Singer-songwriter Ant Clemons is starting 2021 strong with his first Grammy nomination and a performance at the inauguration of President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris.
He earned a Grammy nod for best R&B album with his debut LP HAPPY 2 BE HERE, featuring Justin Timberlake, Pharrell Williams and Ty Dolla $ign. He and Timberlake also wrote a song together called “Better Days” as “our way of doing what little we could to encourage everyone to stay hopeful and to keep working towards a better future,” which they will perform during the primetime inauguration special Celebrating America on Wednesday night.
But working closely alongside pop, R&B and hip-hop A-listers has long been part of Clemons’ journey, from sleeping on the floor of his friends’ place in LA to flying out to Wyoming at the request of Kanye West to work on his eighth studio album Ye.
Below, find five fascinating facts about the Grammy-nominated singer-songwriter.
Clemons used to write a song a day in exchange for rent in LA
While working at a Red Lobster in Philadelphia in 2016, the 29-year-old star started making the regular trek out to California every two weeks to break out as a songwriter and producer, according to a 2019 interview with Rolling Stone. “Make as much money as you can, go out to LA, when you don’t have no more money, come on back,” he said of his routine before his mother Kim Clemons eventually helped support his permanent move. Clemons started out sleeping on the floor of his two friends’ place and “writing a song a day in exchange for rent.” He then met up with songwriter Ryan Toby, who connected him to Luke James and scored him a credit on “Drip,” and producer Uforo “Bongo” Ebong, who worked on 11 records with him on the first day of meeting each other and introduced him to Jeremih — which ultimately led to Ye.
He has two hits with Kanye West on the Jesus Is King album
Clemons played an integral role in Ye’s transition to gospel music in 2019 when the rapper released his first gospel album, the Billboard 200 No. 1 project Jesus Is King. Clemons co-wrote and recorded vocals on “Everything We Need,” also featuring Ty Dolla $ign, and “Water.” The singer-songwriter had previously worked on West’s studio album Ye, where he was a featured vocalist also alongside Ty Dolla $ign on “All Mine” after Jeremih played the demo for West, as well as Teyana Taylor’s K.T.S.E. LP, which West executive produced and for which Clemons co-wrote “No Manners” and “Hurry.” “Everything We Need” peaked at No. 5 on both Billboard’s Hot Christian Songs and Hot Gospel Songs charts, while reaching No. 17 on the Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs tally and No. 33 on the Billboard Hot 100. “Water” reached the top 10 of both the Hot Christian Songs chart (No. 8) and the Hot Gospel Songs chart (No. 9). The song peaked at No. 25 on Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs and No. 51 on the Hot 100.
He co-wrote Camila Cabello’s “My Oh My”
Clemons helped pen Cabello’s hit from her Romance album “My Oh My,” featuring DaBaby, and the song peaked at No. 12 on the Hot 100. The song also went to No. 1 on Billboard’s Pop Songs radio airplay chart and was named in our list as one of the best pop songs of 2020. According to his Spotify Songwriters Hubs profile, “My Oh My” is the most-streamed song that he’s co-written, with more than 410 million global streams to date.
Clemons’ work has been nominated for Grammys in the past
Even if his 2021 Grammy nod is technically his first, Clemons was invited to the 2020 Grammys for his work with Beyoncé, Cordae, Chance the Rapper, Skrillex, Boys Noize, and Ty Dolla $ign across four categories. He co-wrote “MOOD 4 EVA” on Beyoncé’s The Lion King: The Gift album, which was up for best pop vocal album, as well as “Midnight Hour” by Skrillex with Boys Noize and Ty Dolla $ign, which was up for best dance recording. Clemons also contributed vocals on “Bad Idea” by Cordae featuring Chance the Rapper, which was nominated for best rap song, on Cordae’s debut studio album The Lost Boy, which gained its own nod for best rap album. “This is truly a dream come true, I’ve watched the Grammys every year I can remember and to think I’m going to be in attendance is one thing, but to be there with family! God is too good!” he wrote on Instagram in November 2019.
Clemons used to perform at birthday parties as a Michael Jackson impersonator
The New Jersey-born singer-songwriter told NJ Advance Media that he channeled Jackson, one of his musical influences, for his earliest gigs. His impersonation skills of the King of Pop caught the attention of adult impersonators, who would then ask him to join their sets, which can be seen in his “Mama I Made It” music video. “At 4 years old, he knew all the words to ‘You Are Not Alone,’” his mother Kim told the local news outlet.