Citizen Cope

Citizen Cope

Citizen Cope (released Sept. 11, 2001, on DreamWorks Records) is a musical collage that ranges from protest songs to love songs, from spiritual battles to murder ballads, all detailed in a rich narrative style. “I just wanted to make a record from my heart that had emotional and lyrical value,” says Clarence Greenwood, a.k.a. Citizen Cope, of the common thread uniting these disparate compositions.
Through character-driven storytelling, Greenwood explores underground themes, making sometimes startling observations about post-Reagan America but also rendering the life-affirming power of simple perseverance.
These hymns are cast in raw and rugged rhythms bound to lasting melodies that suggest a variety of American musical forms. Grooves float atop deep-pocket drum beats. The sonic landscape unfolds in the live instrumentation of piano, organ, guitar, drums and percussion and the studio magic of electronic keyboard effects and drum machines. These elements, combined with lush string arrangements and Greenwood’s vivid scene-setting, give Citizen Cope a distinctly cinematic character.
This music presents a contemporary form of Americana, one that explores both biblical themes and modern mythology. Greenwood’s protagonists make basic discoveries about the importance of genuine human contact, but they must also confront the extremes of society’s neglect.
“If There’s Love,” for instance, is a celebration, an oasis of tender feeling amid the chaos depicted in much of Citizen Cope. Greenwood sings: “You make me feel like I belong under the sun/ If there’s love, I just want to have something to do with it.”
But “Contact” (featuring Me’shell Ndegeocello on bass) addresses the tendency of the judicial system to imprison rather than educate America’s youth.
Then there’s “200,000,” which tells the story of a Baltimore street hustler named George. He’s able to make himself some fast money, but he’s trapped in an addiction that ultimately leaves him suffering spiritually and broke. When asked about the most money he’s ever had in his pocket at one time, he replies: “$200,000 in counterfeit 50-dollar bills.”
“Salvation,” meanwhile, finds the devil driving a Porsche 944 from Georgia to D.C. to take the soul of a stubborn musician, who uses his voice, his guitar and his faith as a weapon against this gun-toting enemy.
Greenwood cites among his influences Stevie Wonder, Randy Newman, Marvin Gaye, The Beatles, Sly Stone, legendary go-go artist chuck Brown, John Lennon, Bob Marley, Willie Nelson, Woody Guthrie and Otis Redding. He also notes the impact of hip-hop: “I love the energy, the excitement, the confidence, the defiance and the heart of hip-hop music. Even though it isn’t what I do, I love the true emotions.”
Helping Greenwood fully realize what he does do was noted mixer-producer Bob Power (D’Angelo, Erykah Badu, A Tribe Called Quest, The Roots, Me’shell Ndegeocello). “There was no obvious choice for producer,” Greenwood says, “because my music is not hip-hop or R&B or even rock in that there’s no heavy, distorted guitar. I wanted the drums and the low end present, like a street record, but I wanted the music to still be essentially rewarding in a pop sense, and I knew Bob could help me with that. He was open to trying something new.”
Beyond specific sounds, Greenwood remarks of Power’s input: “I’ve always wanted to record with him because he’s been involved in some records I believe will stand the test of time. Though it may seem lofty, my goal was to make a timeless record.”
Working behind the scenes to bring Citizen Cope to fruition were DreamWorks principals Lenny Waronker and Michael Goldstone, who share A&R duties on the project.
Greenwood was born in Memphis but lived there only briefly before moving to Greenville, Miss., and later, a small town in west Texas. He was raised primarily in Washington, D.C., though he spent summers in Texas with his great aunt and great uncle. He currently resides in Brooklyn, N.Y.
Greenwood was the live keyboardist and DJ for Basehead, an alternative group that made two critically acclaimed records before its creator, Michael Ivey, chose to leave the traditional music industry.

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