Clara Kent is her own muse.
The Homewood-born R&B artist has notched a number of high-achieving accomplishments to her belt: opening for funk legend Thundercat at Stage AE, appearing in a photo in Vogue Italia, and being CEO of production company, Bounce House Productions.
She was recently hired as WYEP’s newest on-air host, saying she plans to spotlight the talent of Pittsburgh and beyond.
“I hear artists that have such great potential and they won’t be given a chance because they’re ‘local artists,’” said Kent. “They’re an artist from Pittsburgh, not a “Pittsburgh artist.” The Pittsburgh artist has such a bad stigma to it. To me, what will help with that… is really being honest about our art and pushing ourselves past our comfort zone.”
Kent will be on-air for her own show – More Bounce – on Fridays from 6 to 8pm beginning February 2023, where she will play hand-selected alt-R&B, Soul, Funk, Hip-Hop and local cuts.
In the meantime, Kent keeps busy. But even with a robust artist career, one thing remains nonnegotiable – her peace.
After a health scare where she was given six months to live, and an ongoing spiritual journey healing past trauma, Kent has prioritized stepping away from the grind and working intentionally. Following Kent on social media, it’s easy to notice her proudly sharing moments of stillness in a light- and plant-filled home.
“Artists are stuck in the grind,” she says. “If I have to give a piece of advice to artists, it would be to stop and ask yourself why. Be courageous enough to do it because it will shift your life in a way that makes you feel free.”
We sat down with Clara to talk about her artistic journey, and how she stays true to her roots while growing tall.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity and length.
You are very proud of your Homewood roots. Can you tell me more about that?
I have had a long journey with Homewood. I have a lot of very cool experiences in Homewood, but I also grew up when Homewood had a heavy stigma around it of being where criminals are from or people have to know how to fight. There are a lot of things, especially within the Black community, that we uphold that aren’t very positive stigmas and stereotypes. At that time, it felt like you had to live the stereotype to be from there.
Then when I grew up, I was like, wait, we’re agriculturalists and farmers. When I listen to the elders, they would trade like, “Oh, you want collard greens? I have turnips,” and all this other stuff. There used to be fruit trees up in the neighborhood that people don’t even recall. But I remember enjoying myself and having a great childhood playing outside.
You have always seemed very intentional and passionate about your creations. How would you say things have shifted and grown from the beginning?
I first started out as Clara Kent, solo, in 2016. Then I started as a visual artist and that’s how people got to know me in that way. I had music out, but I was very shy and always in a group. Then I had a really cool opportunity to do Flow Lounge with a group of people. I was in Tribe Eternal at the time. I used some of my knowledge from my past and we threw events and music, and it just spiraled out.
And for a long time, I felt like I had to be, especially as a Black woman, attached to a male group to do things or to be respected. It’s kind of a stigma in hip-hop, too. And I had to sit with that and realize, no, that’s not even what I want to do. I admire strong women like Peggy Lee or Billie Holiday and Nina Simone. I had to reevaluate what that belief system was that I had. The more I did, the more it made me independent. But the more independent I’ve become, the better I’m a collaborator.
I remember when you posted on social media that you hadn’t been posting as much, and you took some of your music off of streaming. What prompted that?
I tend to distract myself with overworking and there was a lot going on in my life that was dark at the time. I have this old notion of how the music business is. You just have to sacrifice your whole being to do it. And there is a lot of visible success in it, but there’s not a lot of personal success, so I was constantly doing things that were considered significant to others and to myself but I was never satisfied or content. It was like, What’s the next thing? What’s the next thing? I had to stay on the ball. It was a lot of scarcity mindset.
Especially in predominantly marginalized communities or deprived communities. When you get an opportunity, you cling to it for dear life and you’re like, okay, I’m a hustler, next thing. That’s what I grew up in. My mom was like that. She had three jobs and was an entrepreneur doing all these things, just to reach the bare minimum, which is terrible. But in America, you get a gold medal for that? So it’s a really toxic overwork mentality. You have to go through growth cycles and have a rest period where you’re planning, then the period where you push to grow.
You have many other accomplishments, like owning Bounce House Productions. How does that play into your passions?
I just always wanted a space where I could really create massively quality things for myself, but also collaborate with others and help other people bring their vision to life. I love events. I love making people feel like it’s an experience they dreamed of and it doesn’t have to be fancy. Can’t we do something quirky and different?
I’ve been studying places like when I lived in Chicago. I noticed how they set up their events… and what makes people just let loose, release their egos to have a good time and it’s safe for everybody. The first experience I [created] was with [Kent’s former music group] Tribe Eternal called Writings on the Wall. It felt like a festival, indoors. At one of those events I was completely bare and I got body painted and I was just walking around, but women felt comfortable and they were getting body painted too, and there was men there, but everybody felt safe. It didn’t feel weird. It was just an art party. Bounce House actually started as an event first. People would do their poetry or rap their songs, and then we would just party and have fun.
I keep saying “new era” because I have seen you say that on social media. Within this new era, you also opened for Thundercat.
That was crazy. It was a surprise for me. I was having a rough week. My mom’s birthday is August 24th, and I just moved, and then I had some wild stuff happen, and I was crying. I don’t even know what told me to look at my email. But I looked at my email and they wanted to know if I was interested in opening for Thundercat. Wow, yes, right now!
I asked him what he thought about Pittsburgh and he said ‘Yeah, I like Pittsburgh. I heard you guys are wild out here like the wild west.”
And there was Sistas of the City at Mr. Smalls.
I was very serious about promoting it because I know that a lot of times with production companies in the city, they’re spread really thin and focused on the national. It was four Black women on the bill. We made a plan. We worked in tandem to get the promo out, and we only had 4 weeks to do it.
Do you have anything to share about BLKNVMBR? [A marketing and promotional house, declaration of support and space for Black R&B and R&B adjacent artistry in Pittsburgh founded by Kent and singer-songwriter INEZ].
BLKNVMBR is in the building stages and it’s very exciting. We have feature performances, a new site, and other things rolling out for 2023. Having a central hub for R&B and R&B-adjacent artists is needed but takes a lot of work. We are lucky to have Janita Kilgore onboard as a point of contact and Director of Programs for BLKNVMBR. She is the sweetest and most on-point woman we know.
I feel like this is a great time to transition to WYEP. How did you get here?
I needed a job. I need structure in my schedule. Being an entrepreneur as an artist is not easy, but I also don’t want to do the corporate 9-5 thing. So I’m like, what can I do that both contributes to community, contributes to my business and art, and also won’t drain the life out of me and make me feel like I’m not creating something cool?
I got an email that I should apply for this and I applied. Didn’t hear anything for a while so I thought, okay, I probably didn’t get it. But then they called and I said okay, let’s do this. I had multiple interviews, and then I got it. I’m still shocked.
It’s going to be really cool. My passion is R&B and soul. So being able to contribute to that and having people actually listen to it at a really nice time is going to be great.
You have this platform, you have this opportunity, and you also have this passion, especially for R&B. How do you intend to utilize that space? And also, you’re looking for people to submit [music]. And you wrote about maintaining that you want to help artists grow and that you’re going to have high standards. I’m curious to know what that balance looks like?
The intention of my segment when it’s ready to be produced and put out is definitely to make people excited about hearing a new wave of music that’s out. I feel like a lot of people in Pittsburgh tend to be a little behind with what’s happening everywhere else. I want to be that little funnel that brings that in for everybody. Also having local co-hosts, like having a person that’s an artist that will co-host with me and we play songs that they like and I’m talking to them in a conversation style instead of like an interview style. And then also having a local highlight.
And then for the submissions part. One of the things that helped me refine my artistry is somebody being honest with me and not being too agreeable. And I feel like sometimes in Pittsburgh we have this, because we’re deprived of a lot of art opportunities, we don’t really have that dojo that makes the art come out in its most authentic form.
How do you feel about being in Pittsburgh? Is this going to be home for you and your artistry?
It’s always going to be home for me.
Pittsburgh does have a really dope underground scene. The trademark slogan for Bounce House is “we elevate the underground.” And I believe in that. I’m always for the underdog – I was the underdog. I had people tell me my music is not that great. I took it on the chin and was like, okay, let me hear what they’re talking about. I think a lot of times people get so caught up in taking it personally, they’re not seeing the chance that they’re given. So that’s what I’m going to bring to the table because I think it will do us so much good if we are accountable for our art a little bit more.
We’ve talked a little bit about what you’ve had to overcome to get here and the mentalities you’ve had to shift. I’m curious to know where self-care and stillness come in, and what is a day in your life?
It’s very different from what it was. I just moved into a new place, lots of windows, lots of plants. So I just get up and I kind of think and I let my dreams shift and I just feel how I’m feeling. I move in a heart-centered place now. I allow things to be slower.
I was always in the future or I was always learning from the past… and was never really present. If you’re in the present, you have a clear sign of what you want to do. You don’t feel a rush because you realize if it’s meant to happen, it’s gonna happen. And that’s where I’m at.
So. Who are you now?
I’m a Manifestor. The things that I’ve faced and the things that I was able to still conjure while being in such a low, heavy state, I can only imagine, when I’m in a fully accepting state, imagine what I’m going to call into my life. I’m getting there now.
Kent says Bounce House productions is planning major events for 2023. She wants people to keep submitting their music and spreading the word. Her mixtape, The Four Winds: EAST drops in the spring of 2023.
Editor’s note, 12/20/22, 1:57pm: after publication, this piece was edited to reflect that Janita Kilgore is Director of Programs for BLKNVMBR, not Executive Director.