Shame Gang: No Safe Havens | Manifest Destiny Records; April 25

Shame Gang is on a mission. When you’ve been working the independent rap circuit for years, there comes the proverbial “make-or-break” moment when you take stock of your actual purpose in making music and get sick of the games that go along with the local scene.

Born Darren Clark, Shame Gang has more to work for than just himself. Last year his brother Darnell, more commonly known as Manny, was murdered, sending shockwaves throughout the North Carolina hip-hop scene. Manny was a well-respected figure in local hip-hop circles as a true-to-the-roots rapper who really lived the things he rapped about. He was also Shame’s closest advisor, and with his death, Shame Gang is making sure to build a lasting legacy for his brother.

2018’s Genesis 98’ was Shame Gang’s first officially distributed album, and it was strong enough to get him into the right conversations, propelling a few tour runs and ultimately landing him an opening spot for Wu-Tang Clan at their wildly anticipated reunion tour stop at Red Hat Amphitheater.

Now, with a slight name change—formerly Shame, now Shame Gang—the energy he exudes on new album No Safe Havens is very different. On it, he dabbles in gritty Memphis trap beats in the song “Nike,” but still maintains authority as a boom bap spitter in “HFM,” which features Torae.

After six years of covering Shame for multiple outlets, I got a chance to catch up with him to discuss the release of No Safe Havens, and how the death of Manny has affected his outlook on the future.

INDY: I was listening to your album at the release show and the first thing I thought was how much you’ve grown your sound in that time.

SHAME GANG: That’s what I was aiming for, man. I feel like if you ain’t trying to grow in this game and stay stagnant, then it’s not gonna work. That’s why now I’m in a different mindset. I feel like I’ve finally arrived. I feel like all those years you’ve known me to now, I was searching for who I wanted to be as an artist, with different sounds, and producers, and everything—and I feel like I’ve figured it out. I’m comfortable.

You said at the listening party that you were done making music that you felt other people wanted you to make.

I got tired of impressing “old heads,” you know what I’m saying? Like I can rap, everyone knows I can rap! I’m trying to have fun now. I want to make good, high-energy records and get this thing going.

Was there a moment when you finally got something like that recorded, and you realized that it was the right direction for you?

It was right after the Wu tour and I was hanging out with a lot of Dreamville artists. I went to a backstage day party with Lute and them at Hopscotch, and got to see how they work together and make music, and I thought, “I can do this too, man!” Like what’s the difference between them and me?

It kind of felt like how J. Cole switched it up on KOD. Like, I said, “let me show you how I can do this, and still stay true to me without coming down to sound cool.”

You express in No Safe Havens that you want to separate yourself from just being a local Raleigh rapper. Is that what your goal is with this album?

Yeah, I want to separate myself from that stigma of people saying “local artist this and local artist that.” I just want to be an independent artist and travel, man… see the world and get my music out to the people that are supposed to hear it.

The attitude used to be that you couldn’t stay in North Carolina and expand your brand. With the Triangle expanding and our music scene getting national attention, do you think that’s still the case?

I feel like you can stay here, but you need a circuit that you can run. I think DaBaby and other cats out here that have blown have put a magnifying glass on us, but you gotta at least get on the road.

Leading up to No Safe Havens, your brother Manny died. I can’t imagine how that felt for you—how did that loss affect the writing of this album?

Well, before he passed I had already written and recorded three tracks, including “Nike.” And he told me, “I like where you’re going with this, man. Don’t worry about bars, you got bars, so don’t overthink this.” He was proud of me. But when he passed, it halted a lot of things. I’m gonna be honest, I didn’t even want to rap anymore. I told my manager that I wasn’t gonna do it anymore and he was prepared for everything that involved.

The person who got me out of that funk was Damian at Evenform Studios. He called me one day and told me that he wouldn’t let me quit. He said that I have too much potential and it’s not what my brother would want. Once we had that talk and I got back in the studio, I recorded “Still Here.” I had to do that song to get through. If I didn’t record that song, I wouldn’t have been able to make it through. But after that, we just kept recording and recording.

That’s appropriate though, because Manny always pushed you. It’s like his spirit pushed you through making this album.

Man, I don’t know what it is, but I feel like I be rapping with the ghost of this dude taking the pen sometimes. But I really do believe that people live on through you in your memories, and I really believe that my brother is still here and behind me right now.

I have to say, as someone who respects both of you, it’s good to see you putting music out that elevates your voice and immortalizes Manny for people who don’t know who he is.

Well if you look at the name of the imprint the album was put out under, it’s called Manifest Destiny Records. So he’s gonna live forever and we won’t stop until the world knows.

I really want to do it for his kids and make sure they’re straight and never have to need anything. A lot of them are babies right now, but I want them to know what kind of man their father was.

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