INTERVIEW: SmCity’s Indie Life, a model for underground sustainability
by Marcus K. Dowling
“You know, it’s like they say. Necessity is the mother of invention.” Thus and so begins the story of the rise to sustainability of Washington, DC rapper SmCity. Simeon Booker is a DC native, a long toiling member of the area’s densely populated underground hip hop scene. In the game for nearly a decade, his “Indie Life” movement has expanded and extended him closer to the mainstream than ever before. A great case study for the nature of success in independent hip hop, in speaking with him at legendary DC eatery Ben’s Chili Bowl, The Couch Sessions got more than a flavor of the food. The flavor of the man spoke volumes on hip hop in 2012.
“My Indie Life album is more than a typical project. I own 20/20 Productions as well, and I’ve rolled out five videos so far for tracks on the project.” One of the least anticipated to the most wanted projects in the Nation’s Capital, free album The Indie Life – Hate, Love and Money contains a plethora of collaborations with local artists and producers who have name brand indie impact. Names like Kokayi, Pro’verb, Phil Adé, Uptown XO, The Best Kept Secret and Ab the Pro may not be Billboard favorites, but in becoming a reputable and top indie artist, having these valuable cosigns on a project welcomes those unfamiliar with the veteran’s work to want to listen intently.
Does the emcee fear being overshadowed by those who many consider to be more notable sharing space with him on the project? Absolutely not. “I’ve been in the area for years, and these are all performers that I’ve wanted to work with for awhile. I feel comfortable next to them and feel I deserve to be there. The DMV is filled with talent. I definitely deserve to be on that list.” The album itself is a quality project. An easy listen that doesn’t feature indie tropes like, as the emcee jokes, “rappers rapping about how dope they are at rapping,” it’s a mainstream quality effort that has inherent coherence. “I tried to put together a project that had a unified theme,” Sm City says. ” The Indie Life is a movement that people can connect with, a movement towards success. That’s the theme.”
As with all currently relevant performers, the move towards being able to produce quality visuals is fresh on Booker’s mind. “I think it’s important. Access to technology has leveled the playing field in videos, so you really have to try hard to be unique. Video for Indie Life single “My Own Boss” was filmed at Occupy DC, Washington’s hub of the anti-corporate, 99% applauding movement. SmCity’s reasoning behind the move is clear. “Yeah, I can’t lie. I’m an opportunist. I saw Occupy, and realized that the aims blended perfectly with one of my own songs. I went down, really tried to gain an appreciation and understanding for the Occupy movement. It wasn’t at all what I was expecting, but we definitely shot there. It was different, and it made sense.”
Dissemination of his work has been the realm of his Indie Life concert series. Having brought talents like Skyzoo, Freddie Gibbs and Big KRIT to the city and blending their talents with local performers, it continues the rhymer’s initiative of expanding DC”s presence. “There used to be a time where a DC show was all about you, your aunt, your cousins and a bunch of other rappers at the show. DC’s great, but the area lacks guys who are consistent draws. I wanted to change that. I haven’t performed on every show. I want to make sure I open doors for all local rappers.”
Sustainability in independent hip hop is a difficult proposition at best. Sustainability in a region on the rise with minimal consistent mainstream success? Even harder. SmCity’s Indie Life? Undoubtedly successful and solid model to grow on.