Citizen Cope's head-nodding blend of acoustic soul, hip-hop, and folk music has taken the singer-songwriter around the world over the last 15 years and earned him both critical and commercial success—but you wouldn't know it by talking to him. Born Clarence Greenwood, the Washington D.C. native radiates a humble sensibility that complements the low-key charm found on his records.
"I have a lot of limitations as far as my vocal range and my guitar playing goes. I've been around enough really good guitar players to realize that I shouldn't be doing solos," Greenwood laughs over the phone. "I always just wanted to do something from the heart to touch people, man. That's where my strength lies. I'll let the prodigies be the prodigies."
On the back of crisp hip-hop inspired drums and bright acoustic guitars, Greenwood is happy to keep his music relatively simple and let the raw nature of his vocals guide the direction of the songs. With a long background writing poetry, that direction usually ends up being a strikingly honest and vulnerable one.
"I've always been so intense and had really bad stage fright," Greenwood reveals. "Some of the insecurities that you have as a person and the willingness to express those fears and joys are what draw you to being an artist—and I guess those carry on." He continues, "I'm finally starting to accept that the audience is on my side now. I'm starting to learn to harness some of that energy and ride it like a wave as opposed to paddling directly into it."
Dressed up as fairly simple and digestible acoustic pop music, multiple listens of his songs reveal meatier themes and socially conscious messages.
"I think there's a basic need to communicate and have a point of view within the context of pop music," Greenwood says. "I wanted to incorporate something that would be rebellious and protesting what I felt was wrong with the current state of human affairs while making it palatable and interesting and something you could nod your head to. That way people could still groove to it and I wouldn't be talking down to them or trying to preach, while still having something with some substance."
Greenwood isn't content limiting his social activism to his lyrics, however. Teaming up with an organization called Turnaround Arts, $1 from every ticket he sells goes to Red Lake Middle School in Minnesota to help incorporate art and music into the school curriculum to turn around low-test scores.
Of course, as happy as Greenwood's fan base is to see him out on the road and contributing to charitable causes, anticipation has been building for new material since his last release in 2012. As we talk, he hints at signing with another major label soon (after spending some time on his own label following previous deals with DreamWorks, Capitol, Arista, and RCA) but he's content being patient and letting the songs come to him for now.
"As an artist, you're always thinking about what's next or what happened in your life," he explains. "I've been studying a lot of philosophies about trying to be more conscious and being in the moment."
"It's about taking your time and waiting for something to happen," Greenwood notes. "I remember when Henri Cartier-Bresson, the great photographer from Paris, said, 'You never want anything, you just wait. Wait for it to come to you.' I think there's an element of that in all art. You just have to be present and patient."
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