The Blast Interviews #3: Smoovth

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Se c’è un posto, in questo momento, che sembra il centro focale dell’hip hop “raw” di matrice newyorkese, questo è Hempstead, Long Island. Da qui sta arrivando molta della musica che ci piace di più, un misto di vibrazioni “cinematografiche” e rappata indolente che simboleggia quello che l’underground (se ha ancora senso usare un termine del genere) dovrebbe aspirare ad essere, soprattutto in un momento in cui la complessità lirica sembra lasciare il passo a scelte diverse, almeno a livello di massa. Da Hempstead arriva anche Smoovth, un giovane MC che si è fatto notare nel corso dello scorso anno per la sua affiliazione a Hus Kingpin, uno dei nostri preferiti da un po’.
 Lo abbiamo sentito per raccontarci il suo mondo, e lo “smoovth dude”, che ha un EP in uscita nei prossimi giorni (si può pre-ordinare il vinile in edizione limitata da qui) non è stato prodigo di parole. Buona lettura.

Hi, Smoovth. You made a name for yourself last year, but still our Italian readers might not be too familiar with your work. Do you want to introduce yourself? How did you start?

Smoovth, one half of the duo Tha Connection. I’m from Hempstead, NY. Tha Connection includes Hus and I as the emcees. We started musically back in about 2005. We had a click of dudes we used to roll with, like 7, 8 of us. We went and did everything together. After a while we started calling ourselves Tha Connection. It was a name given to us by one of our partners in the click. Hus and I were the rhymers of the crew. We all used to freestyle and listen to beats in the car, but Hus and I just took it further. We took to soundclick, and found beats that we liked. The funny thing is we were just playing around. After using some of the beats we liked, we then emailed the different producers the tracks we had done, found them on myspace and reached out. We didn’t expect the response to be so great, but eventually producers from all over the world began connecting with us. Hence the reason why we stuck with Tha Connection as the name. Our fan base kept growing and is still growing. Our music was always looked out for and highly anticipated, so here we are now.

You come from Long Island. What are the similarities with other hardcore rappers from there, like Roc Marciano and your partner in crime Hus Kingpin? Is there a scene in Hempstead? Can you talk about it?
Well, Long Island is historic for dope emcees. From Eric B and Rakim, to De La Soul, Erick Sermon, to Leaders of the New School. You also can’t forget about Public Enemy and many others. Long Island birthed and is the foundation for a lot of this dope Hip hop you hear. Prodigy of Mobb Deep is originally from Hempstead and so is Method Man actually. As far as a scene goes, mainstream radio has somewhat taken over but we still do have those who respect REAL hip hop and its craft. The similarities between Roc Marciano, Hus Kingpin, myself and many others that come from here, are simple. We are all simply painting a picture for the listeners. A lot of people that come from here have had tough upbringing, have gone through the struggle or know people going through the struggle. We all grew up in a place where there was gangbanging, drug dealing, police presence, lots of arrests and death even. We’ve all lost friends to the streets. So when you grow up in this atmosphere, and you want to clear your chest or even get your feelings out, some turn to hip hop. So all we’re really doing is expressing ourselves and rhyming about what we’ve been through or what may be going on around us. I think that’s why it sounds so similar. Same musical taste because we all had the same musical upbringing, and then we’re just rhyming about it over melodies.

There seems to be on your part a precise choice to refuse to conform to what is played on the radio nowadays, as far as mainstream rap goes. What are the reasons for this choice?
At the end of the day, I’ve gotta stay true to myself. All that “turn up twerk” music is not for me. It might sound good in the club, but that shit’s just not in my DNA. I’d rather just stick to the script I know, because there are plenty of people that love what we do. Of course I’d love to make lots of money making music, but at the same time, I’m not gonna sell out or sell my soul to do it. When I originally started, I was rhyming for fun. At the end of the day the ways I express myself over beats stems from my love of the art of hip hop. That’s what I do this for, the love. Plus, I couldn’t see myself rhyming about real deep topics and real life shit over fast 808’s and hi hats. It’s not happening.

One thing that you seem to have in common with the rappers I like at the moment (like Ka, Roc Marci, Hus Kingpin, among others) is the quality control on your rhymes. Do you want to describe your writing process in detail? Do you start freestyling and then finesse things or do you only write?

Well, I freestyle sometimes, but when it comes down to recording a joint, I put the pen to the paper. None of my raps that you hear on projects are freestyles. I think music is a beautiful thing and I take it very seriously, so when I hear a beat that I’m feeling, I’ll go to a nice quiet secluded place and zone out on my own. When I’m trying to do my thing, I don’t really like too many people around me. I just want it to be me, the beat and the pen. I can’t just pick up a pen and start writing either. For me, the timing has to be right. If I don’t feel the vibe, or if I’ve got lots of other things on my mind, I’d rather not even work on music that day. All my songs need my full focus. I need that full focus and creative energy. If I don’t give it 100%, I know for sure I wont be satisfied with the finished product. So for me, the mood, setting, well pretty much everything needs to be right for me. But then again there are some beats that move me to the point that I’ll want to write it right there on the spot. As soon as I hear it.

I like your approach to hardcore street shit, both “smooth” (pun intended) and raw. Do you want to talk about influences? How did you develop your very cinematic style? Do you watch many movies?
Yeah man, I’m glad you noticed. I have a very open mind when it comes to the music. I don’t only listen to hip hop. Most of the time I’ll zone out to some old 70’s soul records, jazz, a little soft rock and sometimes even classical music. My grandfather was a famous blues singer, and my other grandfather is heavy into the classical music. My sisters listen to R&B and soft rock, but then my grandmother and my mother listen to old soul records. It is because of that, that i have such a broad mind when it comes to music. And yes, I’m a movie junkie! I watch tons of movies, documentaries and I read. I don’t just rhyme, I listen to music, play video games even and chess. Chess is a big thing for me. Good for the mind. I try to approach life like a game of chess by simply thinking before making any move.

Your beat selection, which normally is based on very “cinematic” beats, stands out. How do you pick them? Do you have a regular team of producers?
Thanks man, I’m very picky when it comes to beats. I have to be though. I get lots of beats but sometimes they don’t make me want to write. I need beats that move me, and make me feel a certain way when I hear them. To me, a beat should take you somewhere, it should change your mood when you hear it. If the beat doesn’t alter your mind a bit, then maybe its not a good beat. Also, if a beat moves me to the point that I want to write it right there on the spot when I hear it, then I know its a hit! It’s gotta have the right drums, the right tempo, and the right melody. The producer himself has got to have a good ear for music. We’ve gotta be on the same wavelength. I can always tell who’s really got that ear and the right style. Oh and yes, I’ve got a regular team of producers that have stuck with me since day one but there’s always new guys I meet daily that send me tracks as well. My team of producers that I’ve worked with forever will always be there. I’ll never stop working with those guys, unless they decide to call it quits. But I’m very willing to take on new beats and producers. I’m always looking for more. The more, the merrier.

How did you come up with your slang? I can hear 5 percenter references in some of your songs…What can you tell us about that?
Well, you know, I’m not gonna really get too much into that. However, I have an uncle who is apart of the Nation of Islam. His way of thinking, and things he has taught me have been very influential to me. To the point where the tattoo on my left arm says it. I believe in many things, and I’m influenced by many different things. But no, I’m technically not a 5 percenter, I’m technically not Muslim either. It’s just in my family. I live by what I think is right and because of that I may take pieces from different things I’ve been taught. For instance, I don’t eat pork. Never have, never will. There’s much more to it, but I’d rather not get into religion and my way of thinking. My slang comes from the hood though that I’m from. For people that are from here, everything I say is not out of the norm. It’s very easy to understand.

I am intrigued by your crew. Do you want to talk about it? You, Hus Kingpin, Rozewood and Sepka Nitah are a group of very gifted lyricists. How did it all start?
My crew. You got me, Hus, Roze, Marvelous Mag, Sepka Nitah. A dope combo. You know Hus, he has been there since day one. Before anybody. His music speaks for itself. His raw style complements my smooth style so together what we put out is ridiculous. Hus has been the drive behind a lot of the moves we’ve made and deals we’ve landed. I’d like to call him the brains of the operation. Then you got Roze, him and Hus put together a dope mixtape too, by the way. We met Roze in the beginning also as well as Marvelous Mag. Marvelous Mag, who now goes by the name Sonny South Beach, has got a dope way of attacking beats. Dope rhymes over jazz medleys, I’d say he’s best known for his melodic hooks he may throw on a joint. Classic shit. We started doing shows with Mag. He’s actually the one that put us on to doing shows. It was because of the shows we had kind of boosted our name a bit out here in the States. Rozewood was at every venue we were. He’d be there performing also. I remember me and Hus saying: “Damn, Roze is ill!” And from the shows, we all just linked up, started booking studio sessions and putting together dope music. And then there’s Sepka Nitah. She added a whole new dimension to the crew. She’s the female behind it. She added the beautiful voice, that would sing a bit underneath hooks and adlib some of our rhymes. Her bars are crazy too. She’s a dope female emcee that also derived from spoken word. We met her years back around the time we were all working on The Strangerz – Second to None. We clicked instantly! And from there we got in the studio and knocked out that album. FAST! She’s been down ever since. And that’s my crew! Since then, more crew members have come about. Look out for my dude Mach Hommy, he’s on my album. And also D.I.T.C. affiliate, Milano Constantine. I’d consider him fam as well.

You have an EP out soon. Do you want to talk about it? What are you trying to accomplish? Who are the producers? And the guest artists?
Yeah man, I’ve got the SmooVth Dude EP, out on French Label Ryks Muzik. It’s strictly available on vinyl. The only guest on there is my partner in crime, Hus Kingpin. As far as producers, I’ve got Spain’s very own Manu Beats, DJ Kryptonite and INS P from England, Sero, DJ Q Vali, and Mok Vurban from Sweden, Drumatic and Fresh Sly. I also have my dude Doktor Rheal from Venezuela and the great himself, DJ Premier. As far as what I’m trying to accomplish, I just want to give the people good music and hope my music lands in the right hands. Pre-orders are available, and soon the record will be shipped out to whoever has ordered it.

Finally, last year you were quite prolific, appearing on a lot of mixtapes. What can we expect from Smoovth in 2014? What is your marketing strategy?
2014 is big for me. But not just big for me, big for my crew. Big for Tha Connection. I’ve got an album set to drop shortly, produced solely by my dude Doktor Rheal. Been working on it for about a year and its classic material. I’d say my best ever. As always, just planning on networking and getting my name out there more. The plan is to build my fan base and make the most moves I can possibly make. This year there’s gonna be nothing but forward movements. Look out for that EP I’ll be putting together with Germany’s producer, Wun Two in the near future. Also look out for a new album from Tha Connection, titled Chessmen. It’s gonna be a big year! We’re looking to finally travel. Gonna be going on tour! Everything is finally coming together. More vinyls, CDs, guest appearances, interviews, etc. We’ve got the right people in our corner and a PR that’s gonna help us push our movement to the next level. Also been looking at different labels, because the time is now. I’ve put out lots of music on different labels but the plan now is to find a label with a larger marketing budget. Everything I release now will be marketed on a larger scale. Looking forward to the rest of this year. It’s gonna be great. Get used to hearing my name a hell of a lot more than you’ve ever heard it.

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