It’s the opening night of Clinton Sparks’ residency at Moon, and he’s on the mic in the middle of his set.
He’s singing along to tracks. He’s talking over the music. He’s even lip-synching to himself when he’s not on the microphone.
There doesn’t seem to be more than a few seconds during that May 14 debut when Sparks’ mouth isn’t moving. It’s fitting that he spent time as Diddy’s DJ. If you’re going to study at the School of Never-ending Interjections, it may as well be with the dean.
It’s fitting, too, that Sparks’ love of mic control is rapidly coming to its logical conclusion. The longtime jock is putting the finishing touches on his new record—likely called My Awesome Album—which he’ll perform with My Awesome Band, and from which you will eventually be able to hear tracks at Moon’s regular My Awesome Party (next held July 8). If only there were an exclamation of surprise and delight to adequately capture the mood at that news.
The album—chock-full of slickly produced pop-rock tracks ready-made for commercial radio (he offhandedly talks about Mutt Lange-era Cars, Queen and the Killers as inspiration)—is a full-circle moment for Sparks after years on the turntables.
“Being a DJ was never my goal. That’s not what I was setting out to be in the first place. I always wanted to be a producer and a songwriter. Before that I was an artist. But when I was an artist, I was the white rapper. Then Eminem came out and I said, ‘Yeah, he’s got that.’ It kind of went to being a producer and writer, but just being a white kid from Boston trying to make it in hip-hop, it wasn’t that easy,” Sparks says. “It’s like, ‘Damn, what do I have to do to make people get familiar with my music?’ Then I realized, I must become an important DJ because now they will all ball-suck me to play their music.”
It might be naked ambition (and a tad graphic), but no one’s going to accuse Sparks of going by half-measure, either. When he pulls out his laptop to preview a new track, he says, “Here’s my Freddie Mercury.” He plays air piano in his Palms suite, leaping out of his chair to mimic the Queen frontman’s grand, theatrical gestures. (“If I could be one-tenth of who he was, that would be amazing,” Sparks admits.)
He’s a man who clearly wants to be a rock star just as fiercely as he wants people to like him. (On encountering a group of fans one night in a bar, Sparks says he invited them to come to his nearby car and listen to tracks he was still creating. Fan service at its most personal.)
This all started years ago when Ludacris offered Sparks a record deal, but he didn’t want to make a hip-hop album. He instead turned to Akon for help.
“I reached out to him. I said, listen, ‘You remember when you had a story to tell and nobody would listen and I did?’ He said, “Yeah.” I said, ‘Well I need you to help me paint this picture now.’ He said, “What’s up?” I said, ‘I wrote and produced this record. I need you to cut it for me.’”
Never having sung in front of anyone, Sparks found himself in the sound booth belting out the beginnings of “Sorry, Blame It on Me” on Akon’s tour bus. In 2007, the “Locked Up” singer brought the track to No. 7 on the Hot 100. Three years later, Sparks was still stalled in getting a career going as a recording artist but started getting interest from Jermaine Dupri, among others. An Interscope A&R rep came to see him in the studio and liked what he saw enough to write a company-wide e-mail betting his career against Sparks’ success. Sparks signed to the label shortly thereafter.
Now he’s just waiting for Interscope to settle on a release date. It helps, though, to have a built-in marketing machine, in the form of famous friends, ready to go.
“Puff said recently, ‘Yo, you influence cultures.’ I thought that was a big statement for Diddy to say that to me. At the same time he said, ‘You’re the most popular unpopular dude in our business.’ I felt exactly the same way as him, and it was awesome to hear someone of his status recognize that.” For a DJ-to-rock-star starter kit, a record deal and Diddy in your corner is a good place to begin.