Surfing the web for new beats during his song-writing process, Quintin Cliett stumbled upon TCustomz’ website, where a little ditty slugged “Matlock” piqued his interest.
“It’s a sample of the ‘Matlock’ theme in hip-hop form,” Cliett said. “It’s hot, I love it. But I needed a good reason to use it.”
Enter Nucky Thompson.
“Boardwalk Empire is one of my favorite shows,” Cliett said. “The beat has that same ragtime twang to it.”
Thus, Cliett’s tribute to HBO’s widely popular Prohibition-era drama had begun.
He wrote the lyrics within three days and recorded it a month later at Firehouse Studios in West Chester. Worried about succumbing to laziness, he titled his ode to Boardwalk Empire, “Gambling, Guns and Whiskey,” three major elements of the show.
“It’s my favorite song I’ve ever done,” Cliett said. “Fans of the show will know exactly what I’m talking about in the song. And if you’re not a fan, you’re going to love the melody, the passion, because you don’t hear stuff like this every day from a rapper.”
Grateful to be performing during the age of social media, Cliett has established a loyal following through Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Interacting with cast members such as Michael K. Williams in the past, Cliett hopes to gain just one “Boardwalk Empire” cast member’s attention with his musical salute.
But he won’t reach out until the video is finished.
“It’s all about the visual nowadays,” Cliett said. “The video will paint the picture. If I only send them the song, I risk losing their interest altogether.”
With 11 music videos available on his Youtube page, the budding rapper is no stranger to the screen. However, the majority of those clips simply feature Cliett mugging for the camera, surrounded by friends and family and the graffiti landscape of the City of Brotherly Love.
But this time he’s pushing beyond his boundaries and aiming for a short film with an underlying storyline.
“I’m too much of a fan to half-ass it,” Cliett said. “I wrote some dialogue, I’ve scouted cast members, and I’m even splurging on a 1920s-style wardrobe.”
Perusing vintage clothing boutiques in Old City and along South Street, Cliett realizes the significance of staying as true to the collar-pinned shirts and wool suits as possible.
That’s why his refusal to film in Atlantic City, New Jersey, prompts confusion.
“Why go to the boardwalk when the show already covers that?” Cliett said. “I want to show the Philadelphia area to an extent because it is mentioned in the show. I’ve been driving around Delaware County, and man, some of the venues and scenery is reminiscent of the early 1900s.”
The primary location for the music video will be the Historic Lansdowne Theater, constructed in the early ’20s and running until the late ’80s as a single-screen movie theater. Recently used as the backdrop for a scene in Silver Linings Playbook, the dilapidated structure serves as one of the few remnants of the flappers’ time period still standing in the area.
“I called up the manager to request space and he said feel free,” Cliett said. “I don’t think he would do that with any and every body, but I think he saw how well thought-out my plan is.”
As the withered drapes hang over the dusty stage, and the paint chips pile under the deteriorated seats, the Historic Lansdowne Theater seems like anywhere but a hip-hop artist’s dream destination.
“It’s partially functional, there’s no heat, the electricity is limited,” Cliett said. “It’s creepy, man, but a good creepy. For them to let me shoot a music video when I’m a nobody, I feel really privileged.”
Filming will take place in May and then Cliett’s director will have one month to edit the footage. “Gambling, Guns and Whiskey” is slated to be released in July, so it has more than a month to create buzz in time for the fifth and final season premiere of “Boardwalk Empire” in September.
“You’re always one hit away from making it,” Cliett said. “And really, it’s not about making it for me; I just want the exposure. I’ve lived all this time without money, so I can live without it. Exposure is like money to me.”