In January the legendary DJ Premier spoke to HipHopDX about Gang Starr’s breakthrough sophomore album, Step in the Arena, for the first in the site’s new series revisiting time-tested Hip Hop albums with their creators to coincide with noteworthy anniversaries of those releases. And now, Smoothe Da Hustler and Trigger Tha Gambler join the classic company of Guru and Preemo with the second induction into DX’s “Timeless” album series: Smoothe Da Hustler’s Once Upon a Time in America.
Released on March 19, 1996, the critically acclaimed, but commercially overlooked offering, has stood the test of time, sounding just as potent today as it did when a gallon of gas cost less than a buck.
While technically a solo Smoothe album, the gloriously grimey collection was truly a tag team effort between the thoughtful hustler-turned-rapper and his gun totin’, rhyme slingin’ little bro’ Trigger. The two blood brothers from Brownsville, Brooklyn, along with their Nexx Level Click co-horts D.V. Alias Khryst, Kovon and neighborhood beatmaker D/R Period, made “Hustlin’” a relevant topic of discussion for a Hip Hop song 10 years before Rick Ross.
Their corner-huggin’ content was matched with an unparalleled focus on innovative rhyme schemes delivered via extraordinary back-and-forth exchanges.
To mark this month’s 15th anniversary of Damon and Tawan Smith’s jaw-dropping introduction to the world, the dynamic duo spoke with DX and revealed rarely known details about the creation and response to Smoothe’s defining debut, including insight into their war of words with the other Brownsville tag team on the rise at the time, M.O.P., as well as their “beef” with Brooklyn legend Big Daddy Kane.
So while the Q&A below is a lengthy read, it is definitely a worthwhile one. A must-read for anyone old enough to remember coppin’ Smoothe Da Hustler’s classic cassette, or anyone of any age who is interested in learning about an astounding album that captured the attention of everyone from The Notorious B.I.G. to Big L to Rakim to Tha Dogg Pound without so much as a second glance from the mainstream.
HipHopDX: No interview about this album can start any other place but with one of the most influential Hip Hop songs of all time, “Broken Language.” First off, what was the genesis of the “the” prefaced rhyme scheme used on that song and at various other points during the album?
Trigger Tha Gambler: That was something that me and Smoothe [Da Hustler] used to do, freestyling. Just freestyling – me, him and [D.V. Alias] Khryst, we used to sit in the hallway and just come off the top of the head rhymin’ like that. So we just decided to put it on wax, and try it out. It basically was a new flow. At that time a lot of brothers wasn’t rappin’ like that, or trying to just be different.
Smoothe Da Hustler: So how the song came about: we got the track, and [Trigger Tha Gambler], he was actually goin’ in. We was playing cards – we upstairs – and I had got the track from D/R [Period] and it was playing, and Trig came back at the table and was like, “Yo. Base your eyes on the guy.” And as he started goin’, I’m like, “Yeah, aiight.” And we just kept goin’ back and forth with each other. After it was done and we recorded it, we realized that it was TOTALLY, totally left field from ANYTHING that we had heard. That was something that we definitely wanted to let the masses hear, once my opportunity was kinda sealed. ‘Cause at that time we was shoppin’, trying to get a deal. But once we got a deal [with Profile Records], that song automatically had to go on the B-side [to my 12” single, “Hustlin’”]. … And just how we approached it: we knew we wasn’t gon’ lay a hook. At the time we was making it we was like, “Nah, we just gon’ go straight through.”
Trigger Tha Gambler: Just back to back.
DX: Now, Smoothe, how pissed was your mom when she heard that line, “The white girl gangbanger / The virgin Mary fucker, the Jesus hanger”? [Laughs]
Trigger Tha Gambler: [Laughs]
Smoothe Da Hustler: [Laughs] Ayo, lemme tell you, at first she was like, “Oh my God!” Like, Oh, we turned her off. We turned her off with that record. I mean, we were saying the most violent shit. But, as we kept playing it around the house, and our friends started ridin’ past playing it, and then people we ain’t know started [playing it], she was like, “Yo, I love this record.” And actually, that’s one of her favorite records. Because she know when she first heard it she was just like, “Oh no.” Like, “No.” But we was like, “Nah ma, this is it!”
Trigger Tha Gambler: [Laughs]
Smoothe Da Hustler: [Laughs] Imagine trying to convince your moms – you like 19 …
Trigger Tha Gambler: You felt a little guilty at one point letting her hear it, but after awhile it just settled. Then once she got a chance to see the video and everything ….
Smoothe Da Hustler: Yeah, she fell in love wit’ [it]. I mean, but then she understand that we from that environment. Like, we kinda tried to sum everything up in that one record. And just being from that environment, I mean, we ain’t have no choice but to speak on the environment. We ain’t from Beverly Hills; we from Brownsville. That’s all we saw, so we can only talk about what we saw, and what we been through. So, at the end of the day she knew it was all relevant.
DX: I thought you guys were kinda doing what Big L was doing at the time. He was the “Devil’s Son,” so I thought you guys were too just doing the then popular shock-value Horrorcore.
Smoothe Da Hustler: Well, I mean, even that to an extent. The whole song was actually supposed to be a shock value, ‘cause it was so different. Like, we just came in just talking the craziest stuff. And remember, it was straight direct but wit’ a twist, unlike anybody else’s [approach]. So, not even taking nothing away from Big L – Rest in Peace to him; he was my man actually. He came down on the train –
Trigger Tha Gambler: Yeah, to the “Broken Language” video.
Smoothe Da Hustler: Yeah, to the video shoot. Like, it was a crazy, gutter video shoot. We had [Grandmaster] Melle Mel [of The] Furious Five – a few of them came through. Big L came through. Shyheim came through.
Trigger Tha Gambler: Monie Love ….
Smoothe Da Hustler: [Big L], he was by himself.
DX: Alright, let’s get a little bit more into it. “To the death thinker, M.O.P. bell ringer.” Let’s clear up once and forever what y’alls real relationship was with Billy [Danze] and [Lil] Fame.
Trigger Tha Gambler: To be honest with you, when I said [that] it wasn’t like goin’ at [M.O.P.] in no kinda way. [Lil] Fame and them used to live right up the block from me and Smoothe, like three blocks up from us. And, basically it was kinda biggin’ ‘em up [with that line]. I remember back in  when they came out with they first album, [To The Death], me and Smoothe and my crew, we walking up the block one day, and they used to have this joint called “Ring Ding,” and that was like one of my favorite joints on their album, and I just got so sporadic one day I started bustin’ a .32 up in the air while we walking up the block [and listening to the song] ….
Smoothe Da Hustler: [Laughs]
Trigger Tha Gambler: But that was one of my favorite joints, so that’s why I bigged them up on that song. And I know a lot of people thought we had drama and beef and stuff like that, but when we would see each other it was never no drama. It was never none of that, at all.
Smoothe Da Hustler: It was friendly competition. Taking it even back further, I remember back in the day my boy Robert Baskins, and God bless the dead, my man Jam, they lived in the Plaza’s. And Lil Fame – [in 1992] they was doing The Hill That’s Real project. But right before that, we was doing community centers, and Lil Fame had did a deejay [gig at one]. He was my deejay for two, three sets. Bringing it up further, we’d see them on the [road]. I remember a show we had with Run-DMC and them [in 1996]. And, they had put out a record, [“World Famous”], saying, “I’m outspoken…niggas language is broken / The labels need to stop the bullshit they promotin’,” or something like that. And I came back out with “Murdafest,” just gettin’ back at them. So, we at the show, this is a show in a college – I think it was in Virginia – and they jumped on stage. And they performing, and they tearing the house down. Me and Trig, we in the audience, we watching, we in the cut. And, boom, it was time for them to say the diss part, and they just stopped and they didn’t say nothing. They let the beat ride. And so, when we got on stage and did our set, and had the show rockin’, when we did “Murdafest,” when it was time for me to go into my third verse, to go in, I just stopped. And we left it at that. So it was like an unsaid, Aiight, let’s cut the nonsense out. Which was totally respected: they didn’t try to play me at the spot; I didn’t try to play them at the spot. But we see each other [now] and it’s all love. I got a record now actually with Billy Danze – shouts out to Billy Danze – Lucky Don, and Rock from Heltah Skeltah called “Straight Outta Brownsville” . So, it’s all love.
DX: Taking it back, D/R was working with them, and you kinda like just ran up on him and that’s how you got down?
Smoothe Da Hustler: Nah. Actually, D/R lived in the neighborhood, so everybody would stop in to see D/R. He would interact with all type of people. I know he had different stuff with Freedom Williams [from C+C Music Factory]. This was prior to me knowing about Lil Fame. Lil Fame was a solo artist. He was a rapper; I was a rapper. And God bless the dead, my man Jam was a rapper. As well as, Lil Fame knew how to deejay. We was all in the same neighborhood, so each person on they own time would stop in [to see D/R]. And once in awhile I would stop in and [Fame would] be recording. And then Billy Danze came on board, and they was recording [together]. But it was never like a crew thing [between us]. We knew each other, we saw each other on the path, said “What’s up?” It was like that. So, whatever [Fame] was doing with D/R, and whatever [M.O.P.] was doing with D/R, that was their business. But, what we did, was ended up approaching D/R on a serious note. ‘Cause, we used to stop in, rap – just rap to his beats, and show off our jewelry and flash money and stuff like that. We wasn’t really taking it serious. So he was like, “Yo, you need to do it serious. Like, give me some records.” So, I ended up laying a joint called “Hustlin’,” which was the first release, and like two other records: “Head Crack” and “Ahead of the Game.” And he said, “Yo, I’ma fix these up [for] when you come home.” I was going in to do some time. And when I came out, M.O.P., they had already put out they stuff. They had the deal with Select [Records]. D/R had did the whole album. And they were [already] shooting videos. Mind you, my team at the time, they was doin’ they thang, they was makin’ money, and they had influence as well. When you from the neighborhood [and] you gettin’ money, you look flashy, you got influence, people believe whatever you tell ‘em – especially if they ain’t gettin’ no money. So, the part of me being a rapper was perpetuated [by my crew while I was locked up], and they was playing the record that D/R did for me, “Hustlin’”: “My every day lifestyle ain’t nothin’ but a hustle.” So when I came home, people already expected me to be like a rapper now. ‘Cause it’s like, Alright, it’s out, people is feeling it, they expecting new material, M.O.P. is poppin’ off, [and] I’m the next new thing [out of Brownsville].
Trigger Tha Gambler: Plus I was in the hood battlin’ everybody at the time. Even at M.O.P.’s video shoot, “How About Some Hardcore,” I was battlin’ in ciphers at they video shoot airing them out. And that’s how I was able to meet some partners of D/R Period at the time. They ain’t even know me and Smoothe were brothers. And so, when they was dealing with D/R, and when Smoothe came home, it was like he said, it was already a wrap. People in the hood already knew what it was. They knew Smoothe was the one that was doing the music – he was writing, creating the songs – and I was [the one] just more out freestyling and battling brothers on the street. … But when Smoothe got home, it like put me on the right path to do what I gotta do as far as making records.
DX: Going back to “Broken Language,” the final question I have about that song is basically one you guys answered on Trigger’s “Broken Language Pt. II”: that y’all didn’t have beef with Big Daddy Kane and Lil Daddy Shane. But what motivated the “overdoers” remark in the first place?
Smoothe Da Hustler: Overdoer – I really meant to say just doing ‘em over. I know that word was kinda like really … it coulda been taken either way. But that’s why we wanted to clear the air so quick on the part two. We was big fans of Big Daddy Kane, and being that him and [Lil Daddy] Shane had did the [“Brother Man, Brother Man” song], when we did our brother-to-brother it was kinda like a big-up. So the “Big Daddy Kane, Lil Daddy Shane overdoers,” like, we doing ‘em over. But again, big fans of Big Daddy Kane. We grew up listening to “Ain’t No Half-Steppin’” and all that. He still get busy too.
DX: Did he ever like run up on y’all, just to chop it up? [Laughs]
Smoothe Da Hustler: Nah, he ain’t never run up on us. [Laughs] We went to his house!
Trigger Tha Gambler: Yeah, we was at Kane’s crib chillin’. We used to hang out at his crib a lot. Me and Smoothe, and then me and one of my homies used to go out there and hang out wit’ him. We was real close friends with a lot of artists off of Cold Chillin’ [Records] back then at the time: Grand Daddy I.U., Biz Markie.
Smoothe Da Hustler: Yeah, we got mad respect for our pioneers. So if we get a chance to kinda pick they brain, we pick they brain. It’s only right. I remember when we did The Palladium at our release party, and KRS-One came downstairs. We in the dressing room, he came down, he was like, “Peace,” he gave me his book, and I’m like, “Aw man, autograph this shit for me.” I still got the [book].
DX: But I mean you guys squared it away with Kane …?
Smoothe Da Hustler: Squared it away, of course. I kinda felt bad ‘cause after [the record dropped] people was actually asking us like, “Yo, y’all got beef with Kane?” [I was] like, “Naaaah. We got to clear this Trig.” So we did do [“Broken Language Pt. II”], but then we [also] ended up seeing him in a club and then it was all love: “Love ya stuff. Yo listen, we meant nothing by that.” Especially if we didn’t. If we did, if we purposefully put that out there like that, then we wouldn’t give a shit. But, we didn’t. So we definitely wanted to make that known that we wanted that to be recognized as a big-up instead of a [diss].
DX: Now after “Broken Language” you guys upped the lyrical ante for tag team rhyming even more with “My Brother My Ace.” Those backwards rhyme schemes still sound amazing to me. By the time it gets to the “D/R Period (Period D/R)/We are (Are we?)” it’s officially the illest back-and-forth spittin’ ever committed to tape.
Smoothe Da Hustler: Thank You! Aw man, that’s recognizing. Thank You so much! We actually got a few things in the works with that whole backwards thing. … But Thank You so much for recognizing that.
Trigger Tha Gambler: For real.
Smoothe Da Hustler: ‘Cause real lyricists if they don’t recognize it, I mean, c’mon man, then why are we doing this?
DX: I think that rhymin’ in reverse shit was better than the “Broken Language” rhyme scheme.
Trigger Tha Gambler: Oh no doubt. Word up.
Smoothe Da Hustler: Hey, to each his own. It makes sense.
Trigger Tha Gambler: Right, exactly.
DX: Who conceived that? That was another just messin’ around and [y’all] said let’s go backwards and – ?
Smoothe Da Hustler: Yeah, let’s do it backwards. Me and Trig is totally opposite, just in real life.
Trigger Tha Gambler: Like the cause and effect.
Smoothe Da Hustler: Like, he’s more aggressive, and relentless, and just [reacts] off impulse. And, I’m more reserved. But, I still get my point across.
Trigger Tha Gambler: Yeah, Smoothe sits back and thinks.
Smoothe Da Hustler: Yeah. So, on “My Brother My Ace” we was actually just trying to outdo “Broken Language,” but at the same time like outdo each other. So, he’s writing his lines … and we may preplan to say, “Aiight, yo, this last verse, let’s just take it back and forth. Like, whatever you feel you throw it, whatever I feel I’ma bring it back. And let’s just go for the most bizarrest stuff.” And, that was bizarre enough. [Laughs]
Trigger Tha Gambler: Yeah, and Smoothe would take what I say and just reverse it. [Laughs]
Smoothe Da Hustler: Reverse it back to him like, Alright, hold on, take that back. … So it was just more like a battle thing. I remember one of the wildest shows: we in Canada, and we just finished goin’ through it, and we jumped on stage and we was trying to outdo each other. I mean on every level. It was crazy. But, he bring the best outta me; I bring the best outta him.
DX: We should take this moment to note that back in the ‘90s even if you were a “Hustlin’” cat, on a “Murdafest,” you still had to rhyme your ass off, “Fuck Whatcha Heard.” [Laughs]
Trigger Tha Gambler: Word up. [Laughs]
Smoothe Da Hustler: [Laughs] Aiight! Aiight! [Laughs] Yo, that was slick right there. That was slick. I like that.
DX: The clean version in the video kinda took some sting out the [verses].
Smoothe Da Hustler: Yeah, it did. It definitely took a little bit out. But, I was surprised that it actually spread like the virus …. After everybody saying, “Nah, it ain’t gon’ work.”
Trigger Tha Gambler: That’s when the [radio] wouldn’t allow no kind of talking about drugs or anything ….
Smoothe Da Hustler: Yeah, none of that stuff so direct like, “We’ll do this and do that.” And [so] when we kinda broke that ground, it was self satisfaction. We was dappin’ each other all day, like, “Yo, duke, everybody said we couldn’t do it and look. We did it.” So that was reassuring for what we believed in ….
Trigger Tha Gambler: Right. Breaking the airwaves for a lot of things.
DX: Y’all kept it plenty gully on the album, but ironically the standout track to me was the melodic, Jeffrey Osborne flip, “Only Human.”
Trigger Tha Gambler: That’s one of my favorite joints on the album.
DX: Do you know if D/R was following the “Life’s A Bitch,” “Sugar Hill” blueprint of taking an ‘80s R&B smoothie and reshaping it to fit with the sound of mid-‘90s Hip Hop?
Smoothe Da Hustler: Well, D/R in his own right, he’s a very creative cat. He did a lot of joints for a variety of different artists. And … maybe he did [follow that blueprint]. I really can’t speak from his standpoint. But I know what he did do, which was great working with him, if I came with an idea – Like, sometimes we would just start from scratch, just like, Alright, I’m here in the studio. Listen to this hook. Look, I got this rhyme. And, he would build based on that. And once we started developing like the hustler sound, as far as where the album was gon’ go, it was … he had to dig back. Because, those sounds, and that feeling back then was actually – we grew up on that sound. So that marriage worked. So, who knows what that mastermind, what that guy thinks when he creates. But, I wanna big him up for helping me create a great album.
DX: Yeah, definitely. “Me not selling, only if hell froze.” It wouldn’t have been so frigid where the devil stays if “Only Human” had been a single. Why wasn’t it?
Smoothe Da Hustler: At that time the label ended up going through they stuff. [That decision] was in higher powers [hands]. I was fortunate enough to be signed and still stay the same, exactly how I was. And put out the music that I wanted to put out, versus signing with anybody else and doing something totally far away from what I was and what I was doing. There were definitely a few things I woulda changed, and a few things I woulda did different. But, at the end of the day, I’m who I am …. I thank [Profile Records] for giving me that opportunity to even get our stuff to the world. And shouts out to Kovon. I just spoke to him yesterday. He’s the guy singing on [“Only Human”].
Trigger Tha Gambler: And the Curtis Mayfield, [“Hustler’s Theme].
DX: Was that him calling from the joint at the end of “My Brother My Ace”?
Trigger Tha Gambler: Yeah, that was him.
Smoother Da Hustler: Yeah, get down!
Trigger Tha Gambler: That was Kovon [saying “Nexx Level Click get down!”] before it went into “Dedication.”
DX: So even the singer out the group –
Smoothe Da Hustler: Yeah, you gotta remember, we all from the same neighborhood. Look, just ‘cause you from a bad neighborhood don’t make you a bad person. You’re put in a position, and obstacles that sometimes don’t allow you the opportunity to step outside of that. Like, we got crazy police patrolling our area. You can stop-and-frisk. We had all that back in the days. So even if you wasn’t a suspect, if they suspect you can be suspected of. And that’s probable cause. So I mean, we don’t gotta get that deep, but yeah, at some point everybody got a taste of the system. Whether they was doing bad purposefully, or just happened to stumble into some bullshit. But, he out, and he’s making music, and shouts to Kovon. And it goes on. The hustle continues.
DX: I wanna take it back to some of the decisions you were making around that time, about the album. With its female crooned chorus, “Neva Die Alone” might’ve been embraced by radio. But the content probably would’ve been judged as too abrasive for mainstream consumption. Did Profile get upset that you were rhymin’ about slangin’ crack on what could’ve been a commercial single?
Smoothe Da Hustler: If they was, they didn’t directly tell me. I know they did say, “Listen, the creative control is in your hands.” Which I was thankful for, but then they really didn’t know how to … they didn’t really know me, and know my music, per se. They believed in the A&R at the time, which was [Ill] Will Fulton. He believed in what we was doing because he saw we was self-contained. And we was like, “Yo, with y’all or without y’all, we gon’ put this single out anyway.” So, they was lollygagging, and we was like, Okay, boom, the single [for “Hustlin’” b/w “Broken Language”] came out. We put the single out ourselves. College radio started playing it. Then, boom, a radio station here in New York started playing it. So they was like, Oh, hold up. Alright, they making moves without us, let’s get on board. So they jumped on board, and they helped, because then Trig [and D.V. Alias Khryst] got signed to Def Jam [even before my album came out]. And being business-savvy and ready to make more money is only right. They like, Okay, we can keep [directing] a little bit of money towards Smoothe, and hopefully it do more [sales] with his brother and [Khryst] on Def Jam and we can still do our [independent] thing. And, none of it turned out that way. Profile ended up selling to Arista [Records], and everything got caught up in a twist. But, nah, they just let me maintain who I was and what I wanted to put out. The money wouldn’t have matched it. I was doing small budgets [for videos]. Chris Robinson was just starting out. … I was a small cat, [Profile was a] small independent label, my deal was through a production company, [Nexx Level Entertainment], that it was our production company through Profile. So, we pretty much had the control over the songs. But, they wouldn’t have known how to [push] an “Only Human” record [anyway]. You saw when [The Notorious B.I.G.] came out, I kinda – what’s that record?
Trigger Tha Gambler: What, “One More Chance”?
Smoothe Da Hustler: “I Poppa, freaks all the honies / Dummies, playboy bunnies.”
Trigger Tha Gambler: Yeah, that’s “One More Chance.” I remember when Big came to us in The Palladium and was like – he came to me and he was like, “Man, I just heard the new joint Smoothe put out. He shoulda put that ‘I’m Only Human’ joint out.” He came to me and said that, and then about a couple weeks later he had the “One More Chance” [remix] joint. And I mean Big is our dude – God rest his soul. That was our boy. But I knew what direction he was going at because they had the other beat, the [beatboxes album version of “One More Chance”], they had that beat first … then they came [with the Debarge-sampling remix] after Smoothe didn’t release the “I’m Only Human.”
DX: So whose decision was it to release a video for “Hustler’s Theme” [instead]?
Smoothe Da Hustler: Well, you know, that was the powers at hand. Which, we felt [that song], but then I was really aiming for the “My Brother My Ace” video to be a lot bigger. The budget ended up being small. Our last two, three videos, we shot them shits with our own money. We was like, “Alright, let’s pay for our own shit, ‘cause they ain’t giving us nothin’.” Like I said, they was going through a transition phase. Like, I just caught the boat, and the boat was about to merge with some ol’ yacht shit. And I was lucky to make it on board. We was lucky to make it on board. If we wouldn’t have made it on board, who knows, we wouldn’t be doing this interview right now. We a probably be somewhere caked up, with a whole bunch of enemies, or dead, or in jail. So thank God we caught the boat. I don’t look at none of those –
Trigger Tha Gambler: Situations.
Smoothe Da Hustler: Yeah, situations or anything that happened in the past. All that shit is a blessing. It’s definitely a blessing ‘cause it helped shape who we are now. And, I can look everybody in the face and know I ain’t screw nobody, I ain’t fuck nobody over, I don’t owe nobody nothin’. And everything that’s owed to us we got. And we gettin’ now.
DX: Now I mentioned “Hustler’s Theme,” when the album dropped I was diggin’ the way D/R flipped that Curtis Mayfield, [“Freddie’s Dead”]. But he really blessed you with the way he freaked that Isaac Hayes, [“Walk On By”], for “Dollar Bill.”
Smoothe Da Hustler: Oh “Dollar Bill” was ridiculous.
Trigger Tha Gambler: That was sick.
Smoothe Da Hustler: And shouts out to Khryst too. Khryst got an album he doing. That’ll actually be out in a minute. But, yeah, the “Dollar Bill” joint was ridiculous. I remember we performed that joint in Germany, and they received that joint very well. They was just like –
DX: Yeah, it hits.
Smoothe Da Hustler: That shit hit the soul. And then the content, it’s very relevant. Back then all the way up to now. Like, you don’t even need money. All you gotta do is walk around with a keychain with your barcode on it.
DX: You mentioned D.V. Alias Khryst, was that song originally intended to be the showcase for him that it became?
Smoothe Da Hustler: Yes. Yes it was. He was on the single, “Hustlin’.” He was doing that, “Hustlin’. Gamblin’. Slangin’. Nobody move a muscle.” Him and Trig, we all just remained in the same zone, like, when we rapped and hung out and all that.
Trigger Tha Gambler: Went to school with each other.
Smoothe Da Hustler: Yeah, we did all of that stuff [together]. So, it was only right for me [to put him on]. Like, I had an opportunity, I’m recording. Even though we didn’t know at the time that I was gonna like really make records. We knew we was gon’ make a Smoothe Da Hustler album, and we was gon’ have Trig on it, and we was gon’ have Khryst on it. And we was gon’ put some money up, and we was gon’ make a record, ‘cause we had money like that at the time. We was blowin’ money on everything else, why not put money in a record? So we knew we was gon’ do that. And the objective was, Okay, let’s get Khryst on a joint that we can actually be able to sell to the public, and let’s put Trig on a joint that we can actually sell to the public. And let’s get ‘em some deals. So that was definitely … premeditated.
DX: And just out of curiosity, I’ve always wanted to know this, was Khryst doing the Nate Dogg thing before [“Ain’t No Fun”] dropped?
Smoothe Da Hustler: Yes. And the only reason why I’m saying yes is because we grew up with Khryst. Listen, I love Dr. Dre, I love Nate Dogg – Rest in Peace to him, I love that whole west coast [movement], but I can only speak on what I know.
Trigger Tha Gambler: Right. And Khryst been doing that since he was like in seventh grade.
Smoothe Da Hustler: Yeah, seventh, eighth grade. Like, I’m in high school, Trig and them in junior high coming out, we all hangin’ out, we in the hallway, and we rappin’, and Khryst knew how to sing. He had that deep voice. And that’s what he was doing. People used to come from other neighborhoods, hangin’ out in our hallway just to hear this nigga Khryst …. I may have some back in the day stuff. I gotta see if I can dig up some old footage and put a stamp on that. But from what we knew, Khryst was doing it. But Nate Dogg doing it, he did it justice as well. So I mean, if he didn’t do that no justice, it would definitely be an injustice to that style. But he definitely did it justice, which validated Khryst’s style even more. … [Like], Oh shit, another dude, from the west coast, is doing this shit. There it is; there go your lane.
DX: Speaking of the west coast … listening to the entire album, this is recorded and released at the height of east/west beef and y’all don’t mention it not once I don’t think.
Smoothe Da Hustler: Nah, not at all.
Trigger Tha Gambler: To be honest, we never looked at it as a east and west beef, because it was just, at that time it was between two individuals that was goin’ through what they was goin’ through. Like, me and Smoothe never been followers. We leaders. So we had love for west coast, we had love for east coast. That’s where we from. And we was dealing with a lot of people from west coast at the time that [beef] was going on. So we not gon’ just jump the boat ‘cause somebody just say off top fuck west coast or whatever like that. Because, at the same time we got family and friends on both coasts. And, we ain’t them following type dudes. Now, if we needed to hold our east coast down.
Smoothe Da Hustler: Oh, we hold it down regardless.
Trigger Tha Gambler: We gon’ do what we gotta do. But, we never really looked at it like it was gon’ get that big, and it was just so much about the coasts. We more looked at it as individuals that just beefin’ through music. … We never knew it was gon’ get that serious.
DX: You said Biggie bigged up the music you guys were making. Did anybody from the west coast [do the same]?
Smoothe Da Hustler: Oh, yeah! I mean, shit, we was everywhere. Who didn’t? Kurupt, Daz [Dillinger] and [Tha Dogg Pound]. We was out in Oakland with E-A-Ski. Ice-T. Tons of cats from the west coast showed us love. I mean, east, west, we just did what we did, representin’ where we represented. We know everywhere else is a place just like ours. And even worse!
Trigger Tha Gambler: And me and Smoothe the type that wanted to see ‘em.
Smoothe Da Hustler: Yeah, we wanted to see ‘em [because] we ain’t talkin’ nothin’ foreign. We talkin’ the shit we livin’, goin’ through. This shit is fucked up over here, and we know it’s like that everywhere else. And wherever we went that energy radiated. We played in Boulder, Colorado, where that ghetto shit ain’t even happening. And then we played in Watts. … We was accepted in both areas: the area we love because they can relate to the music we do, and the other side, which didn’t understand what we did, but it was so fascinating that they wanted to see it.
DX: The final cut from the album I wanna discuss is one of my personal favorites on the LP, the lone joint D/R didn’t produce, “Glocks On Cock.” You know how many people probably got pistol whipped – [Laughs]
Smoothe Da Hustler: Ayo, I know firsthand one of my homeboys – this dude is crazy. Yo, he used to tell us – he used to ride up on us … and he used to be like, “Yeah, hold up, you know what I’m about to go do,” which was something crazy, and he would be like, “Yo, hold up, let me put on my joint. Let me put on my theme song.” And [he would] turn up “Glocks On Cock,” put on his shades and just ride off. I’m like, “Yo, this nigga’s a nut!” … And I wanna send a Rest in Peace shout-out to Kenny Gee. [He] made that track. And he passed away. And I know his son is actually – he’s doing music now. So shouts to his son, Kenneth, as well. But yeah, that whole album was a great working experience, man. It was like, getting up, slidin’ down to Bushwick, staying in the studio two nights, three nights. I had Mike Tyson come by there. I had so many people come through there it was ridiculous.
Trigger Tha Gambler: Rakim.
Smoothe Da Hustler: Yeah, Rakim. Yo, it was ridiculous.
Trigger Tha Gambler: Run-DMC. Everybody came through, showed a lot of love.
Smoothe Da Hustler: Showed a lot of love, definitely. So I feel blessed just to go through that whole experience and still remain somewhat relevant when it come to gettin’ busy.
The consummate hustlers, Smoothe is still making new solo music, available at SmootheDaHustler.com, while also flipping houses, working on a cartoon, a kids book, and venturing into acting with his recent audition for the lead role in the upcoming 2Pac biopic. Trigger has relocated to Richmond, Virginia, where he owns an armed security company, a candy store, and The Harlem Café nightclub. Both brothers are working together for Trig’s forthcoming Win, Lose or Draw album, as well as the long, long, long awaited Once Upon a Time in America Pt. II: The Fall of America, which Smoothe promises will be a retail ready release with “no unmixed records … we’ll do it right this time.”