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Interview: Smiler

South London rapper, Smiler, is back. His new mixtape, ‘The Coming’, has recently been released, so we catch up with him to talk about his new 12 track package.

Planet Notion: Your new mixtape ‘The Coming’ is quite a mixed bag in terms of style, but noticeably quite retrospective in parts. Was that something you did intentionally?
Smiler: Yeah it was. I like to offer as much of myself to people through my songs [and through my music] as I possibly can, so I document everything. I take notes and make sure that when I’m delivering, I’m crafting things in such a way that it’s sort of painting a backwards picture, up until now… so that you can see the path I have traveled down.

PN: The new mixtape incorporates a few songs that we already know and love. Amy Winehouse is used, Daft Punk, Kendrick Lamar… these are artists/songs that people are quite sensitive about. Some may think you are brave, some may think you are crazy. What do you think?
S: I feel as an artist, if you are scared to take risks, you are always going to limit yourself and keep yourself in a box. I feel I have a lot to offer musically, so I should be able to experiment with whatever I like.

PN: What gave you the idea to use those particular songs in the way you have?
S: With the Kendrick Lamar ‘Swimming Pools’ cover… he’s obviously talking about alcohol in it and I felt like I wanted to speak about another drug, but something  a lot more severe. So I went for something that people don’t really speak about, but I did it in his style. So I paid homage to his delivery, but I also put my own take on it. Heroin is a very sensitive topic, especially in terms of what it does to people, so that’s why I decided to do that.
With ‘You Know I’m No Good’ [Amy Winehouse], I’m a massive fan of the original. I’m a huge Amy Winehouse fan, [and Mark Ronson... and Ghostface], so it just made sense. It just feels like something I would rhyme on anyway. I just love the beat… with the Daft Punk thing, it was the most current. I just wanted to have fun on a song and just enjoy it.

PN: Another common thread throughout the ‘The Coming’ is that it is very British sounding. The way the beats are constructed, your voice/slang, the singers you have used all sing in British accents. Is that you trying to stress a point, or is that just the way the mixtape developed?
S: [laughs] a bit of both really. Because of the sort of rap I was influenced by. It’s easy to sort of get confused and try to imitate American artists. I was raised on the east coast 95’ sound in hip hop, Mobb Deep, Tragedy Khadafi, Nas, AZ etc… They are all American influences. I do pride myself on being a Brit and try to convey that in my music as much as possible.

PN: There was a point in your career where you actually went over to America wasn’t there?
S: Yes, in 2007.

PN: In terms of your career was that beneficial, would you recommend it to others?
S: Definitely! I think it depends on what stage you’re at though. For me, it was pretty much off-the-cuff. Music wasn’t necessarily a career for me at the time, I was doing other things as well, but luckily DJ 279 from Choice FM championed me. He really believed in me. I gave him my music and he loved it. He mixed my mixtape for me. He went over there to do a show with Marley Marl, JoJo Pellegrino, Styles P and Infamous Mobb, which were some of the biggest rap heavy weights at the time and he said, ‘if you want to come over, you are welcome. I’ll hook it up for you’ and I was like, ‘Yo, I’m coming. I’m there now!’ So I went over there with my manager at the time and I loved the experience. We went out to Times Square giving out mixtapes… I remember specifically there were a group of guys, maybe about 11 of them, and I was giving out my mixtape and one of them said, ‘yo, yo my boy rhymes’ so I was like, ‘ok let me hear something’ and he was like, ‘no, you first’ and I’m thinking, ‘I’m out in America… I’ve never been in this situation before. Do I rhyme, what do I do?’ and then I thought, ‘you know what? I’m proud of what I do’ then bang, I gave him a verse. At the end of it, he was like, ‘oh… I don’t want to rhyme. I don’t want to do it.’ [Laughs] That was a great sign, because rap is their thing. I was happy with that.

PN: Hearing some of the people on the street in Times Square is a very eye-opening experience. There is so much talent there and you’re left wondering why half of these people haven’t been signed?
S: This is it. There are actually better rappers [well some] on the street than you will find signed. The game is due to chance, hard work and a lot of other variables so… but it was good to be in and amongst that. Coming back to town the next day after giving out my mixtape and there were people running out their shops and saying, ‘yo, I listened to the tape last night, it’s crazy…’ It didn’t necessarily do much for my career at the time, because I wasn’t in a position where I could have utilised that, but it gave me the knowledge that what I’m doing is working, which was more than I could ever wish for.

PN: You’ve also had really big co-signs from people like Nas and Kelly Rowland as well, do things like that add any pressure?
S: No it doesn’t add to the pressure…

PN: Someone like Nas saying he likes your music doesn’t faze you?
S: Nas saying what he said is amazing to me. That’s who I grew up listening to. He’s the reason I picked up a pen and pad… and supporting him last year in Scotland was massive. What I mean is… if anything, its encouragement not pressure. I’m confident in what I do. I am my worst critic and my biggest fan, so I’m hard on myself anyway. It’s more like, God forbid it all ends tomorrow, all the signs pointed in the right direction. At least that let me know that what I was doing was correct and that’s enough for me, that’s cool.

PN: Describe your mixtape ‘The Coming’ using the 4 Pics 1 Word game format.
S: This is the best question of the whole day. Right…

  1. In the top left, I’d have a picture of a tsunami wave.
  2. In the top right, I’d have a crowd of hundreds of thousands of people.
  3. In the bottom left, I’d have musical notes.

This is really deep… I like it.

  1. *Probably a crucifix, with the word ‘rap’ on it and shackles on each side.
    *No such picture exists, but we tried.


‘The Coming’ mixtape is out now and available by free download.

Words: Trina John-Charles

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