Genre-bending rapper, Big Smo (real name John Lee Smith), took the mix of country music and hip-hop to another level. As a result, he attracted a cross-section of fans. That was 2014, and some fans are wondering where the somewhat pioneering rapper is now.
The early days of Big Smo
The phrase “early days” is relative here. I was first introduced to Big Smo as the title character on A&E’s reality show, “Big Smo.” I resisted the show at first. I couldn’t tell if he had the show because he had a record deal, or if he had the show as a means of getting a record deal. It was a little of both. Having made a name for himself at least in his home state of Tennessee, and perhaps throughout the south, with his debut album in 2002, Big Smo was poised for the big time when the show aired in 2014.
Still, I had misgivings about a show that could potentially exploit people from a small town in the south. But, the show was funny, and easily blended scenes of family life with performance moments. In addition, watching Big Smo interact with his bandmates and friends was great, and provided the bulk of the humor.
“Big Smo” the reality show is only one season long at this point. I couldn’t find information on the network’s website about its current status, or future plans for it.
The Big Smo sound
I’m not sure that before Big Smo I had heard country and hip-hop successfully united. His voice is deep and he is actually rapping, not singing. The soundscape is one part southern rock or country guitar, but the lyrics evoke an urban sensibility found in rap songs. Guitar riffs blend with scratched vinyl and they create the rhythm section. A lead guitar screams away from the rest of the instrumentation. The effect is multi-layered and interesting.
Big Smo’s “signature” song as far as I’m concerned is “Workin.'” It is featured on the “Kuntry Livin'” album. It has all the standard sound elements for Big Smo, but the lyrics further illustrate what audiences of both hip-hop and country might have in common–working class backgrounds. The lyrics detail the elements of Big Smo’s blue-collar work day: A cup of coffee, a loaded truck, grueling work, and the rule of the plant whistle.
The video depicts men and women preparing for their workdays. They are teachers, butchers, and other physical laborers. Throughout Big Smo’s work, there is a constant nod to blue collar workers, even as the rapper chases fame that will give him an easier life. The idea is that Big Smo has paid his dues, and has earned his music career.
Big Smo live
I had the opportunity to see Big Smo live in Indianapolis. The rapper was on his “Kuntry Livin'” tour. The venue was a country bar in a shopping plaza. It also filled up quickly; getting into alternate lines to buy a t-shirt, or Smo’s own barbecue sauce was a nightmare. But the show itself made up for claustrophobic nightmares at the front of the venue. The opening act spun hip-hop and mixed and scratched with acumen. The mass of concertgoers turned into a giant, dancing monster. By the time Big Smo took the stage, we were sweaty, but happy. He is as unassuming in person as he is on television. It was as if that one guy you knew threw a party, except he performed all the music.
So, here’s hoping that Big Smo will find his way to the studio or small screen after the conclusion of his current tour. Big Smo’s current tour gets underway Aug. 11, 2017 in Memphis, Tenn.