With It’s Not How It Sounds, Clairmont The Second continues to level-up his musical game, rounding the first corner while his contemporaries are barely out of the blocks.
For a while now, it may seem that Clairmont Humphrey II — Clairmont The Second to you — is a man out of step with the times. That’s not the case. Even just a cursory listen to the 22-going-on-23-year-old’s latest, It’s Not How It Sounds, is evidence enough that Clairmont is a talent ahead of his time. If you count the mixtapes he started dropping in 2013 (at 16 if you’re keeping score), It’s Not How It Sounds is his seventh release in eight years. He’s earned the right to gripe about feeling overlooked and under-appreciated. A momentary blip of youthful impatience is easy to forgive, though. The one-time high school track star knows his career is a marathon and not a sprint. With It’s Not How It Sounds, the rest of us are finally cluing in that Clairmont The Second has already rounded the first corner while his contemporaries are just barely out of the starting blocks.
What’s most striking about It’s Not How It Sounds is its nostalgia. Though too young to already be this sentimental, Clairmont is also too smart not to know what his peers (by age, not intellect) are about ten years away from realizing: life isn’t waiting for anyone to get their shit together. Though the impeccably crafted 80s-inspired album cover suggests a wistful throwback to “simpler” times, lines like “I miss CD-ROMs / and cereal boxes / Hasbro Interactive was poppin’ / you had to be at least 80 years old for a coffin” (“Wait”) suggest maturity and wisdom beyond his years. It also brilliantly calls up It’s Not How It Sounds’s running video-game conceit, extending the metaphor beyond the powering-up feeling of opener “Power / Theme” and the interstitial ending of “Wait”, where a new challenger gets ready to take up the joystick against Clairmont for the album’s second half.
What It’s Not How It Sounds makes very clear is that, unlike in video games, in real life, you can’t start over from your last checkpoint when a life gets wasted. In that respect, Clairmont The Second is arguably one of our keenest musical observers — of both his community and society in general. It isn’t just prescience when he raps about touchstone moments like anti-Black police violence (“We don’t tell police, we tell the family,” on “Clockout”) and soulfully sings about saying things that need to be told to loved ones before it’s too late (“Dream”). He’s acutely aware of the risks and perils of being young and Black while being driven to be more than just a statistic. “I never hang on the strip / Get what I need then dip,” he says on “Gun Finger”, suggesting that, even without the risk of a pandemic virus, a self-imposed lockdown is essential for a young Black man to stay alive, adding, “I’m ain’t paranoid / I’m just not stupid / I ain’t grown the same way that you did.”
That last lyric is the understated underline that encapsulates all of It’s Not How It Sounds: Clairmont Humphrey II has not had a stereotypical, cookie-cutter life by any measure, and that did not happen by accident. Fiercely and proudly independent, Clairmont The Second’s It’s Not How It Sounds accepts the challenge and sets out a race plan that’s focused on making it across the finish line on his own accord.