It’s been eight years and six months since Smoke D brought that undeniable underground sound made possible in part by himself as well as two trailblazing Southern rappers Bun-B and Pimp C, collectively known as UGK. And since touching down on free ground August 27, it’s evident that his homecoming has been a long-awaited welcome.
Within a month of being released from prison, he has received rave reviews online for his comeback single “When the Feds Pull Up” featuring Bukwild. Over a silky smooth interpolation of R. Kelly’s classic “When A Woman’s Fed Up” accented by piercing piano chords and acoustic guitar strums, Smoke honestly and unapologetically breaks down the possible consequences of living on the other side of the law.
And with a highly anticipated mixtape and full-length album distributed via Trill Life Entertainment on the way, diehard fans across the nation celebrate the return of the trill.
“Judging from the internet response of my first leaked single, I definitely have an audience already in place,” says Smoke D. “I’m bringing them back that underground sound that was there before and bringing in a better way and pick up where Pimp left off…I learned a lot from Pimp as far as coming up with that UGK sound,” Smoke admits. “I learned how to rap from him and how to produce.”
Born in Denver, Colorado and raised in Mississippi since he was six weeks old, Smoke D came up in the sleepy town of Crystal Springs, right outside the state’s capitol city Jackson. When he was 15, his mother packed up the young man and his six siblings and relocated to the faster-paced Capitol City.
“Jackson was a lot different than Crystal Springs. There were a lot of gangs in Jackson so I got acclimated to the streets through gang activity,” he recalls. “It’s just another state with another ghetto. It’s a lot of poverty. It’s just a rat race. Even if you win the race, you’re still just a rat.”
Despite all of his dirty dealings in the streets, Smoke managed to make it college and attended Hinds Community College. A college friend from Crystal Springs who was also pursing a rap career invited Smoke to travel with him to Lansing, Michigan for his studio session. There, Smoke would meet Flint, Michigan's "Dayton Family" and things would only get better from there.
It just so happened that the studio owner’s son wanted to record a song of his own but no one would help him. After getting the nod from his father, Smoke wrote a song with the kid called “The Pimp Mack Hustle.” Smoke only intended it to be a joke record and was mainly concerned with helping his friend’s career.
When Smoke and his friend brought their music back to Mississippi, they circulated the tapes amongst their friends. One of those friends was a local club owner named Stokes who passed both tapes along to Bun and Pimp, who were performing at the club that night.
“Out of the blue, I get a call from Stokes telling me to come to the club,” Smoke recalls. “I didn’t know what he wanted.”
When Smoke arrived at the club, the owner told him to go out to the backdoor of the club. “When I got out back, it was a limo back there. So I got in the limo and it was three girls in the limo with Pimp and Bun,” Smoke remembers. “We were listening to the music and listened to the song I did with the little boy, and Pimp invited me to come to his house for two weeks. I ended up staying for two years.”
At the time, UGK had recently signed a major label deal with Jive Records and were recording their 1994 seminal Southern classic album Super Tight in New Orleans. They were working on a record entitled “Front Back Side to Side” and asked Smoke to get on the song. With menial promotions and virtually no airplay, Super Tight went gold and "Front, Back, & Side to Side" became a hit single for the Texas-based group.
That one verse featuring Smoke's gritty lyrics established him as one of the up-and-coming voices in Southern hip-hop. Among true fans of Southern rap music, he was a legend in the making and hadn't even released his first record yet.
The success of "Front, Back, & Side to Side" caused things to really take off for Smoke. He toured with UGK, and he and Pimp C worked on tracks that would be on Smoke's highly anticipated solo album, but before he could finish recording the album, his life took a tragic turn. Smoke had a run-in with the law that resulted in his serving a 10-year bid for manslaughter.
“My life changed after that. I wanted to keep it real and still hang in the ghetto,” he admits. “I didn’t have guidance. I was doing whatever I felt like, going wherever the wind blew me… People who are from the same place where you are from resent you for trying to do better. Back then, I was too naive to understand that.”
While locked up, Smoke recorded an audio message to let Pimp, Bun and the rest of the crew know that he was ok. Pimp chopped it up and put the audio as song intros on the next gold-selling album Ridin’ Dirty.
“While I was in the penitentiary, it put a lot more hype on me,” says Smoke. “That got me respect in the prison because I was trying to do something. God blessed me all the way.”
As luck would have it, though, 10 days after Smoke got out of prison, Pimp was on his way to prison. “I got out expecting an easy road but it didn’t turn out that way,” he says. “I was really out there on my own, trying to avoid trouble. I waiting on Pimp…I was rap hustling and street hustling.”
That street hustling gained him another round trip ticket to prison as Pimp was being released. “Before Pimp got out, I was back in trouble so when he was getting out, I was headed back in,” says Smoke. “By the time we got to reconnect again, he was found dead in California. I don’t know if it was God’s will for us not to coexist in the same space or something. I don’t know.”
On his last sentence, Smoke faced a 20-year bid but got out on “good time” for participating in rehabilitation classes. Last year, prior to his release, several previously unreleased tracks from Smoke, Pimp C, Bun-B and Lil Boosie, among others, were released on Smoke D’s mixtape The Lost Files, hosted and mixed by DJ Big House.
“A whole lot of people know who I am but they don’t see my face,” says Smoke. “I’m not a person who’s always out. I stick to myself but now it’s time to use my talents to further my family and people I know and love.” And that’s exactly what he is set to do with his forthcoming mixtape and full-length album fueled by runaway single “When the Feds Pull Up.”
“Before, I had this big house built as far as the music. But since I’ve been gone, the house done got old. So I’m in the process of rebuilding, reestablishing and bringing everything back up to date.”