Exclusive – Ever since D Smoke wowed viewers and judges Cardi B, Chance the Rapper, and T.I. as the inaugural winner of Netflix’s Rhythm + Flow, the Inglewood, California native has been making quite a name for himself. During the competition, his talent was undeniable as he displayed his intricate lyricism during the “Rap Battle “ rounds, his soul-stirring vocals as a singer and showing his classical training on the piano in the finale.
“In addition to his undeniable talent and diversity and an elevated skill set, he had this incredible ability to articulate himself,” T.I. recalled. “He’s so poised and seemed the most prepared for this opportunity more than anyone else.”
His dexterous musicianship set him apart from the rest of the contestants and he walked away with $250,000 as the winner of season one.
After Rhythm + Flow, in 2020, he released his debut album Black Habits which was nominated for Best Rap Album and Best New Artist at the 63rd Annual Grammy Awards. His follow-up War and Wonders was released last year and earned him rave reviews, establishing him as an in-demand artist.
Recently, he collaborated with AGNEZ MO on the sultry remix of “Patience” and with Arin Ray on “The Mood,” a seductive banger. He released his debut COLORS performance with his latest single “Glide” and made a cameo appearance in Peacock’s hit drama Bel-Air.
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With all of these accomplishments, what makes D Smoke unique is his fearlessness in expressing his vulnerabilities in his music, a trait that should never be taken for granted. He has a way of tapping into his personal experiences that speak to the universal human experience. As an insightful lyricist, a compelling songwriter, and an accomplished pianist, D Smoke is crafting space on the music scene that is uniquely his own. With a slew of collaborations and more music to be released, it’s safe to say that D Smoke is just getting started.
Before he launched his solo career, as a part of the Woodworks collective, D Smoke co-wrote “Never” for R&B singer Jaheim. He spoke about his beginnings in the R&B world and the influence of the Black Church on his music and perspective.
“I started in R&B, don’t tell on me though,” he laughed. “For what it’s worth. I’m really from a legitimate place of rap but my roots are in gospel and R&B.” In fact, R&B music is a family affair for D Smoke. His younger brother is R&B singer/producer Sir.
D Smoke believes that his formative years growing up in the Black Church helped to spark his creativity and informs how he approaches his music today.
“I think my upbringing in the church gave me a sense of responsibility and morality that goes into how I approach lyrics as an MC,” he said. “My parents are ministers so it’s like, to what end am I rapping? It’s not something where I could just be selfish and do whatever works you know what I’m saying? Because we know what works, is that what’s necessary? Does it do anything and do people need it? So I think coming from the gospel scene is like trying to give them the medicine in the meal, you know? So I approach rap as if I’m trying to bridge gaps. I want people who otherwise wouldn’t listen to rap music to be like, ‘You know what, rap might not be that bad.’”
The city of Inglewood is the hometown of so many legendary artists and D Smoke takes special pride in expanding upon the city’s rich musical legacy. Inglewood is where he discovered his identity as an artist and as a human being.
“Inglewood was my training ground,” he recalled. “When I got to UCLA and a lot of people started pledging I was like, ‘I feel like I did this already.’ Just to make it through middle and high school they ritualistically scrubbed you. They scrubbed you at every school and Inglewood they will just choose somebody to beat up, you know and it made you aware of your surroundings. It made me aware of my surroundings. It was almost like an aptitude test. like Oh, ‘What am I capable of?’ It makes you honest too because there are certain environments where you could walk around thinking you are something you’re not but Inglewood is going to introduce you to your truest self.”
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Because of his authenticity as an artist, D Smoke has catapulted from the streets of Inglewood to international acclaim as he’s set to go on tour with one of his musical inspirations, Alicia Keys.
“I think I reached out to her as a fan and I thought she would be great to work with,” he recalls. “I reached out and she invited me to her video shoot. Swizz Beatz was there, Snoop and his wife were there, everybody was there. She had this big, grand piano on his platform in the middle of the room. They were setting up another shot and I asked her if I could get up and play. She was like, ‘Please. Do you.’ So I was going ham into this classical piece, ‘Fantasie Impromptu’ and she’s over there, like, ‘What the f**k?’ She said, ‘Ni**a, I didn’t know.’ That’s when the wheels started turning and we knew we had to do something.”
After meeting Keys, D Smoke found himself invited into her inner circle and eventually received an offer to go on tour with the multiple Grammy-Award winner on her Alicia and Keys World Tour.
“She invited me to a show as her guest,” he says. “It was like a release party and afterward, I started off playing some classical music piano. Then she started playing some jazz stuff. Then she would play and I would play and it was just a dope musical exchange. So that moment was just a milestone for me because she is one of those people that influenced my artistry. And to be invited to perform with her on the Alicia and the Keys World Tour is just a blessing.”
Look for D Smoke to hit the road with Alicia Keys later this summer and catch his video for “Crossover” below.