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Cautious Clay

Cautious Clay is among the more creative fusionists of contemporary pop, R&B, and jazz. A singer, songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, and producer whose apt performing name is based on the birth name of Muhammad Ali, Clay has gradually expanded the scope of his discography since breaking through with "Cold War" (2017), an aching ballad interpolated on Taylor Swift's "London Boy." After three EPs and connections with the likes of John Mayer and John Legend, the Brooklyn-based artist released Deadpan Love (2021), a full-length debut centering his empathetic songwriting and tender, pacifying voice. Since issuing another EP, Clay has signed with Blue Note to widen his vision with Karpeh (2023), a familial and more collaborative set juxtaposing introspective lyricism and lively instrumental passages. The left-handed Cautious Clay (born Joshua Karpeh) started teaching himself upside-down right-handed guitar in middle school, and by the end of high school had played saxophone and flute in concert and jazz bands. He got into music production after he left his native Cleveland to earn a degree in international affairs at George Washington University. In 2017, after he had moved from D.C. to New York and worked in advertising and real estate, he opted to pursue music full-time. That September, Clay uploaded the song "Cold War," which quickly took off on SoundCloud and ranked number one at Hype Machine within a couple weeks. The more rousing "Joshua Tree" followed soon after. Both songs appeared on the Blood Type EP in February 2018. Later that year, "Cold War" was heard in an episode of Insecure, and Clay branched out with an assortment of collaborations, most notably as the sole writer and producer of Alina Baraz's "Floating," featuring Khalid. He also released his second EP, Resonance. In 2019, Clay put out another EP, Table of Context. He reached new audiences through an episode of 13 Reasons Why, which used his song "Swim Home" (written with Teddy Sinclair and John Mayer) and Taylor Swift, who interpolated "Cold War" for "London Boy." The next year, Clay teamed up with Still Woozy, Sophie Meiers, Remi Wolf, Claud, Melanie Faye, and HXNS for the song "Cheesin'," released to benefit the MusiCares COVID-19 Relief Fund. He also co-wrote three songs for John Legend's Bigger Love, including the title song, which he also co-produced. Despite the mainstream exposure, Clay opted to remain independent. Preceded by a handful of preview tracks, Deadpan Love, Clay's acclaimed debut album, arrived in June 2021. A deluxe expanded edition of the LP appeared the following year, as did another EP, Thin Ice on the Cake. In 2023, Clay signed with Blue Note, a move that drew greater attention to his jazz influences. The autobiographical "Ohio," built on a relaxed funk groove, marked his label debut and was followed that August with the self-produced Karpeh. Broken into three sections led by spoken interludes from family members, the album featured Clay on several woodwind instruments, guitar, and synthesizer. Among the supporting players were trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire and saxophonist Immanuel Wilkins, vocalist Arooj Aftab, guitarist Julian Lage, and bassist Kai Eckhardt, Clay's uncle.
© Andy Kellman & Marcy Donelson /TiVo


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