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Mix-tape master
The Clinton Sparks plan for world domination
BY NICK SYLVESTER

Well, Bufftone, itís like this: "I wonít stop till youíre playing a video game that Iím in while drinking a drink that I developed while wearing a sneaker I designed at the same time listening to a record I produced on a radio station I bought soon to be released on an album Iím dropping off a record label I run that you purchased off an on-line music store that I own." Hip-hop producer Clinton Sparks ó all running his mouth like that ó is Beantown white with glasses. Dudeís married. Dudeís a dad with pictures of his year-old kid Jack in his wallet. And again ó and not because Iím looking for some PR straw man, but as Sparks will tell you himself, color and íhood are always gonna be authenticity issues in hip-hop, so letís just deal with it ó dudeís white and from Boston.

But get familiar: Sparks is real talk and hip-hop as shit. In the game since his white-in-black-Dorchester youth and playing it for a decade now, Sparks has with his full-on industry takeover turned reticent heads into big-time believers and big-time believers into symbiotic supporters. Commercial radio, satellite radio, street tapes, official tapes, e-commerce, even cable television ó the Sparks franchise is blowing up big time.

"I have true old school in me," he says, on a cell on his way down to NYC. "I was around when rap was about battling, from Kool Moe Dee to LL ó I was around for all this. I come from true hip-hop, when hip-hop was still finding a home and still finding ears to listen to it, I have that ó itís just built in me, itís not something I can throw away. So Iím always gonna have this influence thatís a part of me even when I do something now."

Humble beginnings being hip-hopís only acceptable breeding ground, Sparks speaks even more proudly of his outsider status as a hip-hop-interested youth: first DJing, then trying to make beats in his bedroom, then developing that into a well-known Boston radio career at Emerson Collegeís WERS 88.9 FM and Jamín 94.5, breaking local hip-hop on The Launch Pad and Lyrically Boston, booking live shows, and sleeping at the station when all his money was tied up in his own DIY.

Now, radioís all Clear Channel, driven by play list and not personality, but DJs as well-respected as Sparks still draw major audiences. Hate on it, but radioís the best (and least expensive) way to hear tracks first. Right now, Sparks, the 2004 Mixshow Power Summitís Mixshow DJ of the Year, has a syndicated Smashtime Radio show airing in six cities, and every Wednesday, he drives down to NYC for his hotly tipped live four-hour spot on Eminemís Shade 45 Sirius satellite radio station, which he describes as "a hip-hop Howard Stern show but with more music."

Sparksís early jump to satellite (he was on XM before Sirius) demands attention. "Satellite radioís gonna be huge as far as music listeners in the future," he predicts. "Itís like, the analogy they pressed into us was, when cable first came out on TV, everybody was like, Iím not gonna pay for TV ó I already get it for free! Now you donít have a TV without cable on it. And so maybe not to the same extent, but I think thatís gonna happen. Itís gonna become normal to people. Say regular radio, you hear the same 30 songs through the week. The difference with satellite is that youíll probably get 60 or 70 songs. Theyíre still gonna rotate them, but there are more songs."

In the midst of all this, Sparks has also been earning himself a name on the mix-tape scene, putting out some of the best, most DJ-personality-driven mixes over the past two years. You know youíre listening to a Clinton Sparks tape when you hear his baby-talked "Get familiar!" sample, the brand-name slogan thatís made its way onto the streets as high-profile slang and into the latest N.O.R.E. and Juvenile singles. His recent tapes for Kay Slay, Clipse, and Beanie and his upcoming exclusive mixes for Olí Dirty Bastard, Eminem, and 50 Centís "Anger Management" tour distinguish Sparks, who produces, blends, or remixes most if not all of the material he works with, from wanna-be DJs who just put songs on tapes.

"There are a lot of DJs who have no business even having ĎDJí in front of their name," he says. "Itís like the difference between a guy who sings in multi-platinum albums and a guy who sings in the shower: the creativity, the actual concepts of putting artists on certain beats, getting artists to record records just to be on your CD, acquiring rare vocals from an artist and introducing your own beat and creating a hook and creating a new record that the people on the streets are gonna like."

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Issue Date: June 10 - 16, 2005
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