Smooth B’s Instagram handle is: @thelegendarysmoothb, and rightfully so. Best known for being one-half of legendary rap duo Nice & Smooth (alongside Greg Nice), Smooth prides himself in creating genuine, meaningful raps with real lyricism and soulful beats.
Coming up from the original-school “Boogie Down” Bronx in New York City, where hip-hop more or less was birthed in the 70’s and 80’s, real name Darryl O. Barnes was blessed to see the original pioneers of hip-hop. At 10 years old, he went to his first jam in the Bronx and saw Grandmaster Flash when he was DJ Flash, battling DJ Kool Herc — his introduction to the rap game.
With music overflowing in his neighborhood, Smooth grew up with a lot of soul music in his household. Being the youngest out of 5, his 2 older brothers were business corporate, while the twins were street legends. The latter showed him the gritty, urban lifestyle, and introduced Smooth to disco fever. This was when hip-hop evolved to records, when Kurtis Blow and those guys became stars.
He states, “My brothers used to sell weed, they brought me in and I’m seeing my brothers interact with these guys. Seeing them copping from my brother, I’m like ‘wow, you know who that is?’ They’re like ‘oh yeah.’”
What fans may not know is that Smooth actually wrote all the raps for Bobby Brown, even going on tour with him. Fast forward to 2020, Smooth B releases his new single titled “Before,” which speaks volumes to the current state of the world. The music video even has his 17-year-old son dancing at the train station. AllHipHop caught up with Smooth B in downtown Los Angeles to discuss his upbringing in the Bronx, endless love for hip-hop, fondest memories with Tupac, inspiration behind “Before” and more!
AllHipHop: Talk about how you fell into the world of hip-hop.
Smooth B: I grew up around soul music, I used to sing back in the day as a kid. My mom, uncles, aunties would put me on the spot during Christmas and holiday parties, “D come out here and sing!” When I fell in love with hip-hop, the first pioneers were young men with deep voices. As I got older and Cold Crush Brothers came out, they all had these different routines where they’d mix singing with rapping. That was my inspiration. Until that time, I didn’t think I had the voice for it so I’d wait. It’s funny to grow up thinking that you don’t have the voice for something, then be recognized years later as one of the unique voices in it. To be able to contribute to it is a beautiful thing.
AllHipHop: How did Nice & Smooth come into fruition?
Smooth B: Before I met Greg, I was touring on the road with Bobby Brown. I used to write his raps. Every rap you heard Bobby say, I wrote. I was responsible for the Gumby haircut, that’s my idea. That’s my brother, I’ve seen so much with him. That’s how I started in the actual industry. I was introduced to Bobby by Mix Master Ice of UTFO (DJ). He’s working with Bobby on his album, I went to a studio session. Doctor Ice of UTFO was supposed to write his raps. Ice couldn’t make it that particular day, I happened to be there. I wrote the first rap for him, next thing you know I kept writing for him. Once he found out I could sing too, I’m doing background for him on the road. s##t’s crazy.
Traveling with Bobby, I met another dude named Lance Romance. Nice & Smooth came to be because he knew Greg. Bobby’s trying to put me in a group with Lance Romance but Lance wasn’t really serious, he knew a lot of people and had a lot of style. After the second leg of the tour, we came back to New York. All this time, I’m thinking Lance was from Texas. We land in the airport, I said “what’re you doing out here?” He said “I was raised in Texas, but I live in the Bronx.” He lived in my own neighborhood. On the road, I had a deep conversation with Bobby because Bobby’s talking about how he wanted to be my producer. I said “look dude, we gotta figure this out.” Bobby was used to New Edition bands. In his mind, he thought “I’ma have a band playing behind you.”
At that time, everybody started sampling James Brown. Sampling started to become hot in ‘86, ‘87. Rakim had come out. When we landed, Lance says “when you’re taking the music from the original record and putting it on yours, that’s called sampling.” He knew someone who knew how to do that, his name’s Greg Nice. He introduced me to Greg, we clicked. At that time, Greg was partners with June Love. Peace and blessings be on June. In my mind, I’m on my solo s##t.
One day we start kicking it and got in a cypher. Greg didn’t want to rap then, he wanted to do the human beatbox. He loved making beats. June and I were rhyming back and forth, having a great time. It was fly. I said “yo one of these days, we have to do a record together.” He said “word.” 3 days later, I went back on the road with Bobby for 2 months.
When I came back, I got the news June had been murdered. I went to visit Greg, he told me how everything happened. The crazy irony is they called him June Love, he got shot on Valentine’s Day in the heart. June left this impression on me, he’s special to hip-hop. He used to be down with Slick Rick, they’re members of Kango Crew. June introduced Slick Rick to Doug E. Fresh.
Greg’s like “I don’t know what to do, June’s gone.” I mentioned the last thing we spoke upon was doing a record together. I asked him the last record they worked on. I said “we’re going to keep June’s spirit alive. Nobody knows June’s style or rhymes but you, it’d be unfortunate if the world didn’t hear it. I want you to say the same rhymes he would’ve said on the record, and I’ll fill in the blanks.”
We did a two-sided single. “Skill Trade” and “Dope on a Rope,” we crushed it. We started going store to store, created a buzz, the rest is history.
AllHipHop: Bring us back to when you made “Sometimes I Rhyme Slow,” one of my favorite hip-hop songs ever.
Smooth B: It was deep, a lot of things going on. We always listen to all types of music, Greg would ride around in his car blasting Tracy Chapman. We’d hang out and I’d ask “what is this?” He’d say “Tracy Chapman, she’s dope.” He turns on “Fast Car” like “this is my s##t!” I’m smoking weed, “this is slick, alright.” He said “we should flip this s##t Smooth,” I said “f##k it I’m down.” We got an actual acoustic guitar player to replay it. We didn’t sample it, it’s really an interpolation they played over. If you play the original over, you’ll hear the change. We hit it differently.
AllHipHop: “Too much of anything makes you an addict.” What were you going through?
Smooth B: All types of s##t, different forms of betrayal. I saw so much. I wasn’t depressed because I had a lot to be happy about, but certain friends passed away. Artists don’t initially change but the people around them change, they’re usually the first to change and that starts to bug you out. Even if you’re an extrovert, you start to see that people don’t understand you or over stand you. It makes you become more introverted, especially if you don’t have a strong support system. I’m looking at the world differently, got to travel like “this is some bulls##t.” But on some level, this is so beautiful. That makes the balance.
I’m in this emotional feeling of being reflective, thinking about my life. I decided to convey it and put it into a song. It fell into place once we made it instrumental. I listened to it and said “I’ma talk some real s##t.” Took a combination of 3 different relationships and made it one girl. I had a girlfriend who got into coke, the car thing was one, then the one I was really really serious about didn’t work out.
AllHipHop: Having been in the game for decades, what pushes you to create music today?
Smooth B: I’m a person who really writes off of inspiration, I have to go through different things to be really inspired. We came up in the golden era, everybody’s making records. Everybody’s original, they’re being themselves. It gave not only room for creativity, but allowed an energy that everyone felt free to be themselves. Yet it was still young, in that middle stage. The industry for the last few years has been so much focused on a hit, a sound, catch this trend. If you don’t sound like this person, that’s not a hit. That’s not how a hit’s defined.
Coming from that era and seeing it from the very beginning, a lot of that s##t I take personal. “Nah, f##k that.” I don’t play with it, I wait until I feel it to the most high. “Now it’s time. Bet, I’m ready.” You can’t turn it off, I’m in my bag.
My son rhymes and sings. I put my manager hat on at a point because I wasn’t inspired by what’s out. Steel sharpens and steel. Back in the days: Big Daddy Kane, Slick Rick, Chuck D, KRS-One, Biz Markie, nobody sounded alike. Everybody inspired one another, it was their truth.
I grew up with my family involved in the whole movement of hustling and drugs from the 60’s to 70’s, seen all of that s##t first-hand. Coming up in the game, I’ve been taught there’s no honor in that. We went through a whole process of time where all of these different artists are talking about drugs, how they bust their guns. It’s not even true, that s##t’s f##king with me. I’m nobody to judge but boy, why are you lying?
People aren’t understanding the power of words, the power of the spoken word. People come up to me in the hood: “what up Smooth,” they’ll ask what I think about so-and-so. They’ll mention they’re hustling, they’re about to flip this bird, I’m like be cool.
Take it from somebody who’s been there, don’t do that part. Just focus. It’s going to be tough for a little while but you don’t have to do that, it’ll lead you dead or in jail. I’m seeing firsthand young upcoming cats in the new generation getting their a## locked the f##k up. Now they’re trying to call me collect, I’m hot because they’re gassed up on this bulls##t. I can’t count anyone’s bread. If you can rap so f##king good and you can convince the world, why don’t you give them a morality tale?
Majority of the artists actually on top with their music don’t hustle anymore, that’s a fact. They’re not on the block. When you’re really doing that s##t, you get a corporate deal and you could really provide for your family without looking over your shoulder, you’ll be a damn fool to go back to that block. You made it out! What the f##k are you doing rapping in the first place, if you weren’t going to get away from it?
They’re talking like they’re still on the block, but they’re in the boardroom. You’re giving them information from 20 years ago, you’re getting rich off of these motherf##kers but you aren’t telling them anything. You don’t even do that s##t anymore.
AllHipHop: Your new single “Before” speaks volumes to the current state of the world, talk about this record.
Smooth B: “Before” is a dope record, it’s an introspective look into the world of Smooth B. Last couple of years, I’ve been doing Nice & Smooth shows. Biz Markie told me a long time ago right before I got on: people can see it before it happens. He’d always tell me I’m right there. Grinding, hustling, it was tough. Usually when you’re closest to your goal, it seems furthest away. He said “watch, people are going to start coming up to you asking you if you’re an artist because people can see it, especially girls.” It’s a sure fact.
They say God speaks to a man through a man, I’ve been patient waiting for the universe to tell me. Right when I started going to the studio, people could pick it up. After the show, people would say “that was dope, you need to give us a solo album. You’re working on some s##t.” I could feel it, it’s time. As a kid, everybody listened to everything. Rock was in. Early hip-hop breaks, the OGs would scratch a lot. I had a Filipino neighbor and a Jewish neighbor.
In the Bronx, everybody lived in the same building. We grew up with all nationalities like a melting pot. During the holidays, my Jewish friends taught me about Yom Kippur. They come to my house, I’m giving macaroni and cheese and candy yams. We go to our other friend’s house, we’re having jerk chicken.
My homie put me on sir Elton John, first song I ever heard was “Crocodile Rock,” then I heard “Bennie And The Jets.” 13 was the first time ever hearing the blues. I didn’t hear that song for at least 20 years. I’m out here in the valley, walking down the aisle in the 99 Cent store and it comes across the speaker. I thought “oh s##t, why do I know this?” I pulled out my phone to Shazam it. I’m standing there seeing myself as a kid, it touched me deeply. I got it [snaps], I’ma go home and write this routine. That’s what made me flip it and talked about what I did as a youth.
Everything in that song is true. I did smoke a blunt with Tupac before. I did really hit a n##ga in the head with a lock and a sock before. I’ve been locked up before, I hustled weed and coke on the block before. Coming over from that life, I focused on music. One of the prerequisites was I’m not going to talk about it. Why the f##k would I really want to incriminate myself? If a motherf##ker really did all that, there’s no statute of limitation.
AllHipHop: Can you bring us back to when you smoked a blunt with 2Pac?
Smooth B: Pac’s an angel on my shoulders, I had so many great times with him. Me and Pac used to get smoked out. Unfortunately when my brother passed on, that s##t drove me insane. That s##t f##ked me up because he’s younger than me, but wise beyond his years. Pac’s the first one to ever call me an OG. I spoke to him from the perspective of what God would tell me to say to him.
One time he came to my hotel room, I’m working on my third album. I rented a VHS to take things from movies and put them as interludes, I had a picture of my son and my daughter on the dresser. Pac came to see me, he said “yo, that’s your kids? They’re beautiful. They’re blessed to have a father like you, your kids got a chance.”
I said “thanks man, you’ll be a great father.” The first time I got in tune with the prophetic Pac.He’s looking at me but looking past me, he smiled and said “nah Smooth, I ain’t gon’ be around long enough to have no kids.” I said “n##ga you buggin’.” He said “no I seen it already, I know when I’ma go.” He was 21 then, he said “I’ma die when I’m 25.”
AllHipHop: Are you serious? He passed at 25.
Smooth B: That bugged me out, dude was on another level. It was bizarre. Growing up, I didn’t think I’d live to see 25. I was 28 or 29, telling him I used to feel the same way. Once I turned 25, I thought I made it. Coming up in the hood with all of the s##t we’ve seen and been through, I said “nah, you gon’ make it past 25 n##ga.” He’s looking at me like “let’s get the f##k out of here, I love you Smooth let’s go smoke.” We used to blow down trees.
When I did the song “Sky’s The Limit” on our third album, he came to visit me at this hotel in West Hollywood. We’re recording at Prince’s old studio, I’m getting writer’s block. He had a bottle of Hennessy and weed. He’s rolling, music’s playing, I’m trying to think of some s##t. He said “you’re thinking too hard! Smoke on this.”
We started smoking. He said “whenever I can’t think of a song, I go to the club. I read the atmosphere, the vibe of the people, then the lyrics come.” He said “we should go to Glam Slam,” I’d never been. It’s the club that Prince owned. I’m working on a song by Prince, we used “I Wanna Be Your Lover.” It’s a Prince night! We went to the club, had fun, partied. Back to the studio, I ended up writing the song.