The Lost & Found interview series is where we rediscover the ill cats that were holding it down (and continue to) but for whatever reason are now out of the spotlight. It’s much more than a ‘˜where are they now’ as we not only discuss their time on top but also the lessons they’ve learned that can be imparted to up and coming hip hop artists and fans.
In our first installment we get up with Brooklyn native Smoothe Da Hustler. Smoothe broke out the gate in 1996 with the classic ‘˜Broken Language’ which featured himself and his brother Trigger Tha Gambler going back and forth with a new type of flow. After a successful debut, Smoothe slid into the background for various reasons including label difficulties, family, and a changing hip hop landscape. However, he has stayed grinding putting out a group effort with his brother and Ice-T and working towards building up an independent label. He stays true to his name as he has also taken on the title of ghostwriter, r & b song writer, and actor. Don’t call it a comeback.
HalftimeOnline.com: What’s poppin’ Smoothe?
Smoothe a Hustler: Chillin man just grinding. I’m finishing up this new album and this VH-1 thing we’re doing. It’s this joint called ‘œRap School’ where we are showing these prep school kids how to rap, lay their joints in the studio and then have them open up for Public Enemy at B.B. Kings. We finished that one already but we’re negotiating right now on some behind the music of Smoothe Da Hustler. So you know.
Halftime: Well before we get too deep into what you’re dealing with now we had a few questions we wanted to ask first. The first is about the classic track ‘˜Broken Language.’ How did you come up with that style and what made you feel that was the best flow for the track?
S: That was a freestyle flow me and Trigg used to do in the hallways just bullshitting. My man Khryst used to beat on the wall while we were in the hallway shooting dice or whatever and we’d be rapping off the head just bugging out. That was more like braggadocios type shit to see if we could outdo each other. When we got the track from D/R Period it was unorthodox so we figured we’d just do that shit, change the flavor up and run with it and it came out hot.
Halftime: That joint really did come out hot from just some bullshitting around.
S: We got a few more styles that are crazy. I haven’t heard anyone do them yet so we’re testing the waters. We got a few singles that we’re ready to release. We’ve been independent for the last six years putting out a few singles here and there. Me and Trigg did an album called ‘œSmoothe and Trigg: Contraband’ and we are gonna leak that out. We’re just going hard body back and forth. So if you love that ‘˜My Brother, My Ace’ type shit we’re doing that like crazy. It’s some 2006-2007 RUN-DMC type shit.
Halftime: We heard you are really into R&B. Who are some of your favorite soul singers and who influenced you?
S: I grew up on the Whispers, the Commodores, the Ojays, and the Stylistics. You know the real heavy hitters like Stevie and Aretha Franklin. My mother was a music head and she used to sing. My pops was a music head as well but he loved Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five. That’s all I heard in my crib. He actually took me and Trigg to see Roxanne Shante and UTFO in Brooklyn back in the day. After that I was turned out. I’m a Sade head, let me just dump that in there real quick. My best shit in the world is a Sade CD. Word up, that’s my girl.
Halftime: I heard that you guys were writing for some r&b artists. So my first question is what makes cats be like yea I’m gonna call the dude who had a song called ‘˜All Glocks on Cock’ to put together my new smash r&b hit?
S: Let me say this, Smoothe da Hustler is a cat that came up in the ghetto where the opposition is wolves and niggas that don’t give a fuck so I have to be an animal in the street so when you get a Smoothe Da Hustler record that’s what that is. But Smoothe Da Hustler is also a family man. I’m real deep with family and that’s all I’ve been fucking with since I first came out. And I listen to r&b. I don’t listen to rap. I tune in every now and then to see who’s hot and what’s popping. But for the most part I’m on my own thing. For the street shit I take it to the rap and that’s what I do but my leisure time is r&b. I’m a cool dude I like to chill. When I came into the game I was 15 or 16 but I just turned 31. I’m a single father and all that. It’s real grown man shit going on. If I ain’t saying gun, nigga, slap you in the face and all that crazy shit it’s r&b. Haha.
Halftime: How did you get into writing for r&b artists though?
S: I’m cool with singers. I was always writing poems and when I write joints I have singers come and sing my hooks. Just on the creative side I know what I like to hear. For a lyricist it’s easy. I can write some real intricate flow rap type shit so doing an r&b record is really nothing. Most r & b records ain’t no more than eight bars and a sixteen bar hook so that’s nothing. I know it’s wild and shocking cuz my record was so hard but that was 95, the game evolved and I evolved. I grew up and I’m still me.
Halftime: What kind of r&b record would Smoothe Da Hustler write right now?
S: I’d write a record about a chick sneaking out to hit her homegirl off. I just wrote this record two days ago. The hook is crazy. Nobody better not steal my shit either, if you do I’m coming for you. The bitch go ‘œI’ve been cheating on you with myself, I feel I’ve been unfaithful, thank you but no thank you cuz I’ve been cheating on with myself.’ That’s funky right?! Ahhh ya’ll niggas get up on it Smoothe Da Hustler.
S: That’s real talk. I like Prince. I like fucking with them wild niggas. I listen to all types of music. I listen to rock and heavy metal. I’m a wild dude. But that’s the kind of record Smoothe Da Hustler would make. I’m on some freaky girl shit right now so if any of ya’ll chicks are interested get at me. Ya’ll gotta be hot singers though. I used to write for Foxy Brown and I wrote for Public Enemy. Your boy can go anywhere and I’m ghostwriting. I aint’t even gonna blow it up who I’ve done 2 or 3 joints for already. Your paper don’t even have to be long either you just gotta be a hard fucking worker. There has to be something I like about you.
Halftime: How did you get into ghostwriting anyway? Was that something you were doing when you first got into the game or something you started after you were out of the limelight?
S: Like certain niggas on my team would be around me and I’d be bullshitting freestyling or something and they’d be like man write me a rhyme. First, they don’t want to be rappers but they are around you so damn long that they want to rap. So I was writing for them. With Foxy she was my homey. That’s like my lil sis. Everybody was on the come up trying to find their niche. I was just a person like well you seem like you’re about this. Let me see what you do and I’ll try and fix it up for you. That’s how I got into ghostwriting. Not to fuck up the writer’s aspect of what I do but personally I prefer it come straight from you. I don’t mind writing a hook but you know. I like writing. I can’t sing but I do know notes.
Halftime: Have you ever written something for someone and then be like you know what you’re not even this tight I have to give you something a lil weaker.
S: Haha. What I do is I study the artist. I have to hear joints already and the ones that I hear I kinda fall into that realm. When I’m in a Smoothe the Huslter zone I go all out but for other artists I try and get into their world. I went from Foxy to Public Enemy when I did the ‘œHe Got Game’ shit. I love them niggas to death. I’m a fan of Public Enemy so it was an honor to do that.
Halftime: Hold up, are you saying you wrote the ‘œGame Face’ record?
S: Yea man Smoothe ain’t talking no bullshit.
Halftime: As a fan of their work were you kinda like what the hell when they came at you to write for them?
S: Nah it wasn’t even like that. Hank Shockley was dealing with D/R Period and I was featured on the joint and ended up writing the whole thing.
Halftime: But being that their pioneers you weren’t even the least bit disappointed?
S: Nah, they wasn’t even on it like that. It wasn’t on some can you write for me. They had mad tracks already done. They had joints they were doing and I was on my game. I was like you can do this. I kicked the rap and Chuck was like oh shit. He was like aiight and there it was. I love the fact that it went down but I can feel you from a standpoint of damn that was a small letdown but it was more like a big up to me. It was a great opportunity to be apart of that PE legacy.
Halftime: As a ghostwriter do you do publishing or just a one time fee?
S: It’s all in how I feel that moment.
S: I keep it gully. If I’m fucked up and I got bills and shit and this is a way to get me back on my grind then that’s what it is. Look money makes money. I don’t need that much money to make money. So if you have the right amount of money at that time to shut me up I’ll pass you that no problem. Lucrative situations are something different. I’m in it for the long term.
Halftime: I heard this song a while ago called ‘˜He Is’ by Heather Headley and the first thing I thought was this chick jacked the whole ‘˜Broken Language’ flow. Then when I saw you were writing r&b tracks I figured you probably did it. What’s the story on that?
S: Nah I didn’t write it but they got permission to do it. It was all good. We actually did a remix to it that never came out but that was beyond our control. It was refreshing. When I heard it I was kinda took back because nobody really did it on some r&b shit. I heard a lot of rappers try to do it but she shocked me with it. It was real nice.
Halftime: Word, so they actually got at you before hand?
S: Yea, they had to get at me beforehand. Come on man you ain’t gonna come out like that. I’d be sitting on Heather Headley’s album right now. I would have pulled some plugs.
Halftime: It’s interesting that your album dropped in ’96 because that was really the last year that street shit was banging for a while because after that it went straight jiggy in ’97. Did you see that shift happening in front of you and how did the switch from hardcore tracks affect you in the game?
S: Me and Big were touring a lot together. We hit up a lot of spots. I never really talked about it but me and him go way, way back. I fucked with Jay-Z too for a minute just passing through different shows we had on the come up so big up to both of them. We changed the scene for a minute where it was on some hardcore crazy gangsta shit but it’s about dollars and marketing and promotion. Profile was a small label and they didn’t have anyone on there but me, Special Ed, Nine, and Run DMC. Run DMC was managed by Russ so they were good. So I mean I was in a small little row boat still competing with the yachts but Biggie had it sewed. They were making a lot of noise. I was fresh and brand new getting my feet wet and getting real legit money. I was loving it hitting the states and overseas but the game did a straight switch. I totally understood that the label I was on didn’t have a dollar to back me so I just fell back. Don’t get me wrong I had crazy opportunities cuz everybody was hollering but the situations weren’t right. I was in the books because we had a production deal for Next Level so knowing what they made and what I made I was like damn! All they did was latch onto what we were doing. We were making the noise already we just weren’t hard body on the radio and didn’t have a video. They added little radio connects but if we would have kept grinding we would have did the same thing but you learn. I learned quick and I didn’t want to sacrifice nothing else. Then we signed to Tommy Boy real quick and banged out a bunch of records. We saved them close to seven grand and we wanted a kick back. They didn’t want to put no money up so we were like nah and fell back on that. We got a few albums but we’re looking for some real fly distribution and some real marketing and promotion. So anybody looking for some real shit and wants to make some real paper get at me, firstname.lastname@example.org. No phony shit though only real dudes trying to make some real money.
Halftime: Being that you’ve been in the game 10 years what direction do you think rap is going now?
S: It’s kinda bad because everybody is doing the same thing. Everybody is sucking it up. A lot of independent shit is popping. There are about four major labels left and they got a shit load of artists signed up and everybody’s trying to come out and grab a few fans. That’s the bad side of the game. I totally understand music is a business. There’s a lot of money to be made but on the flip side it destroys friendships and creates unnecessary bridges. You can actually lose your soul and your sense of reality in the illusion of the game. The good side of the game today is you gotta work for it now. I remember when I first came out before we dropped I was creating a buzz. We pressed up our own records, went to the colleges hit them off and said if you like this record play it and if you don’t like it throw it away. By the time we got back to New York they was calling like yo we like this shit can this guy come down for homecoming. I didn’t even know what to charge them. That was the grind work. The community centers, talent shows, you name it I did it. And when I finally got in the game I appreciated it and understood it very fast. The first album was done dirt cheap, the label got their money back real fast and it gave me a worldwide name. I thank Profile for that but I had to cut ties. I learned the business and the value of publishing and was like fuck that I’ll put this shit out myself. So I have to start back from the ground up but the advantage is I have a name.
Halftime: I was reading one of your interviews where you discussed the loss of your son’s mom. Can you discuss that situation and how that also affected your career?
S: Me and her grew up together. She was straight from the country and she was my baby. She learned everything through me but through the trials and tribulations we split but she was still my number one homey. At the time I was in and out of town putting together this album called ‘œViolenttime’s Day.’ I came to see her and we sat down and really talked and let a lot of shit out. That night she was having a headache and after we kicked it I left. Two days later my son called and said she passed out and they took her to the hospital. The doctor said she had an aneurism and there were no signs of life. That was an unfortunate thing at that point in my life. It was a big blow so I had to shut down everything I was doing and really be that father. So I took my son, saw some counselors after seeing his mom in the hospital like that and all that shit. I had to really get involved. I’d have to be a real fucking sucker to be Smoothe Da Hustler the rapper and care about fans and all this other bullshit when something of mines is hurting. So all that other shit had to take a backseat. I was there for him like my family was there for me and slowly we got through it. On Mother’s Day we just let out balloons for her. Rest in peace. It was a big blow but it made me stronger and that emotion will be in my next record.
Halftime: Word up, what joints do you have planned?
S: I got a DVD coming out that’s gonna have old footage from before I came out. Us on the street thinking we were rapping back in 93-94 all the way up to now with the tours, and backstage shit. It’s gonna have behind the scenes shit with all your favorite rappers. I got an EP called ‘œViolenttime’s Day’ that will be coming out. I also have an album that I’m finishing up called ‘œUnited Slums of America’ which is Once Upon A Time in America Vol. 2. Trig got an album almost finished called ‘œSecond Time Around, First Time Coming.’ We got a 2006 jump-off mix CD that’s out right now and a Sex Money and Guns (SMG) Repossession DVD that you can get on Amazon.com. We also got an album out in Europe under the same name with myself, Trigg, and Ice-T. I got a lot of things going on man. We got a Smooth and Trigg album and we got a few artists. We got an r&b artist named Stereo the big man and a rock group called Kilowatts. But you’re gonna get a lot of Smoothe Da Hustler because that’s what’s gonna set the tone. It’s slow because it’s coming straight from our pockets but it will be worth your money when you get it. I also did two indie movies.
Halftime: Really, you acting now too?
Yea, I’m trying to get my feet wet.
Halftime: What joints were you in?
I was in this one movie where I just played this MC named Shabazz and then I played in this other flick where me and this girl was young lovers and shit and I went off to the army and my best friend went over there and got her pregnant and then I come home from the army and deal with that. It’s crazy. I’m just seeing how it looks. It still looks like me. My peoples are like you don’t look soft or nothing. I ain’t trying to go soft on a nigga but at the same time I’m trying to explore options. I’m a creative individual and I don’t want to limit my skills.
Halftime: Last question, if you could compare your rap style to a car which one would it be?
S: It would be a Bentley GT Coup hard body, fast slick, smooth looking, elegant on the inside, dangerous, tan seats, tints and no rims. And before I go I’d like to thank everyone who supported me and to all the fans who throw my name in the hip hop ciphers and hold a nigga down, big up to ya’ll for real.