Everything Smoove’L does is with his home in mind. From music to fashion to natural charisma, the artist wouldn’t be the person he is today without the influence of his native borough: “I’m not a person without Brooklyn,” Smoove’L says. “Everything I do—the way I act, look—everything is home.” The title of his first project of 2020, Boy From Brooklyn, states the rapper’s ethos plainly.
The 20-year-old Bedford-Stuyvesant native exploded onto the scene with “New Apolos,” a song named after the famous Chinese restaurant in the heart of Brooklyn that also shared the same beat as “GATTI,” the hit collab from Travis Scott and fellow BK rapper, the late Pop Smoke. Like most of Smoove’L’s early music, “New Apolos” slots neatly into the drill wave for which his borough has become synonymous, though his knack for melody sets him apart from his peers.
Smoove’L’s latest album, Ice Cups And Shootouts, expands his sound, flowing effortlessly from hard-hitting drill cuts like intro “Bag Talk” to smoother, R&B-inspired cuts like “Bae Boo Stink” and “Get Married.” His devotion to home (“Fuck thе other side ‘cause thеy not us / I’ve been loyal to my brothers, yeah I got us,” from “Fuck The Other Side”) is evident throughout.
When did you first start taking rap seriously?
I first started rapping around 13 or 14. When I started taking this seriously, I was in the 11th grade. Around 17 years old. At the time, I was part of a group called CLN.
You released two albums last year. How does Ice Cups And Shootouts differentiate itself from Boy From Brooklyn?
I really took my time with [Ice Cups And Shootouts]. I felt Boy From Brooklyn was a bit rushed. I wanted to give more. Giving different topics and different sides of me to the fans. I’m seeing what the fans want and what they like. My favorite tracks from the album are “Get Married” and “Fuck The Other Side.”
What’s your writing process and some of the difficulties that come with it?
If I hear a beat I like, I’ll write to it and then just go to the studio and record it. I prepare myself. I do better when I prepare myself and when I’m thinking. I’m always more ready when I’m thinking.
But sometimes, it’s hard if the beat isn’t challenging. I like those challenging beats because they bring the best out of me. I know I can’t do this beat if I’m not doing it at my best. I need unique beats, and sometimes it can be hard to find those. I feel like a lot of beats sound the same. I want a unique sample, something [with] violins or different types of samples we won’t see. If the beat is fire, then my verse has to be just as fire.
Where do you look for these samples?
I usually look for a throwback hip-hop sample. I don’t really look outside of hip-hop, and if I do get some, I probably don’t know about it. Like we might get some great violinists, and I don’t know if they’re from the UK or anything, but I’ll still go hard.
You keep a low profile on social media. How does that affect your music?
I see social media as a place where you show your fans what you want them to see. I’m just starting to get back on social media. You gotta prepare yourself for that. You come into the scene at such a young age, like 19, and that’s crazy because social media comes with a lot.
You get more famous, and there can be people stalking you. And different people all over the world keep looking at you, and you’re wondering, “Why do they keep looking at me?”
So you prefer to be by yourself than showing out all the time?
Yeah, definitely. It’s more blessed like that. I’m rarely showing out, but when I do, it’s for motivational purposes. I do it for the young ones, so it’s not really showing out.
You reference fashion a lot on the album. What role does that play in your music?
In Brooklyn, you gotta be heavy on the fashion. That’s the way I grew up. Gotta be fly, look fly. But I make the clothes; the clothes don’t make me. The image plays a big part [in your artistry], so you gotta always look good and natural. You never know who’s watching. But I really make the clothes. My clothes just put the icing on the cake.
You’ve lived in Brooklyn your whole life. What does home mean to you?
Brooklyn is everything. I am Brooklyn! I’m not a person without Brooklyn. Everything I do—the way I act, look—everything is home. You gotta always rep Brooklyn. That’s how you get the music going.
I just got back home [from California], and I’m ready to just drop more. Everything I learned: the sayings, the words, the wordplay, that’s all from home. That’s all from Brooklyn. You need to keep that feel if you wanna keep up with your own music.