“Like Whaaat”, the single from Compton rapper Problem, debuted at 25 on Billboard Rap Airplay chart in May. The song’s spacey synth melody and use of slang (“I’m off the curb” and “full of dat weed”), as well as a series of “haaas” (or “huuuhs”) and “whaaats” that Problem yells throughout, might feel like a refreshing addition to L.A. radio. However, while “Like Whaaat” is a great song in its own right, the beat and the slang are heavily influenced by (read: lifted from) Baton Rouge rapper Young Bleed’s song “How Ya Do Dat”, first released on the soundtrack to Master P’s 1997 movie I’m Bout It.
Young Bleed has recorded with household names like Too $hort, Mystikal, Juvenile, Snoop Dogg, and recent rap blog darling Kevin Gates, who’s also from Baton Rouge. Though Problem shouts out Bleed on “Like Whaaat” and called Bleed to ask for approval months before the song was released, Bleed and much of his music still live in obscurity.
Unfortunately, Bleed’s lack of critical recognition has been a constant for the past 15 years, ever since his 1998 Priority Records debut, My Balls and My Word, went gold. There was a piece on him in the March issue of The Source in 2000, a 2011 interview with HipHopDX, and a poorly formatted archival Murda Dog interview from 1998. Beyond those, Bleed hasn’t been featured on many music websites. He’s never truly been written about seriously, or at length. Thus, it became imperative to track Bleed down and do just that. There are already too many Southern rappers with great albums that will be forever resigned to seldom-seen hip-hop blogs and message boards (see Witchdoctor or Fat Pat). Of said rappers, few have a body of work as large and consistently rewarding as Bleed’s. And fewer still have released some of the best music of their careers after over two decades in the game.
After a series of messages back and forth (via phone, e-mail, and Twitter), Young Bleed and I finally agree to speak on the phone. The now 39-year-old Bleed calls from his home in Michigan, where he lives apart from his family, who are still in Louisiana.
Though his laid-back, Southern accent remains intact despite new surroundings, it’s clear Bleed’s been scarred by familial leaps of faith and self-sacrifice his entire life. He’s almost always looking out for others before himself and has made his business deals always believing that the other person would hold up their end. Though many in Bleed’s life haven’t kept their word, he’s done his best, as he says on “How Ya Do Dat”, to remain “preserved.”
Born Glenn Clifton Jr. on June 6th, 1974, Young Bleed was almost never brought into this world. His 17-year-old mother was told she might die giving birth but chose to deliver anyway. It’s as if Bleed’s familial self-sacrifice was literally inborn.
Raised on Garfield St. in South Baton Rouge, Bleed tells me Al Capone also “grew up on the same street.” I’m puzzled, certain Capone never lived in Louisiana. Then he clarifies. That “same street” is actually Garfield Place in Brooklyn, where Capone did in fact once live.
It’s an interesting parallel, one that suggests Bleed might believe he and Capone are somehow eternally linked spiritual relatives. Obsessed with the Italian mafia — his other rap name is Young Bleed Carleone (changed from Corleone for obvious reasons) — Bleed continues to makes these connections to gangsters, fictional mobsters, and even people he’s known over the years throughout our conversation. He’s found a way to write an alternate mafia history through his music and in the theater of his mind, the Baton Rouge rap version of every gangster flick from The Godfather to Goodfellas.
Roughly a mile from Louisiana State University, Young Bleed’s former neighborhood is still one of the roughest ghettos in America. Baton Rouge was ranked 8th on PolicyMic’s 2012 list of “America’s 10 Deadliest Cities,” and the murder rate rose 4.7% last year alone. Bleed says he remembers a similar level of violence during his youth and recalls the crack epidemic of the ‘80s destroying the lives of those in his community, including some of his relatives.
After his parents divorced, Young Bleed stayed with his grandparents. His grandmother worked as a maid, and Bleed fostered a strong relationship with his grandfather, a WWII veteran. The oldest of all the grandchildren living with his grandparents, Bleed honed his paternal instincts early on. “I was the first grandbaby, so I was big brother to everybody, the miniature papa,” he says.
This relationship with his younger relatives would come to define Young Bleed’s interactions with many younger Baton Rouge rappers, as Bleed often played the role of “big brother.” He was instrumental in launching the career of veteran Baton Rouge rapper Max Minelli, whom Bleed met when Minelli was only eleven. And with his group Concentration Camp, Bleed laid the foundation for the career of his cousin, perhaps BR’s most nationally known rapper, the currently incarcerated Lil Boosie. Like the sharpest of gangsters, there isn’t a name or meeting Bleed doesn’t remember. And the more he talks, the harder it is to keep track of the number of friends and affiliates, both alive and departed, he shouts out.
Once his grandfather passed, Young Bleed and his younger brother — their mother’s last child, who would go on to rap under the name Lucky Knuckles as part of the Concentration Camp — moved back in with their now remarried mother.
Rapping at the age of nine, Bleed characterizes himself as the young Henry Hill (from Scorsese’s Goodfellas) of Baton Rouge, fortunate enough to be mentored by older men at a young age. By 11 he was trusted with the car keys of the most respected men in his neighborhood and given access to local recording studios, where he laid down his first raps.
A father at 17, Young Bleed dropped out of high school during his senior year. Though he was doing fine academically, he needed to provide for his daughter. To do so, he spent more time doing what he’d done all while in school: rapping, working various menial jobs, and selling his CDs and drugs out of his backpack. Bleed sold his CDs to high school students, mom-and-pop record stores around the city, and even addicts. Though Bleed never wanted to sell drugs — he had to. “Unless you’re born into a rich family, there’s no other way [in Baton Rouge],” he explains. “[But] unlike a whole lot of guys that have dealt dope in the streets, I was a guy that had [users] in the family. So I never wanted to be a dope dealer.”
Shortly after Young Bleed dropped out, he formed the group Concentration Camp with childhood friend C-Loc. Though many attribute the founding of the Camp to C-Loc, it was Bleed who coined the name and brought most of the other Camp members (Max Minelli, J-Von, Lucky Knuckles, Happy Perez, and Lee Tyme) to C-Loc and C-Loc Records. Bleed says he also played “big brother” here as well, ghostwriting much of the material for the younger rappers in the Camp.
In between the first and second (read: final) Concentration Camp record, Da Holocaust, C-Loc met No Limit Records founder Master P, who was in the process of shooting his now infamous movie I’m Bout It in New Orleans. There was a mutual respect between the two, as they listened to one another’s music. And once P heard Bleed’s solo track “A Fool”, he knew the local hit had national potential.
Composed by Young Bleed and the now Grammy-winning producer Happy Perez on an Esoniq ASR-10 keyboard, “A Fool” was actually the original version of “How Ya Do Dat”. Bleed composed most of the track himself, though never took a producer credit. “I wanted [Happy] to make it as a producer and for me to make it as a writer,” he says.
Master P then renamed and reworked the song with No Limit production team Beats by the Pound, adding himself and C-Loc. “How Ya Do Dat” went on the I’m Bout It soundtrack, the music video was filmed, and the song blew up.
At the time, Master P had a distribution deal with Priority Records and became both Loc and Young Bleed’s in at the company. Loc signed a distribution deal for C-Loc Records, and Bleed, who was then working at a pizza parlor, signed a solo deal with Priority in the summer of 1997 to release My Balls and My Word. He and Happy Perez had already finished most of the record.
It’s because of My Balls and My Word that many still believe Young Bleed to be a No Limit artist and his first album a No Limit record. However, it’s actually a straight Priority record with only a few No Limit rappers and a few beats from Beats by the Pound. Only Bleed’s allegiance to Master P and C-Loc suggested otherwise.
“[Master P] was a business man, and I was part of his investment as well as Priority’s [and] C-Loc Records’. So they all combined to make a platform or a foundation for me to spring forth as an artist,” Young Bleed explains. “We used the [No Limit] tank to show people where it came from… I just never officially signed to No Limit.”
Today, Young Bleed’s name is still most associated with “How Ya Do Dat” and My Balls and My Word. There are blog posts in the far corners of the Internet devoted to the album, and it’s (mistakenly) been named to Complex’s list “The 25 Greatest No Limit Albums.” The album embodies the sound and feeling of Baton Rouge. Front to back, from the opening banjo picking on “Keep It Real” to the slithering synths and backwater bounce on “We Don’t Stop”, Bleed was able to use his rhymes and playalistic-drawl to turn ghetto life in Baton Rouge cinematic, to make it a visceral experience. And though the album is revered and referenced in many rap circles, it’s unfortunately no longer pressed anywhere. Unopened physical copies of the CD are so rare they now go for as high as $90 on Amazon.com.
Due to various personal legal complications, Young Bleed didn’t tour extensively after the release of My Balls and My Word, and sales waned. Then came the falling out with C-Loc and much of the Concentration Camp. “A lot of stuff was taking place under the [C-Loc Records] umbrella that I didn’t agree with. I was trying to be a big brother to the younger guys, to make sure we got our just due… We could make records and everybody was talented, but when it came down to the paperwork, we were slowly educated,” Bleed says. “I don’t wish [C-Loc] no hate, no harm, no bad blood. [We just] weren’t able to get along once the money hit the table, and the lights and camera and action broke us apart.”
He also tells me there are “nightmarish stories” involved with the falling out, calling C-Loc Records the “baby Death Row of Baton Rouge.” A rapper who clearly still lives by the code of made men, Bleed doesn’t divulge any particulars, and I don’t press him.
His second LP, On My Own, dropped in 1999. Master P had moved on to other projects, No Limit wasn’t involved (thus the title), and the album didn’t perform as well commercially. By the time Priority was purchased by EMI and merged with Capitol, Bleed felt he’d overstayed his welcome and signed the release forms to get out of his contract.
Over the next 11 years, Young Bleed performed small shows wherever and whenever he was able and released his albums on independent labels. 2002’s Carleone’s Vintage and 2004’s Family Business dropped on his own label, Da’tention Home Entertainment. And 2005’s Rise Thru da Ranks from Earner to Capo and 2007’s Once Upon a Time in Amedica were released via friend C-Bo’s label, West Coast Mafia.
Never permanently returning to Louisiana after Hurricane Katrina, Young Bleed lived in Texas for seven years (partially due to a “pistol case” that kept him grounded in the state) before moving to Virginia. He continued to make money — how much or how little is uncertain — independently through small shows and collaborations with various artists on local independent labels throughout the country, though many are difficult to find online.
Then, in 2011, Bleed reunited with Dave Weiner, who was an A&R at Priority while Bleed was on the label. The VP at Tech N9ne’s Strange Music, Weiner helped sign Bleed to the now defunct Strange Music subsidiary Strange Lane.
Once on Strange Lane, Bleed released Preserved, for which he also co-wrote a book with music writer Soren Baker, The Making of Young Bleed’s Preserved. Perhaps Bleed’s best, most cohesive album since On My Own, Preserved received a fairly positive review from Pitchfork, earning a 7.6 out of 10. This interview was the first time he was made aware of it.
Ultimately, Bleed’s album wasn’t promoted well, the label fell apart, promises weren’t kept, and another deal had proven fruitless. Just as he had with Priority and West Coast Mafia, he signed the necessary papers to get out of his contract. A man of his word, Bleed has yet to be kicked off of any label roster.
Young Bleed eventually went back to Baton Rouge for a few years after leaving Virginia but left for Michigan as a result of all the violence he saw. Today, he still visits Baton Rouge, helping out his mother, who suffers from asthma and lupus, and the rest of his family — four kids and two baby mamas — in any way he can. He’s also busy writing screenplays and working on new music, which he tentatively plans to put out on his label, Trap Door Entertainment. Though, despite his history, if a major label makes Bleed the right offer, he says he’ll give them a chance.
When asked how he feels about his career, with all of the solid music he’s released over the years still relatively unrecognized and the numerous fallings-out with friends, rappers, and labels, he has an incredibly positive view of himself and the past.
“I’ve really been jelly jammed and preserved,” Young Bleed explains. “My grandma used to pick figs and pears off of the fruit tree in the backyard and preserve the jellies and the jams, and that was served when we had breakfast. And that’s how [I’ve always seen] myself — being preserved, still looking the same… I’ve never been too far from the pen and pad.”
As Young Bleeds says this, his voice becomes lighter than any time before, his smile audible from thousands of miles away. He ends our conversation, fittingly, by comparing himself to Michael Corleone in The Godfather: Part III, rewriting and adding onto the movie’s most famous quote: “Every time I try to get out, [the music] pulls me right back in it… I surrendered and recognized that this is my life.”