Given the fact that his first retail offering—2010’s George Kush Da Button—was released two years ago, those either outside the tri-state area or unfamiliar with Hip Hop’s current breakneck pace may view Smoke Dza as a newcomer. For what it’s worth, HipHopDX more or less tabbed Dza as a rookie, when he was included in the DXNext series back in 2011.
But here’s the thing. Despite his collaborations with Curren$y and appearance in High Times magazine, Smoke Dza isn’t some aimless pothead. The guy’s 28, and he has children. And as far as being a student Hip Hop goes, he’s a member of New York’s legendary Lo-Life’s crew. For those unfamiliar, they’re the same crew that produced the likes of Thirstin Howl III and others that were equally adept at rhyming on tracks or “racking” a department store for any vintage Ralph Lauren in sight. Recently, Smoke Dza and Harry Fraud get into some spoken mischief as part of a joint venture between DX and MissLs.com and spoke on afterthoughts of their collaborative album, Rugby Thompson. The pair also talked about Dza’s work with Jonny Shipes over the course of his career while Harry broke down his atypical production style and revisited his memories of Tina Turner as a toddler and more. You don’t have to be a smoker to enjoy the chemistry of the versatile beatsmith from Brooklyn and a lyrically gifted Harlemite. But, if that’s your particular vice, this might be a good time.
HipHopDX: Dza, you’re from Harlem and Harry is from Brooklyn. Can you guys talk about how those two areas of New York came together on Rugby Thompson?
Harry Fraud: Just being from New York City in general—whether you’re from The Bronx, Brooklyn, Harlem, or anywhere—gives you a certain perspective on things growing up. I think particularly, where me and Dza are from, we grew up learning how to be fly and shit like that. So it was easy for us to get fly on the records, come together and put our twist on things.
DX: After having the project completed, what we’re your thoughts looking back on it?
Smoke Dza: I think [Rugby Thompson is] a masterpiece. I think it’s the best project I’ve ever put out—lyrically, production-wise, creativity…really it’s just a great piece of work being a Hip Hop lover. Fuck it. You don’t have to smoke weed to enjoy this shit. For me, that’s been the stigma for a lot. People just immediately throw me in the Afroman realm like I’m just this weed guy. In reality, I’m from 119th street and I can really rap. I really do this shit.
Harry Fraud: We really only started working on it at New Year’s. And it came out in June. So there hasn’t really been that much time because we worked on it so quick. That’s important, because I kind of feel like we captured that moment for ourselves. And there’s nothing to really look back on and say, “Oh we could’ve done this different,” because it was really all organic and right in the moment. The beats and rhymes were written right there, so it was whatever was coming to us at the time.
DX: Dza, I know you used to go in rewriting old Biggie and Jay-Z lyrics and stuff like that. Do you feel like that’s prevalent nowadays? Do you feel that artists study music these days?
Smoke Dza: I don’t really know, to be honest. I don’t know. I know for me, the era of growing up in the ‘90s it was something that most people that wanted to be a student of Hip Hop did. But nowadays, I don’t really know. I’m still a student, and I learn everyday…different shit. Now it’s a different type of learning. Of course, you can just listen to the music of someone you love and just know what’s going on. It’ll tell you what you need to do and what direction you need to go in. But right now, I’m at the phase of learning how to be a showman. It’s really about performing for me now. There’s two different worlds—the studio world and the stage world.
DX: And you’ve also been down with Jonny Shipes for a minute. You guys have been rocking for 10 years, which is crazy. Can you talk a bit about your evolution as an artist and your relationship over the years?
Smoke Dza: Jonny [Shipes] is my brother, first and foremost. We fight, we argue, we’re dogs because we both feel strong about what we feel strong about. Jonny’s got a heavy impact on my career even up to this day. I’ve been fuckin’ with Jonny on the music tip since I was like 17-years-old, and now I’m 28. Nobody from where I came from would’ve expected this, because everybody knew me as just being Johnny’s boy.
DX: Right. Your love of all things Rugby is also no secret. What you tell us about the Lo-Lifes?
Smoke Dza: Love and loyalty. Lo-Lifes were the most notorious group of fly niggas in the ‘90s. They fuckin’ wrecked house in every fuckin’ Macy’s and had every official piece. I was a kid when they were doing that, and to now be the new generation, I’m carrying the flag…keeping the two L’s up.
Harry Fraud: On a side note, [Smoke] Dza literally has piece of Rugby you can possibly have. He can’t even walk in the store and buy anything anymore; it’s not even fun for him.
DX: Speaking of style, Harry you have an interesting way of sometimes blending those Lex Luger-type drums with the samples. And it all comes together in a very original, unique way. Can you talk a little bit more about the production style that you’ve created?
Harry Fraud: What’s most important to me with production is that I’m just always trying to do something unique. If I approach a production—whether it be sample-based or starting with something that originates in my head—I always try to do it in a way that is not typical at all. So if it’s something that I feel where I might be going down a path that sounds too much like what’s going on now, I’ll make sure to try and take a left turn and do something that’s my own. I try not to have a style, so to speak. I’m more about trying to have a strong drum presence—whether the drum is a big, huge snare or a little, tiny rimshot—I wanna make sure that the presence of the drums is felt no matter what.
DX: Harry, I was reading up on you and, and you were talking about being places with people like Tina Turner, The Beach Boys and stuff like that. That’s got to be crazy…
Harry Fraud: My father ran the concert series at Jones Beach when I was a very small child. He would literally take me to work everyday with him and just let me run wild backstage. So there was one time, Tina Turner was playing that night, and they couldn’t find me. And they walked into her dressing room to get her onstage, and I’m sitting on the couch with her having some in-depth conversation about life when I’m four-years-old.