Sina Braetz: First of all, thank you so much for this very special opportunity. We are very excited to have this conversation with you. Have you guys ever met before?
Jerry Lorenzo: Actually, this is our first time connecting. We’ve worked in a lot of the same circles but always independently, never in the same circle at the same time. We’ve been through the same hazing (laughs).
Ant Clemons: (laughs) Oh wait, hazing? I have to get a hold on that one.
J.L.: So, we went through that same process. Ant, where are you at now?
Ant Clemons: I’m in LA right now, in North Hollywood.
J.L.: Is this home for you?
A.C.: Yeah, it’s been home for like three years now.
J.L.: Dope. When I moved here to Los Angeles, from Chicago, I went straight to North Hollywood. It seems like that’s the first stop for everybody. Now I really wanna know: How did you and Kanye West meet, and how did you start collaborating?
A.C.: I met Ye through God. It was through a series of being at the right place with the right people at the right time. First of all, Jeremih is one of my bros, one of my favorite people. He was the one to bring me out to Chicago a couple of times. The energy out there is amazing. I love Chicago. I’m not sure if you’ve heard the song „All Mine“, it came out on the Ye album? That’s me singing the hook. It was a little confusing because I worked on it with Jeremih and then he went down to Wyoming and gave me a song and it came out with my voice on it (laughs). They called him up and Jeremih was like: „You’re welcome.“ He’s one of the biggest blessings in my life, just for the simple fact that he could have taken that song and done anything. He could have even been like, „No, this is me on the song.“ But he didn’t. Instead he said, „We did this together.“ And we did, together with our brothers Bongo and Scott.
S.B.: So how and when did you find out that you were on the Ye album?
A.C.: When Jeremih presented the song to Ye [Kanye], he went crazy. I had no clue. So the song comes out but at that point, I had been homeless in L.A. for like a year or so. My brother Scott was letting me sleep on the floor at his crib. I literally found out on the floor, at midnight. I was getting ready for another session because I was grinding like crazy at the time, doing four or five sessions a day. I had been trying to catch a nap to then get ready for another studio session, with Lil Jon, which was kinda random. When Kanye’s team reached out to me, I had just gone home to New Jersey for the weekend to take a break from LA. I went home with an album with Kanye West on it, even though I still hadn’t physically met him. I got the call while I was at home working on a Teyana Taylor album, so I flew back to L.A. They sent me a pack of beats with which I was going to No Name Studios in North Hollywood. They said it’s K.W. for Ant and Teyana. I completely lost my mind because I was like, „Wait, this is Kanye beats.“ I worked on ten records for them to choose one. I thought „Yep, this was fun. I don’t think I’m ever going to meet Kanye. But this is amazing.“ Two days later he ended up choosing two more songs that became No Manners and Hurry on the [K.T.S.E] album from Teyana. I finally met Ye in the studio while he was working on the verse for the Hurry song. It was nuts because at that point All Mine had already been out and it’s just been a thing. So he was like: „Hey yo, what’s up bro?“ And I’m like: „What’s up? Nah, no, no, this ain’t real. This is my life? God is way too good.“ So I met Ye through God, being focused on what God wanted me to do. And I feel like that just led me to a person I always wanted to work with.
J.L.: And that’s the answer, dude. Once you know what it is that God has you to do and once you focus on that, the stars are going to align, you know what I mean? I love that juxtaposition of you, sleeping on the floor and at the same time, getting that news. Where God wanted to take you was so far beyond your circumstance. Sometimes we get caught up in our circumstance, but it’s those little things that show you…
A.C.: …it was already taken care of. I was in a space where literally my mind was just focused on the fact that I only had 10 dollars left to my name, and I’m about to pay for this quesadilla for a girl that I like, you know what I mean? And that is as far as I could think. God has already solved every problem, including those that I hadn’t even thought about yet. Even more to that story: I had come out to L.A. and signed a deal that was some bullshit – you know, it’s this L.A. thing: I didn’t really read the contract. I was going against what everybody said. I didn’t do what I was supposed to do. And it just so happened that on the day that I was getting released from that contract, I was getting ready to get into a new publishing deal. I was completely released on May 31st and All Mine came out on June 1st, 2018. It was so ordained that God was like, „Oh no, I’m gonna get you out of this and you’re completely free. And then the biggest blessing of your life happens, because you are obedient. You’re doing what you needed to do and you were walking with me the entire time.“
J.L. That’s amazing, man.
A.C.: Yes. And although I was on the floor, I was never on the floor. I never really stayed there mentally. I always saw myself where I thought I needed to be. And I always thank God for allowing me to have that opportunity to be on the floor, because someone else is working a 9-5 somewhere that hates what he’s doing. I’m sleeping on a floor that can be where my wildest dreams come true. So I never take that for granted, nor any opportunity. Even at your lowest points, you can change your perspective and get to be where you need to be.
S.B.: Religion plays a big role in your life, for the both of you. Is your religion a modern, contemporary version that has adapted to the changes of society?
J.L.: Coming from a Christian faith, one of the things that I try and practice is a focus on the creator and not necessarily the religious practices of that faith. Sometimes you can get caught up in the practices and not necessarily have a relationship with the creator. The practices become your religion. Like this, you lose true relationship with the one that you were trying to get into a relationship with to begin. I think the church has been caught up in old rigid practices that prevent people of faith from moving forward. I believe that the creator never changes, however our circumstances change and the way we worship changes and the way that we interact with people changes. I believe as long as your relationship with God is consistent, all these things evolve. You speak about modernising, I think that is the thing: humans will continue to modernise, but the God that I serve remains the same.
A.C.: Absolutely. I agree with everything you just said, it was so spot on. Just piggybacking off of that: I use the Lord in everything that I do. I try not to make any decision without consulting with God first because I’ve also lived life before without God. Coming to L.A., there were a bunch of different avenues I could have went down… a whole bunch of different paths I could have chosen to get to a future that I thought I wanted. But I don’t want any future without God. I learned quickly that with this relationship, every other relationship becomes an accessory and not a necessity. When I put him first, everything else changed. So I constantly make sure to remind myself of that. I’m with my phone every day on Instagram, but before I start my day, I’m in my Bible app first. I wasn’t reading from my Bible before I dedicated my life to the Lord. I appreciate certain things like how modernized technology has allowed us to have audio books. You can listen to the Bible when you’re going for a run. I read and pray with my Bible app for at least 15 to 20 minutes each day. I use this time as a conversation with God, to get instructions on what I need to do for the day. I use God with everything.
S.B.: How and when have you been introduced to Fear of God, Ant?
A.C.: I was introduced to the brand through a bunch of friends. It was cool to be around Ye and seeing a couple different people that I grew up with, realizing how everybody is making their dreams come true. I thought that it was just hella cool. The idea of the name Fear of God is so phenomenal. It’s like proverbs, just so enticing. If I’m not mistaken, Proverbs 1:7 says that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge. I remember reading that, thinking, „Oh, I’m with it.“ I’m absolutely aligning myself with the fear of God so that I can be in the knowledge of God. And I think those joints right behind you are crazy (pointing to the camera, Jerry turns around and laughs).
S.B.: What’s it all about with your red hat, Ant?
A.C.: Somebody told me I’m like Marvin Gaye and I wanted to run with it (laughs). Honestly, it started off with just something I was doing for myself. I was like, I’m just gonna wear this until I get to L.A. It didn’t really have a meaning behind it, at first. But then the longer it was on, it became a part of my identity, especially when I moved to L.A.! It was also easy for me to hide that I couldn’t afford haircuts. It was the best trick in the book. Now, it’s my constant reminder of where I came from, of not being able to afford haircuts. I don’t know if people can recognise me without it at this point.
J.L.: I think there is a humility and sense of responsibility in knowing where you came from, and how important it is to take it to where God wants you to take it. There is this juxtaposition that I deal with too. Knowing what my grandfather and dad had to go through for me to be where I am… I’m humbled by it, but there is also a responsibility in which I have to take it to the next level. It’s awesome, Ant, that you have a hat that keeps you grounded and keeps your perspective where it needs to be. It’s like me and the vintage t-shirts. Everything we do with Fear of God is like a solution. I have young kids… babies that were spitting up on my shoulder… I needed something that was already old, so that I could get something on it. The spit-up looks like it’s part of the vintage. The greatest ideas come from not having, whether it’s not having money, not being able to get a haircut, or just having not. We’re forced to create solutions for these things. Now, Ant, you got this fresh, modernized Marvin Gaye look, that is pretty dope. And when it came off, you had money for a haircut (laughs)
S.B.: Our last issue of Numéro Berlin is dedicated to the theme the (new) luxury. What does luxury mean to both of you personally?
A.C.: Luxury in my life has been shaped differently. I used to think of luxury being shiny or expensive things. Today I think that the choice to be able to do the things that you want to do is luxury. We have experienced the luxury of time through this pandemic. I can’t speak for everyone but I know that within myself, I didn’t really appreciate time as much as I do now. I look at the luxury of time as something that should be cherished, time should not be taken for granted. This year has taught me that time is the most important thing. So how are you going to use it? Trying to figure out what is creating problems? Or like Jerry is saying, are you going to use the time to try creating solutions? How can your time shape these solutions?
J.L.: I think time is really the only true luxury that we have. For me personally, it’s that I can speak to the exercise and what we were able to do, partnering up with Ermenegildo Zegna, using fabrications and constructions at the highest level. Taking that construction and putting it against culture, making something new that speaks to someone through shape and proportion versus something that is shiny and beautiful, taking it back to what Ant said before. However, if that thing that is shiny and beautiful doesn’t speak to you, it’s just shiny and beautiful. So how do you take something at the highest level that is shiny and beautiful and put it against a lifestyle and a point of view that speaks directly to the customer? I think that is what makes a luxury product now. It’s no longer a product that can live on itself. The product now has to speak directly to the consumer, especially with all of the noise that is happening. There is so much noise, so much music, so many products – so much to choose from. I believe luxury – when it comes to music and fashion- is story driven. It is culturally driven, but it is also made and constructed at the highest level. I think it is important, now more than ever, to marry those two things in order to cut through the noise and cut through the chaos that is happening.
S.B.: Let’s talk a little about 2020. It is such an intense year. The beginning of this year, we had the big fires in Australia and the climate change protests. Then the pandemic started, followed by the Black Lives Matter Movement. Do you believe that 2020 will bring us some real, permanent changes?
A.C.: I think every year has brought changes. This year specifically, there has been a force for change. There just has to be a change within this year. Even going through the COVID, there is a new normal. The things that we once did and the things that we once became accustomed to, are no more. But it’s not saying that good days aren’t to come. It’s just that adapting the mindset to a new normal will help us get to a better day. I believe that.
J.L.: I think 2020 was a year we were all hoping to have a new perspective and to have this perfect 2020 vision. I really believe that in order for us to see clearly, we needed to take a break and really look and understand what the most important things in this world are. After getting that perspective and being able to address some of these issues that were swept under the rug, instead of continuing to get accustomed to living in a world that is unjust, we are able to do something about it. It is about understanding what lesson is trying to be taught during this time. Why has the world stopped? Why are we at this breaking point with racial inequality and injustice? We all can see more clearly, we can see a world, potentially, that is a just world, an equal world. A world that allows us all to have an equal playing field. It has been a heavy year, but any change is going to require some work. It is going to be heavy, the work is not going to be easy. That is how it goes with everything we do, even individually, with our professions. Nothing comes easy and I think one of the hardest things to change is your perspective. It has been a blessing to see a global shift People having empathy and compassion for other people in a way that they haven’t had before… I think what started off as a heavy and negative year is actually proving to be super positive.
S.B.: How can we make sure that we keep that perspective and energy? Especially once the pressure is gone?
A.C.: I believe if we keep our full focus on the Lord, then he will tell us every single day what he needs us to do. We must remain active in the midst of what’s going on – it isn’t the season for turning a blind eye. This is a season for addressing and conversing. This is a season for understanding. And I think to get there, it is going to be a little strenuous because it has been very, very hard for the conversation to be had. Although we may go back to our regular lives, I don’t think anything is going to be how it was before. I know for myself, I’ll keep it in the forefront, at least with how I approach my art, to never forget this. You cannot forget about what you have lived through. It is going to shift and cultivate the new regime, if you will. The new normal, the new phenomenal.
J.L.: I believe – to kind of simplify what I think Ant is saying – it is not necessarily about making sure that people continue with the same fervour, so to speak. I think it is more a heart change. I think the world has this heart transplant and this new perspective of how they see the world. I think all the other things, how you treat other people, just becomes easy. It becomes easy to recognize someone that maybe feels left out. It becomes easy to have empathy for other people that maybe feel like they’ve been overlooked. And once you see them, the actions are easy to follow. The way of the world just naturally falls in line with the perspective of the world. This perspective has been blinded by racism and privilege. And I think now that perspective is changing, people are having more empathy for others. I believe laws will slowly just fall into place.
S.B.: Diversity has been a big topic in fashion but also in music… often, unfortunately, approached on a very superficial level. How do you feel about the industries trying to contribute?
J.L.: I think it is hard to be authentic if it is something that you have never been before. The reality is, fashion hasn’t always been inclusive. If it’s not a part of your culture, if it’s not a part of who you are, you can’t put a statement out there saying, „Hey, I’m for Black Lives Matter“, when your history has never shown that. What fashion houses need to realize, in my opinion, is that this movement is not a PR move, it’s not a PR statement. It’s a change in the way that you practice a business, a change in inclusivity with any organization. And also, a step further, if inclusivity is something that you really don’t believe in, then it’s going to be hard to implement. Because then you have people of color coming into your company, into an unwelcome place, to fill a quota and void. It has to be a heart thing, a true intention to want the right people in place to help in guiding, educating, and informing. People of color are usually at the forefront of influence, but they are rarely a part of the development of products, and they are never part of the actual ownership of these groups. Our beauty as a world comes with diversity. I think it’s really about respecting and honoring all the different gifts and point of views from all different cultures and taking the best ideas, no matter where they come from.
A.C.: As far as diversity in the music industry, it all starts with the heart, and once the heart has changed, the rest changes. I think Republic Records just removed the name urban from all of their divisions. And even that small change is major, just for someone to call it out. I hate being called urban, going into a building with an urban division, that doesn’t even make sense. Urban, contemporary – what does that mean? I thought that rhythmics had something to do with the people that created rhythm. I’m very confused. We got rhythm and blues and you all want the rhythm without the blues. You can’t just take the one. The diversity is gonna come when you can step out of yourself and step into someone else’s shoes and really, really see, „Oh, wow, it’s not just about me. It’s bigger than me.“ This thing that we’re all supposed to be using to share our gifts is being used in a way to let down and kind of separate ourselves. Why is this Lil Nas X song that is clearly a country song considered rap or urban? It doesn’t make sense to me. It takes putting Billy Ray Cyrus on a record for it to go on the pop charts, but it still doesn’t get to country, which we were shooting for because it’s still a country song.
S.B.: Do you feel that Black Culture still is not being given sufficient credit for their creation in music?
A.C.: I think since the dawn of time, we hold the unpopular belief that we don’t get cited for our creations- from rock’n’roll to a number of other things. But I think it’s a perspective conversation- who are you looking for to get your flowers from? Hip Hop is a genre based off the sampling, which is literally the art form of giving your flowers to the person before. James Brown is one of the most sampled artists of all time. And I’m very, very sure that – well, I can’t speak for James Brown – but I can imagine if I was in his shoes, that I would have felt appreciated to be a part of an art form, as long as I was given credit.
S.B.: Let’s have a look at how different and how similar it is to work in music versus fashion. How do you both approach your creative process?
J.L.: I think it is all about a story. Across most artists and creatives, I believe it always starts with a particular point of view. And that point of view sometimes starts from a place of trying to come up with a solution. Just as an example: I have 20 different things to do today and I want to look and style myself in an appropriate way that I can work out, have a lunch meeting, sit in the studio and create, pick up my kids from school, AND attend a PTA meeting. How am I to be appropriate for all those things? For me, the creative process starts from a desire to create solutions. The foundation of that is a story that wants to be told around a solution.
A.C.: Absolutely. And obviously, the differences would just be the mechanics of going into a recording studio versus going into a fashion studio or anywhere else you go to create. But it’s still the same principle: If you put in the 10.000 hours of working, you’ll be able to get the result that you want.
J.L.: 10.000 hours.
A.C.: Yes, Sir (laughs).
S.B: Where do you see the potential for innovative and new ways of creating?
A.C.: For me, Zoom has become a phenomenal way of connecting with not only creatives and people in the music industry, but also with my family and friends. Being able to use this app, you are able to cross many different genres and mediums to ultimately attack the art that you want to create, whatever the art is that you were sent on this earth to create. Maybe a song I was meant to write for tomorrow can’t happen without a conversation with someone that is nowhere in the music medium today. But now we are able to have certain dialogues like this one, in a step in the direction of diversifying and getting to a more unified piece.
J.L.: One of the important things for me is to just always stay open. I plant the seed in my head for a story I want to tell. I need to do the work to tell it properly, but outside of the work, you also need to stay open to whatever else can potentially inform and inspire the work. A lot of that is having conversations with other artists, across different mediums, whether it’s music, architecture, or whatever. Having those healthy conversations, it just exposes different ways of thinking, or exposes you to different things that are happening that may be important to integrate into your work. I think being an influential artist is being able to understand what is happening within current times across all art forms. It is also having the responsibility to make sure that you can pull yourself out of it and not get too sucked into other mindsets. You must remain at a place where you can give and direct your culture without necessarily being directed by the culture.
S.B.: You both experience a certain commercial pressure from the market. How do you try to protect your creative freedom?
A.C.: Creative freedom for me is everything. Through the experiences I went through, coming out to L.A., I learned early on that I don’t like restrictions, especially in the creative space. Now, I’m not even having a conversation if my creative freedom is compromised or at jeopardy. I take it very, very seriously. I thank God that I have people around me, aligned with my feelings of creative freedom, who push toward that. It was the wildest thing that a song I did, just joking around, got all the way to Kanye. And when it got to him, he was like „I want more songs, more of your songs.“ It took one of the people I looked up to the most to say, „I value you. You are important. I don’t want you to try to be me. Be you.“ And once we had that understanding, I think we were all put in a better place. I have been in the best place of my life once I understood just how important my creativity was.
J.L.: Creative freedom really is everything, and that’s one of the reasons we are still an independent brand. It’s one of the reasons I haven’t gone to a creative director role for a luxury house, or looked outside of what I feel the vision for Fear of God is or could be. My perspective becomes compromised when I have to think about the costs of a merchandise plan for another company. And I can’t afford to not say exactly what it is that I feel convicted to say when I don’t have the freedom to speak my mind, or the resources to execute that to the highest level. If a collection doesn’t do well, that is hard to swallow. But if things don’t work out and you put out exactly what you feel you had in your heart, then you will always win. I think if you’re worried about the outcome, maybe even more than the process, that is when it is easy to get lost in this game of creativity, and you start to move towards the side of a capitalistic approach to what you are doing, versus the purely creative approach from the first place.
S.B.: Do you think that most artists today still dare to speak up their mind?
A.C.: Personally, I don’t think we have lost that. You find artists such as Kendrick Lamar or J. Cole… They are artists with a message that speaks to the times. I think that the true mark of our artists speak to the times to change the times. This year alone will birth a whole generation of stars because of what they had to go through to get their art out. It’s natural that the music we receive, the art we receive, the clothing we receive, it is going to be indicative of the times. I have a great appreciation for what we do today. I know that it is a luxury for us, being able to go to a computer and create something that might have taken weeks or months at a time back in the day… I don’t take that for granted at all. I actually really appreciate being born in the time that I was born, just because of all of the things and access that I was able to grow up with.
Also, one of the biggest things in my life is knowing the why. The most important part of my day, is how I will approach songwriting. The ‘why’ gives you discernment and it gives you the choice to go left or right, up or down, to decide what is right or wrong. And then with that decision, it’s only you. My purpose, I believe, is to tell someone else out there that they can be an Ant Clemens. There’s no difference between me and another homie in Willingboro, New Jersey that has a dream he wants to realize. With a dream, and with God on your side, you can get everywhere you want to get.
S.B.: Does the American Dream still exists for you?
J.L.: I think it exists for everybody, but I think what is so crazy now is being at an intersection of possibility. For me, being Black in America and living with racism, it is something that you accept. You just know that you will have to be twice as good, and that it is going to be a lot harder for you… but the American Dream is still achievable. And now, being at this point where we might all finally be equal, that this might become a reality, it makes the American Dream that much more real, that much more tangible, that much more easy for me to see. So a lot of what I do or what Ant does, is really just show people who look like us that this is possible. There is a much better place for us all to be, where we can look across and beyond races. It is our color that always enters a room before we do. We are constantly told „no, this isn’t actually for you.“ So for us to really get to a place where the American Dream is our reality, is an exciting place to be in 2020.
S.B: Thank you so much for your time!
A.C.: Thank you! Jerry, I’m really honored and thankful that you spent the time with this conversation. It means the world, bro, coming from Willingboro, New Jersey to be on the phone with you. It’s such an honor to see what God is doing in your life. You take an idea and you make it a reality. It inspires me to work harder and make sure that I’m doing what I’m supposed to be doing at the highest level.
J.L.: I’m just as humbled to be on the phone with you too, man. I would much rather inspire a music artist than a fashion designer (laughs). We’ll connect, man.
Interview: Sina Braetz
Photography: Nailah Howze
Styling: Christina Dzenzerska
Video Editor: Noé Cassi
Fear Of God x Nike , additional pieces: denim A.P.C. x Kanye West, t-shirt Ralph Lauren, socks Off-White, hat Ant Clemons merch