And the Social Media campaign award of the year goes to: Martin Brown. The man formerly known as Smiles Again (one half of the now defunct Mind Over Matter), and now known as Smizzy, has been flying a bit under the radar for these past few years. But that doesn’t mean he hasn’t been hard to work; for the past few years Smizzy has written screenplays, a mixtape, even a novel, and has just released his debut solo LP, The Cover.
Haven’t heard it yet? You should; Brown uses his effortlessly smooth, melodic style to spin rhymes that fit in beautifully with the legacy of Mind Over Matter, carrying with them thoughtful themes of identity both deeply personal and socially relevant.
Satisfying his fans and attracting new ones doesn’t seem to be all Smizzy has set out to do though. In response to the tragic passing of a friend and fellow emcee, Di Apprentice (who features on one of The Cover‘s standouts, “Shark Party”), Smizzy has tapped into his sizable social media following to not only raise funds for his friend’s family but provide a platform for undiscovered talent through the currently running “The Cover Re-Rapped” competition.
The concept is simple really: Smizzy puts his Facebook following to task, choosing one track from The Cover at a time and challenging fans to contribute a would-be verse to the beat. The audition process will then ultimately lead to Smizzy going into the studio with all the winners and re-recording The Cover, taking out 10 verses in total and plugging the gaps with the winning entries. Winners will be chosen across all 10 tracks of the album, after which they will professionally record their verses at Smizzy’s personal expense.
Before the year is out, The Cover Re-Rapped will be released worldwide, featuring all those budding emcees who may not have otherwise got the break they deserve. And, coming from someone who has paid close attention to the competition for the past month or so, they definitely deserve it. All proceeds generated by the re-rapped album will go to Di Apprentice’s wife and young son.
I had the opportunity to catch up Smizzy and learn more about the competition, plus chat a bit about what he’s been up to since Mind Over Matter’s last studio album, 2014’s This Way to Elsewhere.
Before we get to the “The Cover” lets take it back to after you first went solo. I understand you wrote a screenplay shortly after?
This is true, I wrote two in fact. One of which is being turned into a book as we speak. The first was a kids animation adventure called Sealo & Marcus which is about an Atlantic Fur Seal, Sealo, who is obsessed with seal-eating sharks. Sealo befriends Marcus, a large Great White Shark, and together they travel to find the last Megalodon (a prehistoric shark three times the size of the largest Great White). The other movie is called Crab Bucket. It has nothing to do with crabs. It’s a thriller, think Man On Fire meets True Detective Season 1. I can see screenplay writing being a big part of my life for the next decade or so.
And you had that excellent track with Paige IV a few years back. How long after that did you make the decision to start on a debut album?
When I started on this album it was initially planned to be the next Mind Over Matter album. Willow had moved on from the group but DJ Ntaprize and myself were keen to keep moving. The switch happened mid record and was a result of a few different things, but mainly because we felt that we’d grown Mind Over Matter to a sufficient point. The industry was familiar with Mind Over Matter and so were Australian hip hop fans. The power of a new artist is that no one has made their mind up about you yet. So we decided to harness that and run with it. It was also more romantic as Willow was a big part of Mind Over Matter and we didn’t want to Jedi Mind Tricks him.
Did the idea for your “re-rapped” concept come before or after you recorded the album, and what made you want to use social media exclusively to run the comp?
The Re-Rapped concept was always something I wanted to do. Initially it was going to be to raise money for brain cancer as I lost my best friend to it 4 years ago. However I changed the cause after Di Apprentice, a Melbourne artist who features on the record, took his own life last year. He left behind a wife and little boy as well. I’d recently had a little boy myself (he’s 3 months old now), and I thought just how hard it would be for single parents raising someone on their own. I’m not sure how much money The Cover Re-Rapped record will generate for his family however his wife, Cat, is stoked to know that people haven’t forgotten about him. That was what was the most valuable thing about this initiative to her.
If radio don’t support a record in this country most labels and artists throw their hands up in the air not knowing what to do. Social media is the most powerful tool an artist has that is within their control.
And so far how have you been finding the reception to the comp? Have you been surprised by the amount of entries you’ve received?
The comp has been very cool. It’s been way more time consuming for me than I thought it would be, due to the amount of entries. Some artists even enter more than once per song. It’s not an overwhelming amount of entries though, songs have been averaging 15-30 entries each, which I think is nice as artists have a decent chance of getting shared or landing the winning spot on a song.
There has been a lot of positive feedback regarding the cause of the comp as well which I think is really nice.
How important is it for these undiscovered and young rappers to have a platform such as this, particularly in Australia where the scene is only now becoming more diverse?
I think this comp is really healthy for the scene. I feel like the Aus hip hop scene is too segregated and this is a result of Australian radio. The only station large enough to impact significantly enough on a rappers growth that also plays lower and mid-tier Australian hip hop acts is Triple J. Triple J is a great outlet and station. The only issue is that there is only one of them and they can’t play everyone. This is what causes segregation, as artists played on Triple J tend to collaborate more frequently with other artists who are played on Triple J, in order to increase their own chances of staying a “Triple J act”.
In business, this is simple brand association and is important for sure. However, this leaves out the fish that aren’t played on radio. I’m not really a Triple J act myself, I’ve had spot play on most singles, and Mind Over Matter’s song “Real Life” got a flogging a while back but that’s it, regardless I know that rappers have found the opportunity valuable that the Re-Rapped comp presents.
You had a recent Facebook video relating to the tendency for Australian rappers to only collaborate with established artists to chase radio play. Do you feel this mentality is holding Aussie hip hop back from the global scale of say UK and U.S hip hop?
Once an Aussie artists gets big enough in Australia they tend to branch out to other countries. Bliss n Eso have done it with the US and Canada, the Hoods have hit the UK and Germany amongst other spots, but it all starts with dominating their home country first. It doesn’t have to, but that seems to be the trend. It’s what’s safer, more cost effective and gives artists a decent enough resume to go overseas with.
I’d love Australian radio to be more like it is in the U.S. Over there an artist can blow up from a guest spot on a decent radio show like The Wake Up Show. They have college radio as well as multiple other large stations which are avenues for up and comers to service their music to. If one station passes on you, it’s not all over.
Tell me a bit about the recording process for The Cover. How long did it take and were there any particular challenges, this being your first solo album?
It was a lot of fun. Most pre-production was done with Matik (Seth Sentry / Drapht) and Jon Reichardt (Hilltop Hoods / Bliss n Eso) at a holiday house that we built two studios in for a couple of weeks. I later wrote and recorded my vocals at my studio. Two songs were created at “50 Songs in 5 Days” writing camp, which means I was thrown in a studio with 3 other writers / artists, most of which I’d never met before and we were told to write a song, start to finish, in a day. “Diamonds” and “Problems Aside” were created there. The remaining songs were made with Tim Carr (Jay Z / Matt Corby), who is one of my favourite producers, and people in general, to work with in this country.
After the re-rapped competition is done, what’s your plan for getting these winners into the studio and when do you expect the finished product to be ready?
The plan is to get them all into a studio in one day and knock out all 10 verses. I’d like for it to be quite experiential for the winners and a great networking opportunity for them as well. I can’t wait to see half of them shit themselves when about to record their verse with nine other rappers looking at them through the glass. The Re-Rapped album will be released before the year is out.
What are some of the things you are looking for in rappers who submit their verses? Has this criteria changed since the competition started or remained the same?
Lyrics are really important however I’ve noticed how much of a “flow Nazi” I am. Delivery is important, and that encompasses tone of voice, subtleties, inflections, annunciation and more. Lyrics, flow and delivery.