Student Art: I think I’m Tutankhamun

by Brook Gardner-Durbin

Clarke Moorman is a 22-year-old senior in sociology, hoping to succeed in the music business. “I’m not trying to hit the internet and get a bunch of Facebook likes,” Clarke says, “I’m trying to build tangible fans here at home.” His first project, a rap mixtape — “I Think I’m Tutankhamun,” was released on his website IThinkImClarke.com, on Aug. 13th.

Clarke became interested in making music when he was young, but didn’t turn to the rap/hip-hop genre until recently. “I grew up with the drums,” said Clarke, “I wanted to start a rock band.”

At 18, he moved from Alaska to Nashville, Tenn. where he came across a copy of Jay-Z’s 2009 album “The Blueprint 3.” A track featuring hip-hop artist J. Cole — “A Star is Born” — inspired Clarke to focus on rap music instead. “I remember exactly where I was when I bought that album,” Clarke recalled. “I started looking into J. Cole — I was inspired by how he used college to get him into the music business.”

After shifting his focus to rap music, Clarke enrolled at MSU. However, he transferred to spend a year in New York City: There he found the direction and sound he wanted to pursue.

The biggest element distinguishing Clarke from other rappers is his attention to his overall image as an artist, not just the lyrics of his songs. Citing the White Stripes as his favorite rock band, Clarke credits their matching outfits, album cover art, stage performance and even instrument colors as part of their performance. “Without that, The White Stripes wouldn’t be The White Stripes,” he said. “It’s the whole package.”

This attitude led him to an impressively minimalistic website and album cover — far from the traditional, gaudy image of most rappers’ first mixtapes. Currently in the midst of planning his first live shows, Clarke wants to incorporate footage from ‘20s-era films into his live performances.

The opening track of “I Think I’m Tutankhamun,” “Losing My Religion,” begins with a sample from Aunt Molly Jackson (a folk singer and union activist of the 1930s) talking over a track built on a haunting horn and almost militaristic sounding snare drum that doesn’t seem like a traditional rap beat. “This isn’t going to sound like [what] you’re used to,” Clarke said. “Lyrically, I’m not breaking any new ground. Sonically, I’m new.”

As a producer, Clarke says his biggest influence is Dr Dre. His incorporation of unusual sounds in his records (he uses wind in several tracks) remind the listener more of some Pink Floyd songs than anything in recent hip-hop.

The mixtape title, “I Think I’m Tutankhamun,” comes from a clever twist on a common hip-hop phrase. “Everyone says ‘I think I’m Jordan’, or ‘I think I’m Scarface,’” Clarke explained. “I’m saying, I want to be remembered and relevant in two, three-thousand years.”

While several of the tracks are self-produced, releasing the songs for free as a mixtape instead of selling them as an album allows Clarke the freedom to use samples without paying for rights. He uses entire beats from Kanye West and Kendrick Lamar, among others, as well as sampling several snippets of other works.

“I Think I’m Tutankhamun” is available for free download on Clarke’s website, IThinkImClarke.com.