COURTNEY "NESS" CLYBURN

PORTRAITS BY CHUN-LI 'KEN' HUANG

 
 
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The ad-lib, “Ness on the beat,” echoes before a series of upbeat piano chords and concurrent, rhythmic police sirens, following major rap artist, A Boogie Wit Da Hoodie’s  initial verse in his 2017 hit, “Say A’.” The same phrase opens the track, “KMT” by Drake, off Billboard No. 1 album, “More Life.” These songs were produced by Marist College student, Courtney Clyburn, in his dorm room—who doubles as the 21-year-old, upcoming hip-hop producer, Ness.

Ness is learning how to ‘finesse’ the charts alongside some of the most notable artists in the industry. His production portfolio of tracks by Drake, Kodak Black, A Boogie Wit da Hoodie, PnB Rock, Don Q and Chief Keef have collectively racked over 200 million streams on Spotify within the past two years.

Courtney Clyburn, a junior Media Studies major, shakes his head and smiles at the floor. He sits behind his laptop, struggling to piece together the chords behind his newfound narrative.

 

JUST A COLLEGE KID—Courtney, a.k.a “Ness,” crafted his career from his laptop. What started with YouTube tutorials became turning experimental beats into the backing tracks for some of rap’s most successful artists—all within the walls of his dorm room in Lower Fulton. “Sometimes I forget about it, and then when I hear the song, I am like ‘Wow, I really made a song for Drake,’” he said. “It is still surreal.”

Courtney begins his classes at 2 p.m. each day. Like most students with this schedule, he’s sleeping in—owing to nights spent catching trains back from New York City. He usually gets to sleep around 6 a.m., after hours of working in the studio and adapting to the industry’s lifestyle.

“Ever since day one, I have been blasting music from my room. Most parents are like, ‘turn it down’ or something, but my parents just let me blast it.”

He signed with the Bronx-based record label, Highbridge the Label, in early 2017. He has established strong relationships with some of the industry’s largest names, including fellow label members and mentors, Don Q and A Boogie. “We’re always in the studio together—there’s a good bond.” Courtney was featured by music media company, Genius, in a September 2017 video interview, reaching a total of 10,000 views on YouTube. The song reached No. 76 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart and has accumulated 36 million streams on Spotify since its release in March 2017. “That just brought me a whole different target audience,” he said. XXL Magazine named Ness as one of the “30 of the Best Hip-Hop Producers of 2017”, describing him to have experienced “just as good a year as his labelmates, A Boogie Wit Da Hoodie and Don Q.”

“Sometimes I don’t know how to feel,” Courtney said. “The rappers just push me to keep working.”

 

‘THEY LET ME BLAST IT’—Courtney’s focus was born over a decade ago in the quiet suburbs of Rochester, New York. His comfort lies between the four walls in his bedroom, whether in his Marist dorm or his childhood home upstate, and his interests lie in his raw passion for playing around with his beats and figuring out what sounds the best.

“I got it [‘Ness’] from my dad—he based it off positive words, like greatness, uniqueness and finesse.” His childhood was shaped by the time he spent listening to songs on the radio and learning how to play the chords on the piano by rote with his father and brother. “My dad thinks he can sing, but he can’t.” he laughs. “Some of my family members did music; I wanted to grow up and make music, just like them.”

Even as a student at Brighton High School, his passion was apparent and his focus was narrow. “I was really shy in high school,” Courtney said. “I feel like I was a little awkward too—I only went to like one party. That’s probably why I just stayed in my room and made beats—it is fun to me.” His interest in production began after his father bought him a professional mixing software. “There’s satisfaction in learning something without someone teaching it to you.”

“Ever since day one, I’ve been blasting music from my room,” he said. “Most parents are like, ‘turn it down’ or something, but my parents just let me blast it.” Courtney’s work entails relentless practice and innate desire to figure things out—which he attributes to a long-time love for video games. “When I first got into the software, it reminded me of a video game, just rearranging stuff,” he said. A Boogie Wit Da Hoodie’s 2018 music video for “Say A’” remains ironically concurrent with Ness’ roots—featuring video-game-esque, animated scenes illustrating the track. “That’s how I fell in love with it. As I got better at it, I loved it more. When I’m in my room, there’s no drama—it’s just making the beats that I love.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Courtney Clyburn is a junior Media Studies major at Marist doubling as the upcoming hip-hop producer, "Ness." His production portfolio of tracks by Drake, Kodak Black, A Boogie Wit da Hoodie, PnB Rock, Don Q and Chief Keef have collectively racked over 200 million streams on Spotify within the past two years. He has been interviewed by New York radio station, Hot 97, named one of the "30 of the Best Hip-Hop Producers of 2017" by XXL Magazine, and was featured by Genius, in a September 2017 video interview reaching a total of 10,000 views on YouTube.

INDUSTRY PRESSURES—“I always have thoughts about dropping out,” Courtney said. Courtney outlines his strategies in balancing life as a college student with exponentially growing industry recognition. “We are all still trying to adapt to it,” he said. “People who don’t really know me are like, ‘Oh, your life is so cool,’ but they don’t really see what goes behind it.”

Courtney crafted “Ness” with true Millennial tools and strategies—creating his relevance through his Tweets and networking with bigger artists through social media. He describes having ‘YouTubed’ how to brand himself as an artist. He manages his own professional life, keeping tracking of business deals, communicating with his lawyer and organizing contracts on his own.

Though many industry phenoms have chosen their careers over college degrees, Courtney is determined to graduate with his bachelor's degree with deep will to make his parents proud—and to recycle their vast support system. “I am just pushing to make my parents happy and keep up that reputation for the fans. I just see the benefits—if music doesn’t work out, I’ll always have a backup plan.” He also attributes much of his success to his grandmother, who passed away last year—calling her his “number one fan” in everything he did.

Courtney has actively utilized his public influence to illustrated his obligation to the vitality of education by focusing on inspiring his younger generation of fans. He utilizes the Live Story feature on Instagram to broadcast feedback sessions with his fans almost every night. “I take feedback from them, they try to tell me to add a bell, and I try it, and maybe it’ll sound better.”

“There’s a lot of little kids who look up to me because I am still in school and they look up to me,” he said. “It makes me want to go harder and just finish school. I know that if I do it, they’ll look up to me and say ‘If Ness did it, then I could do it.’” Courtney’s path was greatly influenced when he met American hip-hop producer, Sonny Digital—who has produced tracks for Kanye West, Beyonce, Future, 2 Chainz, Meek Mill, Travis Scott, 50 Cent and others—in a studio last year. “He told me that I just had to follow what my heart wants, not what other people say,” he said. “It’s my future, not theirs.”

 

STAYING ‘ON THE BEAT’—In 2016, Cameron Pasquale, another producer, expressed interest in Ness’ beats and contacted him, in reference to his notable work with A Boogie. “I took the risk, sent it to him, and he sent it to Drake—that was probably the biggest moment ever.” Courtney knew he had a song with Drake in summer 2016, but it was not released until spring 2017. “He dropped a snippet of the song first, so I was watching that ten times a day motivating myself.” Working with some of his own idols, or even just catching a glimpse of them backstage, still leaves Courtney in awe of his own abilities. “I would never expect to meet these people,” he said. “The funny part is I tell myself, when I meet them, ‘Stay calm, don’t be a fan,’ but it is hard to compose myself.”

Courtney expresses his appreciation in the vast support system that he has earned thus far—from the Marist campus to back home in Rochester. “I don’t know how to react because some people want to take pictures with me, and I’ve never done that before,” he laughs. “It’s just the way I was raised,” he shrugs, smiling at the ceiling. “Take nothing for granted, be thankful for everything.”

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