“I will have Ralph Lauren call me the Kushed God!” Smoke DZA promises as he exhales a gigantic gust of weed smog and laughs. The Harlem mainstay’s foppish obsession with RL rugby shirts inspired part of the title to his new album, Rugby Thompson, but he also dreams of a day when Lauren becomes a mutual admirer. There’s no mention of smoke in that album title, for good reason. DZA’s album was top-to-toe produced by Harry Fraud, and is DZA’s move away from the limiting “just another weed rapper” tag. DZAs tells stories on Rugby Thompson — like when he weaves a yarn about local faces who never fulfill their potential on “Playground Legend” — but he still swears allegiance to the Smoker’s Club collective. Hive pestered DZA while he constructed his next blunt and got him to open up about watching fellow Harlemite A$AP Rocky’s come up, the infamous clothing-infatuated Lo Life gang, and his idolization of Hulk Hogan.
Your love of Ralph Lauren clothing is well known, but Rugby Thompson is partly inspired by the show Boardwalk Empire, right?
Yeah, the name of it was inspired by that. The character Nucky Thompson, he kinda motivated me with the subject matter of Rugby Thompson, but it was also taking on the aspect of someone playing both sides of the game, which is what he did. He was playing both sides of the fence, running Atlantic City with the liquor chain and all that.
Are you a big fan of Boardwalk Empire then?
Yes I am! It’s an old school gangster show, like Al Capone and all of them back in the days, like back in the liquor prohibition days.
If you could create a TV show out of the concept and cast of Rugby Thompson, what would it be like?
It would be like a drama comedy. It’s like a real side to Smoke DZA other than a pot side; it’s about a real person that’s got kids, that’s a father, that’s in the street, that people wouldn’t normally see. It would be that.
Who would be the lead funny man then?
What would Bronson’s character be like?
He would probably be like one of the guys in the house that comes to fuckin’ get high, then he makes stoner dishes and shit and tells jokes. And Domo Genesis, he’s another funny guy, and so is Schoolboy Q.
Which actor would you want to play you in this fantasy show?
Mekhi Phifer. He can talk like a Harlem man. I loved how he played it in Paid in Full, like he can do the “What’s up B?”s and all of that.
So when did your Ralph Lauren obsession start?
I really don’t remember. It’s been ever since I could remember. I’ve always liked the brand because I felt like it was clean. It wasn’t something you could categorize as urban wear. I love Ralph Lauren to death.
How deep is your Ralph Lauren clothing collection?
Very deep. It’s over fuckin’ 300 rugbys and different little pieces and a bunch of accessories and a bunch of custom shit.
If your closet caught on fire, which one piece would you want to save most?
All of them! I would cry! I would jump into the fire in my closet with them! Burn me up with my shit. I don’t want to live without that.
When did you first hear about the Lo Life movement?
I knew about Thirstin [Howl III] and the Lo Life movement ever since I was a child growing up in New York City, when they was actively running into Macy’s. I mean, Thirstin’s got a song with Eminem [“Watch Deez”] from before he was famous, he’s part of the movement. It’s good to have him as a mentor and a father figure.
What’s the craziest story you ever heard about the Lo Lifes growing up?
Everything is fuckin’ crazy. Just running into Macy’s, a super commercial department thing, and racking everything to where Ralph Lauren is talking about you! That’s crazy: You steal so much you make the designer talk about you! That’s tight! But they also helped make Ralph Lauren untouchable, ’cause from doing that it brought up the stock. I guess it went hand in hand, like [Ralph Lauren] was happy to have that ’cause it made Ralph Lauren “urban.”
If you could get Ralph Lauren to do an intro to one of your songs, what would you ask him to say?
He will! I will have him call me the Kushed God! Then like, “My number one supporter, he got my stock up in 2011, got everyone wearing Rugby when they didn’t know about it.”
You had an album release party last night at a night themed around 1992. What do you associate most with that year?
Snow beach. Every time I hear 1992 I think of the snow beach Polo jacket.
What sort of songs were you listening to in 1992?
Naughty by Nature. ’92 I was like … I was watching “Macho Man” Randy Savage fighting Ultimate Warrior! And it was those ruffneck shirts and Wreckx-N-Effect and Cross Colors all that stupid shit was going on.
Did you used to wear Cross Colors yourself?
Yeah, everybody did as a a kid. I had some purple and orange shit, some yellow shit my mom bought that was ridiculous. I don’t know how I wore them shits, I don’t even think those pants had pockets.
Are you a big wrestling fan then?
Huge wrestling fan. If they had like a Who Wants to Be a Millionaire about wrestling, I would be the winner of that.
Who’s the greatest wrestling of all time?
Hulk Hogan without a doubt, he’s the Babe Ruth of wrestling. Any child growing up in the ’80s, you identify with Hulk Hogan like you identify Michael Jordan with basketball. Hulk Hogan was bigger than life: he had his own vitamins, he had lunch boxes, t-shirts, bandanas. I took Hulk Hogan vitamins! He literally made wrestling what it was. I stood in line when I was 18-years-old outside of Toys ’R’ Us to get an autograph, and I was cool at 18 at that point. That’s how much I idolize Hulk Hogan.
If the Smoker’s Club has a Royal Rumble style wrestling match, who would win?
I would probably give it to me, humbly. I’d just probably win ’cause of my knowledge of wrestling and everybody would get tossed out.
Which member would be most likely to fight dirty?
Joey Bada$$. He’s most likely to fight dirty ’cause he’s a badass kid and he might kick you in the nuts and slap your hat off when you’re not playing attention. He’s one of those. I mean Pro Era, they’re all fuckin’ badass kids. I love them all, but they’re bad ass kids.
When did you first hear Joey Bada$$ rap?
I heard Joey’s shit last year and off the rip I thought he was amazing. I wasn’t rapping like this at 17-years-old. He’s very fuckin’ advanced. From word play to having that vibe of a ’90s artist, he raps like the year he was born, in 1995. I haven’t heard a young kid rap like that. He understands. That’s something a lot of young people don’t have: He listens. He doesn’t feel like he knows everything. Credit him a lot.
So what was the rap song that made you want to try to rap yourself?
It was [Jay-Z’s] “Can’t Knock the Hustle.” I heard that song when it first came out: I was on Lennox Avenue, I had a uniform on, was at a private school, and I heard a car playing that record and it was, “Oh my god!” Biggie and Jay-Z is the reason I rap, and Snoop also; Doggystyle is the first album I ever bought. And I remember I re-wrote [Biggie’s] “Mo’ Money Mo’ Problems” and did my own rendition of it. That taught me rhyme patterns and how to write bars. Listening to Biggie’s shit, like pausing and re-writing, that taught me about writing. Big’s one of the greatest ever.
What was your version of “Mo’ Money Mo’ Problems” about?
It was about food, like talking about taco supreme and no beans. It was funny.
You’ve collaborated with A$AP Rocky. Were you aware of him when he was growing up in Harlem?
That’s my little brother, you know! The first time I heard him was “Purple Swag.” I heard that shit before a lot of people. Rocky, [A$AP] Yams, the whole A$AP crew — they’re all younger guys from around the way and I seen them on my come up and they’ve seen what I’ve done — I’m not a new jack at all – so it was pretty much a mutual respect. They reached out to me. I already had the “4 Loko” record done with the hook. I originally wanted Juicy J on there, who I was on tour with, but Rocky reached out and we put it together. It was a great record.
Were you surprised at A$AP Rocky’s “Purple Swag” when you first heard it?
Yeah, the sound of it, yes, I was, because you don’t really see young kids form Harlem that’s aware of chopped and screwed music and aware of DJ Screw and all theses guys in Houston that made that. To hear a guy like Rocky do that, he made it hot again.
Going back to your own album, what do you want people to get out of it?
A lot of people only know the aspect of me that’s loving the weed shit or the weed rapping — they don’t know that in the real time I’m a storyteller. The weed just happens to be a little part of my life. So I just want people to view me as an artist.
Rugby Thompson is out now via Times Square Records.