J.Smo Interview

SBS:  What is UP my homie?  Stoked to have you with us on our pages J.Smo!  We’ve chatted about music in the past more than once – but never your own before – so this is exciting!  We’ll crack into specifics & all that as we move through this interview my brother – but for now, help us catch these fine folks reading out there up a lil’ bit.  Take us right back to the ground floor – you started releasing music back in 1999 independently as far as my notes tell me…but I could look up UPC codes & all that for those kinda facts yo.  I wanna know about what brought you to rock the mic to begin with.  There was a J.Smo that had yet to push record, but was only dreaming he might one day…long before it all started.  Is that still a tangible moment?  Do you remember that point in your life where you heard something, saw something, witnessed something go down, that like…changed everything for ya…to the point where listening & being a fan wasn’t gonna be enough…and YOU needed to make music all of a sudden, not just wanted to anymore.  What inspired you to grip the m-i-c & spit rhymes way back in the day J.Smo?

J.Smo:  My experience and creative expression as a Hip Hop artist is a bit of an anomaly. I was born in rural Tennessee; near the Tennessee River. My father is a retired Methodist pastor. We moved several times during my earlier years.

When I discovered Hip Hop, I was living in Lynchburg, Tennessee within walking distance of the Jack Daniel’s distillery. I was 6 years old. I used my allowance to buy MC Hammer’s “Pray” single on cassette tape. Now, I cannot tell you why I did this or what led me to do this…but it happened. That’s my first Hip Hop memory. I was hooked. I even had octagon glass frames in elementary school.

However, no ONE was into Hip Hop. In fact, it would have been something people would have looked down on and frowned upon if they knew. Fortunately, I was left to my own devices and spent quite a bit of time alone. That helped me avoid any serious ridicule or what have you. With a Walkman and headphones, it’s pretty easy to keep things to yourself and enjoy them privately. Listening to Shaquille O’Neal cassettes while mowing the yard was always the best. 😉

So fast forward through more moving around and years of me trying to “fit in” with peers by buying albums from Garth Brooks, John Michael Montgomery, or whoever was popular in Country music during those years (because that’s what everyone else listened to). In middle school it transitioned to alternative rock and whatever MTV was propagating. But point being, I tried listening to other music to “fit in” with my peers. It never really worked. Hip Hop is what grabbed my attention the most.

By the time I got to high school, the majority of my peers were listening to rap music but were completely disconnected from Hip Hop Culture. It was popular on radio, TV and magazines so they bought the CDs, watched the videos, etc.

In Coffee County, Tennessee we had a small-scale car culture but not in the sense of tricked out cars on rims with hydraulics and shiny paint jobs (although more people had rims than paint)…even with a shitty car, kids would have subwoofers in the trunks. We would ride up and down the strip from Sonic to Burger King and back; many of us with those woofers booming and trunks rattling. If we got bored, we’d drive down the highway to Tullahoma and cruise around there.

Nothing like life in small town USA. J

But back to this J.Smo thing. Or Pre-J.Smo.

As the pastor’s son, by the time I was 13 I was learning how to work PA systems and record sermons as well as choir performances. The church my dad served while I was in high school built a new sanctuary, upgraded to a 16 channel professional sound board, and had no one to operate it. I not only learned how to run it, but I also wrote an easy to follow manual for others to be able to operate it when I moved on with my life. During this time, I taught myself how to build websites and built one for the church. I still freelance as a website consultant to this day.

By the time I graduated high school, I was teaching myself how to play guitar. A family friend, C Bret Campbell, had an old barn converted to a full size recording studio. It was a really special place. Unfortunately, it’s no longer there. However, C Bret is the spark that transformed me from a kid who just loved music to seeing the possibility of creating and recording my own.

It was Bret who first gave me access to Fruity Loops 3.0, Cool Edit Pro 2.0, and a collection of plugins that allowed me to teach myself the software and the ability to record myself. It was my Father investing in a computer in 1995 (when hardly anyone else in our community had one) that allowed me to self-teach and share my creations with others (worldwide); I guess I should also thank the Internet for that.

Back then we used dial-up modems. There was no such thing as Google, YouTube or Facebook. Social media wasn’t even really a concept back then. However, we had forums and message boards.

Before I made any music, I used to write a lot of poetry. I shared those poems on forums focused on poetry and lyrics. During this time Napster became a major disrupter of the music industry. I began downloading music from underground Hip Hop artists I probably would have never found otherwise. Acts like Atmosphere, Cunninlynguists, Common Market, El-P, Copywrite, Cage, Sage Francis, and many more were receiving heavy airplay. I couldn’t get enough of it. I followed the indie labels. The more I watched them grow and find success, the more I wanted to build my own label.

Groups like Outkast, Goodie Mob, UGK, Devin the Dude, 3-6 Mafia, music from the West Coast, NYC and ATL, it all reached me and had influence on me in various ways. Goodie Mob’s newest album is definitely worth listening through. Goodie Mob is in my Top 3 favorite groups of all time.

But during the Napster discovery days, I began contemplating starting the journey of being a Hip Hop artist, but I never wanted to be solo; it was always about the collective. (Sidenote: I played in a nu-metal band for a while, 2001-ish. Salute to my brother from another Bates!).

Instead of teaching myself guitar all the time, I began focusing on making beats. Once I’d been doing that for a while, I decided to try writing to those beats. Then I actually got enough guts to record my lyrics over my beats. Those early recordings were horrible…but that’s where it started.

I went by Smo Logic back then. Smo was a nickname given to me when I was 13 to differentiate from my best friend Gro (who is the co-founding member of BUNKS). Our first names are both Joshua. To avoid confusion people started calling us Smo and Gro. It stuck.

Once we started putting our Hip Hop songs online and receiving positive feedback, the fire to keep going was burning full steam. By 2003, we’d recorded an album, made our own CD-Rs with original artwork, and were mailing them as far away as Australia. We even had someone in Canada buy a thong from Cafepress with the BUNKS logo on it. This further added fuel to the fire to keep pushing.

It’s now 2021. I’m still just getting warmed up.

SBS:  1999 bro.  I tell ya…it makes a guy take serious stock of it all in looking back now doesn’t it?  I mean, J.Smo – congrats to BOTH of us homie…we are survivors of Y2K!  Good thing we turned those computers & lights off or whatever the heck they had us believing was important way back then.  Tell us a bit about the history of your own music my friend – how would you say it’s evolved from day one?

J.Smo:  At first it was just about creating it just because I enjoyed doing so. Fortunately I had the luxury of no children, less responsibilities, and was surrounded by peers who were also creating and releasing Hip Hop. While at Middle Tennessee State University (Murfreesboro, TN), I was studying music business and taking classes in production and technology. It was MTSU that really provided the platform and the network for myself and BUNKS to bloom into what it became.

Once we started putting our music out there (by giving away CDs), we began connecting with other Hip Hop artists and DJs. We started booking shows together. BUNKS won 3rd place in Daily News Journal’s Battle of the Bands, we were featured artists alongside NIMA Award winning Streetlight Allstars for The Murfreesboro Pulse, and we were performing and/or organizing Hip Hop shows consistently from 2006-2012.

In 2004, my first son was born. He is turning 17 this year. I have two more 12 (female), 11 (male). Being a family man obviously became part of the story. From 2004-2013, you could say life was navigating very murky waters. When my oldest son was a toddler, his mom moved away with him to another state without discussing or asking about my feelings first. We ended up in custody court and all that shit. I was living a double life essentially. I was doing my best to succeed in academics and finish the degrees I started in 2000. But I was also the guy people were calling for 1) studio time and 2) cannabis and party favors. At this time in Tennessee, they were arresting my peers for sticks and seeds in their ashtrays…even if there was no evidence of flower or paraphernalia. The Drug War was in full effect (still is).

I was “too big for my britches” as my granny would say, and one thing led to another and I found myself in a situation where my “best friend” was a federal informant while undercover cops liked to visit me and search my house without warrants — while trying to convince me to be on their payroll. I was cornered by 3 officers outside my apartment one night while they tried to convince me I could make enough money to give my son more of what he needed in life. If my skin were a different color, I would NOT be right here, right now.

And I’m not an idiot. And I don’t work with [corrupt] police (or humans). So I started climbing my way out of that mess ASAP. Thankfully, in California, I can legally order cannabis delivery to my front door. My kids will be fully educated about it like I never was. They will be able to safely purchase it as tax paying, fully informed citizens while knowing how and why enjoying it responsibly is important. And best of all, they have freedom of choice…emphasis on informed choice.

Imagine if we’d grown up in a world like this?

I never understood why a plant was made illegal (until I started researching the Drug War in the U.S. Those answers are very obvious to me now). This would be a good spot to plug my song with Australian singer/songwriter Bob Crain, Forsaken Veteran of the Drug Wars.

That was too long of a side-story, let me circle back to the evolution of the music. We never set out to create any specific type of music. We would always get together, make beats, write lyrics, and just record whatever came out. Sometimes we would go into a song with a hook, a backstory, or a concept as far as lyrics were concerned, but the music always represented sounds we put together in the moment following our feelings and intuition over any sort of logical reasoning. Creating was and is a very spiritual experience, at least for me.

To really answer your question, it’s evolved very organically. Each song you listen to typically represents feelings captured in that moment or feelings/issues I was trying to work through during the time the songs were written and recorded. Referring to what I mentioned above, you can clearly see where I get the content for a lot of my lyrics.

SBS:  I felt like one of the most obvious questions I should be asking came right from the album art of The Joshua Story (Earth Bound Mix)…it’s right there in front of us all…J.Smo…of BUNKS.  Yet this is not J.Smo with BUNKS.  So many questions really brother, if I’m being honest with ya.  Originally I thought, well okay, Corona…of course he’s been away from the homies and he’s gotta do his own thing…but according to the notes I’m reading, this album has all been formulating since 2013…so what’s the story?  What was it about the songs on this particular record that you felt couldn’t, wouldn’t, or shouldn’t fit into the legacy you’d been building with BUNKS…and if it’s not recorded with them, what makes this an advantage to mention at all?  I understand name-recognition & all that…but like…solo records would be a pretty good place to make a statement about goin’ on your own too, yes?  And mind you…this ain’t exactly your first solo record either…but the last time I can officially find the BUNKS named tagged to a single track, if I’m not mistaken, is actually back in 2016…before that, 2008.  So are you really still J.Smo of BUNKS – or just J.Smo now?  When is the time to cut the cord – or is in fact, that cord still attached?

J.Smo:  BUNKS has two founding members: J.Smo and J.Gro. However, we always considered ourselves a collective and anyone who supported us or made music with us were also considered BUNKS. It’s more about family and a tribal mentality than it is about a music group.

BUNKS is an acronym: Bringing Unmatched Noise Knowledge & Sound.

It’s a philosophy. But we also call our small town, farm life origins the BUNK life. It’s more a mentality than anything else.

Now, to get to the heart of this question. BUNKS is no longer actively recording and releasing music. In fact, the BUNKSperience: Volume 1 released in 2012 is where BUNKS as a group started fading out and J.Smo started fading in. Although J.Gro is on that album, several of the songs are just J.Smo. Pretty much everything released after 2013 is solo work directly from J.Smo.

And there is a why behind this.

So first, Gro is also first and foremost a family man. He also started popping out babies. For a long time we tried to keep it going but the magic that existed pre-parenthood quickly faded as life and responsibility took priority. We always lived 45 minutes apart and that never helped with the family thing. We still communicate. Will there ever be future BUNKS’ releases? Who knows….?

Jumping back to my personal timeline, in 2013 I moved to Sacramento with my wife and 3 kids to pursue better opportunities and to provide our children with a better and more stable future. My oldest had been and was living in Florida with his Mother; that made the move and distance that much harder on my emotions and spirit.

Why Sacramento?

Two-fold answer. My wife (also an active singer/songwriter) was finishing graduate school and had been applying for jobs all over the nation. She received an offer she wanted to take from a firm in Davis, CA. While all that was going on, BUNKS had booked Sacramento based artist Mr. P Chill at The Brew in Manchester, TN. At that show, BUNKS and P Chill became friends. BUNKS then toured the East Coast with Mr. P Chill and DJ Mike Colossal in August 2013.

Our last show on that tour was at Buzzbin in Canton, Ohio. I literally left that show, drove all the way back to Tennessee, picked up a moving truck, drove home, slept, then woke up and started packing to move to Sacramento. I made the 8 hour overnight drive back all by myself; Gro drank too much and was never able to recover. He was still feeling it when I dropped him off in Manchester. That was a really really hard goodbye to drive 45 minutes back home with. I miss you, Bro!

Thanks to Mr. P Chill and our friendship, I was accepted into the Sacramento Hip Hop community and began my solo journey as J.Smo. However, I never intend on cutting the BUNKS cord. In my heart, I’ll always be J.Smo (of BUNKS). As mentioned on the new album, “we’re Indivisible”.

SBS:  The bio I’ve got here in front of me also references a seven-year journey to get to this record.  Again, if I’m reading the tea-leaves right, that’s the same time it looks like the majority of what you were doing in BUNKS came to a halt, life probably entered into the mix & started making new demands & whatnot…then the return of J.Smo of BUNKS likely when things began to settle down a bit.  That being said – that same very statement in your bio refers to this journey concluding with the release of The Joshua Story (Earth Bound Mix) – and yep, I’m comin’ atcha for some serious clarification here.  I ain’t gonna lie to ya J.Smo – we’ve got some major details missing here that would make it plenty clear my man, so let’s see if we can help fill in the gaps.  Are we talking about the journey as being this particular record, and now that it’s finally out, that journey has concluded?  Or are you alluding to your time as a solo artist coming to an end overall?  How deep should we all be reading into this statement of yours?

J.Smo:  Great question and I honestly don’t have a firm answer. I will say that I’ll never stop seeing myself as a solo artist. There is no retirement or anything like that happening in my future. If I’m inspired, I’ll create. If someone sends me a beat or asks for a feature, I’m saying yes.

Am I going to go all in to create another full length solo album? Ehhhhh…. I’m not sure.

The Joshua Story album began in 2013. I had a few songs written and recorded before leaving Tennessee. Obviously there’s a lot of inner turmoil that comes along with uprooting yourself and your family moving them 2300-ish miles away from all extended family…and having no support network in place in the new location. As I was forced to adjust and adapt, I kept working on songs but it was slower progress. Making money, paying bills, feeding children…you know…life took priority.

To get back to the question, the 2021 release of The Joshua Story (Earth Bound Mix) is the conclusion of the journey to tell my story in the form of Hip Hop music. And when I say tell my story, I mean talk about all the things I never talk to people about. Music has always been a form of therapy for me and a place where I can speak freely without facing ridicule, judgment or specific consequences I’d prefer to avoid. Fortunately, a lot of things I talk about are long behind. California is a lot different than life in the Dirty South…way different.

SBS:  Word on the street is that you weren’t satisfied with the original production on this album, ended up crossing paths with a producer named Quique Cruz based out of Santa Ana, and then somehow that became the collaboration you were looking for to get the best out of these songs.  You sent over an acapella track, he sent you back a finished song…then boom, album?  C’mon man.  Ain’t no doubt that’s mighty impressive, but how about a few more details bruh!  What was it you heard in what Quique had sent you that confirmed he was gonna be the right guy for you?  Truthfully, did you know he was already the right answer based on what he’d done on Buxaburn’s The Distance and it being one of your own personal favorites?  How were you certain that he could bring you to the results you were looking for?

J.Smo:  Before I left Tennessee, we started an indie music blog. At first we focused on our local/regional music scene and published content spotlighting bands, studios, events, festivals, etc in Middle Tennessee. It soon expanded beyond covering local talent. It still exists today. I’ve published 5,000+ articles spotlighting indie bands from all over the world. I’ve organized it so you can find bands by location or search by genres. It’s IndieMusicDiscovery.com.

Through the blog, I was introduced to Buxaburn’s The Distance…years ago.

To this day, it’s still one of my favorite Hip Hop albums. I listened to it yesterday, actually. However, Quique Cruz produced and is featured on that album. From that moment on I have always had major respect for both of them as artists and human beings. However, Quique and I never really engaged, at least back then.

Fast forward to earlier in 2020, I had been promoting other projects and music in progress on Instagram. Somehow, someway, I ended up crossing paths with Quique on IG. Some private messages were exchanged and he expressed interest in a collaboration.

I had been sitting on The Joshua Story, in demo form, for a long time at this point. I had been reaching out to other producers over the years seeing if anyone was up to the challenge of helping me upgrade the production of the tracks on The Joshua Story. I never had success…not with the entire album anyway. There have been select tracks of mine remixed by others and released as singles but no one would ever follow through with the entire album.

Once Quique showed interest in a collab, I told him about the acapellas and how I’d been trying to find producers to work with. I gave him access to the acapellas. The first track he sent was Doin’ Dishes. I was really impressed. Sonically it was everything I had been waiting for and wanting for The Joshua Story. I talked to him about working on the entire album.

Very soon after that, we had The Joshua Story (Earth Bound Mix). He added hooks where none existed. He rearranged the track list. He gave a major and much needed upgrade to the musicality and sonic quality of the entire project. And although he did not do any art for the album, he’s also a Jedi at graphic design. He did design the cover for the soon-to-be-released single, “Love Trumps Hate” (off this album).

The whole thing happened very naturally. It was one of those moments when I felt like it was too good to be true. I’m extremely grateful and humbled to be here telling this story right now. I had been sitting on the album for so long, there were moments I had seriously contemplated never releasing it.

SBS:  When I read the ‘how’ of how this record was created it honestly kind of blew my mind J.Smo.  I have watched singer/songwriters in just about every genre try to build songs around their words from the ground up, versus the music being first…and almost every time, it seems like it’s a super awkward fit.  Some can do it of course…but ultimately in those cases, the melody is already there in the words to guide the process along.  I don’t think I’ve actually heard of a Rap or Hip-Hop based record being made the way The Joshua Story (Earth Bound Mix) was in the sense that it is all vocal tracks being sent over to Quique, and then he’s designed the music to retrofit every cut?  That’s nuts man!  I’m not saying it didn’t work out – clearly it did, and the record’s a tight one – but like…yeah…that’s still 100% crazy to me.  Maybe this happens out there more than I realize though.  To me, it would seem like the best path to success in a combination like that, would still be to bounce your acapella tracks over to Quique, then Quique designs the music, then sends that music back over to you to get your best results on the m-i-c in tandem with the flow of the new music surrounding the vocals…like, am I crazy in thinking that?  But if I’m reading all this right…those original vocal tracks are the same ones from when you first recorded them acapella, correct?  I don’t even think I have a question here man…explain this recording process!

J.Smo:  You’re definitely not crazy in thinking that. And yes, Quique took the acapellas and molded the music around them. I could have gone back and re-recorded them, but I didn’t.

In my experience, every time I have gone back to try and re-record a song…years later… I can never capture the same energy that I had in the original recordings. I felt it was better to keep the original energy than to update the recordings simply because I am further evolved as a person and artist.

Through live shows and live streaming, people can get the most recent version of me. That’s where the real connections happen. No two performances are the same.

SBS:  I think what had me asking that question earlier about whether or not this was the conclusion of the journey to this record, or to your career, likely circles back to the timeline of things again.  Look at it from this angle and you’ll see what I’m saying (not that you didn’t LIVE this yourself & all, but…) – we’ve got the last BUNKS record we know of in 2008.  In 2013 you start working on The Joshua Story according to legend.  Then in 2016 you just start releasing other music instead?  Not just a couple tracks, but like, records bruh…a whole lot of songs over the years to follow really, prior to this new album in 2021.  So how does that even work?  How were you able to separate and filter what wouldn’t belong on this particular record – what were the criteria you used to make The Joshua Story cohesive, and then able to decide that other songs were able to jump the queue and get put out way earlier than this mission you had started so long ago?  Strikes me that you would have had to be incredibly selective during this time.

J.Smo:  It wasn’t that I was being highly selective, it’s mostly that all those projects were created with other producers and those songs were not in line with the true purpose of The Joshua Story.

Purgatory is an EP where I collaborated with non-Hip Hop songwriters to do Hip Hop remixes of their non-Hip Hop songs. The artists I collaborated with were ones I had met and interviewed or reviewed on my indie music blog. It’s a special project simply because of that fact.

Words Beyond Measure is a bi-lingual album in English and Danish I did with artist EKD and producer JAW.

Simmer is a collection of unreleased songs I put together to print CDs to sell on tour. I ended up having to back out of that tour for financial reasons. I still have several of those CDs (on sale on Bandcamp).

Modern Day Griot is an EP of songs I wrote over beats by my Tennessee homie Bill Breeze aka Tondef tha Killa.

Young Smo Episodes is an album I did with my West Coast family Young Harm of Tru Sav Entertainment. You could say we’re spirit animals. Harm would send me beats and sometimes hooks. I would rap over them. Harm made all the artwork for the singles. All the song titles and most of the art make references to various chemical substances but the songs themselves are not about those things. It’s a very unorthodox, experimental project.

The songs on The Joshua Story are the most personal songs I have released publically. The songs are auto-biographical and cover everything from baby mama drama to living a double life to struggling with addictive and destructive behaviors to avoiding jail time to struggles in my marriage, and ultimately learning how take the cards I’ve been dealt to become a better father and human being in this often chaotic existence.

SBS:  “Love it in the studio, never in a hurry though, let it marinate, perfect the taste, and then let it flow.”  As I’m sure you’d have pointed out in the very first question I asked ya in this interview, every artist & band out there evolves in some way, shape, or form over the course of time…that’s only natural.  But here’s the set-up in full-bloom my brother – if that’s the case, and we’re drawing from cuts created as far back as 2013 – how can we as listeners, be certain that what we’d be hearing is the best of what J.Smo can do right in the here & now…or does that even matter to ya?  Do you feel like, even though some of these cuts will date right back to the furthest points of the timeline, that it still DOES in fact represent the best of what J.Smo can do?  No judgments here homie – I’m just giving you the floor space and opportunity to help us understand what’s kept these songs around for years & on the shelf so long.  I suppose what I’m getting at…is if we’re all moving forward, building on our skills year after year & whatnot – what would have you reaching into the past, as opposed to revealing what you can do now?

J.Smo:  As mentioned earlier, every time I have tried to go back to older songs and re-record them, I can never match the same energy in those original recordings.

With that said, are listeners receiving my best?

My immediate answer is yes. There is always room for improvement. You can spend forever trying to reach perfection and never attain it. However, I always aim for authenticity over all else. For that reason, I say yes.

My hope is when people hear this album, if they dig it, they will dig deeper into the discography and realize I have a lot more to offer than this one album.

There’s a huge difference in the sound of the BUNKS’s albums and everything I have released as J.Smo. Even the projects I have released as J.Smo sound vastly different from each other.

As far as what’s considered my best… that’s subjective (in my opinion). What I consider my best is not the same thing my homie says is my best, and that’s different from what my wife thinks is my best, or even what my business partners think of as my best… You get the idea.

SBS:  I’d assume after listening you’ve well-earned your place in what we know as Conscious Hip-Hop out there in the world today, and that it’s equally clear you know your roots of the genre and its history to get to a sound & style like we hear flow throughout The Joshua Story (Earth Bound Mix).  I could cite all kinds of cuts I really dig from this record like the rhythmic clinic you run on “Conflicted,” or how a song like “Indivisible” right before it actually contains the answer to the question I asked ya earlier on about whether or not this is the ‘end’ of J.Smo – I already knew it wasn’t, because I’m listenin’ bro, I’m paying attention.  I’m just makin’ sure everyone out there is on the same page and we fill in the gaps of those bios for the rest of the people out there is all.  Anyhow!  There’s a wealth of really solid material that sounds like you’ve really found the balance with Quique to create something that’s equally got the shine of the old-school, yet it’s still flashy & relevant for today as well…it’s wildly entertaining, thought-provoking, and clearly on the positive side without being afraid to get gritty with the details when the situation & song calls for it too, which I dig very much.  Still though homie…with ALL that good-good stuff being said, the realest question I can ever ask anyone out there comes right down to this…what would you say sets you apart from the rest of the genre?  I’m not at all suggesting that the answer isn’t right there in the music to hear – but from your own perspective, what’s the uniqueness of J.Smo that we could identify as listeners?  Is identity a priority, or important to consider when making an album?

J.Smo:  I have always carved and stood in my own lane. Although I am influenced and inspired by others, I have never set out to be like, sound like, or create something that is similar to or like something by another artist. I think I mentioned this before but music has always been my therapist. I open up in my music about things I don’t talk about to other people. I release the stress, work through the hurt, and heal the pain when I create. Being able to share that with others and receive positive feedback and encouragement has always been a HUGE bonus but also the fire that fueled me to keep creating.

There’s a story I can tell to drive this point home.

I’m living in Tennessee. AT&T sales duo rings doorbell to try and sell us services, persuade us to switch providers, blah blah. At that point we knew we were moving, so it was easy to blow off the sales pitch. However, I got them talking. Music was a topic. They both liked Hip Hop. Naturally, I had a BUNKS’ Generica CD nearby. I handed it to them.

One of the guys turns it over and is staring at the track list with an unusual level of intensity.

He looks up and says, “Coffee Flavored Memories….you’re THAT guy?!?!?!”

Turns out this dude was from Manchester and that album helped him get through some really rough times.

That’s the shit that keeps me going and inspires me to never stop.

SBS:  “Music is the one thing that’s never betrayed me…”  You’ve got so many killer lyrics I could have spent this whole interview quoting ya brother.  A statement like that sure hits home with me dude – that’s exactly how I feel, full-stop.  It sparked an interest in a question I tend to ask a lot, but clearly you’ve just demonstrated you might have a bit more insight than most would with your answer (no pressure!) – what are three things you know to be 100% true about music, and how do you know?

J.Smo:  Music builds confidence. Music builds community. Music transcends.

Are you familiar with the concept of gnosis?

Gnosis is knowing through intuition, not rationale or logic. It’s intuition versus intellect.

I know because I’ve experienced it. It’s a feeling. One that has no language to describe it.

SBS:  From what I know about ya…you’re actually some kind of a music professor of sorts now aren’t ya my man?  You’ve gotta have earned a little street cred with the students through the fact that you’re still active in the game yourself & doin’ your thang on the m-i-c – at least, I’d hope so!  But that did get me curious about what their reaction to The Joshua Story (Earth Bound Mix) might have been – and also whether or not you felt a bit more added pressure in knowing they’d eventually be hearing it all?  It’s one thing to put out a record as an artist or band, but I’d imagine it’s a whole other ballgame in creating something that you’re literally teaching others about at the same time – does that ever factor into it all?  Has teaching music helped teach YOU things about making music that can benefit what J.Smo does?

J.Smo:  Yeah… In summer of 2019, I was recruited to teach a digital marketing course, based on my work as Chief Marketing Officer of Unlimited Sounds (ulsounds.com). My student evaluations were good enough they didn’t want me to leave. As of this year, I’m teaching full time. I am COO of the student run record label (Pac Ave Records), I mentor independent research students, and also mentor interns. Next year they want me to begin advising full time. There’s a rumor going round the program director wants me to stay for 20 years. We’ll see how that plays out.

Added pressure? Oh yeah… mostly because the content of my lyrics is often sprinkled with references to illegal substances, outlaw activities, and topics that aren’t necessarily “pop” or “mainstream” in nature. With that said, there is this voice in my head that concerns itself with being “discovered” by administrators, faculty, students or their parents that could result in less than positive consequences. It’s not like I’m living in fear or anything…but there’s a concerned voice whispering in the back of my head, LOL.

On the flip side of that, I have an intern assisting me with the radio promotion for the album. I can’t complain about that. The students are very supportive. A lot of them are aspiring artists as well as aspiring music industry professionals. Several of them actually call me J.Smo instead of professor. I’m truly enjoying this new “dimension” that’s been introduced into my life’s journey.

SBS:  You’ve got over two decades of experience to share with the next generation of superstars J.Smo!  That’s incredibly valuable in so many ways, and hopefully those students of yours are picking your brain for every nugget of knowledge you can provide’em with!  From a distance online I’ve seen & watched you experience the ups of your personal triumphs, and go through the downs we’ve all been sharing in over the past years as well…yet, you still remain a stoically positive force out there in multiple realms.  And for what it’s worth, I follow pretty closely yo – I know it hasn’t always been easy – but I do believe that it’s inarguable you are a positive person always battling on behalf of the greater good in whatever ways you can, from all that I’ve seen & read about ya…and heard as well in your music of course.  What do you feel is the most crucial thing you’ve learned as an independent artist that you could share with the next generation coming up in the game & how important has it been to have that positive mindset in terms of achieving the longevity you’ve established, preserving, and overcoming any/all obstacles that you’ve encountered along the way?  If you didn’t dwell on the positive – would things be different now?

J.Smo:  There was a time when I didn’t focus on the positive. I was miserable, often suicidal, and my self-worth was ZERO. Even now, I often find myself waking up each morning having to make an intentional effort to not allow the negativity to overpower me. Sometimes the negativity comes from external forces, but I still battle my own negatives regularly.

However, COVID and the circus that 2020 became allowed me a significant amount of time for soul searching, working through a lot of my inner turmoil, and coming to peace with many things I just hadn’t had time to work through…until we were ordered into lockdown.

A Positive and Growth mindset is CRUCIAL to longevity. In fact, there is no sustainability without it. You always have to be looking inside yourself to figure out 1) what’s wrong and how do I fix it and 2) how do I make today better than yesterday. Continuously disrupt yourself before someone else, or the Planet, does. Habits can be counter-productive, especially if they are destructive ones.

People lose sight of the fact that happiness is not permanent and is not a destination. It’s the pursuit of happiness that we enjoy and should aim for. If we just had happiness, life would be pretty boring as it would lack conflict, drama and struggle.

No pain, no gain.

Once you figure out how to be in the moment and simply enjoy riding the wave of life, everything else starts falling into place. But the key is to look inside and take responsibility for yourself and protecting your energy.

Pointing fingers and placing blame on external forces never accomplishes anything worthwhile.

SBS:  After two decades…and a strong nod to a third still in the works on “Indivisible,” maybe even a fourth & a fifth, you never know…what is there out there that you’d still like to conquer or master when it comes to your music?  Is there anything you haven’t done that you’re still really looking forward to?

J.Smo:  I want to tour outside the United States. I want to tour more inside it as well but I really want to tour and perform in other territories before I leave Earth. I am open to guest speaking as well considering I’m not just a creative but also a musicpreneur, parent, and educator.

As far as the music, I plan to just keep doing what I’ve been doing since 1999. Make music when I’m inspired to, create it with friends as much as possible, and keep collaborating with new creatives who will then {hopefully} remain new friends long into the future.

I’m a family man. It’s all about the Tribe to me.

And, I never plan on stopping. My birthday was the same day this album dropped. I’m 39 and I’m still just getting warmed up. This journey is far from over…

SBS:  It has been an incredible pleasure to talk tunes with ya my brother – and I truly hope we’ll get the opportunity again one day down the road.  Like I said, I see the work you’re doin’ out there in this world, and it’s genuinely inspiring J.Smo – this floating rock we’re on needs a whole lot more people out there just like you, and I’m 100% glad to know that you’re guiding many of the artists & bands of our future to come in the right directions.  You keep on keepin’ on, as they say J.Smo…this planet is a much better place for having you in it, I can promise ya that…and the seeds you’re planting now in young minds out there are certain to harvest an all-star lineup of artists & bands on their way to success – I’m already looking forward to hearing them!  Interviews as you know, can go in just about a million directions…and hopefully, we’ve got to at least a few things you would have wanted to discuss along the way at some point here.  But just in case – I’ve got the ol’ SBS Open-Floor warmed up for ya and a soapbox right over there to climb up on if there’s anything else you wanna say to us all, send a shout out or two, or drop a couple knowledge bombs on us on your way out the door here…the floor is 100% yours for you to say anything at all my friend – thank-you so much for your time, effort, answers – and music J.Smo!

J.Smo: I think I’ve said too much at this point. I’ll leave with this.

No pain, no gain, No light, no dark. No joy, no suffering.

Light and Darkness emanate from the same Source, yet we recognize them as distinct and different things. And we tend to externalize these things when they are really emanating from deep inside You, inside Us.

That’s the sauce…

Protect. Your. Energy (Inner-G).

Find out more about J.Smo direct from his main page at:  https://www.jsmobunks.com

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"I’m passionate about what I do, and just as passionate about what YOU do. Together, we can get your music into the hands of the people that should have it. Let’s create something incredible."

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