Smif-N-Wessun: Stand Strong
After 14 years in the game, changing and re-changing the groups name, four albums and countless appearances with every one from the late Tupac to Mary J Blige, Smif-N-Wessun still stand strong as ever. With the new album, Smif-N-Wessun: The Album, theyre here to tell the world you cant keep a Rudebwoy down.
HipHopDX: You came into the game as Smif-N-Wessun but for legal reasons had to change your name to the Cocoa Brovaz. Now youre back using the original. Why did you change it back and how was that dispute resolved?
Steele: For us it's about taking chances. We came into the game taking chances just using the name. When we met that little obstacle we had to change it because they were trying to sue us. So, at the time we just thought it'd be better just to go a different route. But with all that we were still able to make the classic Rude Awakening album. With this album, we felt like we should take it back to the essence. I think in the beginning the marketing rules were a lot different from what they are now. We just feel like now we can get away with a little more so we're on some bomb first shit right now.
DX: When you first came on the scene, Brooklyn emcees had a firm grip on New York Hip Hop. There were a lot of diverse artists and a lot more unity amongst the industry. Do you feel there is a need to get back to those times?
Tek: It's never going to back to the way it was. Things never go back to exactly what they were when they change. If dudes stay on their hustle, their grind then it'll get better. It's always greater later. As far as trying to recapture that particular era or sound artists, promoters, reporters, everybody just needs to let that go. I think we should just focus on the new and what's coming out whether it's old artists with new material or new artists coming up. As long as the music is good and it comes from the heart, that's what it is.
Steele: Do remember, 95% of the artists coming out of Brooklyn right now is fire. I can run down a list of at least 10 off the dome that have laced the Hip Hop community with classical music.
DX: You guys did something that is becoming fairly common in popular music in going overseas to complete you recent album. Why did you go to Sweden to do the album and why do you suppose more artists are looking to producers from other countries?
Tek: We had just finished this Boot Camp [Clik] tour and we had a little free time over there so we hooked up with our boys Ken Ring, Rune Rotter and Tommy Tee. While we had that little free time we figured why not make an album.
Steele: These dudes are people we got history with. Like Ken Ring worked with us on the Reloaded album and the Boot Camp Click [The Last Stand] album. One thing that's important in this industry is to always maintain relationships. So we kept good relations with the homie. We were out there for like 20 days. It wasn't like we said, "Let's go to Sweden." We just wanted to get away from the stuff we have to deal with everyday. It got to a point that we had so much stuff built up that it had to just spill out on the pad with the pen. So we needed to go somewhere we could concentrate on that with all the domestic distractions. Like my P.N.C. Said it was just great timing coming of the tour. The first four days my voice was gone. Like we had to relay all our shit. But it was a great experience over there. We were meeting the Cocaine Cowboys for the first time and stepping into a studio that was magnificent. We were like, "Damn. This is a place fit for princes." When we walked up in there we felt good and the energy, we were fresh off the tour with bread in our pockets and we did a couple shows out there too. It was just a beautiful feeling like we were on some big gun, Smif-N-Wessun, colt 40 bloodclot!
DX: A lot of older artists find a new market for their music overseas. When doing tours overseas do you feel they appreciated more there than when youre in the U.S.?
Steele: Ain't no place like home. We're from New York City, that's where we were born and bred so we love performing in New York City. But with New York and all its hustle and bustle sometimes we don't have the time to look at things twice. Overseas is a different story. They don't have the same things that we have so they appreciate things more. They don't have clubs that are popping every night or see stars just walking around. Overseas is like the country. Like the shit that we see on a regular basis they want to know about. They want to know how cats in Brooklyn are, how cats in Harlem are, is Mobb Deep really like that. They're really intrigued by how we do things and how it goes down over here. Hip Hop is a worldwide thing. When Afrika Bambaataa and Kool Herc planted those seeds, they meant for it to be worldwide nation that's why it was called the [Universal] Zulu Nation. Like when we went to Spain them cats took us to the highway and we put up a big Cocoa B's piece up on the highway. I can draw but I dont know how to do no big ass burner on a wall. But it was just crazy that we were out in Spain doing graffiti on a highway. And actually, that highway is designated just for that. If you want to write on shit, do it there. You do anywhere else and your ass is grass. It's just crazy that they appreciate Hip Hop like that and they looked at us like pioneers.
Tek: They jam. They be jamming over there and they know the history. Their history game is on point. They pay attention. And they know about the newer stuff like that too but, for the most part they're not ready for that. And we got to give them credit because there's a language barrier. Most times, the older stuff is easier to understand. Cats are really off the wall with it and sometimes that shit is hard to comprehend. But at the same time its crazy diverse over there. When we went to Paris cats was balling. They had the big chains and riding in the new Lexus and all that.
DX: Have you ever witnessed an older artist or more established artist kind of brush aside or look down on less established artists in doing shows or on tours?
Steele: We could so a documentary about that shit, man.
Tek: Our motto is if you ain't breaking bread with niggas, fuck you. We been doing this for years and it was only right for us coming from the hood to come back and put our peoples on. If we see a nigga got that selfish mentality, we know to stay far away from that.
DX: You two came into the game as part of the Boot Camp Click. Over time peoples goals and motives can change. How is the relationship within the camp?
Tek: The relationship is still strong. Duck Down still here. Bucktown still here. We still rock with Da Beatminerz even though they dont have any tracks on this album. Still rock with Buckshot, still rock with 5 Fab. Just did the video with all types of crazy cameos. Its family first with us and we keep ours tight.
DX: With all the emcees coming out of Brooklyn during the early to mid 90s a few people were looking for a unified Brooklyn album. Do you think something like that could happen today?
Tek: That shit would never happen. Its too many nooks and crannies of projects and hoods with talented emcees. Then you got the egos of dudes who just know that theyre nice or dudes who feel like they are the hierarchy and wont come fuck with this underground, hood emcee. The closest we ever came to that was The Crooklyn Dodgers and you didnt even get a whole album out of that.
Steele: You still got to hope for the best. And theres so much going on out there and dudes got so much to say. But, you have these dudes that feel like they can only do joints with platinum artists. Unless its that rare occasion where they make a personal choice and go against the grain. Sometimes those are the hottest joints. When you hear it and its like, Oh shit, son did a joint with them? Were all fans of this shit. Dope collaborations help keep this shit moving, man. But thats what were all about anyway. We respect anybody whos doing there thing. Well rock with a dude like Joell Ortiz. Son gets busy. We dont have to think twice about it. If were men of respect and youre good at what were both doing then the exchange is already made. We link up and see if we can get it going. Its not going to be, So what y'all using it for? Word, I need like three points on the album. Its like duke, where are you from? Its like , "Aight son, nevermind." We dont even deal with that. Me and my partner are some of the best. When we see dudes still in the street doing there thing we get that respect and love. When Tek talks about knowing [Notorious] B.I.G. and 'Pac dudes know thats real story. We try to stick to the truth as 99.9% of the time. And these other cats [laughs] I mean if it happened it happened.
DX: What is Smif-N-Wessuns process when creating music?
Tek: We just get in there and do what we do. We just stick to the script. Like if its raining outside, we throw the hoodie on. Whatever it is when we the engineer drop the beat thats what it is. We respect each other as artists so well vibe and throw shit back and forth but, at the same time, were still fans. So we get our pens, paper and whatever other ingredients we need and make it happen.
DX: Smif-N-Wessun has played a big part in New York's Hip Hop scene and in Hip Hop in general. Do you two feel like youre recognized for what youve done in the game?
Tek: Theyre not going to take notice of all that until either we lay hands on one of them or something tragic happens to one of us. Theyll never give niggas their proper, propers. We been in mad peoples' homes, talked to their kids. People that are now lawyers, doctors, executives right now grew up on us. They aint going to give us that proper. Thats why were doing this right now. We got to document this. Like, its there, but everybody cant get to Wikipedia.
Steele: Were going to get it. We got more coming in 08. Duck down is bringing that new Boot Camp album, new Buckshot & 9th Wonder album, Sean Price & Black Milk. The most high keeps coming with these different characters and we keep meshing and creating these new formulas. We got a bunch of things going on in 08 but the Smif-N-Wessun album, thats the baby right there.
DX: Even though Smif-N-Wessun has never had that crossover success youre still in the game doing shows and making music. What is it that keeps you going?
Tek: The support. We get support from fans, people in the street, our own babies. We got comrades that been in jail since we were in high school thats coming home after their bid saying Yo, I was knocking yall tape during my whole bid. I know lawyers out there that will be rocking with Smif-N-Wessun until its over. Everyday is a new found hunger for this.
Steele: Hip Hop is a powerful thing, man. The word is truly mighty. Think about the power your words have. Not trying to go left with it but the homie Nas is trying to put out an album titled Nigga. You think about the boy [Hakeem] Jeffries petitioning Universal over it. Hip Hop is powerful and its reaching a lot of people, more than ever. A lot of people are tuning in right now. The impact is amazing. Its getting on them planes, getting in that big ass 747 flying for 14 hours, going places to do these showshoping you land safe. [laughs] As long as were doing whats in our hearts, and doing that to the best of our ability, were good. We feel like its our responsibility to the people who kept us going in this thing for this long. Theyre everything. Without them, we wouldnt be here.