As independent artists and labels laid major claim in musical real estate for 2010, Johnny Shipes’ Cinematic Music Group was right in the thick of it with a national tour that spotlighted a talented line-up of emcees who have the tenacity make it on their own. A core individual of that roster is Smoke DZA, who at 26-years-old has turned his flavor of “stoner rap” into a cult following that may soon rival the likes of heavy hitters Snoop Dogg and Curren$y.

DXnext spoke with Smoke DZA last month about his humble beginnings as one-half of the Harlem Rap duo Smoke N’ Numbers, his unforeseen yet well-earned 2010 accomplishments, as well as his soon-to-be debut album The Hustler’s Catalog. Take it from Smoke DZA; money really does grow on trees.

On Smoke N’ Numbers: “Numbers is my childhood friend and still up to this day, he’s my brother, my family right there. That experience was cool because I got to see a lot of shit with my other half, but who would have ever known I was gonna go solo because as a group we always thought we we’re gonna be that next duo.”

“We haven’t done a song together in about a year, but it’s funny ‘cause I speak to him every other day. Our friendship’s still there, we’re just both in different places in our lives so that’s pretty much what it is. I’m sure he’ll be on my next project though.”

Laying The Foundation: “I was with Johnny [Shipes] since I was 16-years-old and I kind of put Numbers in the picture for that because John found me battling; I used to battle around New York City and shit. I would go to all the high schools and battle the dope cats out there. Then John put me in this joint called ‘Slam From the Street,’ I don’t know if anyone really remembers that but it was a series of freestyle battles fused with basketball with street legends judging. I battled Immortal Technique, which is another one of my homies who I haven’t seen in a long time. But me and Technique battled and after that me and John already clicked, we just kept working after that.”

Rap Money: “I’m blessed to have made money off of music. A lot of people I know can’t really say that they’ve done that. I’ve made money off music and after my first check, it was pretty much like, ‘Okay, well fuck a job, if I just keep slingin’ these raps, that shit will keep me afloat.’”

“Having kids really changed my perspective on all of that shit. When I had kids it was like make or break time. I can’t really hop into things that don’t guarantee that money. So I really had to filter all my jobs, but at one point I was doing a lot of ghost writing and that shit was paying a lot of bills.”

On Substance Abuse: “I pretty much dropped that project and people just thought it came out of nowhere. I’d been actually working on that for like two years strong, and a lot of those records were old but we just had to put them out. I really didn’t have super highest expectations for that project but I knew I was going to get my point across and I knew the people that I wanted to hear me was gonna hear me and it worked out for me.”

On George Kush Da Button:George Kush Da Button really came about with people leaking records. Once ‘Sour Hour’ got leaked it was like, alright, we didn’t know where that came from. Then ‘Sounds of the Indo’ leaked, so it was like I guess these guys really wanna hear these records of me and Ski [Beatz], and that shit just rushed the demand. We was just throwing around names and I’ve been calling myself ‘George Kush’ so I was like, ‘Lets ‘George Kush da button.’ It kind of stuck and my peoples was like, ‘Yo that’s hilarious let’s run with it!’ And there you have it, you have George Kush Da Button.”

Message In The Music: “I like to keep a balance. You know, people aren’t always happy. People have bad days, people go through shit, so records like ‘Divine Music’ and ‘Lost’ are pretty much for the people that’s been through what I’ve been through. I’ve had a great year, but I’ve had a hard year too ‘cause I took a lot of losses. Like a lot of my homies left, so it’s like this year I’ve been down and I feel like those are really personal records for me. And on Twitter there’s a lot of people that hit me up saying those records get them through their hard times, that’s pretty tight.”

The Truman Show, Starring DZA: “Coming up I never thought I had fans…I’m still in this whole phase where I’m like this kid from Harlem and it’s just crazy to me, just being in an airport and people recognizing me and wanting to take pictures and shit. It’s kind of overwhelming. Sometimes I think it’s a big spoof [laughs], but I guess not.”

“Ralph Lifshitz”: “The way that whole shit came about was kind of hilarious, because I just spoke to Boi-1da on Twitter through Mickey Factz ‘cause him and Mickey got up recently. I didn’t actually get that beat from Boi-1da. That shit just ended up on my thumb drive, and I just did it and put it out and he was like, ‘Man, I don’t know how you got the beat but that shit was hot!’ He said he destroyed everything in his room when he heard it though. [Laughs] But he said it was hot so I get a G-pass. Hopefully that will just line up more shit.”

‘How You Gon’ Say I Ain’t No ‘Lo Head?’: “I really try not to brag about it because I see a lot of people bragging about it now because it’s kind of cliché in the neighborhoods. But I’ve been doing Polo Ralph Lauren for a very long time, especially Rugby. I’m like 105 pieces in on just Rugby’s, and I got a whole bunch of Polo pieces, just the regular Polo Ralph Lauren. A lot of people get it confused. It’s all under the same hub, but there’s still different brands. There’s RLX, and they got RRL, they got Rugby and they got regular Ralph Lauren that you can go get at Macy’s. You can’t find Rugby at Macy’s; you gotta go to the Rugby store. A lot of money that I’ve made on and off rapping I spent in a Rugby store. [Laughs] You can see a little bit of my collection in my XXL magazine [“Show & Prove”] photo. It didn’t really do it a lot of justice ‘cause there was Rugby’s all over that room; pasted on the wall, Rugby’s on the bed, on the floor like near the window. My shit gets pretty deep.”

On The Hustler’s Catalog: “When I threw out the idea of it going through BluRoc it wasn’t really in stone, that was just something we were thinking about. As long as I’m secure with my [music] I’m straight. It really doesn’t even matter where the home is ‘cause it’s gonna be a great body of music and there’s a lot of people that’s bidding for that. I want it out the first quarter, but my people may have other plans. I’m like 40-50% through the whole shit. You’ll hear a lot of records leaking and once the leaks start tallying up then you’ll know that the album is coming soon.”

“[Ski Beatz] will have a cut or two on there. I got a lot of dope production. The obvious of course is Big K.R.I.T., that’s my country cousin right there. V-Don, he did a lot of production on Vado’s LP [Slime Flu], he’s another Harlem knight. I got a record from Neako, it’s pretty fucking dope. A lot of people don’t know Neako for his production but I think this is gonna give him a good little wave. Who else? Hi-Tek. I’m trying to reach out to Pete Rock, that’s ‘Uncle’ Pete right there. I’ve known Pete since I was a kid so hopefully he’ll lend some production. Omen, he’s got some good production on there. 183rd, he’s one of my in-house producers. Kenny Beats, he did ‘Continental Kush Breakfast.’ Not a lot of big names, but a lot of sufficient dudes that I have a good chemistry with.”

“On the feature side, of course K.R.I.T., of course Curren$y. Shit, Mac Miller will probably make his way on there. I got a lot of surprises I really don’t wanna give out. But it’ll be the core, it’ll be the people you see me talking to and it’ll be some unexpected dudes.”

On “The World”: “That shit is epic. It’s real cinematic. If people like ‘Divine Music’ and people got into that I think people will really really be into ‘The World’ . The title is what it is, it’s what I’m going for, it’s what I want. That’s the point I’m trying to get across on that record. And I shot a video for it with John Colombo already.”

On The Smoker’s Club Tour: “The Smokers Club Tour was everything you could imagine. For me it was super overwhelming because for one, I’ve been on the road doing spot dates and little shows here and there but nothing that had a consecutive length of shows where every night you’re performing. And that shit can take a lot out of you. But once you do something for the first five days it’s a routine. So we got into that routine and especially for me, the fans kept me up a lot of nights. There were a lot of nights where I was just drained, and going out there and getting energy from them when people were actually happy to see you, it was just like ‘Wow.’ I was privileged to be one of the headliners so it was pretty dope man. It was a great experience and I got to reach and touch a lot of people, meet a lot of people I’ve never met before. Shit, I got to be on the road with my friends and make money so it was great.”

“The craziest shit to me, and it may not be crazy to a lot of other artists, but there was a lot of disabled kids and grown-ups that came out to the events that were pretty stoked to meet us. It made me feel like a philanthropist, like I wanna do this shit for a bigger reason. If I can put a smile on these people’s faces every night, then I know what I’m here for. That shit was the most overwhelming, memorable experience I had from the tour. Just linking with my fans man, meeting people that got love for me and love for my music that pay $20 bucks to come see us perform. That means more than anything.”

The Legend Of George Kush: “I want to stay consistent enough to be amongst the Jay-Z’s and Snoop Dogg’s and Dr. Dre’s. All of these guys I looked up to. I really just wanna change people’s lives man, and I wanna make timeless music. I wanna be able to be in my wheelchair and my kids kid’s will still know some of my songs.”

Purchase Music by Smoke DZA