(AllHipHop Features) Hip Hop collective After The Smoke’s journey from local performers questioning their future to musical act on the cusp of breaking out on the national level originated in Tallahassee, Florida. It’s in the Sunshine State’s capital city where lyricist Rob Coin (aka Whuzi), producer Soft Glas, and producer Day G connected and eventually formulated the self-described “chill wave vibe” of songs like the 2012 YouTube hit “OIAM”.
After The Smoke would go on to Las Vegas as the Southeast finalist for Billboard.com’s Battle of the Bands 2012 and grab the attention of Warner Brothers Records A&R Dante Ross and Violator co-founder the late Chris Lighty. Coin eventually settled in New York City, and in 2013 he and his crew dropped their mixtape Microwaves. The 14-song opus garnered the group mentions on numerous Hip Hop blog sites and even comparisons to OutKast.
AllHipHop.com spoke with Coin about being matched with the legendary ATLiens, the formation of After The Smoke, what inspired the eclectic soundscape of Microwaves, and where they plan to take listeners on their next project.
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AllHipHop: How did After The Smoke come together?
Rob Coin: We all met back in Tallahassee. Some of the guys there were going to school. I was going to school at one point. I ended up hustling as far as starting my business, doing videos, and whatever I could do to get by artistically. I had my own studio and my name started buzzing around town, so I started linking up with other artists. I came across Soft Glas, and Day actually ended up being my roommate at one point. It all came together organically. We just found each other and started hanging out and jamming.
You do a lot of the directing and editing for After The Smoke’s videos. Do you have any formal training in filmmaking?
To be honest it just came from necessity. At the end of the day when you’re an independent artist it’s hard to put together a full package - recording your music from start to finish, getting it out visually. I literally scrapped together some show money or whatever money I had, bought a camera, and through trial-and-error put it together for whatever vision I had in my head. The only formal training I ever had was me being a graphic designer, me being a painter. That’s all just from me growing up drawing. I just try and translate that artistic eye into a more technical aspect.
So visual art was your first skill set and that transferred into music?
I started off as a visual artist. I actually got into the rapping thing after I was hanging out with my n****as who really considered themselves rappers. I use to do album covers. Whatever n***as needed, people came to me. I always considered myself a visual artist. I just took that same skill set and eventually just started out doing spoken word poems when I wanted to express myself in a different way. It just evolved from point-to-point. Eventually I just started getting more into the music end of things. I went about it kind of backwards.
I think that makes a little bit more sense to me just thinking about it. Like you said, now you’re in a position where you can do a lot of the stuff outside the music where you don’t have to depend on somebody else to do it.
I had a lot of crazy visual ideas that were like far out into left field I guess. As an artist I’d be like “Yo, this s**t would be f**king dope if you did this or you added this." So for all of the experimental stuff that my homies are like “eh, that might not work too much,” I was eventually just like f**k it. Let me try this. Let me try to be my own guinea pig and experiment on this thing. That’s how After The Smoke was born, just me wanting to be a full fledge artist all around – visually and musically. Combine both those halves. Sometimes I don’t want to wait on someone’s opinion of saying I don’t know if I want to try that. I can say, “I got my own project. Let me try this." What’s the harm in it?
The video for “OIAM” now has over a million and a half views. What inspired the treatment for that video?
The treatment actually was a little different. I had a storyline and everything with that. I feel like we went in one direction where I wanted it to be about time and space and still make it sexy, still make it appealing. I had this whole idea about a girl having this special aura about her and that she could control time, space, and your reality. I partnered with a homeboy of mine Andrew Fairbank, the co-director, but he had a different background. He wasn’t into music videos. He’s more documentary and traditional film style. I have a more guerilla style with my shooting, and he has a trained Florida State film school background. So, I tried to get some ideas from him and merge those two.
I don’t think it necessarily hit the nail on the head to what I had in my mind, but I think that’s the beauty of that video. It was two different perspectives coming together and figuring out a new aesthetic. We shot in two days. He directed it one day, and then I looked at the footage and was like, “You know what? I want to try this. Let’s add some of this guerilla style feel to it.” It was a good exercise in being able to work with another mind, come together, and figuring out how to create something fresh.
Your recent mixtape Microwaves mixes elements of Hip Hop, Soul, Electronica, and R&B. What attracted you to want to blend those different sounds together in that way?
I think when we were putting together the tape there was actually some personal s**t that was going on. It was dealing with me and another guy I use to work with. Unfortunately, he had some mental and family issues happen, along with me dealing with a lot pressure from some family issues.
The reason I titled it Microwaves was because I felt under pressure. I felt like there were a lot of crazy vibes going on at that time, and I felt that’s the “controlled chaos” sound I wanted to reflect on the album. I wanted the concept of the album to be more about being in this warped world, and I feel like that’s why I wanted it to be different sounds. Everything was disjointed during that time. Even sonically we were trying to figure out which direction we wanted to go. Not just musically, but even with the record deal and moving forward.
We’re all getting older and s**t, so it’s just like what direction in life are we trying to go? Will we go our separate ways? Do we stick together as a team? I felt like let me just experiment with different sounds and different textures, because this is what my life is feeling like right now. I tried to create a project that reflected that mentality, and that’s what Microwaves ended up being.
Ultimately, what lead you all to say “let’s stick with this and move forward together as a group?”
Dante Ross, who’s a legend in the game, hit me up out the blue and was like, “I want to f**k with you.” And then Chris Lighty, who did a lot of s**t in the game, [contacted me]. These guys are reaching out to me, showing how much they like the music. I was just like damn, maybe I have something positive going on finally. So that spark was like let’s try this again. Let’s try to make this s**t happen.
Unfortunately, after I inked a deal with Chris Lighty he passed away about two months later. I was like “s**t.” Things are about to spark up and go in a positive direction, and here comes life again with some more negative stuff. I was already determined to make something happen. F**k the drama. F**k the bulls**t. It’s now or never. At least I had that kudos. That “here’s my pat on the back let’s make s**t happen” before he passed. I was one of his last - maybe his last - signings, I said this can’t be for nothing. I might as well make something happen. At the end of the day we all came together and pushed forward. In the last year through music and through us hustling, we ended up doing a lot of the s**t that I’ve always wanted to do. Just in life; not just in music.
How do you feel about the comparisons people make between After The Smoke and OutKast?
There are a lot of artists you can get compared to and get upset about. I feel like that’s one of the greatest groups on the face of the earth, so I rather be compared to something like that than just anything. It’s good to be compared to something rather than just walking the middle ground and no one even take the effort to analyze your music enough to compare you to something positive. I feel like from there I can grow. Hopefully, people will listen to my music enough to hear something fresh from it. I feel like that’s where we’re going. The next project is going to take it to a whole other level. Hopefully, we get a fresh vibe to it, and we get our own comparisons in the future. But right now, I’m good with it.
You mentioned on Twitter that you’ve already started working on your next project. Do you have an idea when you’ll start releasing music from it or when the whole project will be done?
I keep trying not to leak stuff everyday [laughs]. As a full project, I’m going to release something by South By Southwest [Festival]. That’s in March. That’s my goal to have something out before or around that time.
Do you have a title for it yet?
Liquid Light Show.
What else can the world expect from After The Smoke in 2014?
I feel that we laid down a great foundation at the end of 2013, and I feel that we’re going to connect with a lot of different emotions and a lot of different pieces of the human experience just through art and music. Microwaves was just the first introduction on a real chill, laid back feel. This next project is going to be another side of the story. It’s going to be a lot more drum heavy. It’s going to be a lot more lively. People are going to see a growth over this next year. They just got to stay tuned and see.
Stream After The Smoke's Microwaves below.