Hip-hop musician Derek Clark, also known as "Verse," performs regularly at the downtown bar Soundpony.
Do you listen to hip-hop?
It’s a simple question Derek Clark used to ask Soundpony customers as they walked into the bar to start their night.
With a stack of CDs in hand and even a pair of headphones for instant listening, he stood outside the downtown hangout each weekend and several weekdays, marketing his music and trying to make a name for himself.
Operating under the moniker “Verse,” Clark — who works at Soundpony checking IDs, keeping track of capacity and occasionally bartending — is just one of many talented artists in Tulsa’s burgeoning hip-hop scene.
Now 28, Clark started writing and recording rap music at age 12. However, it wasn’t until a few years ago that he began attracting the attention he was seeking. After steadily releasing music and playing shows for several years, he released his most well-received record to date, last year’s “The City That Always Sleeps.”
Where Clark’s previous releases were collaborative compilation projects released either by himself or through Starship Records & Tapes and other online outlets, “The City” is a straightforward solo album. It was released in April 2013 via Starship, Size Records and online through music distribution services TuneCore and Bandcamp.
The record does feature contributions from fellow Tulsa MCs, including most of Oilhouse, a hip-hop collective of which Clark is a member, but the young musician drove the record’s concept.
Heavily influenced by East Coast artists such as Nas, Mos Def and Talib Kweli, “The City” features a breed of hip-hop that is profoundly lyrical, supported by smooth R&B/soul samples.
Clark’s vocal delivery is laid back but full of passion, the words taking the forefront in many of his songs. It’s clearly important to him that his music says something meaningful, rather than rehashing tired themes such as money and sex that are so commonly found in hip-hop.
His music is still rooted in street life, another common rap theme, but he tries to approach the subject from a different perspective. In his opinion, too much of hip-hop is intent on “glorifying the violence and making yourself into this hero/villain character” when other, more interesting stories beg to be told.
On the song “Involuntary Vacation,” for example, Clark and a recently paroled friend rap about the friend’s four-year jail stint. But rather than glamorizing or condemning the crime, the track is simply about a friend coming home, the time two buddies have lost with each other and the hope for a better tomorrow.
While the album’s release helped mark a banner year for Clark, he’s not showing any signs of slowing down. He continues to promote his album and has already begun working on a new record.
He hopes to head out on tour both as a solo act and with Oilhouse, which also has an album release on the horizon.
In the meantime, Clark, his Oilhouse bandmates, and a mix of MCs and other musicians are attempting to build a network with out-of-town acts to enrich Tulsa’s hip-hop scene with visiting performers and to facilitate their own ambitions.
“That’s definitely one of the things I want to do this year,” Clark says. “Just (to) make the business self-sustainable, be able to expand with it, and hopefully to be able to make a living sooner or later.”
Tulsans can hear Clark perform at Soundpony, 409 N. Main St., where he books shows regularly. Clark and his band also will perform at Tulsa’s Center of the Universe Music Festival, July 25-26. His music can be found online at www.1stverse.bandcamp.com, www.verseandpade.bandcamp.com and www.datpiff.com/profile/918verse.
April’s best bets for live music
4/8 Kings of Leon, BOK Center This family band brings its blend of Southern and arena rock to the BOK Center in support of its sixth studio album, “Mechanical Bull.” While the Followill brothers, who comprise three-fourths of the band, hail from Nashville, their cousin and lead guitarist Matthew Followill was born and raised in Oklahoma City. Indie favorites Local Natives open the show with their stellar harmonies and soul-stirring tunes. The show starts at 7:30 p.m. Doors open at 6:30.
4/9 Toadies, Cain’s Ballroom Fort Worth, Texas, post-grunge outfit the Toadies will hit Cain’s to celebrate the 20th anniversary of their debut album, “Rubberneck,” which is being remastered and re-released this month. You’ll get to hear their hit “Possum Kingdom” right alongside tracks like “Mexican Hairless” and “Mister Love.” Pretty awesome, right? The Supersuckers open the show with Battleme of Portland, Ore. The show starts at 8 p.m. Doors open at 7.