By Christopher Brocker
Daniel Farris, a.k.a. D Smoke, is one of the most interesting artists emerging in the hip-hop scene. Smoke is a 34-year-old former Spanish and music teacher from Inglewood, California who most notably won the first season of the Netflix TV show, “Rhythm and Flow.” Smoke paid homage to his hometown by titling his first EP, “Inglewood High.”
Smoke comes from a musically inclined family that has many connections in the industry. His brother, Sir, is a singer signed to TDE who released one of the biggest R&B records of last year. Smoke made an appearance on Sir’s 2015 project, “Seven Sundays” on the track, “You Ain’t Ready.” Smoke also had a feature on, “Cross on Jesus Back” off The Game’s latest project “Born 2 Rap.”
Smoke’s debut project “Black Habits” releases over a year later since his debut EP. The cover art is a family-photo when Smoke and his family visited his father in prison. The narrative of his absent father dominates this album. A bulk of the content relates to the struggles his family endured in Inglewood.
The opening track, “Morning Prayer,” is a vividly nostalgic skit where Smoke and his brothers are preparing for school. Their mother encourages the boys to stand up for themselves before leading them in prayer. In the background, one can hear sirens as well as the jiggle from an ice cream truck. This juxtaposition shows the innocence of the boys while also acknowledging the darker side of their environment.
“Bullies” continues the idea of self defense and standing one’s ground. The bully in the song takes multiple forms as Smoke details the different ways in which he, his family and his peers were affected. For instance, his friend growing up, suffering from drug addiction after her own father was incarcerated like Smoke’s was. The bully in this instance was the criminal justice system, as Smoke describes her father’s incarceration as a “modern day lynching.”
The following track, “No Commas,” continues the heavy political subject matter as Smoke discusses the gentrification of Inglewood and cities alike. His feelings can be summed up in the bars, “The system ain’t broke, it’s designed to keep us declinin’. Until we reach the bottom-line and can’t see the sky.” Smoke effortlessly flows over the track with confidence accompanied by heavy hitting production.
Smoke is a bilingual rapper who doesn’t shy away from flexing his ability to rap in Spanish. Smoke does this quite often on “Black Habits.” He executes this the best on the track “Gaspar Yanga,” where he flows seamlessly between both languages. It’s truly remarkable to hear his ability to rap in both languages considering he is not a native Spanish speaker.
“Gaspar Yanga” samples a Bulgarian song that loops in the background and compliments the 808 drums perfectly. “Gaspar Yanga” also features Snoop Dogg who assists on the chorus of the track and co-signs the Inglewood rapper. This is easily my favorite song off the album.
The following track, “Top of The Morning,” is my second favorite off of the album. Smoke raps optimistically on this dreamy and jazz influenced track as trumpets elevate the chorus. Smoke insists that his intentions and feelings are all love, however, still acknowledges the hate he receives. Smoke notably refers to God as a woman on this track with the line, “That’s when I call out to God, knowin’ she answer back.”
The following track, “Sunkissed Child,” is another dreamy and groovy song which has a standout feature from Jill Scott. Scott lends her voice on the chorus, creating an ethereal presence on the track. “Black Habits I,” is another standout track on the album where Smoke flows well again over booming production as he promotes black prosperity.
The latter half of the album, however, drags significantly. This is due to how high the bar was set on the first half of the record. Regardless, the album could have been trimmed down. Smoke’s influence from Kendrick Lamar is very apparent on many verses on this record. As a fan of Lamar, I don’t mind the sound. However, it becomes redundant and is perceived as a lack of identity from Smoke as a rapper.
The features from Smoke’s brother, Sir, provide some momentum for the second half of the project. The track “Lights On,” is a well-executed collaboration between the Farris brothers. Ari Lennox also has a quality performance on “Real Body.” Also, “Fallin’” was easily my favorite featureless song from the second half of the record.
“Black Habits” is an admirable debut from the Inglewood native. Smoke displays potent word play and versatility throughout most of the record. Most importantly, however, Smoke showed the capability to speak on systematic issues with introspection and intelligence. The future is bright for the hometown hero of Inglewood, as Smoke has earned the attention of the hip hop community.
Feature image via D Smoke.