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Photo: Shervin Lainez
Photo: Shervin Lainez

Honest Enough: Cautious Clay’s Rise to Stardom

Every so often, a singer rises through the ranks of artistry, swiftly reaching heights of stardom earlier than their peers. Think of artists like Alessia Cara or The Weeknd.

Another significant rising artist to watch is Josh Karpeh, also known as Cautious Clay. In the first year of his career, he already has a accumulated a varied list of accomplishments and accolades.

For those blessed with an HBO subscription, watchers of the hit show Insecure, created and written by Issa Rae, may have already heard the budding star and not known it. Apart from its comedic genius, the series has had a penchant for uncovering musical hits and in August, Cautious Clay was included among the recent pop sensations with his debut song “Cold War.”

In October, he was featured on NPR’s “Tiny Desk,” passing through as other influential artists like Erykah Badu, Yo-Yo Ma, Wu-Tang Clan and Florence + the Machine had in past iterations, generating praise from a broad eclectic audience.

Staying loyal to his roots and the inspiration behind his sound, Cautious Clay also performed on stage at BET’s 2018 Soul Train Awards at the Orleans Arena in November, where he crossed paths again with Erykah Badu by sharing the same band. Continually marketing himself as a complex, multi-dimensional artist, not feeling a need to subscribe to one route or notion, Cautious Clay diverse abilities show no signs of slowing down.

Prior to the Cautious Clay moniker, Karpeh was working in real estate and advertising after graduating from George Washington University. Eventually, he took a huge leap of faith and quit his job to pursue a music career full-time.

“I never doubted [music] would be in my life. I never knew I could make a living out of it,” he says. “I never knew I would have a full functioning business model. That’s all very new and humbling and interesting for me.”

But stepping out on faith wasn’t a hard act for Cautious Clay.

“I’ve always felt confident in my abilities as an artist and a musician. I don’t feel like it was happens chance. But I feel like since a very young age, I’ve had a natural inclination for music, it’s kind of how I express myself in the most genuine way, it’s in my blood.”

His love of music is not only evident in his “genre-less” music, but in his dynamic skill set. Not only does he sing, write and produce music as an independent artist, but he also plays the saxophone, flute, and piano, among a long list of others.

Cautious Clay draws inspiration from all aspects of life. While he has a particular sound, which he characterizes as “melodic, percussive, thoughtful and ambitious.” He doesn’t allow himself to be boxed into one consistent narrative or style.

“I have songs that are more bright hard-hitting and I have more [acoustic] stuff. Melodies are probably the strongest aspect of my music, but then I also kind of reinforce it with the production, kind of fresh and different.”

Cautious Clay is a fascinating mix of humble and confident. His YouTube page displays a recent post, “Writers block doesn’t exist,” sparking users to urge him to elaborate in the comment section.

CautiousClay_YouTube_screenshot

 

Some asked if Cautious Clay was simply so talented that even writer’s block can’t slow him down? Quite the contrary.

“People don’t have writer’s block because writers’ block is just a fear of bad idea,” he explains. “People will have writer’s block because they don’t like their ideas. I don’t think a lack of ideas is necessarily possible. There’s always going to be something. It could be a terrible idea, it may not be a new idea but you could develop something.”

As an honest and self-aware artist, he pushes past the insecurities and swallows his pride to inspire fans.

“Being an artist is part being yourself and expressing that to your fans. [It’s] about being innovative in some ways; being creative and being an artist is synonymous.”

Cautious Clay will perform newly released single “Honest Enough” at a sold-out concert this Friday, February 1 at U Street Music Hall. For more information about Cautious Clay, click here.

U Street Music Hall: 1115 U St. NW, DC; 202-588-1889; www.ustreetmusichall.com