Don't Sleep: Necessary Notables
Headliner: Smoke DZA
Album: Rolling Stoned
Key Cameo: "On the Corner" (featuring Bun B and Big K.R.I.T.)
Real Spit: Jay-Z, Kanye West and Lil Wayne are already established — not just as hip-hop stars, but as modern-day musical icons whose reach extends to fans outside of rap as well. In hip-hop's underground, however, new stars are emerging for a new generation; Harlem rapper Smoke DZA dubs them "the new elite."
While artists like Curren$y, Big K.R.I.T., Kendrick Lamar and Dom Kennedy are breaking through with mixtapes, independent albums and multi-city tours, DZA feels right there among that crop. He's even nabbed them all for guest features on his debut indie album Rolling Stoned.
"I feel like I'm amongst the elite, and I feel like they are the elite — like the Spittas, Big K.R.I.T., Kendrick, Dom," Smokey told Mixtape Daily. "That's the new crop of the elite right now, and just to be amongst them, I'm in a good space."
DZA first made a name for himself in 2004 as a part of the duo Smoke & Numbers, but he split from the group and decided to go solo. In 2009, Smokey re-emerged by himself on Substance Abuse, followed in 2010 with George Kush Da Button. Both projects contained original music and were presented as free Internet albums — though some still labeled them as mixtapes.
"Mixtapes to me was like rapping over other people's beats, so when I really started doin' the whole pattern of rappin' over my own beats, I took the whole approach as it being an album," DZA explained of his approach. "But I always called it a mixtape because it was free. Rappin' over other people's beats, I feel like that's a mixtape, and when you're rapping over your own original production, it's more so like an album."
While he was on the road with Big K.R.I.T. on the Mississippi rapper's Return of 4eva Tour, DZA recorded THC (The Hustler's Catalog), but it is Rolling Stoned that he counts as his true debut.
"THC was an acronym for 'The Hustler's Catalog,' and I was just telling tales of what I seen or been through on wax," he said. "So that was just the beginning of the hustle for Smokey, and now Rolling Stoned, it's a combination of George Kush, Substance Abuse, THC, everything, but with a new output of what I'm doing. Like, bigger production, and I'm working with my peers, so I'm excited about that."
Aside from the "new elite," Smoke also collaborated with veteran rapper Bun B for "On the Corner." It was that feature which meant most to him. "That's the OG of the cool table," DZA said of the UGK legend. "When the OG gives you the rub, it's like, what more can you say? It was just an honor and a pleasure working with Bun, and I hope we can do that again."
For other artists featured in Mixtape Daily, check out Mixtape Daily Headlines.