It’s an almost comical understatement to say that local musicians can’t compete for people’s attention right now. With the myriad profound and life-altering circumstances occupying any person’s every available neuron at all times, giving notice to a homegrown artist’s latest single is a level of luxury many are struggling to achieve. That a track by an underground Fort Worth rapper that dropped unceremoniously in the middle of this hellish spring would ping the average person’s radar, much less find its way into someone’s earholes and/or eyeballs more than 2 million times, is nearly inconceivable. But in two short months, Clay Perry’s “Roll N’ Ride” has accomplished just that.
“When I first finished it,” Perry said, “I knew it was a good song, but I didn’t really know how good it was gonna be, but as soon as I dropped it, it just caught fire. It’s steadily growing by 2,000 hits a day. I’m constantly getting messages 24/7 from people from like 10 different countries. I’m having to use Google Translator all the time now to talk to these people.”
It’s easy to see why fans are responding to the track. “Roll N’ Ride” is the quintessential chilled-out smoking song. (Perry fittingly released the standalone single on April 20.) With producer Epik The Dawn’s crystalline laid-back bop and Perry’s casual, syrupy flow, the sedating devotional to getting stoned and driving around will leave you with bloodshot eyes, the bitter thickness of cottonmouth on your tongue, and a very questionable recollection of just how you’ve gotten to wherever you are.
The trick, though, is how to get people to hear it. Without the possibility of the typical big release with accompanying listening party or live performances available, artists must look to other ways to try and get in front of people. This is where Perry’s savvy away from the mic comes into play. After spending the last few years steeping himself in digital analytics, Perry thinks he’s learned a simple way to harness the power of the streaming platforms and take advantage of them. He’s coy about his methods, preferring to relate the tools he’s learned to utilize to other artists directly on how to fully capitalize on digital distribution. He does allow that social media is instrumental.
“I remember back in the day looking on Twitter and thinking, “Man, if you could somehow generate a huge following on here, even if they didn’t know your music, you could manipulate that into helping them find your music,’ ” he said. “So I kind of already had a mind for it. The game might look different, but nothing’s changed. I mean, everything’s changed, of course,” laughing, “but if I had done this 10 years ago, I would probably literally have millions of fans.”
Despite any boost he might have received from his newfound digital marketing chops, Perry credits the song itself for its success, with impressions well north of seven figures across all platforms.
“One-hundred-percent, it’s the song,” he said. “I did the same thing with ‘Survival of the Greatest,’ which I released a month after ‘Roll N’ Ride’ in the exact same format, and I didn’t see near the success on that one. It’s still generating numbers but not moving on its own like ‘Roll N’ Ride.’ ”
The buzz surrounding the puff-puff-give anthem has helped precipitate some new and substantial opportunities for Perry. He’s been hard at work on the second part of a trilogy of concept albums he plans to release centered on his own voyage of self-discovery that he began with 2018’s I.K.I.K.N (I Know I Know Nothing.). As well as “Roll N’ Ride,” Exodus, the title of the forthcoming sophomore disc, will boast two tracks that Perry anticipates will be the biggest of his career. Each will be co-ops with legendary Houston producer Mr. Lee (Scarface, Bun B, Paul Wall), and one of them will have a guest feature that Perry, despite being giddily excited about, asked to keep off the record. If true, it’s huge.
Perry plans to drop Exodus and its accompanying potential career-defining singles later this summer. In the meantime, he’s busy battle-planning, sharpening his digi-distro toolkit in preparation for the crossroads he’s found himself at.
“Everything [I’ve done] in my life, right now, is coming to a head,” he said. “I feel like I found lightning in a bottle. I’ve just got to figure out how to handle it and use it to my fullest advantage.”