is to have your high school or someone from your high school even know what you do outside of there. But to think that those amazingly talented students at BCIT wanted me to even speak to them was surreal. Dr. Ashanti Holly, I love her to death, she was like one of my superintendents when I was in middle school, so to see that she’s a part of the BCIT high school experience is so cool. A couple of my teachers shared some really cool comments and it was the best man like that’s what all it is is about. If it’s not for everyone, then it’s not for me. I learned a long time ago that my life, not that it’s meaningless, but it wasn’t about me. I started living my best life when I really realized that it had nothing to do with me. It was really about what I could do for others and how I could help. So anytime somebody has a question, it’s my responsibility to answer because I would want somebody to turn around and give me answers just to help me get from point A to point B. If I’m not doing that and I’m not being an example, then what are we doing?
In a second life, what would Ant Clemens be doing if it wasn’t being an artist? Where’s your second passion lie?
It would be in the art in some form. I draw like so it would be graphic design, I’d probably be an animator at Disney somewhere. I’d probably be in church somewhere, not saying that that’s not what I’m doing right now. I’m not sure, my mom always told me that my grandma said I would be a pastor when I was a kid. That was something in the back of my head that was really scary to think of cause I was like that’s a big responsibility, I don’t want to be in charge of anybody getting into heaven or not. I don’t think that’s what a pastor is, but as a kid I didn’t want to be the guy that says yes or no in heaven, that’s a lot of responsibilities. But nah, in another life I’d probably be expressing myself in some form or fashion. If it wasn’t through song and dance, it’d be through some type of visual art. I got to express myself.
You’ve worked with some of the industry’s best, you’re Grammy-nominated, you’ve got a growing resume, and you’ve only put out one album. So what’s next for you on the bucket list?
It’s so many things. I’m very, very happy, but I guess I’m never content. So I’m constantly setting goals and I want to work with Drake. I’ve been saying it everywhere, I would love to work with Drake. I want to work with Frank Ocean. There’s a few people — Kendrick, I would love to do some stuff with Kendrick — and be able to at least get in the room with some of my favorites before they venture off and do other things outside of music. But outside of just music goals, I’m really excited to just live and be able to experience everything that God has for me. I’ll be 30 this year, I’ve never even thought about what my life would look like at 30. I thought I’d be like getting ready to get married or something. So, whatever the Lord has for me this year and this time, I’m excited for it.
Happy 2 Be Here (Anniversary Edition) is out now via legion/Human Re Sources. Get it here.