People with Passion: Dorothy Claybourne



Dorothy Claybourne   (photo by Xaq Mayfield)

Business woman, artist, and all-around hip-hop connector Dorothy Claybourne. We are meeting at her studio in Wicker Park's Flat Iron building.Also present is friend Cristalle Bowen, better known as Psalm One. Claybourne and Bowen met at Whitney Young High School - their friendship has since grown into a business partnership, with Claybourne working as Bowen's business half.

"It's very hard for me to look at my art with a business sense. It's very easy for me to look at other people's art with a business sense. I used to do marketing for Bacardi. I worked with Levy Restaurants. Larry Levy's one of my favorite people in the world. Chicago guy. And Marshall Fields, another Chicago staple. So I worked for some really strong brands and I got a sense of what it takes to sell in the market. I also got a sense of what it takes, as far as branding, for you to have something that people can grasp. It's one thing for you to produce something - let's say you're a fine artist and you sell paintings, and you can sell them to your small clientele, and eventually, maybe you'll become an icon. Maybe.

But chances are you won't, because chances are you're catering to a very specific niche of people. My friends are at a space in their careers where they're making really amazing music, really cool stuff that should get out there. I had to ask myself, "How come I haven't heard this music? Ya know? Why didn't it reach me? Why hasn't it gotten to the radio?

"So I started looking at that, that angle of it, and then I also started looking at helping translate music in a way that would allow people to receive it."


I went to school for business. I have a business background. I had to make a choice, become a dancer: am I going to pursue my career as a dancer and have very limited amount of time to dance? Or am I going to do something more practical and go for business. All my friends chose the latter. They chose arts. Every single one of 'em.

I realized that while they followed the path of art, they hadn't necessarily thought about producing products. There's a very strong sense of the artist who says, "It's art. It's not business." So I became the business side for a lot of people, and I've had the chance over the last few years to work with some very specific artists. I've started some businesses with them, I've worked on projects. I take what I used to do in Corporate America - and I bring it into the hip-hop world. Because all my friends went into hip-hop.

I had to pick. I just had to pick, and I chose. I don't think anyone was like "Oh, she sold out." I think they were just like "Oh, okay. She's going into business. That's cool."

The reason the choice to go into business was so easy was because it was very difficult for me to choose one specific style of art. One specific discipline. There are days when I wake up and I want to dance, days I wake up and I want to paint, and there are days I want to be a writer, (smiling bigger) and days I want to be a photographer. I'm working on editing video for her, so now I'm like "Yes! I'm a budding filmmaker!"

It's easy to choose business because with business, you have to go to work and you have to do something. Your boss has to tell you what to do, so you don't choose, you know? You're doing it for money. It was a structured path and I went that way. And then I let my art kind of be free. It allowed me to be passionate about it and then also to pursue those passions kind of on a whim, if I wanted to.
Psalm One (photo by Dakota Blue Harper)

Psalm One, Claybourne's business partner           (photo by Dakota Blue Harper)

I said, "This is what I'm doing," and I let everything else go for a while. "I'm in business. This is my life." As I progressed and got, you know, things that you think you'd like to have... I was a general manager of a restaurant and I was like (excited kid voice) "This is great!" But then I started feeling like, "This isn't so great."

I started looking at my life and saying "What's missing?" And I would really like to dance and paint and do all these things. And so I flip-flopped and said, "Okay, goodbye business. Goodbye Corporate America."

When I started working with Mike Eagle, I started combining my worlds. And I think that's huge for me. It allows me to transition more and more into the art world. That being said, I still don't spend that much time on my own art.

I used to keep my worlds very separate. They're starting to melt together because I'm purposefully combining them. I think you have to at this point, or at least in order to be healthy. Part of integrating my worlds means I don't have to make the move again. The moves have been practical, and sometimes harsh. Impetuous at times. As I'm becoming more mature, and kind of understanding what it is that I want out of life, I realize I want options. What I have to do is create a core that allows me to move around any way I want. And I think that's through helping people, helping my friends make really great products so they can sell them, so that we can all make money and we can do whatever it is we want to do.

When you think about your place in the world, and you think about all of your experiences and all of your skills, and what you quote "bring to the table," are you thinking about The World? Are you thinking about "My place in hip-hop"? Are you thinking about "My place in art"? Is it all the same?

Oh it's the world. Definitely the world. By moving through so many worlds, I have an understanding that it's bigger than this one thing that I'm doing at this exact time. I'm always looking at "Well, how is this going to translate? Can we use this over here?" I work with a group of people who want the freedom to move at will, and that means that you have to think universally, and always be concentrated on the micro and the macro. You have to do your specialty to the best of your ability so that it's great, so you can take it anywhere you want. Hip-hop will not always take up the majority of my time. In ten years we could be at a film festival. I don't know. I look forward to where I go, and I'm definitely not limiting it, because why would I?



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