When you meet Clay Perry, he is outwardly deferential and humble. The spiritual-minded rapper uses his natural humility and “sir” and “ma’am” rural charm as a veil, but something changes when the Fort Worthian is on the mic. Beneath his articulate and metaphysical musings, he possesses all the swagger you’d expect of an MC with an almost messianic self-image.
Perry hopes that this duality is as evident and natural in his music as it comes across in person. He’s just released his debut album through his own label, Peartree Music Group. IKIKN — an acronym for “I Know I Know Nothing,” a paraphrasing of the Socratic Paradox — is a concept album that follows Perry’s own spiritual and psychological growth through 10 cloudy, vibe-out-inspiring tracks. The laid-back synth- and piano-driven music is heavy on the chill, and Perry’s lyrical flow is paced and deliberate.
Most of the album was produced, mixed, and mastered by local beatmakers RumblPak at their studio in Dallas, with the exception of the single “I Can’t Help Ya,” which was recorded by Miami-based producer YNIQ and mastered by Grammy-winning engineer Vinny Venditto (Eminem), and the song “Momma,” which was produced by Arlington trap maestro Guerilla323.
Though it may not be obvious upon a first listen, the album’s smoke-friendly aesthetic carries with it Perry’s deeper message.
“I always use the bible reference, ‘For those who have eyes, let them see,’ ” he said. “Some people aren’t going to get this, and that’s fine. They aren’t supposed to get it. It’s not for them, but there’s a lot of people who need this. I’m herding a flock like a cattle dog.”
He most clearly defines his shepherd role in the refrain of the track “Babble On.”
“Fuck what they talk / Let them babble on,” he raps. “I feel like I am in Babylon / Herding the flock like a cattle dog / Dodging the bull like a matador / Looking to God for my atta boys / I got no time for the added noise.”
The cattle dog metaphor is a constant theme. All his merch features a cattle dog graphic logo, and the same image subliminally appears on IKIKN’s cover, faint as a watermark. The cattle dog has become a symbol for Perry’s self-described “movement.” He sees himself as a vessel for spiritual and personal enlightenment –– sort of a modern, metaphysical, country-boy take on the concept of Jesus as shepherd. But Perry’s gospel is his music, and he wants others to take his message and become “cattle dogs” themselves to spread it further.
“It’s all about perception,” he said. “The idea [for the album] was that I’m stuck in Babylon. Then I realize that Babylon is just inside my head. It’s not the people or places around me. It’s about destroying the ego –– in the Buddhist sense of the word –– about changing myself. And that, in turn, will change the world around me.”
The album’s voyage of self-discovery is essentially a retelling of Perry’s own life experiences. He was raised in a strict Christian home, the son of youth ministers. He grew up in Decatur, with the exception of two years spent in Abilene (where he was the only child in the 5th grade class at his private Christian school). Being so sheltered, his discovery of hip-hop was a catalyst into his own self-actualization. He was faithful as a child, but as he grew up, he found, as he put it, “the box of religion” too confining. He began to seek other sources of spirituality.
“The problem with religion is they always teach you the ‘eye is above you,’ ” he said. “But Jesus never asked anyone to bow. He never wanted anyone to be beneath him. He always said, ‘Hey, come with me. You can do this, too.’ Religion is a box. The truth is the truth, and you can’t box the truth.”
Last summer, Perry spent a month hopping around the U.S. Virgin Islands, mostly on St. John. While there, he stayed with a local rasta named Shangha and the two had deep philosophical discussions long into the night. It was through these conversations, mingled with the remnants of his Christian upbringing, that Perry began to shape the ideals for his own incorporeal identity, and these concepts manifested themselves on the album.
“I’m preaching the gospel without religion,” he said. “I’m trying to speak to every single person. I don’t want any boundaries, or a matrix, or anything that can stop that communication. That’s what God is. I believe God is everything. It’s me. It’s you. And this message, even if you don’t get it now, and you come back to it 10 years later, maybe you get it then. Whenever you’re ready for it, it’s there.”