D-Smoke: Nigerian Music Inspires Me
Peering into his background over the zoom call, one could see an array of artwork arranged across the room. The photographs hanging above his grand piano signaled his devotion to family, culture and art, the very trio that inspires his connection with the music scene in Nigeria.
After listening to the Fireboy 2020 smash hit dubbed Champion, one is very likely to think that Daniel Anthony Farris, better known as D-smoke, is also a Nigerian. Over the years, the Grammy-nominated Californian rapper has built a strong relationship with Nigerian musicians that his personality could easily be mistaken for native. Undoubtedly, D-smoke has been among the front guard of Black American artistes who have been promoting the blooming Afrobeats-American export, bringing Afrobeats music closer to Western audiences.
Prior to his collaborations with Fireboy, Phyno and other Nigerian artistes, D-smoke has always been closely knit with the Nigerian community. The 36-year-old rapper has experienced the groovy, uplifting culture of Nigerians on his several visits to the country. His most recent visit, last year, resulted in the stellar duet with Phyno dubbed I Do This, among other unreleased collaborations with other Nigerian artistes.
Catching up with Guardian Music, the former high school teacher opens up on working with Nigerian artistes, drawing inspiration from Africa, promoting social consciousness via music, his favourite highlights about Nigeria and many more.
You are preparing for your tour in January. How does that feel?
As we prepare, any moment I’m prepared. You know I’m spending time with them. So that’s what I’m focused on. Preparing and then taking each moment to get to enjoy the family.
So how was it when you came to Nigeria?
That’s family time in a whole different set. You know what I’m saying like, just to connect. You know the motherland is powerful. I remember the first time I went, and it’s like every other. Every time I come to Africa, it’s like the people I see feel just exactly like the people I know. Not just a little bit, but exactly like somebody I know. It really puts things into perspectives in terms of who we are. You know of course, as Americans we are disconnected. So, my time in Nigeria is a family time too.
Tell us about your sessions with Nigerian artistes here?
It was dope. Like me and Fireboy are funny because I was in the classroom for a long time. You know, so I got used to hanging out with younger creatives. You know the young crowd. So, it was like “big bro, little bro.” A lot of the time, you know, we are just chilling, laughing. He is hilarious. Like when the camera lights on, he chills, you know what I’m saying. But when the camera is off, it’s different. We just had a good time joking around and when we got to the studio and put up some beats, he was like ok, I have an idea and he took it round with it. And the next we had Sleepwalking and that was after we had put out Champion.
So, where I am now, we have this creative chemistry like that’s my bro. So anytime we want to go, we can go and chill. When I’m handling my next project, imma hit him on the board you know. That session was super special. Phyno is a dope artiste. I got in with Wurld; I got in with Falz. I just had a good time connecting with them all.
Were you ever inspired by African music?
You know it’s interesting. I grew up listening to a lot of gospel songs. My first time going to Nigeria was because I had done a gospel project for my mum and she had written a song back in the 90s that made it out across the world. It was very popular in Africa as well. I just remembered as a kid there’s a whole lot of African song making it into the gospel world, collaborating with gospel artistes and stuff. So, I was aware of the sounds and the collective voice. But it wasn’t until recently that the rhythm of African music started picking up. For me personally, it really started to influence me on how I approach music. But growing up, I listened to gospel in the house. Like Stephen Wonder was in the house all the time. With the first rap, I started listening to every album. You know I listened to Corob. He was one of my favourites, and I got on Jayz. I have always wanted to listen to great lyricists. So those were like my influences and how I came up in music.
You connect with the Black Community here a lot. What is your own story or agenda?
Urhhhh, a good family. Pops was locked up. Pops’ getting home. They fought their way through adversity and uplifted the people as they went. So, my story is not just my story either. My main goal is to put my family on. So, the whole goal is for my family to look up and be like… that’s when I achieved my goal. You know D-smoke is doing his thing. I have had some successes and we are still growing. So, my story is going to be more complete when everybody knows about my entire family because that’s the main thing. What they know now is that they know pops was locked up. They know I used to fight. They know that I play keys and that I’m from Inglewood and all of that stuff.
When was your first time in Nigeria?
2015 in Abuja. I came again in 2021.
If you were to be given a Nigerian name, which would you prefer?
Chukwudi. And I got to tell my homie that they gave me this name though.
How did you feel when you got nominated for a Grammy?
I was surprised. But I wasn’t surprised in the sense that I did know what we put together, that is, the body of work. But yeah, just the fact that it came so early was exciting. Again, we make music so that we can connect with people, so that we can be honest and tell our stories and that’s what it’s for. So, when the worst happens or doesn’t happen, it doesn’t change what we do.
Why do you even do it, like make music?
I was born into music. It’s not like I chose music. I didn’t look up one day and be like that’s what I want to do. It was in my home, you know. It was right around me, so it was something I had always done.
Right now, who are you feeling in the Nigerian music industry, among the newcomers?
Tems. She’s so good though. Like I’m a big fan. I’m also a big fan of Burna Boy. And Fireboy; you know we got songs together and his projects show so much promise. He is a real song writer and his influences are so spread out.
Do you have any favourite Nigerian dishes?
I like Point and Kill with fresh catfish. Egusi soup. Jollof rice.
What else do you love about Nigeria?
When, it’s just the people. Like everybody is genius in his or her own way. People I connected with were such masters of whatever their craft was. And it is also that strong hustle that seems to survive with us, like you know, get up and go get it. Like that’s how I am – competitive. So, when I get into the studio just doing my thing and people are all about their business you know. When I was in Nigeria, we shot three music videos and seven songs with Don Jazzy. Wait, let me take you back. So, when I first went in 2014, my favourite song back in those days was Dorobucci.
Are you visiting anytime soon?
Absolutely. We are finishing up our United States tour in January/February. And after that, we look to going overseas. We gotta stop by the motherland and show some love again.
Have you been inspired by your visits here, when making music?
The things I was inspired to create, I created on the spot, because it was like I’m there; I’m feeling the energy. Some of which have come out, some of which haven’t. But I also just wanted to catch up while I was there, because when I went home it’s a whole different vibe, energy and scenery. But the things that Nigeria inspired me to create, we did it on the spot while the energy was fresh.
Finally, what do you see as the future of Afrobeats?
I think as it continues to grow, people see that it has influenced everything. You know, I’m excited to see what the Amapiano and South Africa is doing. When I was in Nigeria, they were playing a lot of the Amapiano stuff. I’m just happy that it’s influencing the people. I mean I enjoy it. But then I don’t think it’s mine to say what I want in African music still, but I know what role I would play in it, like jumping on the track and being a part of it. I just look forward to it.