Big Smo‘s rap resume isn’t that far off from the likes of Future and Young Jeezy. On the surface, the similarities between the farmer and his fellow southern rhymers may not be obvious. As a Tennessee native, Smo reps the Dirty South and like many a trap rapper, he raps about his days selling drugs. But Smo also mixes country and rap–a unique vision that informs an original sound. His album Kuntry Livin’ spent 10 consecutive weeks in the Top 10 of the country and rap charts. Named by Rolling Stone an “Artist You Should Know,” Smo amassed more than 50 million views on YouTube, nearly 40 million streams and has sold over 450,000 tracks.
Smo, also star of his own eponymous reality TV show, is slated to release his seventh studio album, We The People, July 22. But before that, The Boombox caught up with Smo to talk abut why he refuses to be “genre-lized,” how We The People is “more street” than his previous projects and the quadruple bypass surgery that led him to a change his life.
The Boombox: How was it growing up with a name like “John Smith?”
Big Smo: Well, it comes with its ups and downs. As you can imagine–everybody says initially “Is that your first name?” or “Is that your real name?” and I’m like “Yeah, of course.” My dad was a smart man, but he wasn’t very creative. Then, of course, whenever you’re checking into hotels, you always get that “Yeah, right” and then you know you just show them the ID and just remind them somebody’s gotta have that name and I guess I’m that guy.
When did you decide that you wanted to be a country rapper?
I don’t know if I would call myself a “country rapper,” I’m definitely a rapper that’s from the country. I never really set out to be a country rapper. I’ve always been intrigued by all different genres of music growing up as a kid and I was a natural born storyteller. I wrote stories as a kid. I wrote short stories, I wrote poetry, and then that turned into lyrics that turned into songs. I would say at a very young age–probably around the age of 10. Whenever I was doing my own lip sync music videos in my bedroom — take my dad’s video camera, set it up and pretend to be, you know the Fresh Prince. I got a video of myself rapping “Parents Just Don’t Understand” when I was like 10 years old.
That’s awesome. Who are some of your inspirations? I know you just mentioned Fresh Prince, but is there anyone else who inspired you?
As a youngster I grew up with my father’s music, which is, you know, outlaw country and like golden oldies. So on the country side, it was very much Johnny Cash, Jerry Reed, Willie Nelson and then Jerry Lee Lewis, Elvis Presley when it come to golden oldies. Then, I had a brother who introduced me to rock, rap and pop in the ’80s. Run DMC, Beastie Boys, KISS, Guns N’ Roses, Prince…everything from the ’80s that was rap and pop, I got from my brother. That’s kind of what opened up my love for all genres of music and that’s kind of what’s created this unique sound that I create today. It’s a multi-genre musical experience.
Did it just happen organically, like you just put those two genres together, because of all the music you heard growing up or was it a conscious decision?
I would say that I’m definitely a product of my upbringings and my influences. It was mostly country because of the way of life that I lived. I grew up on a farm. I live on a farm today, but I was very intrigued and had mad love for rap and hip-hop. So I knew that I was a rapper. I enjoy writing lyrics, I enjoy spitting bars — even at a young age. It was something that I just had a passion for it. So I think the environment that I grew up in and even where I live now combined with my love for hip-hop and rap created where I am musically today. So yeah, very organically. It wasn’t anything that I set out to accomplish.
You’re about to release your seventh album, We The People–
Yeah, this is number seven. We the People, this project is everything that describes me. It is that upbringing on country and oldies, and its that influence of pop, rap, and rock all combining in a well-crafted project we’re very proud of.
How would you say it’s different in that regard– or how is it representative of where you are now?
I wouldn’t say that it’s different. I would just say that [we] went the extra mile. It’s still very fun country, but there’s a part of this album that I didn’t really tap into in the last two projects and that’s more of like the street life that I’ve lived for a period of my life where I was in the grit, in the struggle, in the hustle of the street life. I think that shines through in this project a little more than it did in my past two projects. That can be found in various songs in this new release, so there’s a little bit more street to this one.
Can you give an example, like one song where you delve into the struggles you’ve faced?
Yeah, there’s a song “Moving On Up,” that is definitely a little more street, like it talks about back when I used to sell grams. “My man told me about coming up with a plan / and I hustle with my hands / one day I’ll be moving on up.” So it does tap into my old lifestyle of when I had to hustle to get to where I was tryna go.and it talks about life on tour, “I take it city to city and put my name on her titties, I’m gonna hit it from the back 7:22” I mean that’s something that as an entertainer, that we kinda go through every night, there’s always a long line of people that want autographs and pictures and you know unfortunately, there’s always some girls that like “Hey, sign my titties” and you know it’s like there’s those stories. The important thing to remember when it comes to my music, I can only describe what I create as true music. So If i don’t live it, I don’t rap it and because of that natural born storyteller in me I tell these stories of my life and anything that happens in my life and the influence comes from my upbringing and music that made me who I am today. The story is country in a lot of ways, but the delivery is definitely rap.
I can see that because when I hear Willie Nelson, I often think that his songs could easily be a rap song.
Country is like borderline rap music. You know like, the only problem here is that somebody along the way decided to genre-lize music and put it into these categories and that’s my whole campaign with this whole album. It’s a multi-genre musical piece, I’m trying to not be genre-lized like I don’t belong just in country, I feel as if I belong in country, rap, rock, pop…like my music is a representation of the freedom that I have as an American and a human being. To but my music in a box is depressing to me, but somewhere along the way somebody was like that’s country, that’s rap, that’s pop but when you listen these country songs, from Willie Nelson, especially like Jerry Reed. Jerry Reed was a big influence to me. I mean this guy was basically the first country dude that was rapping. “She Got the Goldmine, I Got the Shaft” is like a rap song. He’s a storyteller and basically that what rap is, or that’s what it originally was. You know, you go back to the early rap and it was stories. So I have to agree with you completely with that. There’s a lot of these country guys, especially Elvis Presley and older country artists, that was just doing spoken word stories over some really cool music.
You mentioned speaking about your freedom as an American, is that part of the reason why you decided to name the album We the People?
Well ultimately, because I’m supplying this multi-genre musical piece, I figure for everyone to enjoy the music. My goal that I set out was not to appease to one particular group of people, but to a broad array of people and with name like We The People especially right now when our country is going through what it’s going through. You look at what just happened last night in Texas, all this madness is going on all around. I want to get people’s attention and I want people to talk about a solution. Sometimes you just gotta grab people on the shoulder and scream in their ear and shake the s— out of them and that’s what I’m tryna do is kind of jolt people into understanding. It’s really up to us to do something about the way that our country is and you take the actual song “We the People,” that’s what that’s about. Do you think this is where our forefathers want us to be. You know up in arms against each other? Like we’ve already went through all of that. We’re supposed to be passed that. So you know it wasn’t a play on America, but it’s definitely a timing on where America stands right now and everybody has kinda got their finger on the pulse to see what’s next. I figured that whole situation needed a soundtrack.
I read that you also loved cooking, would you ever want to do your own cooking show, like Action Bronson?
You know I really enjoy watching “F— That’s Delicious,” like I’m a big fan of Action and I wouldn’t want to step on what he’s doing and try to copy that blueprint. But, I can definitely see me doing something along the lines of taking people’s dishes and trying to make them healthier. It’s kinda what I would do. I’m kinda in a new stem of life. I’ve been lucky enough to have been given a second chance at life over the past year. About a year and four moths ago I had a quadruple bypass heart surgery and that was a real close call for me with death. With the opportunity to live, came a new lifestyle and healthier living. Now all of my food is really healthy and my focus is to try take delicious foods, what I’ve always loved, but try to take them into the healthy version, that I can enjoy, and that I can prepare for my children and they can enjoy so they grow up to be healthy too.
What kind of stuff do you make? Does living on the farm help with the healthy lifestyle?
Yeah, it makes it way cooler because my garden right now is on fleek. I mean I’ve got zucchini and squash that is just coming out the wahzoo, I’m big on spaghetti where I take zucchini and squash and turn them into noodles. Sooo good, so like I cut pasta out of my entire diet, buy using that tool the Veggetti, where you just spin your squash and zucchini into noodles. So now I’m eating like noodle dishes every other day but it’s not pasta it’s vegetables. So it’s a win-win situation for me, plus, it’s growing right here in the backyard.
Sounds awesome. Is there anything you’d like to say to your kinfoke?
I love my kinfoke. You know I couldn’t ask for a better fan base. I’m blessed to have so many people who support me in what I do and I’m just glad that again, I have been given the opportunity to take the listener on a journey with me with this release. It’s a big deal to me with the wake up call that I had with my health, having the opportunity to share more of me with people that do listen. The good thing about my music, again, is being true music. If I don’t live it, I don’t rap it. That true story resonates with so many people and that’s why this fan base just keep growing and growing and growing. It’s about tapping into what people can relate to and what influences people in a positive way and what encourages people to do better thing for themselves. God gave me a blessing when he gave me the craft to do what I can do. I’m just glad that I still have the opportunity to do it so I love my kinfoke and I can’t thank them enough for making it possible to share my story and to share my beliefs with them.
Check out Smo’s “Never Grow Old” with Josie Dunn below.