New York emcee Smoke DZA took a break from releasing music for most of 2015, but the RFC Music Group artist has returned to give his fans a new collection in the form of He Has Risen. The 9-track album was produced entirely by longtime collaborator Harry Fraud.
With the familiar “La musica de Harry Fraud” tag lacing his cuts, DZA expands his lyrical brand of Hip Hop presented on previous projects such as 2012’s Rugby Thompson and 2014’s Dream.ZONE.Achieve. But He Has Risen is a departure from his earlier works by limiting the features to only a single appearance from West Coast legend Snoop Dogg.
In part 1 of an exclusive interview with AllHipHop.com, Smoke DZA discusses his latest album. The Harlemite also covers his current label situation, the tendency for current NYC rappers to embrace other regions’ styles, and his future plans in the film world.
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Can you explain your situation with Jet Life and Cinematic? Are you signed to both?
I’m not signed to neither. I’m signed to RFC. It’s all family. Those are two flags that I’ll always wave. Cinematic with Jonny Shapiro – I’ve been able to make beautiful music with him. The same with Spitta. I’m not signed to anyone. I’m a free agent. That’s one of the biggest misconceptions about Smoke DZA. I do work closely with both of them, and I’m definitely part of the brick layering for both. It’s all love. It’s no hate. I still f*ck with all of them.
You’ve done a few projects with Harry Fraud. When did you guys first recognize that you had such great chemistry?
We realized we had chemistry when we first locked in the studio. I think the first song we ever did might have been “Ash Tray.” The chemistry with me and Harry outside of the studio is what really draws us together and continue to be constant collaborators. We both have a lot in common. That’s my brother. It just makes sense that we continue our legacy and keep pushing the things that we’re pushing.
The album is titled He Has Risen. That’s obviously a religious reference, but I have a feeling there may be another meaning.
Yeah, absolutely. I’m not a religious guy. Of course, I believe in God, but I’m not the guy to push religion as my thing or use it as a tool to promote. I didn’t put out music all last year. I was dealing with a lot of personal sh*t. My dad was sick, so my mind wasn’t really on putting out music. I’m always recording through whatever spell I’m going through. But in order to put the music out, be social, be smiling, and doing interviews like this, it was kind of hard for me to keep a straight face.
So He Has Risen is also the coming back. It’s not just some religious sh*t. It’s significant to what I do on Twitter. A lot of people that follow me on my socials know that I wake myself up by saying, “He Has Risen” – basically, I’m available to talk on social networks. So “He Has Risen” is a phrase that I use online and something that’s significant to me right now because I’m back on the scene.
I noticed you only have one featured artist on the album – Snoop. Why did you decide to limit the number of features?
I felt like it would speak in volumes just having Snoop on the album. I collaborate with everyone. People know me for doing that. We weren’t reaching out to artists. Not that I didn’t want to work with people. I just wanted something that I could perform and stand alone.
The Snoop feature was planned for years. It worked itself out. I wasn’t really reaching for anything after I had that. Looking at the tracklist and just seeing Snoop Dogg’s name, that pops out. If it’s not another artist on the tier of Snoop, then it’s kind of pointless to have anyone featured on the joint.
I think that when people first heard that you and Snoop had a song together, they probably assumed it was going to be about weed. But you guys came with a different theme. How did the concept for “Morals” come together?
I already had the concept for the record, because I had already worked on it. Then I sent it to him. My whole goal for doing that was to be able to do something with Snoop that people were not going to think of. They’re not going to think of me doing a song like “Deep Cover,” that kind of feel with Snoop. They expect me to do some average weed sh*t. I didn’t want to go about it like that. I wanted to do something different, so that’s how that song came out like that.
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When I saw the “Heard Dat” video, it gave me a throwback feeling to old NYC videos, especially with you up on the rooftops. It really had this New York vibe. There’s been a lot of conversation recently about some of the new rappers in the city sounding like they’re from somewhere else. Like a lot of people have been comparing Desiigner to Future. How do you feel about complaints from some New York rap fans that say New York rappers don’t sound like they’re from the city anymore?
It depends on how you were raised. Desiigner is 18 years old, so I’m not upset at him sounding like Future, because that was his influence. He came up in the era of Future, so that’s not something he’s just trying to do because Future is hot. I think he’s adopting his surroundings. He’s 18. He was probably f*cking with it before there was this Future mania. I can’t be mad at him for that.
In the grand scheme of New York artists sounding like other people, I don’t know man. Everybody’s got different influences. I don’t want to judge them and say they’re d*ck riding. Everybody has their own places where they channel sh*t from.
For me, I came up on Biggie, Jay, Ma$e, and Cam. I’m 32. I was raised in the 90’s. I ran the streets in the late 90’s and early 2000’s, so I know what it felt like pre-Internet. So that’s what I’m trying to tap into. I’m not trying to be nostalgic or bring back what these guys already did.
I’m just trying to take it into 2017 and pick up where they left off. I’m not d*ck riding them either. Everybody has their own way of going about sh*t. I just have a different way of showing my love to the Golden Era of New York music.
You mentioned Cam. Harlem seems to be going through a rap renaissance right now. You’ve got yourself, Dave East, Bodega Bamz, A$AP Mob, and others. What’s the feel like in Harlem right now?
It’s a good feeling. It’s dope to see those guys get recognized. It’s dope to see the city finally flourishing too. I think it’s amazing.
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Speaking of Harlem, you worked with Dame Dash on his movie [Loisaidas]. Are you interested in doing more acting?
I’ve actually been working on my own short film since then. Me and Dame still got sh*t that he’s editing up like the theatrical version of Too Honorable. It’s starring me, Cam’ron, Murda Mook, Stacey Dash, and Styles P. It’s a well-rounded flick that hasn’t made its theatrical debut yet, because there’s a lot of editing that goes into making good films. That’s coming maybe this year or definitely early next year.
I’ve been working on my own script. We’re tightening it up, and we’ll probably start casting soon. I got some real cool sh*t that I’ve been working on on the film side, so I feel real strong about that. That’s like my second calling. Actually, it’s my third calling after rapping and philanthropy.
What are you doing involving philanthropy?
I do a lot of sh*t in my neighborhood, especially for kids. It’s not sh*t for them to do, so they kind of just go from being 16 to being grown. There’s no space where you can be a child. They go from junior high school to grabbing a pack, so I’m trying to uplift the kids and give them a bigger message. It’s bigger than just smoking weed for me.
Smoke DZA’s He Has Risen produced by Harry Fraud is scheduled for release on March 4. Pre-order the album on iTunes.