This time last year we discovered and reviewed the album The Best Of SmartBlackKid Vol. 1. As we were so blown away by the collection, and as it’s remained a favourite project of ours over the past twelve months, we were intrigued to find out a little more about how it all came to be. SmartBlackKid was kind enough to take the time out to chat to us about the album and his creative influences and aspirations. Here’s the interview in full.
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The Best Of SmartBlackKid Vol. 1 is a pretty immense collection of songs – it really does feel like a best of; every track has such strength and character, there’s no filler. Obviously this is the result of you writing ten albums over a ten month period, but that’s still a huge amount of songs to choose from. Do you find it easy to pinpoint the songs you’ve written that are worthy of inclusion in a best of, or are you generally always happy with the music you create to be included in a bigger project? Is it a matter of concept, or musicality? Or both?
Well first, you have to understand, these songs, a lot of them, were ones I had written over the course of 10 to 12 years. Which is why I could, at the end of 2011, thinking about the future of my music career, review my material and decide I had enough to release an album per month for 10 months.
There were a few new songs in the catalogue, but there are songs that I have lived with for a number of years and felt like they deserved the light of day. Like Stand Up, Free Thought, Take Your Power… are songs with messages very pertinent to what’s happening in the world right now.
But I recorded those back in 2008. Solar Flare was done in 2005 when I lived in Philly. So was it easy? Kind of. But as an indie artist, my biggest concerns are sound quality, creative substance and performance. So this collection, for me, is absolutely a taste of my best work as not only a musician and songwriter but as my own producer and engineer as well. It was and still is a tremendous amount of work but there’s nothing else that elicits this much passion from me.
The music you make could be heard as straight up rock and funk – music that serves the purpose of helping people let go and unwind. That’s a great quality in itself, but there are clearly a vast array of deeper issues within your songs that are worth paying attention to. Are you happy to be the entertainer in some cases, or is it more important to you to be a force for good – putting out good ideas, a positive message; something that inspires people, or inspires change?
You know? That’s a really great question because I see myself as both. I intend to ‘Edutaine’ if you will, to borrow from the title of the legendary rapper, KRS-ONE’s album Edutainment. I grew up listening to music that does what I hope my music is doing. I heard music that touched my soul, that rocked me to sleep or woke up me up in the morning. Music I could live through my life experiences with like a soundtrack.
I don’t feel that way anymore about modern music. It currently feels and sounds like elevator music to my life. I’m just going through the motions in my life while this modern music plays in the background with no real attention paid to it. The artist in me feels rude about that because I want to be fair and give new artists a chance, but the problem is what is passing for ‘music’ these days isn’t exactly ‘art’.
I don’t want 12, 13, and 14 year olds out there to grow up thinking music is not supposed to be positive, uplifting, healing or meaningful in some way. I mean, I love loud guitar rock. Absolutely LOVE it. But put on some James Taylor? And I will sit down and listen to that man tell me stories, narrate periods of his life, his lessons and it feels good for my soul, for my experience as a human being to also value the wisdom of those who have been here longer. So for me, the best artists do both – they inform, inspire or educate while being highly entertaining all at once.
As a follow up to that; what can people expect from you during a live show – is there generally a full band set up, or do you put on the occasional solo show? Is there ever a chance to catch you performing acoustically?
From my experience playing in hip hop bands, I became sorta jaded about performing live in NYC. I’d been in bands where we did epic promotions and online promotions, Facebook, Twitter all of it, paid for ads to run.. and still had a strong 10 to 15 people show up. I think social media has impacted the way musicians showcase themselves.
It used to be very easy to book a gig, promote and capture new fans because nobody heard of you before. That was the draw. Now, that works against you, that no one’s heard of you. So I have put most of my attention on my social media presence because that’s where the people are nowadays. But I have been thinking about doing some one off acoustic sets just to stay warm with my live performance skill set. Expect strong stage presence and to be touched in someway, to laugh and have fun.
What keeps you motivated to constantly create and perform? Who or what inspires you to be an artist, to be a positive influence in the world?
This is a wide open question. Wow. What keeps me motivated? I’m a highly spiritual dude, I’m in love with life and nature and I have been blessed with a powerful gift to express myself. I’m motivated by a lot of things but mainly my own will to express myself. It means a lot to me.
I’m a nonconformist and a contrarian. So if I see people conforming, I can’t follow. If people behave like sheep in some way, I reject that behavior for myself. People like to be miserable and melancholy or own self-deprecation like it’s a religion or something. That is unattractive to me.
I have been inspired by many, many artists, but if I have to summarize who my major inspirations are? I would say SBK is a mixed bag of some Jimi Hendrix, Sly and the Family Stone, Prince, Earth, Wind & Fire, 60’s Classic rock and 80s pop. That’s my music in a nutshell. (Nutshell.. happens to be one of my favorite Alice in Chains songs btw).
Are there any songs you’ve written that you don’t feel you could perform any more; perhaps your view has changed on the issue, or you just don’t feel the same way about it that you used to?
Interesting, I was just thinking about this the other day. For now, I will say no, because .. well, I’ll take that back. You know how every Bob Marley song is full of some kind of lesson or wisdom? I was aiming for that in my music. I actually forget the songs I’ve done at times and don’t remember the words. But I wrote them with the idea that I might have to sing this for the rest of my life, so let’s make sure I really love this thing! Lol. I love all my babies. Now if what I’m singing about is just irrelevant in the world and reality, then no.
The world of independent music is growing every single day. There’s so much more music to be discovered and enjoyed now, which is great for listeners, but can possibly make it harder for artists to find their audiences. Have you noticed a shift in the underground industry in recent years, that has maybe meant you’ve had to push a little harder to keep things going, and how does this affect you as a creator and performer?
YES! It’s become overwhelming to be an indie artist, doing everything yourself. I think for me personally, the shift I’ve noticed is this: staying with it? Is the measure of who is really meant for this and who isn’t. If being an artist and musician is how you breathe? Then it doesn’t matter how much work is involved, how long it takes; you are driven. But if your intention is to ‘hit it big’ for the sake of fame and popularity not for the art, when you hit walls, delays and blocks.. that can be very discouraging.
I have had artist friends who, one by one, in their own way, have quietly given up, or had kids, started families and settled into life. Some were true artists and some were pursuing music mainly for money, fame, status. Then there’s me, who refuses to get married to any woman who doesn’t love music as much I do and my music specifically; so not being a dad and a husband means I still have lots of free time to focus on creating, promoting and developing various business plans to keep moving forward. And then you check your Twitter one day and find some famous musician re-tweeted you or is following you and it all feels worth it. So just the idea that ‘someone successful could be watching’ is good enough to keep me driven to stay consistent and present.
It’s like the lottery.. ‘hey, you never know’. It’s become so wide open that there is not one city that is the ‘music hub’ anymore. And anyone can go viral at any moment. It has forced me to really sit down and study social media and internet promotions and figure out how to move.
Where can people find you over the coming months – any exciting live shows coming up, any new releases or side projects?
Currently I am producing an EP for an exciting music, literary, and fashion design artist named Micah Blacklight. He produces really awesome and original couture wear and has published his first graphic novel, The Cult of the Serpentari. He asked me to produce his EP and I was very happy to do so as I’ve watched him grow tremendously as an artist in the underground scene here in New York and Brooklyn.
He, like myself, is a product of what was once a very lively and burgeoning underground artist scene in New York in the late 90s. Artists like Saul Williams, actors like Mums, DJs like Ian Friday, DJ Reborn, are names that came out of that scene to name a few. We were all working hard on our respective crafts for many, many years, almost like an unofficial School of the Arts. Micah is another one of the bright lights of that movement and I’m looking forward to performing with him at the EP listening party on October 8th in NYC at a spot called Hayati 103.
Over the coming months, I can be found on YouTube as I’ve spent the past two years or so shooting music videos. I will be releasing videos on YouTube on a regular basis this fall while gearing up for the release of The Best of SmartBlackKid Vol. 2, which I’m a really, VERY excited about. If you thought Vol. 1 was good? Wait until you hear Vol. 2.
Last but not least, I don’t have a release date yet, but I am working on a documentary about my time in 2012 making 10 albums. Just want to give people some insight into why I did that and how I did that as well as introduce who I am a little more. I am also working on some business plans to expand the exposure of SBK music without radio airplay. But I won’t get into that because it’s ‘competitive intelligence.’ (wink).
Check out our album review of The Best Of SmartBlackKid Vol. 1 from last winter, and make sure to follow SmartBlackKid on Instagram and Twitter to stay updated and to watch out for the anticipated release of Vol. 2 in the near future.