Four years ago, Caleb Parker’s hip-hop career was surging. The Berkeley rapper, better known as Caleborate, was getting song placements on TV networks like BET and Fuze. His track “Caught Up” was featured in the 2019 remake of the movie “Shaft,” starring Samuel L. Jackson, and songs from his 2017 album “Real Person,” like “4 Willem” and “Bankrobber,” were surpassing 1 million plays on streaming services.
The trouble is, Parker had been creating music the way he always had: Sample first, ask questions (or permission) later.
Sampling is incredibly common in hip-hop production, where producers and MCs lay down beat and lyrical concepts in the studio, regularly building around snippets of existing recordings. Emerging artists can often sample a song and not have to worry about paying royalties because their music isn’t as visible or making enough money to catch the attention of rights holders who would demand a cut. But just a few years into his rap game, Parker was past that point.
for example, used obvious elements of the Clash song of the same name. Caleborate’s track not only resonated with fans, but it also got him on the radar of legal rights holders. Soon, Parker and his team found themselves in a legal battle that threatened to derail his budding career. And despite having gone to school to become a music industry professional, it became clear to him that he hadn’t been prepared to deal with the challenges that come with protecting, insuring and controlling his work.
“I was just working off of the way I made music early in my career, with a mixtape mind-set. But it was actual ignorance on my part, and these were things that I had to learn,” Parker says. “It was a gut check for me — a life check even — and it was the heaviest challenge of my adult life.”
Four years later, with new management and lessons learned, the 27-year-old says every sample and licensing agreement is now cleared and paid for every time a song streams. “I’m all good now,” he adds. “I’m living in peace.”
Now he’s poised for the release of his fourth album, “Light Hit My Skin,” out Friday, March 26. The album is filled with the sharp-witted songwriting, conscious flow and slick production that made Caleborate stand out as early as 2014 when Bay Area hip-hop was still dominated by thick post-hyphy rap. “Light Hit My Skin” diverges from Caleborate’s previous albums by exploring more pop, rock and R&B.
The new cut “Homecoming” features eclectic rapper(a former Oaklander) and stands out with wild guitar riffs, a pop drum sequence and a punk vocal sensibility from both rappers. “We call it LCD Soundsystem mixed with Outkast,” Parker says of the song.
is a drop-top R&B love song, and Parker is at his most romantic in “Needed Love,” professing his adulation for a woman who was there for him when he needed it most: “Babe you saved me, you’re the air I breathe, my everything.”
Embarking on these new horizons musically is something Parker was hesitant to do earlier, he says, because of the expectations of what a rapper needs to sound like and how he should present himself. With the success he was experiencing, and what fans had expected from Caleborate, he felt like hip-hop norms didn’t afford him the creative space to explore other musical inspirations until “Light Hit My Skin.”
“During the creation of this project, I kept saying this quote: ‘Feeling all these feelings at once, feeling feelings that I haven’t been allowed to feel before and then feeling these feelings as a Black man,’ ” he recalls. “It’s possible to make a song that slaps hard in the trunk and makes your heart tingle at the same time. I’m trying to learn how to do that, and some of these are my first attempts at that.”
The sessions for the album took place over three years in the Bay Area, Los Angeles (where he plans to relocate in April to capitalize on his creative streak) and Antwerp, Belgium, where multi-instrumentalist, producer and close collaborator Willem Ardui lives. Their connection is palpable, and Ardui’s contributions to “Light Hit My Skin” bring more depth to the music.
Warning: The following video contains explicit content.
Ardui laid down live instrumentation, like violin and bass onlent his voice for the sugary hook on “What You Want,” and co-produced other tracks. They’d take smoke breaks on the roof, Parker says, specifically remembering the adjacent church bells ringing every hour, as they shared thoughts and ideas for the album.
“First thing you want to do as a producer is get a rapper on your beats,” Ardui says. “When we first started talking online (in 2014), he told me that he liked what I was doing, but that ‘I think we can make better stuff together. I see the potential.’ It was the first time someone said that to me as a producer. We’ve never stopped sending each other music since.”
Parker, learning from his past, put a deeper emphasis on live instrumentals throughout the new album, eliminating the need to clear samples in those cases. And on “Contact,” Parker acknowledges everything that has led up to this release in one lyric: “I gotta make it now, cause if I don’t there’s no tellin’.” It speaks to the uncertainty of being a full-time artist when you can be on the rise one day and falling off the radar the next.
“When I wrote that, I felt like I was living in ‘no telling.’ I definitely got to a point where I wondered if I should get a job and change my relationship with music,” he says. “I had a lot of those questions. Now I’m just gonna roll with it confidently, proudly and promote it ’cause I stood by it all. It’s the whole reason I worked on this album.”
“Light Hit My Skin” is available to stream and purchase starting Friday, March 26. In lieu of a record release party, fans are invited to check out the interactive experience “Caleborate in 3D” at.