While many Miamians complain they have to leave home to make it in the music business, Steven A. Clark landed a track on Pitbull's latest album, Climate Change, after moving to the Magic City from North Carolina.
“I was seeking culture,” the sensual singer-songwriter says. “I just wanted to live. I just wanted to party and make music – and I definitely got my share of that. I wanted to be creative and be free, whatever that means.”
Sitting outside Wynwood's Panther Coffee, he's dressed like any regular dude on his day off. No passerby would imagine he climbs onstage, one earring dangling under a wide-brimmed hat, and croons soulful hooks. Nor would anyone imagine he's the guy they'll see standing onstage next to Mr. 305 himself at Pitbull's New Year's Revolution, which will be broadcast live into millions of homes across the country on Fox. But he is, and he will be.
He couldn't have foreseen this scenario in 2014 when he first recorded the song that would land him a place on national television. “Can't Have,” the original, is heartbreak set to a dance beat. It's a timeless tale of too little too late, a man who realizes how much he truly loves a woman only when she's gone for good.
“It's Miami; there's so much beauty and sex, but there's a really dark side to it, because everyone wants a piece of everyone,” he says. Like all of Clark's work, “Can't Have” is a true story, which in turn creates relationship problems.
“If you're going to be with me, you've got to understand,” he laughs. “I'm not going to say your name, but the song is probably about you. If you're going to date a singer or writer, you've got to be ready.”
“Can't Have” is just one of ten delightfully danceable songs of lust, love, and loss on Clark's debut LP, The Lonely Roller. Written and produced entirely by Clark and his partner Steven Sanz, who some Miami music fans might know as the main musical force behind the band Kodiak Fur, The Lonely Roller wants to move your body as much as your heart.
“I like '80s music; that's my main source [of inspiration],” Clark says. “R&B, that's just one part of it to me. It's easy to put me in the R&B category because I'm black and I sing, it's kind of lovey, talking about girls and stuff, but it's more just music. It's pop music to me.”
It's perfect, then, what happened next, the kind of fairy-tale ending in which the lost love interest of “Can't Have” says she doesn't believe. It began with a remix from Clark's friend Ape Drums. That was the first time the two were able to work with each other in some official capacity. The Houston producer, well known for his blend of Caribbean dancehall rhythms and Southern trap textures, put a dark, energetic twist on the tune. It went from dance-pop to the sort of cool thing a tropically influenced rapper might jump on, the kind of genre-bending beat Pitbull could hear his signature “wooooo” over.
Mutual friends of Clark's and Pitbull's heard the remix and sent it to the MC. He instantly gravitated to the beat and took the opportunity to write a love letter to his home city, a celebration of the years spent struggling toward the “greener grass” of fame without realizing that those moments would be some of his best memories.
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“He killed it,” Clark says. “It sounds a little bit like old Pitbull. He's really rapping aggressively. It was tight to bring that side of him out again, and I think he was ready to do that.”
“Can't Have” is Pitbull's latest single, released November 21. There are already more than a million views on YouTube for the audio alone. It also got Clark the New Year's Eve invite, and it has reignited his creative spirit. There will be much more collaboration and genre-bending on the menu for Clark in 2017. He and Sanz are working on Clark's second LP with none other than German-acid-electro favorite Boys Noize as executive producer.
“It's not going to sound like Boys Noize,” Clark warns. “It's not going to sound like my first album too much either. It's definitely '80s, but I try to tap into some modern pop stuff a little bit too. It's going to be cool. I can't really explain it. It's lighthearted, kind of tropical. It's going to be interesting.”
As he tries to find the words, a ladybug lands on him twice. Maybe some good things can be had after all.