It’s great to be talking to you. What have you been up to the last couple of years?
Since the deal with Profile and being shifted over to Arista, they wasn’t taking an interest in the music that I was bringing. They said it was too hard. So I went back to being independent. I had put out a single that was introducing me and my brother as the Smith Brothers, but then unfortunately my son’s mother passed away, which was sudden, from an aneurysm. It was real sudden and I had to make a decision between putting out music or just focusing in on my son and the restructure of our whole lives. That’s basically what I did for a few years. And I was touring with Ice T. Once in awhile he would ask me if I wanted to come out and I would just go out on tour and instead of opening up for him, he would perform and then kind of introduce me. It was a cool thing. I thank him for that. You know, now I’m back grinding.
How did your son’s mother change your perspective on things?
You know, I wasn’t taking life for granted, but at the same time, my son was living with his mother and I was more just all over the place. I took care of my household, but I was just actually all over the place and once that happened, it was just like, I had to actually reorganize and rethink my whole way of living, just in general, for him. I was responsible but I didn’t know it took that much responsibility when you become a single parent. I had to move a few times just to get him in a good, comfortable area. I had to do the whole counseling thing. I really went in strong. Some people, given a situation, some people would say they would have dealt with it but then continue to do what they dreamed of doing, but at that given time, I was just forced to focus on creating a steady environment, mentally and physically, for myself and him. It was crazy but you know, I had to do it.
Did you find a new respect for single parents as you went through this process?
Totally, man! Totally! I know a lot of single mothers and I know back in the days, just to hear them talking about how they had kids and blah, blah, blah, you know, you would take that for granted, but now being a single parent, you gotta get home at a certain time and you gotta be attentive with what they’re doing in school as well as who is they friends and cooking and everything. I had to learn it all, man! I got a great deal of respect for any single parent, whether it be a male or female, because there’s a lot of single fathers out there as well. You know, it’s a lot of responsibility. If you ain’t mentally ready for it, it can become very, very stressful. But I take it in stride. At the end of the day, it’s like fuel for the flame. You’re either going to take it and lie down with it or you’re going to take it and run with it.
Did everything you were going through affect the music you were making as well?
In a way it did. There was no more going out for weeks. Mentally and creatively, you know, that’s just my thought process. A lot of the joints that was written in those times was real sentimental and personal to me. I know I put one song on my Violent Times mix CD. It was called “Heartbreaker” and it probably threw niggas off but the reality of that record is what I was going through at that time. It just took me to a point now where I know I got a little time now. I can entertain what I love to do 100%. My structure is back and my son, he has his head on right but he’s still 17. He’s a kid. He’s growing up. So I gotta be able to deal with him on a mature level but at the same time as a parent. I got to balance it now.
Does he want to follow in your footsteps?
Nah. Nah. He wants to be some type of engineer. I told him that’s great. I mean, I used to have my son just in the studio. I was in the studio with E-40 and Ice T and Onyx and all types of rappers and you know, he would meet ‘em and like ‘em, but he wasn’t that enthusiastic. Maybe he just didn’t show it, but as far as I know, he’s hyped on engineering. He wanna make shit. That’s cool. He was getting into teenage trouble, but I mean, we all gotta go through it. He got me in his corner. I give him that tough love though. I know a man raising a man, it’s kind of tough. It’s probably real tough on the boy because he don’t really understand the whole spectrum of “don’t do this, don’t do that.” They only understand that you’re disagreeing with what they want to do. It’s crazy, man. It’s crazy. He don’t want to do none of that shit. He love music, but he don’t want to entertain that.
You’re new single is “Back Grinding.” You’re not playing with us this time, are you?
(laughs) Nah, man! I’m going full-fledged. I got the next single in the back pocket waiting to shoot it off. The “Back Grinding” joint, that was done by the Tune Headz. They did Cam’ron’s “Hey Ma” joint and a bunch of joints for DMX back in the days. And the crazy thing about it is they used to track my tracks. They worked in the studio with D/R Period back when we were working together. They were actually laying basslines and things of that nature. It just made sense to get back with somebody who knew my sound. I still talk to D/R Period but he’s doing his thing and I’m doing my thing. We’re friends and right now we’re not entertaining business.
But the cats the Tune Headz, they laced me with a few joints. They know the sound and I got joints and I’m dropping them. We got the new label. It’s SMG Entertainment. It’s small at this moment but we’re going to continuously put out our brand of music. “Back Grinding” joint is the first joint. There’s a market for what we do and there’s a lot of people who do what we do and the type of music that we do and the type of shit that we hear. We just need outlets like HipHopGame, you know? And, you know, outlets of that nature to help get this shit out, man.
Did you feel that you had to hit fans pretty hard with “Back Grinding” since you’ve been so quiet and didn’t really promote the Violent Times Day mixtape?
First when we set the tone for the Violent Times Day mixtape, we had a lot of joints and my family structure was back in place, just as far as mentally. Dealing with just the whole restructure of how I was living and the way my son was living with his moms and all that, after that I just wanted to put something out real quick. My birthday was on the 8th of February and since Valentine’s Day was around the corner, I wanted to put a mix CD online and at least create some talk. That came but it wasn’t something to say, “I’m going to put this out and take over the world,” but if you check on the Violent Times Day, there’s nothing that I jacked from other rappers to spit freestyles on. It was actually all joints, but not mixed and mastered. It was just done for the love. If it was the 1980s, I probably could have got off with that.
I got some good joints on there. I’m promoting now. You gotta check “Way Back,” that’s the big pioneers tribute. I want niggas to check “Heartbreaker” and “I’m About My Bread.” That talks about the game and what happened. There’s a lot of joints on there that I really, really like but at the same time, the “Back Grinding” joint and the ones that are going to follow are the ones that I’m going to set the tone with again because that’s the sound and I just want the fans and everybody that’s out there to know that I’m going to continuously bang ‘em.
You sounded really good with the Tune Headz, but I’m pretty sure the fans want you back with D/R Period.
I’m sure that’s going to happen. I’m not going to count that out, but if they don’t know who produced it, they will assume that he did it. These are cats that came up with me while I was laying the Once Upon a Time in America album. They were laying basslines. D/R was producing it. Don’t get me wrong. I’m taking nothing from him and he was producing it all, but you know, they know the sound. I’m sure the fans will get a Smoothe the Hustler and D/R collaboration. They just have to spread the word and let ‘em know that I’m back in motion. And I want to thank the cats sticking up for me in ciphers when they say I’m the dopest MCs and cats can’t really get a grasp on that. Thanks for that.
How important is it to work with producers who have a sense of your history?
That’s actually how it works. Once you become established, then you got numerous hits. If you want to grab an artist as a producer that’s fine, but it’s always key to at least have a producer that knows your sound and that respects your opinion and input and you build off each other. Sometimes the beat may not complement the verse and the producer’s gotta go back and then touch it up or vice versa. It’s always good to work with a producer that you know and that he knows you and you know him and you can actually create some shit as opposed to a cat sending you a beat. You know, those are the ones who really made it pop. Cats can check their history. A lot of the artists that came out actually had a producer in their corner perfecting their sound. It’s very key to have one of those.
Once Upon a Time in America is probably my favorite album of all-time…
(interrupts) Wow. Thanks a lot! Compliments like that are fuel to the flame. New York, New York is so saturated with MCs and untalented, opinionated motherfuckers that they wouldn’t even give it up but you hear them spit a freestyle and it’s like, ‘Such and such, such and such.’ But it’s all good, man. I thank you for that.
How were you able to pull off such a great album?
It’s just the vibe that me and D/R kind of brought to life. When I first laid the first few records, which was “Hustlin’,” I laid that first and maybe two other records, this record called “It’s All Good” and this record called “Gotta Stay Ahead of the Game.” I was actually going in at the time when he was working with M.O.P so I laid my stuff on just a regular drum beat. There was nothing built around it and D/R said when I got out, he would have those shits banging for me. Sure enough, when I came home, they were.
My name was Smoothe the Hustler and they had to have that grimy sound. I remember watching Once Upon a Time in America and thinking that that shit crossed all borders. It wasn’t even a race thing. It was just what it is – a human nature thing. I ran with the Once Upon a Time in America and the rest, the album just kind of fell in place itself. I just remember writing joints and going down there and just camping out in the studio and kicking some of the records and he was like, ‘Oh, I got a sound for that’ and he would just go in right there on the spot and bam! 30 minutes, 40 minutes later, we would have a nice rough draft of what we were going to do. I owe a great deal of thanks to D/R and God bless Kenny Gee. He did “Glocks on Cock.” That was the only record D/R didn’t do on the album. That was just brainstorming and working with a producer, it’s one thing to just get a beat from a producer versus working with a producer. It was an ill team effort.
Did you think Once Upon a Time in America would be the classic that it is today?
Nah, well, nah. At the time I was just doing it for the love. I was just doing it for the love. Once the album was finished and I listened to it back, I was excited. It was like an audio-biography. I was very, very pleased with the album and, you know, the critics, my small family of SMG members, I respect their opinions and there’s no yes-men and they’re listening to the album and they’re like, ‘Yo, you told it without telling it but it’s definitely you.’ And we just ran with it. So I mean, I’m glad it did what it did because it writes me right in the hip-hop history. There are a lot of times I go unnoticed and way under the radar but I’m proud of myself and my brother and everybody who helped make that album and the boundaries and how many people it touched. I’m very thankful and grateful for that.
What was it like working with Trigger and DV Alias Khryst on Once Upon a Time in America?
Look, I used to rap in a hallway with Trig and Khryst and everybody would be there. They would camp out in the studio with me once in awhile just to be around that. It’s the love for your true homies that you can create some real incredible shit and you know, with the Khryst flavor, Khryst did the “Dollar Bill” and Khryst did the “Murdafest” and Trig was rapid-fire with “Broken Language” and “My Brother, My Ace.” We just wanted to show that we could flip it a whole lot of ways as opposed to what was happening at the time. And those two brothers, well, Trig is my real biological brother and Khryst is my adopted brother, those are two artists that I love to death and I love working with.
Are you going to get back in the studio with Trig and DV Alias Khryst soon?
Of course, man! Anytime, Brian, I would love to sit and kick it with you, man. I want to thank you again. It’s definitely appreciated, man. I’m gonna have the new single, it’ll be “Brooklyn Language” featuring Trigger the Gambler and we’re going to be throwing them out. The website is almost done, SmoothTheHustler.com. I’m doing something with Ice T right now. We got a few groups and each one of us is putting up two singles and we’re going to put a compilation out called Final Level Music presents SMG – Sex, Money and Guns. We’re trying a few different things but I’m working, man. I’m working. I’m almost finished with the “Back Grinding” video and I got a few more things to shoot so that’ll be shooting out real shortly. Just be on the lookout for a lot of Smoothe the Hustler shit.
How did you and Ice T first link up before you did the SMG album together?
Oh, man, the funny thing is that Ice is an Aquarius and I’m an Aquarius myself. I think that was one reason. I know me as an Aquarius, I can respect what I can understand and not shy away from it. I was on Hot 97 one day, the radio station in New York. They were asking him who he was feeling since he was from the West Coast and he said, “Look, I’m feeling this cat Smoothe the Hustler. I heard the album and I respect the reality in his rap.” I was in the studio right from down the block and he said Ice T just shouted me out big time on the radio. “He said your album is crazy hot!” I said, “Let’s go down there.” So we came down to Hot 97 and I approached him and it was all love from there. We switched numbers and I was actually going out to Miami to do some shows and he went out there. He told me to look him up when I went out to L.A. so I shouted him out and we went up to his house and kicked it. It was on some real friendship shit. It wasn’t on some Ice T, Smoothe the Hustler, let’s do some real brainstorming shit. It was on some real friendship shit.
And then maybe a year and a half later my son’s moms passed and you know, he understood what I was going through and he knew what I was going through and at the same time, he knew I needed that bread for the child support situation. It was just real out of control where people do spiteful shit, you know, just out of whatever. But that goes to be unsaid. But I mean, he’s a real cool dude and we just ended up doing shows and we were out doing a whole bunch of shows and he was like, ‘Yo, man, we need to do an album together. Fuck it, we’re always on the road.’ So we ended up doing an album in a few days and putting that out and while we were out, let’s try and tour and make some money off of that. The friendship is great but if you can make money with your friends, it’s even greater. He’s a great, great friend.
Is Trigger Da Gambler still rhyming?
Ah, man, Trigger is so ridiculous with it! You’re going to hear him on the second single and Trigger’s got a few singles now. He didn’t go left, but Trigger’s real, real not anti, but Trigger’s got a lot of shit with him. I’m gonna just say that. YouTube “Trigger Da Gambler” and I know the latest song he put up is “Bring Them Boys Home.” He keeps the reality in his raps. And he’s just going in. You gotta check for him. I usually get lost when I start talking about Trig. Trig just keeps me on my toes. What was I saying? (laughs) I’m in the backyard and I’m chilling. I just had some steak and some fucking corn on the cob. I’m just kicked back. It’s all sunny.
(laughs) Yeah! You just made it better.
When Once Upon a Time in America was coming out, being a hustler wasn’t in the forefront of hip-hop culture. What do you think of the way it’s changed?
Here’s my cap on it. You know, I was getting turned away from the labels. “Smoothe the what?” My first single I was trying to push the “my everyday lifestyle is nothing but a hustle” and they were like, ‘Nah, what are you talking about? There ain’t a lane for this.’ And I knew there was a lane for it because everybody I knew on the streets was doing it! We fished around and we ended up putting that single out ourselves and nowadays I look at it like the shit is just so overly rated. When I came out I was just talking about the struggle and by any means necessary and how I gotta do this to feed my family and this shit now, everybody is just doing it, the big kingpins. I’m like, if everybody is a hustler where are all the customers? Everybody’s hustlers! You know, I’m sure a lot of cats can validate that that I was probably one of the first or one of the few that actually put that hustling shit on the map as hard as it was. I mean, you know, it is what it is. People will never admit to it but I mean, it’s factual. It’s just the facts.
Is that why you dissed Cassidy on the Violent Times Day mixtape?
I was just getting kind of irritated. Every time I would hear one of these records, he’s like “The Hustler.” Hold up. I don’t want people to get it disillusioned. I want niggas to know where this nigga comes from. I was talking to one of my homegirl’s sons one day and he went to my page and he thought that shit was hot and that I sounded like Cassidy! (laughs) I busted out laughing and I said, “Oh, shit, that’s crazy.” In a sense that’s love, but anybody would have been a hustler on “I’m a Hustler.” That shit made my little son want to be a hustler and he was three at the time. It is what it is. I’m not taking nothing from him. I just threw a shot. I didn’t take a cheap shot. I just took a shot to let niggas know that I was in the house and if he responds back, that’s another thing but there is a Smoothe the Hustler and niggas know that he’s very relevant. People can’t come out and say Cassidy’s a hustler. Well, they can but there’s repercussions. I just threw a shot in the air to let niggas know that I’m around. So that’s what that was.
Did he ever respond to you or reach out to you?
Nah. It is what it is. You know what it is. If he responds, he responds but I never came in the game making a name for dissing niggas. That ain’t my character and that ain’t my style. I always believed that if you came in the game as totally you, you could look yourself in the mirror at the end of the day. I can look myself in the mirror. That’s where the line was drawn.
Do you think the younger MCs coming up today are aware of what you’ve done and what other great rappers from the 90s have done?
Nah. They don’t know. A lot of them don’t have a clue. A lot of the rappers nowadays are imitating some cat who probably just sold a few million who they believe the fairy tales of great success and money and women and all that. People can dream. These young niggas are dreamers and they want to have all of that. I don’t blame ‘em. I was young and I was a dreamer but I always knew who was who in hip-hop. A lot of these dudes don’t love it and they do it because it’s a fad and they do it because they look cute with the girls and shit. When I did it I did it for the love of it. You had your different flavors, from De La Soul to Tribe Called Quest to Kool G. to Kane to X Clan. You had a variety of shit to just zone to.
Now they’re coming up and it’s all about hustling. And that mentality in itself, it’s just way out of control. It can lead them down a crazy path of destruction trying to keep up with the new MCs. The new MCs don’t really have a clue. Some of them, I’m sure, do, but they need to educate the niggas that don’t. I think they need to do a panel of the 10 greatest MCs and in order to come up, they have to validate if it’s considered hip-hop and rap. If it’s R&B, keep it R&B. But I think that’s what it should be. A lot of shit you wouldn’t hear and a lot of MCs, they should know their history before they pick up the mic and talk that talk.
It’d be like getting a driver’s license.
Yeah! When you get your license, come on, man! How did these cats graduate into being greats and into hip-hop and they don’t know who Grandmaster Flash and Melle Mel is and they don’t know who fucking Kool Herc is. Let’s bring it up to date. They don’t know who Smoothe the Hustler is. Come on, man. At least know something about the cat.
How do you feel hearing artists rapping over “Broken Language” today?
Oh, I think it’s cool. I think, ‘Okay, they’re keeping me alive, keeping me alive!’ I think that’s good. I love it. I know Trig loves it. We always say that nothing can touch the original. There’s no date and there’s no time on it. A few of the hip-hop pioneers said that we had our own hip-hop language. It was braggadocios. It was so energetic and so fucking all-out relentless and that’s what hip-hop is. It’s uncut, raw expression. Hey, they quoted that. I ain’t tooting my own horn. I just accept it and I take that with a grain of salt and I greatly appreciate whatever positive things they got to say about what I added to the game because I know it’s valid.
Do you have a favorite version of “Broken Language” that other MCs have done?
Nah. Well, there was an R&B version. I’m trying to think of the name. Whoever sung that record, I forgot her name. But she did the “Broken Language” R&B record. I think she got a Grammy and went platinum but I don’t know who she is. I loved that one. But that was R&B. The other rap shit, I’m like, ‘Get creative. Do you.’ I respect it but it’s nothing I like. Hey, no, I like Method Man and Redman but it’s just because I like them as artists.
Going back to recording “Broken Language,” how did you make that happen in the studio?
We ain’t write it together but we was in the same house. I mean, we was playing cards and listening to the beat and started going in. He started writing on one side of the living room and I’m writing on one side of the living room and every few bars I would cut him off or he would cut me off. That’s how we used to do it in the hallway. If you were going too long or I think I got a line that I know will match with the shit you just said before you’re about to finish, I’m gonna cut you off and keep it rolling. So we used that same format for “Broken Language.” It was about “I’m gonna out-top you and, nigga, I’m gonna see if you can try to out-top this.” We was just going in, going in, going in. By the time we got to the studio and laid it, we practically almost knew the shit.
D/R put that clang on it and had the beat drop because the beat wasn’t dropping at first and then the nigga put that clang on it and made the beat drop and it was a wrap. It was crazy because I never had a record that I would wait and play for a motherfucker after I played a few records. I was like, ‘Let me see what a nigga say about this shit.’ Niggas was like, ‘Yo, what the fuck!’ And then I’d cut it off. This was early in the game, back when it was in pre-production. Niggas were like, ‘What the fuck?’ and that’s what I wanted to hear. But yeah, that was the process. The process was sitting in the crib on opposite sides of the living room, trying to outdo each other.
Do you have a favorite line from “Broken Language”?
You know what I like? Damn, I really love the whole thing. I like, it’s really the first couple of lines, “I’m the money stasher/Gun blaster, razor slasher/The human asthma, breath-taker/Body dump waster.” That’s my shit! That just lines niggas up and then I start going in! “The glock cocker/The block locker.” Niggas behind me were like, ‘Go in harder, son! Go in harder!’ I’m just like, ‘Nah!’ (laughs) But the first lines are my shit.
Do you think it’s gonna be hard to get your buzz back since you’ve been gone for so long?
I would hope that, you know, those type of records will let people know that I am doing my thing again. Hopefully it will spread like wildfire, but once again, outlets like yours help me spread the virus. I mean, if I keep getting the love from outlets such as yourselves and other outlets, I can feed the fire. I would love to do that on a big scale but I am also very conscious about a lot of these cats that don’t know me. They might have heard of me but they don’t know me, so I’m gonna take it as they don’t know me and I’m starting from scratch and in order to do that I gotta be knee-deep into everything and I’m trying to put the wheels in motion and get people on board and help respect the virus but it’s going to be a process but I’m up for it. I’m up for it.
Are a lot of your fans from Once Upon a Time in America still with you today?
I’m sure my fans are loyal. I’m sure. I get a lot of comments from all over the world. That’s a blessing in disguise. I didn’t come back out and try to do it again. I kind of left on a good note where, you know, I think the game is so twisted up now that I am relevant and my fans would support me 100%. I never strayed away from what I do or who I am or what I represent and the only thing I could say is they will help me add on to the fanbase, so I think they haven’t gone anywhere. They’re just wondering where I’ve been. They just need to hear the new joints that are about to follow “Back Grinding.” But you know, I believe they’re still there, man. Once you touch a person in a good way…I haven’t disappointed them, I just haven’t put out music. Hopefully this new music will hopefully pacify that.
What I respect about you is that you still sound like the same Smoothe the Hustler, content-wise and lyrically.
I can only do what I know, man. I can only do what I know. If I end up with one of those Autotune hooks, it may sound like it’s a Smoothe the Hustler record and it will have the grimy feel to it. I’m gonna turn it into a Smoothe the Hustler record. Right now, I’m just doing what I love to do and that’s all that “I don’t give a fuck” shit.
Is there any music coming out today that’s inspiring you?
Not anything that’s inspiring me. I don’t know. I listen to a lot of R&B. I was listening to Chris Cornell. I like his shit. I don’t listen to records, really. There ain’t nothing in hip-hop. You know what I like though? I like the “Respect My Conglomerate” record (Busta Rhymes). I like Jadakiss. I like Serani’s shit. I like his shit. But nothing in hip-hop right now. I ain’t hip-hopped out right now.
Will we see a Smoothe album coming out soon?
I’m hoping for a September or November release. It’s slated for September or sometime in November. I will pop out another single in hopefully about three weeks. I just want to get this video right. If the video is done by Tuesday or Wednesday I’ll be good. But I’m going to try to saturate the game. I got a bunch of unreleased Smoothe and Trigger records as well as a bunch of Trigger Da Gambler records. We’re going to be dropping his shit soon. But we’re going to stay working, man. We’re going to stay working. We’re going to continuously drop records.
What does it mean to you when artists today ask you for a guest appearance?
It’s funny but I look at it like a sign of respect because I’m like, ‘Damn, they shouted me out for a joint.’ But then I gotta check their credentials. Now if I hear their shit and I like it, then I don’t mind jumping on something that’s hot. All the politics, I understand that’s about the industry and you don’t want to spread yourself too thin. Diabolic is dope. I said I would get on that. I love fucking with dope MCs and that’s what keeps you sharp. If I jump on some “ABC” shit and entertain all that ABC shit, that ain’t gonna work. I need something to keep me on my toes. I need an MC to keep me on my toes. If I get approached by an MC, as long as you’re hot to death, you might have a shot of getting Smoothe the Hustler.
You gotta come correct.
You gotta come extremely correct! You can’t sound like nobody else. You gotta sound original where I could identify you if I heard you again. Even now, I’ll do features depending on niggas’ money. I get paid for this shit and I ain’t turning away from the paper, but at the end of the day, it ain’t all about the paper. I’ll charge a nigga $1000 or $500, but depending on how his work ethic is and loyalty is, we can probably become good friends and make some money down the road. The money doesn’t hold that much weight but at the same time this is how I make my living and I’m not going to entertain a thug story about trying to get on. I was trying to get on at one point. You gotta come better than that.
And you artists coming up, invest in your own shit. If you ain’t investing money in your own shit, what makes you think the next nigga will? You better get your money up instead of investing in all these cars and chains. If you believe in your stuff put it out in the world and grind and go hard because it ain’t easy, but at the end of the day, you know, at the end of the day you can pat yourself on the back and say, “I did this.” I didn’t ask for handouts. I saw something, believed in it and if it don’t work, cool, you tried. But it’s not a failure if you try.