Success brings opportunities, but sometimes, those offers come with a cost to a rising star’s authenticity. Sure, you can have a featured collaboration, an NFT of your high school yearbook photo, or a fast-food meal named after you. But, if the din of these deals drowns out the message that made you a star in the first place, are they worth it? Thankfully, D Smoke doesn’t have to worry about that. “Staying true to myself is a matter of staying grounded and rooted in who I am and where I come from,” D Smoke tells HollywoodLife when discussing his music and his new partnership with Ultimate Ears.
“I’m a very open person,” he adds, “a very adventurous, outgoing person. If there’s an opportunity to do something I haven’t done before, I jump at those [creative] opportunities — when it comes to making music or a visual. But, when it comes to telling my story and connecting with brands, I want those to ring true to where I come from and what I’m about. Those things don’t really change.”
“Whereas creatively,” the winner of Netflix’s Rhythm + Flow tells HollywoodLife. “I kind of show up at any opportunity to do something new, you know? I don’t think it’s a clash of trying to stay grounded and go exploring creatively. It’s more of, if I’m speaking to a brand that really resonates with me, I want it to resonate with who I am at my root.”
It helps that D Smoke was a fan of UE earbuds before this new partnership. “I had been using the Ultimate Ears for some time,” he says. “I think in late 2019, they gifted me a pair of the earbuds, and I’ve been using them since. So when they reached out to my team and just asked how I liked them. I was like, ‘oh, I love them. These are my joints, you know?”’”
From there, the collaboration “just kind of naturally turned into a partnership, and they supported our tour,” says D Smoke, adding that he utilized the professional-grade custom In-Ear Monitors for his recent tour while using the UE earbuds during down -time between shows. This year has provided plenty of opportunities for him to use the earbuds. His War & Wonders Tour wrapped up its North American dates at the start of 2022. He opened for Alicia Keyes on ten of her dates. Currently, D Smoke is overseas in Europe, playing a few dates before heading home to participate in the Napa Jazz Festival.
D Smoke ensured that his campaign with UE would follow his code of authenticity – of “ringing true to where I come from” – by including his Broadway Boxing Gym. “I’ve been boxing at Broadway for over ten years,” he says. “They wanted to capture me in my element and in the places where I listen to music to kind of to zone out, because I believe that’s the vision for what the modes can do, with [Ultimate Ears] them kind of locking in and tuning out the rest of the world.”
“The boxing gym is one of those places for me, where I forget to look at my phone, and I don’t think of being anywhere else once I’m there. And so for them to capture me in that element was really dope, and, it was true to form — to me really be having my headphones in while I was doing my thing.”
“For me, their question was, ‘what are the spaces where that’s necessary?’ And of course, prepping for a show, that whole process is one of those [moments to zone out.] So, those are my two worlds, so to speak. For this campaign in particular, they wanted to capture me in that element. And I thought that was really cool.”
“Like, they actually filmed some of that [commercial] on the tour,” says D Smoke, adding that footage was taken at his show “in Orange County at the Observatory. It’s always cool when someone else’s vision aligns with what you wanna do. Really, my goal is to just stay in– and not in — my comfort zone, so to speak. Stay true to myself, you know?”
D-Smoke has found that there are a lot of rewards when you risk your comfort zone – both metaphorically leaving and literally. Traveling to Nigeria in 2021 “was one of those opportunities to open up my world,” he tells HollywoodLife“and do something I hadn’t done creatively, to exchange with artists from out there who are making just groundbreaking music.”
“Costa Rica is my spot,” he continues. “That’s my go-to spot. I just love being there. I listen to my heart and body if it’s time to go. Daniel Caesar said, ‘I buy a plane ticket when it’s time to leave’ So, that’s kind of a way of life I’d like to adopt [for] me and, and my loved ones. Because I think it’s healthy to have a different pace that you can tap into a different set of social rules that you’re not accustomed to, to just keep you from feeling trapped.”
Does having an active passport lead to a more worldly vibe in his sound? “I think I have a boundary-crossing approach to music,” says D Smoke. “The most obvious way is incorporating Spanish and English into my music while not necessarily being a native speaker.”
“I’m a global citizen, a citizen of humanity, and I approach music as such,” he shares. “Of course, all while very strongly representing Inglewood. Just like I said, I’m a grounded person but an outgoing person — I want my music to feel that way. Like people know how much I represent Inglewood, but at the same time, I will challenge what their understanding of that means.”
“A lot of people thought representing Inglewood meant, you know, gang bang music and slick talk. Inglewood’s slogan has for so long been ‘Inglewood, always up to no good.’ Although I can speak to some of those issues and whatnot, it’s not limited to the same mantra that has kind of characterized Inglewood and its music.” In addition to adding in Spanish, D Smoke is showingcasing more faces of Inglewood and the West Coast hip-hop scene by “live instrumentation influence in the shows and, and, and classical and jazzs in certain songs.”
“Those are ways where people can see that there’s more of an, in a broader influence than just this local vibe that people might be accustomed to,” he says.
So, how does he plan to flip expectations next? “That’s a good question,” He says with a laugh. “I’ll forever explore my musical capabilities. I think I’ll use melodies more. I think I’ve shown so much lyricism, and sometimes the content feels dense, whereas laying back and allowing melodies to resonate and for me to sing more and slow things down? I think there are some moments to be had, and people will enjoy and respect the artist in a different capacity.”
This interview was edited for clarity.