There’s no doubt that #TheWinners (Hus Kingpin, Rozewood, SmooVth, Sean Rosati, Marvelous Mag, El Ay, and other amazing talents) are one of Hip Hop’s most impressive rising collectives. SmooVth delivers incredible depictions of street life on each track and possesses a distinctive flow with a laid back vocal style befitting his name. In this interview, one of the prominent members of the super lyricists shares insight into his path within the Hip Hop music industry.
“The love for the culture is what’s missing. Nowadays money is the motive. Back then, people wrote rhymes for a reason. They spit their raps to talk about what was going on around them, to get things off of their chest. Nowadays, everything is done with the motive of getting more views, or plays.” -SmooVth
Please tell the readers how the formation of #TheWinners came about, how you became part of the collective, and also name the current members and describe how each one is unique.
#TheWinners came about organically. You had Hus and myself, we began as a group. He was my boy for many years, who shared similar music interests as me. He rhymed, I rhymed, and so we began rhyming together. About a year or two in we linked up with Marvelous Mag. Mag put us onto doing shows, so we began touring the city and doing different showcases and such. It was in that same show circuit where we met Rozewood. So now at that point, you had SmooVth, Hus, Marvelous Mag and Rozewood. Through the years we began releasing projects and whatnot, just building a name for ourselves. It was through Myspace, Facebook, Soundcloud and sources like that where we began meeting other people in different states and different countries. And that’s how we met our extended family, the rest of The Winners.
You got Mag, he’s more of the neo soul guy. We call him captain hooks. Mag is the one that’ll hit you with that melodic hook on some east coast Nate Dogg sh*t. Rozewood, just his name alone should tell you what type of emcee he is. If you haven’t seen the movie Rosewood, you should check that out. Roze will hit you with a deep story, paint a vivid picture to where you can basically imagine yourself being there with him, almost reading a dope book. Sean Rosati, he’s the silent assassin. His pen work is crazy…reminds me of a young Roc Marciano. Then, we have Sage Infinite out of New Jersey. He’s another assassin. He’ll hit you with those real raw raps…and his delivery is flawless. My boy Sage makes this sh*t look easy. El Ay and Giallo are our UK recruits. Giallo Point is a beast on the beats. Those crime vibes are his specialty. but he’s got any flavor you need really. I’ve done so much work with him through time, even dropped my solo “Portrait of a Pimp,” all produced by him. So it was only natural he’d be apart of it all.
El Ay is the lady of the crew, she’s been doing her thing heavy on the beats, but also known for her singing as well. She’s got a very dope sound and style. Al Divino and my boy Junelyfe. Both those guys, along with Sean Rosati are out of Boston. Al Divino makes some real dope beats! He’s the youngest, but the boy can spit! He’s got a real rugged style. Junelyfe, man, a talented brother right there. His mind is crazy…almost reminds me of Andre 3000 how he can take your mind to somewhere unthinkable, but deliver you that raw sh*t, and also that smooth sh*t at the same time. Very versatile dude right there.
And, last but not least, you’ve got Hus Kingpin and myself. We’re the beginning of it all. Hus’ style is crazy; hard to really explain. Just a bunch of different styles compiled into one. The wave lord. You know, him and I come from the same place, grew up together even, so him and I have similar vibes. He can spit that raw and that fly sh*t. And then me, I pride myself in being lethal with the pen. If you’ve listened, you know, I’m a product of my environment. I come from having to hit the street, hustle to make ends meet, beef, gangs, etc. But I’m also a very intelligent fellow. I went to school so, my experience in writing I try to include in my music. That’s what makes me unique. I take my experiences in life, and apply it to the paper when I write.
That’s a thorough insight into your collaborators. Which artists inspired or influenced you to pursue a career in the music industry?
Well, my grandfather was a famous blues player and singer. He played nine different instruments. My uncle was big into music because of that as well. My uncle went to school with Busta Rhymes and the Leaders of the New School. He also went to school with Roc Marciano. So coming up, I knew Bus since I was about five years old. I’m actually good friends with his son. I see him all the time, but yea, I fell in love with Hip Hop, seeing guys that literally used to hang out with my parents at home, now on television. And then of course I have to mention Nas, Wu, Mobb Deep, etc. I really have to credit Nas of all though. “It Was Written” is timeless. He really opened my eyes to this. Just by listening and analyzing his work. I always respected how vivid his rhymes were. I told myself, a kid who enjoyed writing, that I could do it like that. I have to get my pen game up like Nas. Cats like DJ Premier too, who in the ‘90s, if you heard him featured on an album, his track was the hottest track on there.
Indeed. Those are all Hip Hop legends. What do you feel is your biggest strength?
I’d have to say my biggest strength is my confidence. When I rhyme, I don’t care who it is, I’m coming for you. I’m trying to take your head off! Just comes from my competitive nature from sports in school. That’s just me. I approach this music with the thought that no one can f*&k with me. It’s that, that gives me drive to do what it is I do.
Talent and work ethic are important drivers to succeed in the music industry. #TheWinners have been delivering lyrically potent content in an era of lazy rap. The crew is also versatile. How do you approach collaboration?
I mean, I can’t speak for everyone else but me, I’m a critic. I over analyze every piece of music that touches my ear. So for me, I vibe out to the music and i come up with ideas. I’ll either just hear myself solo on some things or I may picture one of my teammates on it and I’ll hit em up. If they hit me up for a collab, I’m on it ASAP. There’s not much to it really.
Who are your favorite producers to work with and why?
Damn, difficult question really because, I enjoy working with all the producers I work with. My in house squad, the guys I go to constantly for work. There are guys from the past I enjoyed working with that no longer make music. As of right now there are some projects I’m working on with guys I can’t mention at the moment. Got to keep it low, but I really enjoy working with them and of course guys like Vic Grimes and Giallo Point. Giallo Point and myself have an undeniable chemistry. He knows what I like, he knows what I’d sound best on. So working with him is easy. A simple process. Long story short, any frequent collaborator of mine, is a favorite to work with.
Today, being in Hip Hop is so much more than writing, recording and performing. Marketing is an essential piece of the puzzle for artists to be successful. Can you share a marketing tactic by an artist or label that you felt was noteworthy or inspiring?
You’re absolutely right. You could have the nicest brand and the dopest music, but if you don’t market it right and get it out to the public…it won’t move. Umm, The Winners, my squad is very deep. If I had to compare it to any other squad, I’d probably compare us to A$AP MOB. I’m not comparing us to them musically though. Just as deep as we are, and us all having different personalities. I do admire their work ethic, and the tactics they have used tho. They started with one emcee, Rocky, who in turn introduced Ferg, and so on and so on. But it worked well. The strategy of us being all for one, and it having the domino effect. We start with one and with that one artist you use that one artist to introduce the next one. We all fall into place eventually. The end result is everyone having a name for themselves, but basically piggy backing off of each other. Strength in numbers.
What are some of the most impactful marketing activities that you found for building your brand and awareness?
Sh*t man, Hus and I got lucky. Definitely a blessing. Back in the days when we first started around 2006, we tapped into the overseas market. Tapping into the overseas market really boosted our names, and this is when we were very young. At first we said to ourselves we’re gonna flood ‘em with music, and that’s what we did. We made it a plan to work with all the top producers from each country, and it worked! This was during myspace days. So just flooding the market with music worked well. It opened doors for more opportunities. Him and I have had countless album deals with labels over there. So we used that platform, the labels and their marketing teams to spread our name out more. That’s how it worked for Hus and myself. Later we were able to merge our core audience with new fans in the states. Cosigns from guys like DJ Premier, DJ Eclipse, Roc, Vinnie Paz, Planet Asia, and the list goes on. Being featured on songs with major named artists got us recognition from major sites and blogs. So now, these blogs move our music, and we generate more fans. Thus, building our brand and audience.
Which social networks have you found to be most effective in building an audience? What have you found gets the most engagement?
Well, I always have to thank Myspace. Myspace was our start. Myspace really got us buzzing before it became obsolete. These days I’m on Facebook and Twitter. For me, those get the most engagement. I’ve accumulated a lot of listeners on Facebook through the years, so I mainly post there and on Twitter. Instagram is good too from what I hear, but Twitter works best for me. Twitter allowed me to connect with artists and producers I’ve always looked up to. People on there I never in a million years would’ve thought I’d be interacting with.
That’s deep. These virtual platforms can indeed lead to real relationships in the industry. Have you been performing live much? Can you describe your shows?
As of recently, no. In the past I used to rock shows damn near every week. I’ve got to release this project. Once I do that, there will be a demand for me to perform. That’s when I’ll get busy. I can’t wait to go on tour. Sh*t man, ask Hus or Mag about me. Most my shows I did with those two. I’m more of the crowd pleasure. Like, I’ll spit my bars and sh*t, move around and all that, but I’m bound to climb up on top of a speaker, or crowd surf…I’ve done it before! So any show of mine is always a fun one. This is entertainment, so aside from making good music, it’s my job to entertain. Feel me?
Indeed. In the immortal words of Rakim, “Move the Crowd.” As someone who embraces boom bap, why do you feel it’s nowhere as prominent as it should in the Hip Hop scene?
You know what’s funny? It’s actually not the youth’s fault that it is this way. I blame that on the media and the radio and sh*t like that. It’s the theory of evolution. Sh*t is constantly changing. A guy born in 1996 is technically only 20 years old now. He’s young. So he may not know who a Nas, or DJ Premier or AZ, or Ghostface is. Simply because they’re not as prevalent as they once were. Nowadays it’s all pop and trap music. With that being said, as more kids are born and growing up…they’re falling into that sound. It’s taking over. As the years go by, we’re getting further and further removed from that raw golden era sound. Sh*t man, 40…50 years from now that sh*t could mess around and be wiped out. It’s up to the real, to keep that sh*t alive.
What do you feel is missing from the Hip Hop game today?
I really could sum this up in just a few sentences. The love for the culture is what’s missing. Nowadays money is the motive. Back then, people wrote rhymes for a reason. They spit they’re raps to talk about what was going on around them, to get things off of their chest. Nowadays, everything is done with the motive of getting more views, or plays. It’s about tight jeans now, and sh*t like that, strange fashion statements. People are busy following trends now instead of setting them. So I’ll say it again. The love for the culture is what’s missing. Emcees and producers were for the most part in control of their creative direction. It seems as though nowadays everything is programmed to fit a certain criteria.
Well said! What’s your workflow process for recording new music? For example do you start with a beat, do you look for specific production first, where do you record, etcetera.
Well first I’ll say, I’m truly blessed to have producers from different countries all over the world reach out and send beats. You know, some I may like, some I may not, but I’m a very versatile emcee. I’m always looking to step my sh*t up, so I listen to every submission I get. And then I have my core producers that already know what I like and what I’m looking for…so as far as sound goes, I really look for anything dope that I can hear myself on…even if it’s out of the norm or different. I’m always looking to set a trend or do something that hasn’t been done before. The process of writing and recording is all organic for me. So I don’t go seeking specific production. Guys send beats and if it hits me, it hits me. I may get 100 beats and only like 4 of them in reality. But when that beat touches my soul, and it moves me a certain way, I know it’s time to get to work. I don’t pre-write my rhymes and then find a beat to stick it on. I start with the beat, throw my headphones on, and one out. Wherever the pen takes me, is where I go. I like to be in my own space though. Any distraction can alter the feeling and my energy, forcing me to stop and carry on at another time. I used to hit the studio but I smartened up early in the game. I knew how much I loved creating and I knew as much as I’d create, I damn sure did not want to pay for all of that studio time…so I invested in recording equipment for my house. I’ve been recording at home for like 9…10 years now. It allows me to work at my own pace, when I feel like recording. If I roll out of bed and decide I want to record something, I can at my own free will. The only con with being at home is, sometimes I may get lazy or want to lay back and eat in watch TV…so for me it’s best to record first thing in the morning when I have all the fresh energy I need.
Can you describe your upcoming album and what to expect?
Man, I worked so hard on my upcoming project. SS96J, in other words “Smoothest since ’96.” 1996 was the most influential year for me in Hip Hop. It’s the year this sh*t really began to stick with me, so I felt i had to tie that year in with the title. And then the “J.” You got two elite guys in their prime. You got Michael Jordan who went 72-10 with the Bulls back then. Most consider him to be the greatest of all time, and then you have Jay-Z who emerged with his debut, “Reasonable Doubt.” Jay used to kick that street sh*t with fly delivery; talk about hustling and his surroundings, but in a smooth and very clever/witty way. I’m just trying to make a statement. When it comes to everything in life, I’m extremely confident. I always consider myself to be one of the best, if not the best, at everything I do. This project is me separating myself from everyone else. It’s me saying I’m the next best thing to emerge since the ’96 J’s. I’m always trying to outdo myself. So expect me at my best. I’ve got lots of dope features from my squad and then I’ve got guys like Planet Asia and Big Twins on there. Got some dope skits and things like that, that’ll take the listeners back to ’96. Back to when we boom bappers used to really enjoy this Hip hop thing. I played no games with this project. Tried to show the world there’s not many out there on my level that can f*&k with me. That’s all it really is. I’ve always been a humble individual, but on this one, I’m giving em those “they can’t f*&k with me” raps. Every bar and beat is lethal! I’m the smoothest since….nine six.
Labels are still important in music, however, nowhere near as they used to be. What’s your take on signing, staying independent, and where you see your future path in the music industry?
Well, I grew up hustling, doing what a lot of us had to do to get money…and I was very good at it. With that being said, who wouldn’t want to work for themselves. That’s my take on it. I’d much rather build my brand to the point where I can get paid shows, paid features and bank lots of money, without having a boss or having to give a piece of that money to the next man. That’s always been my mindset. I’m not opposed to signing but I’d much rather remain independent, as long as I can collect large amounts. I wouldn’t remain independent just to collect petty dollars…I’m talking large amounts. So yes, I do see why guys sign to major labels. They want that big money, they want to cash out. But to me, it’s not always good to do it that way. A lot of times you become a slave to the game at that point. You get locked into multiple album deals, labels control your creative direction a lot of the time, and they even hold some hostage. I can’t have people telling me when and when not to do certain things. I have responsibilities, so I’d much rather be my own boss. However, if the right deal came across my lap, I’d be open for discussion. The game is different now though, the internet has changed everything. You can get money independently now in this internet age. If it were up to me, I’d just get some real good distribution with a company, and move my own music that way as opposed to signing to a major. If ever I signed, I wouldn’t lock myself into something crazy. I’d do it for an album or two.
Interview by Israel Vasquetelle and Kevin Keith.