In the Air: Smoke DZA
The Uptown emcee talks with SLAMonline about his album, Rolling Stoned.
by Rodney King / @Mehkavelli
In today’s world, artists have to be as visible online as they are on the streets. Very few are able to balance both and be successful. There are a slew of emcees who have pulled off the double/double with great success, though. One of those artists is Harlem-born Smoke DZA.
DZA cut a lane for himself on the information super highway dropping a string of stellar mixtapes like Substance Abuse, Substance Abuse 1.5: The Headstash and George Kush the Button—building his name along the way as one of the better lyricists among new school artists to watch. That online success turned into a legitimate career for DZA, complete with city-to-city tours. Today, “Kushed God” is back with a new highly anticipated disc Rolling Stoned.
Smoke DZA recently sat down to speak about his influences, his new album, major label deals and how the Internet shaped his career.
SLAM: Tell us how you got into hip-hop.
Smoke DZA: I was inspired by three people: Jay-Z, Biggie and Snoop. Gin and Juice was the first album I ever bought. I really couldn’t understand it at the time. That album and that video just triggered something in me. With Biggie, I would re-write his songs and do my own renditions of his music. That helped me figure out my rhyme patterns. I would listen to Jay-Z and get inspired by his punch lines. That’s what I came up on.
SLAM: Harlem has birthed a lot of great emcees. How did Uptown influence your music?
Smoke DZA: I’m born and raised in Harlem. That’s the home of fly. There’s always something to keep up with because there’s always something new going on. It’s a small place but it’s huge. You have everyone on the block doing the same thing, so you have to find a way to stand-out. Being from Harlem taught me to dare to be different.
SLAM: Talk to us about the new album, Rolling Stoned. What can we expect from it?
Smoke DZA: The album Rolling Stoned [dropped] August 30. I got all the cool cats on it, all my people are on it. I got Big Krit, Kendrick Lamar, Schoolboy Q, Curren$y, Trademark the Skydiver, Bun B. We got stellar production from my in house team 183rd, we’ve been working together since “Substance Abuse” days. I also got Cardo, BMW—a lot of cats.
SLAM: What’s the concept behind the album?
Smoke DZA: The album is something brand new. It’s something to ride out too whether your rolling stoned or not. It’s just a little fun for the listeners.
SLAM: Speak to us about the independent hustle. Do you feel like the indie route is the best move for artists today?
Smoke DZA: To each his own. I can’t front and say that if a major situation came and offered a deal that’s to my liking that I would still be here. For me, I fuck with the indie route because I got the freedom to do what I want and I don’t have to piss off anyone.
SLAM: So if a major deal came your way…
Smoke DZA: I won’t lie, if a million-dollar deal was on the table with the freedom that I have now, then I’d be a fool if I didn’t take it.
SLAM: Have any majors come your way with a good enough offer yet?
Smoke DZA: No, not really. Labels came at me with these little candy ass deals, trying to disrespect my intelligence. I’m good where I’m at and I’m going to keep pushing and being a free agent until something better does come my way. Kush God ain’t taking a deal until I can get that substantial deal that could take me to that next level.
SLAM: How influential has the Internet been on your career?
Smoke DZA: The Internet has been big. The Internet is arguably the new DJ. When I came up, it was the era of DJ Clue, Big Mike, Kay Slay and people like that. If you weren’t on their mixtapes, then people weren’t really checking for you. Back then people weren’t all that computer savvy.
SLAM: The Internet has certainly leveled the playing field.
Smoke DZA: Today there’s so much online and so much music that’s available online that you have to log on to see what’s going on and what’s popping. Everybody is online. Young, old, people from around the world are being exposed to my music and that’s strictly due to the Internet. My music got the chance to travel.
Check out Smoke DZA on twitter at twitter.com/smokedza. The new album Rolling Stoned ft. Big Krit, Currensy, Dom Kennedy, Bun B and more drops August 30.