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D Smoke: "My City Is Going Through a War"

By Kiani Shabazz

Coming off the heels of his Grammy award-winning debut studio album Black Habits, D Smoke is on a mission to tell not only his personal story but to be a voice for his community, the city of Inglewood, California. 

D Smoke describes the project as “an album of contradictions.” Introducing the album’s concept with the lead singles “Shame On You” and “Common Sense,” featuring his brother, TDE artist SiR. On “Shame On You,” Smoke comes out the gate with a vengeance, flaunting his braggadocios vigor on the track. On the sonically hypnotizing  “Common Sense,” the brothers explore the constant uncertainty and anxiety the comes with the hood . “In this project, it’s the duality of being a young Inglewood dude and somebody who has a heart for family and all of that,” D Smoke explains.

“In music, when I put out something like ‘Shame on You’ or ‘Road Rage,’ it’s not there to make you feel comfortable,” he explains. “It’s there for me to assert myself and talk like young men talk, so you can see that even young men that have that energy can give you some ‘common sense.’”

The album immerses listeners in the spiritual journey that is growing up in Inglewood. While Black Habits documented the life of inner-city Los Angeles, War and Wonders dissects every thought and emotion that comes with it. “Right now, my city is going through a war of its own in the streets.  I talk about lost loved ones, and I talk about being in love. I talk about the inner turmoil  of this new experience I’m having and being pulled in different directions.” 

Smoke’s personal story is one of duality itself. Growing up in a religious household, his mother was involved in music ministry, and his father was incarcerated; the emcee was raised by music and the streets. But he wasn’t alone. With a strong foundation in his siblings and cousins, Smoke would learn the value of building confidence and having an outlet for self-expression at a young age.  “We grew up, my mom was a minister of music. We was at church all the time. So our musical IQ became second nature,” he tells me as he explains his upbringing. “By the time we were 10,11,12, we got a deal at Dreamworks to be like the new Jackson 5.”

“At the time pops was locked up and mom was doing sessions, she sang background for Michael Jackson, Tina Turner. She turned down a tour with Stevie Wonder so she can take care of us. We were being raised by our uncle, who was six years older than us. We was really raised by the yard,” he explained. “I think it was an unorthodox but effective way of instilling confidence in some youngsters. Early on, we knew that people couldn’t impose their will on us.” 

That strength and confidence would set the foundation for the emcee to become a community leader, later using his sharp public speaking and leadership skills as a Spanish and music theory teacher at Inglewood High School.

“As a teacher, I always wanted to challenge my students,” He explains that the messages in his music translates from the classroom to boardrooms. “However it’s packaged; I know I have something real to contribute. I’m as well as a public speaker as a leader or facilitator than I am a rapper or performer.” 

“You really love somebody if you challenge them,” Smoke explains. The rapper makes it clear that it is his personal mission is rooted in changing the narrative for the life of a Los Angles youth. As he continues to grow his platform, D Smoke plans to create the safe place he wishes he and his pairs had as a kid.  

“We just got the keys to Broadway Boxing Gym; that’s the gym I came up boxing at,” he explains. “I called David Gross, who did the investments with Nip. I told him about the opportunity. I told him, ‘I know these people, I know this community... it’s close to home.”

D Smoke will to use the remaining space in the gym to create the community center he has always dreamt of. “We know it’s a gem to the youngsters. There’s more space than just the gym so we are having conversations about how to utilize that,” he explains. “We rallied a whole lot of momentum from the professional boxing community, the artist community, and the politicians in the area that want to get behind something positive for the kids. That’s one of those real tangible things that I’m excited about.”

D Smoke is more than a rapper. He’s a teacher, community leader, facilitator. His influence has no bounds. As navigates in our culture as an artist while he builds his platform, he continues on his mission as an activist and thought leader in his hometown of Los Angeles.