"I feel like everybody needs solitude to reflect..."

With the Love Yourz series, Clash links with CALM to explore the impact that a career in hip-hop has had on the mental health of artists and other personalities in the hip-hop industry.

Smino is an independent rapper based in Chicago who runs his own label and creative collective Zero Fatigue. This year saw the 26-year-old release his acclaimed debut album ‘Blkswn’ and tour the US and Europe - as a headline act, and with SZA and T-Pain.

We caught up with him just after he’d finished a talk in a local school, to discuss the importance of self-reflection and unplugging at a very busy and exciting stage in his career.

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You’ve just come back from doing a talk at a school - how was that experience?

It was inspiring. It’s just a reminder of how I was when I had no idea of how I was going to make an impact: that fresh mind, fresh body, fresh everything to the world. The questions that they were asking, I’m like ‘Damn. I remember I had the same exact questions” and I’m just now finding the answers to some of these questions. The fact that I’m now able to answer some of the questions that I had, that’s pretty inspiring.

In between your last two releases - ‘Blkjuptr’ and ‘Blkswn’ - you took out some time to do some soul-searching and reflecting. How important was it to do that?

I was living in a studio for three years, at Classick Studios in Chicago. There was literally this little production room where I had all of my clothes piled everywhere - a bunch of fresh shit and posters like it was my room or whatever. But I never spent any time by myself. I’d wake up, go out - there’s people. I go to the bathroom - there’s a community of people. I’m always around people. It wasn’t a bad thing, but I started to realise that. I even said in one of my songs [‘Spitshine’] “I’m hardly ever alone/ More lonely than ever before.”

I feel like everybody needs solitude to reflect, and I had a homie who was asking me, ‘Bro, do you ever sit and just take shit in? You’re doing a lot right now, do you ever take in everything that you’re doing?’ And I was like ‘Shit no, I just keep pushing.’ I started to do little things on my own. I went back home to St. Louis a few times to chill with my family and get some time walking up the streets I used to walk up.

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I feel like everybody needs solitude to reflect...

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It wasn’t really a thing where it was anything necessarily wrong with me, I was just trying to solidify the path that I’m on, reflect on where I was going so that I could see how I can make it better. [I wanted to approach debut album ‘Blkswn’] and be able to make that with a clear mind. It was just a moment of me taking some silence and not trying to necessarily make music or worry about, ‘I’m not in the studio right now, I need to get in the studio.’

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During that time did that pressure to be in the studio ever creep up on you?

I remember Jay-Z said before that you can’t wear every hat at the same time. I’m a businessman. A lot of people that I met along my journey in the music industry have started to realise this about me: I’m on my business, heavy. So doing that type of reflecting, something I was really also doing was trying to structure my business plan and move forward differently.

That’s kind of why I was not too worried about being in the studio, because I knew I was progressing somewhere else, in another aspect. I’m always exactly where God intended me to be. That’s how I look at everything: I kind of roll with the wind.

How would you describe your relationship with social media?

When I dropped my album I took a social media break. I was just not on the Internet for a while. I took a mental break, I wan’t responsive too much. Every day someone is going to ask you for something, even if it’s the slightest thing, ‘Can you send this email?’ I was just at the point where I was just like, ‘I’m going to cool out, unplug myself from everybody emotionally, and I don’t care how anybody feels about this.’

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Unplugging is the move.

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I’ve got to do that because there’s about to be a lot of shit going on - I’ve got to go on tour, get ready for rehearsals, shoot this video, all that damn shit you’ve got to do as an artist. Unplugging is the move. Even if you’re in a relationship with a person, you can be so plugged into the way that they feel and that can take a toll on you, and now you’re not energised for the shit that you need to do. So I’ve learned to pick and choose when to plug my energy into shit.

Do you think, as a musician and a businessman, that there’s a pressure to be plugged in at all times?

Hell yeah, because as I’m growing I don’t want people to think that I’m acting different. People are so quick to tell you that, as soon as you get success motherfuckers are like “You’re Hollywood” or whatever. And then on the business tip, I don’t want shit to go wrong. But I’ve got to trust my people that I’ve appointed to do certain things for Zero Fatigue that they will carry out their duties how they’re supposed to. That’s how I’m safe to unplug, knowing shit will still be going on.

So yeah, there’s a little pressure, but what’s pressure though? I’m Black and I live in America. Pressure ain’t shit!

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Words: Grant Brydon

For more on the work CALM do click HERE.

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