Harlem rapper Smoke DZA is experiencing an all-time high, thanks to the change in his hustle-heavy lifestyle. He's currently on the road with Big K.R.I.T. on the Cinematic/ Def Jam rapper's Return of 4eva Tour and has also recently released his third solo Internet album THC (The Hustler's Catalog), but his future didn't always look so bright.
"I'm really talking about the game -- the other side and past stuff that I've been through in the street," DZA said of the subject matter on THC. "Just being able to talk about that right now and not talk about that [from jail] is a blessing, because it could have went a different way."
Smoke may have started out on the street hustling, but rap proved to be his true calling. He started his career as one-half of the local New York rap duo Smoke & Numbers in 2004, but split from the group, went solo and dropped Substance Abuse in 2009. DZA followed the next year with his follow-up project George Kush Da Button. It was George Kush that made Smoke a fan favorite and got him the exposure needed to take his show on the road. In 2010, DZA embarked on Curren$y's Smoker's Club Tour, a 40-city trek that also included artists such as Big K.R.I.T. and Dom Kennedy. "George Kush was the beginning of what you are seeing now," DZA said.
Now, with THC, Smokey seems to have really hit his stride. The album, which is available as a free download on his website, features lyrical contributions from other notable rap rooks like Kendrick Lamar ("Uptown 81") and Kid Daytona ("Cool Sh--"), as well as beats from Hit-Boy and the highly demanded Lex Luger ("Loaded").
Building a foundation was key, and now Smoke said he's booked for shows throughout the year, including K.R.I.T.'s current Return of 4eva run and another tour with Curren$y next month. Still, DZA, who is independently signed to Cinematic Music Group, isn't about to let his life on the road interfere with his recording process. The marijuana-influenced MC is looking to drop Substance Abuse 2 as a retail release in September and another untitled project at the end of the year. Things have been going so well for Smoke, he intends to remain independent for as long as he can.
"I like the independent route right now because I get to keep all of my bread and don't have to cut nobody in," he said. "I would love to get under that [major label] machine someday when the situation is right, but right now, I feel like being independent is the best way for me."
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