For Big Smo, the chance to open up the remaining shows for the Hostile Takeover 2012 tour with Tech N9ne is an another example of turning mud into gold.
Similar to Tech N9ne, this southern rap artist has made a success out of a motto that guides every lyric of his music: “rap what you know”. The results speak for themselves: millions of YouTube views, multiple endorsement deals and major-label endeavors for a man who has simply stayed true to the mud.
We talked to the up-and-coming emcee about his background, his current projects and what it’s like to open up on a legendary music tour.
Tell us about yourself.
Well my name is John Smith, I’ve gone by Big Smo for over the past 15 years. My brother gave me the nickname. A lot of people ask where the name “Big Smo” come from and it’s not no real big story behind it other than the fact that I had a brother who’s name was “Schma”. He was a little guy but he was my older brother, so instead of people calling me “Little Schma” they called me “Big Smo”. It was like a brother thing: “Schma” and “Smo”. The name just kind of stuck with me and when I started doing my music, about 14 years ago, I just decided to go by that name because that’s what everybody called me.
Around the time that I started, I was really into writing poetry. Oddly enough it was like some kind of dark poetry that I was into writing. It wasn’t any kind of music that I was trying to do. I ran into my partner, this Filipino kid, his name is Ray Riddle, I met him and he was learning how to be a DJ. I started to hang out with him when he was learning to spin records and sample records and started writing my stuff while he was doing that. It just kind of turned into something like “Hey man, I think I can write something to that” and then I started developing a style of writing songs. I didn’t know it was 16 bar verses or 4 bar hooks or 8 bar hooks. I didn’t know none of that stuff. I just started writing how I felt it should come out and we started to develop a sound. We upgraded our equipment from beginner’s status to, not pro but consumer standards. We started developing what we thought people wanted to hear which was at the time a lot of gangster rap. I’m just a country boy who’s lived on a farm his whole life. I enjoy listening to rap music and I enjoy listening to country music. Whenever I started to develp this sound I was like “let’s add a little bit of this country to the gangster rap” and it wasn’t anything that anybody was doing at the time. This was back before Bubba Sparxxx came out with Deliverance and a lot of other country-style rap and stuff had popped up on the board. We didn’t feel that it was a good fit. Nobody was into it. They wanted to hear things a little more gangster. They wanted to hear drugs, running from the cops and fucking with bitches and all that stuff. It was just what was hot so we were like “Alright, let’s try and do this kind of music everybody wants to hear” and then I just got burnt out on it and I was really just going to quit doing music altogether but somebody told me “Man just rap about your life” and I was like “My life is real simple, there ain’t a lot to it” and he said “It doesn’t matter, just rap about your life.”
So I started writing about living in the country, being Southern-bred, everything about being in the backwoods and living on backroads and just the whole lifestyle that comes with it and it just took off and people found a liking to it. They felt that they related to it and we started focusing in on that sound. Now we’re exactly where we wanted to be at the beginning. We just have people listening now. It’s real odd because it’s what we wanted to start doing but at the time it just wasn’t accepted. Then we felt like we needed to do what everyone else was doing and what everyone wanted to hear and it just didn’t work for me because it didn’t ring true.
I grew up on a farm. When I got old enough to get in a car and drive and I hung out in the hood and ran in the streets with a bunch of thugs and shit that I didn’t have to do but it’s just what was fun at the time. I’ve seen both sides of the fence and I really prefer the side that has the corn and the mud rather than the side that has the bricks and the streets. It became really easy for us to start cranking out song after song because all we ever had to do is talk about our lives and the shit that we’ve been doing our whole lives. Simple shit. And it’s just worked. It’s worked better than anything else that I’ve seen around here. Everybody loves it and we’re trying to cater to that ongoing love that we got from everybody: keeping it simple, keeping it true, keeping it country. It’s just working for us. We got the attention of good management out in LA. I’ve got a great manager that changed everything for me. I say that I’ve been doing music for 14 years but honestly I’ve only been professionally doing music for the past year-and-a-half because I never had management. I never had any kind of team that was professionals that was behind me. I didn’t have lawyers. I didn’t have a label. Since I got my management through J. Neilsen Entertainment out of LA, I’ve got a great manager Dan Nelson. He’s made everything just come to life from sponsorship from products. We got a sponsorship from SafeCig cigarettes, the electronic cigarette that James Cameron’s brother John Cameron came out with. They’re our sponsor. Now I got my own electronic cigarette coming out: Big Smo’s Southern Sticks, which is a big deal to me because I lost my dad to cancer. He smoked cigarettes his whole life. My mom’s got cancer. I’ve lost friends to cancer already. It’s kind of like our little fight against tobacco, which is real cool. I’m glad to be a part of it. We’ve also been filming for a reality TV show that CMT is now looking at putting on their channel. I also signed with APA and they got Warner’s attention and I signed with Warner-Nashville about a month ago and since then things are just popping off. Things are going through the roof.
Now you have a great chance to keep that momentum going with the last leg of the Hostile Takeover 2012 tour. This is the biggest tour in hip hop history, how does it feel to be a part of something like that?
I gotta tell you what, when they told me that I was going to be doing some shows with Tech N9ne I was blown away. I’ve been a huge Tech N9ne fan. I went out on the Dark Lotus tour a few years back and got turned on to that whole genre of music. Tech N9ne was one of the guys that I really started listening to out of that whole, not really saying that Tech N9ne is Psychopathic but just that genre of music. I really grew fond of his style and the stuff that he rapped about. It reminded me of the dark side of me, you know what I’m saying, that I can’t show in my genre of music. I’m really excited about being a part of this. It’s a huge step for me.
What can Technicians expect from your show?
It’s going to be something a little bit different. You’ve got the same delivery as your basic Dirty South rap and then you’ve got the sounds and the instrumentation of backwoods country. I wish that I had the whole band on this tour but I don’t. I only have me and my DJ which keeps us from being flexible on what we can do because our live performance with our band is a 10 times better performance. But you can expect backwoods’ tales, country boy’s life, moonshine and fresh pine. It’s storytelling really, so just expect stories of the backwoods country and it’s real entertaining.
That storytelling element is definitely a staple of a lot of country music. Is that a conscious thing or just something that happens on its own?
That’s just my writing style. Like I said before when I started putting things into songs, they were just short story poetry. I don’t have many songs, if any, that’s just some random rap. All of my songs that I put out is a story. I like to take my listeners for a ride. Story times: sit back and pop on the mason jar, take a couple sips of shine and listen to what I’ve got to tell you. Storytelling has always kind of been my thing.
“Kickin It In Tennessee” definitely has some country influence with that slide guitar. Is that blues or the country that you’re talking about?
It’s definitely the country influence because the style of country that I’ve always been a fan to has been more of the old outlaw country. I’m a big Johnny Cash fan. Weylon Jennings. Jerry Reed. I don’t know if you’re familiar with the artist Jerry Reed, but you take Jerry Reed, he’s a huge influence on what I do. “Eastbound and Down”, you know? Um. “She Got The Gold Mine (I Got The Shaft)”. This dude was a storyteller. He told a story and he did it in such a way that it was so entertaining, you just wanted to hear it again. It’s almost like “Let me hear that story again” rather than “Let me hear that song”. The only new country artist that I’m really into is Jamey Johnson and that’s really about it. I’m an outlaw country fan. I’m a Rick Ross, Young Jeezy fan…TI. People even refer to me as “Hick Ross”, probably because I’m a big-ass white boy, baldheaded with a big-ass beard. I probably look like the white version of Rick Ross, so you know they call me Hick Ross.
In that same song you said something like “You can’t tell me nothing about barbecue.” What about Kansas City?
Yeah I’ve had Kansas City barbecue. Everywhere that I go I make sure that it’s a point that I get some sort of barbecue. I’m a big chicken and fish eater more so than pork. I go for the pulled chicken anytime I go for barbecue, just for the sauce purposes, but if I want to try some meat, I’m definitely a tenderloin more than a roast kind of guy or a pork butt. I actually have my own barbecue sauce that I make and that we sell, it’s called Meat Mud. No matter what you’re eating and no matter how you cook it, if you put some of my Meat Mud on it, I’ll eat it. It’s going to be good. I don’t just say that because it’s our product. We literally use this sauce on everything and we sell it at every show that we go to. We’re about to have it professionally manufactured and packaged and Warner’s and them is probably going to stand behind me on this barbecue sauce that we’re putting out because it’s my sauce and I make it myself in my kitchen. I package it and everything and sell it. So barbecue sauce is a big thing. Taking the name Meat Mud, you gotta tie that in with the genre of music that we do and the fanbase that we have accumulated over the past year. We do a whole lot of these outdoor mud events. I don’t know if you’ve ever been to a mud bog before.
No I haven’t.
You’ve gotta go to a mud bog. You’ve never seen or experienced backwood redneck farm at it’s best. I’m talking about jacked-up trucks, jacked-up four wheelers, going through six foot trenches of mud, bitches covered in mud, everyone’s drinking moonshine and Bud Light–I mean it’s insane.
You should look into it. We do a mud bog extreme. These people go out for a weekend at these parks. We’re talking 20, 40-thousand people and they party all day Friday, they party all day Saturday and then come Saturday night we come set up a stage. We do the light, sound and stage set up out there and we do huge concerts for these people. This is what the fanbase has grown from, from us going out and doing these mud bogs down in Texas, down in Georgia, down in Florida, Louisiana, you know all around the Southeast we go and do these mud shows. I came out with my own style of camouflage, it’s called True Mud Camo. It’s mud camouflage. You’ve got the True Mud camo, you’ve got the Meat Mud barbecue sauce, you’ve got the new hit song off of the Grass Roots Six Pack “Kick Mud”. We’re working on the video right now, today we’re in the editing room. We already shot the video down at a big mud bog down in Texas. So the mud is the grease for this machine that we’re working here. It’s a whole lifestyle of people out there that live by the mud, like getting dirty and going out and raising hell in it. And there’s beaucoups amount of money that’s being spent. People buy these four wheelers and side-by-sides and putting 40, 60 thousand dollars into taking them and ripping them through mud holes. Even I’ve got an ’88 K5 Chevrolet that’s jacked-up. It’s got 35-inch tires on it. It’s just part of our lifestyle. You’ve gotta have a jacked-up truck that can go through whatever. You know, four-wheel-drive stuff. It’s nuts. They put tractor tires underneath pontoon boats.
We got to this mud bog and they had helicopter rentals, where you can rent a helicopter ride. And I rented the red camera so we got the top notch camera, we get it up in the helicopter. I’ve got 250 rednecks on four wheelers in a big mud pit and they’re doing circles around me while I’m rapping the song from like ground view, helicopter view. It’s crazy. Yeah, I’m real excited.
Is there anything you’d like to say before we wrap this up?
To the people who haven’t heard me: give it a listen, because you’re going to find yourself in each one of these songs. Just because it says country, don’t let it shun you away. Just because it says rap, don’t let it shun you away. The fact is, this is good music, this is good-time music. If you like to smile and have a good time and party and enjoy life this is the music for you.
– Interview Conducted By Jeff Nelson, Senior Blog Editor For Strange Music
Check out Big Smo On His Homepage: www.therealbigsmo.com