Smba Is an Artistic Jack of All Trades
Written by Vocalo Radio on January 24, 2023
Formerly Michigan, now Chicago-based artist Smba is becoming a serious part of the Chicago art scene with not only their music but also their short films, magazine and more.
Hailing from Michigan but now residing in Chicago, Smba has fully immersed themself into the city’s art scene in multiple forms — not only making music but also starting their own creative development company, 2DB Co., their own publication, Corner Mag, and directing short films and music videos for other artists. Smba credits much of their inspiration as a musician to Chicago artists, who both influenced their music taste when they were coming of age and amazed them when they saw the accomplishments of other young musicians in the city.
“I can definitely attribute a lot of my growth to just being a part of and contributing to this scene that we’re creating,” they expressed.
More recently, Smba released a single called “Xo,” featured in Vocalo’s January “Poised to Break Through” playlist, which they describe as their “most content-heavy rollout.”
“I think it’s a great pop song,” Smba said. “But for me and my team, ‘Xo’ was a really big exercise in what you can do with a rollout.”
Smba also discussed the influence Chicago had on them as an artist, their own internet radio show, “Smba Radio”, and thoughts on their debut EP Claustrophobic two years after its release.
Where are you from in Chicago, and what does that mean to you as an artist and a person?
Well, I was born in Michigan and lived there until I was about 15. I think that just means that I’m used to and accepting of change. I’ve moved around a lot in my life and, obviously, everywhere I live affects me as a person but I think… and maybe it’s because I’m an internet baby and have a lot of remote friends, but I think what affected me more than where I’m from or where I’ve lived is the people I’ve encountered growing up. I’m grateful for my community, but Michigan is my actual home and doesn’t even feel like home all the time. Chicago is my new home and feels like home, but I’m not even from here. So.
What inspired you to start making music?
Music inspired me to start making music. Music is simply the love of my life. I have a few vivid memories from my childhood about me thinking that this might be what I wanted to do with my life. My dad got free tickets to the Palace, which used to be the big Michigan arena. I remember seeing so many amazing tours and just wishing that could be me. I remember coming home from school after watching a Justin Bieber performance online and telling my mom I wanted to be a performer. As soon as I realized that the music I loved was being made by, like, actual people, I wanted to be a musician. I started actually recording music after a manic-depressive episode I had in 2017. To cope with the whole experience.
How do you feel like Chicago has influenced your sound, if at all?
Chicago has influenced me and my sound in one million different ways. I remember finding Acid Rap and Back from the Dead 2 back-to-back in middle school. When I was still in Michigan! On top of that, people like Ye, Don C and Virgil [Abloh] really started influencing my taste when I was around 13, 14.
By the time I was ready to start music at around 15, I had a lot of Chicago influence just from paying attention, but when I got here and actually saw kids in my age group putting on shows and making polished, professional-sounding tracks, like, right in front of me, I was blown away and inspired, so I went harder. My visions became more ambitious. I can definitely attribute a lot of my growth to just being a part of and contributing to this scene that we’re creating. I hope people remember it.
What’s the meaning behind the name Smba?
It’s funny, because it was literally just a joke. Someone said, “You look like Simba,” because he was trying to, like, roast me. I thought it was funny and I made it my nickname. But I like to think that my journey to follow my creative dreams and climb this mountain of success is like my Lion King movie. I also think I kind of look like a lion. Also, I have a few Leo placements.
What other things do you work on outside of music?
A lot, actually! Do you want a list? Here: I run a creative development company, 2DB Co., where I help artists take their visions from an idea to a well-packaged final product. I currently work with two musicians and a fashion designer through the company. I run my own magazine called Corner Mag. I have a monthly radio show on Beloved.wtf called “Smba Radio”. I’m a director, I’m working on a couple of short films you’ll see this year, and I directed three music videos in 2022. I do Narcan training with my good friend Ladasia Bryant. I produce events with Michael Magitman and Sydni Dorsey. I work with The Sing me a story foundation to make songs for children in hospitals. I also go to the gym all the time. I love fitness and fitness goals. There might be something else, I’m always forgetting something.
What inspired Corner Magazine?
Preservation. I talk about this a little in Corner 3, so I won’t spill too much because I need to advertise. But. Along with a place to put my photos, I really wanted to try and document the Chicago scene from my perspective. I want physical preservation of what we’re doing. I guess this interview is as good of a place as ever to announce this: Corner Mag Is going through some changes. The next issue will include five [or more] other creators in addition to myself, because I should not be the only one preserving our scene. Also, we’ll be releasing quarterly from now on.
What are your favorite creative spaces in Chicago?
This is a hard question, there are so many dope people making amazing creative spaces in Chicago… I think this is a little tongue in cheek, but I’m going to have to say the studio. I work in this space with my co-producer Mickey Wozniak. It’s my sanctuary.
If you had to suggest one song to someone trying to get into your music, which would it be and why?
Either “Slow Down” or “Deep end,” and this answer is not a cop-out because it’s for the same reason. I produced both of those songs myself. I feel like a really interesting thing about them is that they’re very accessible as these pop songs, but they also have really dense verses and impressive melodies. They really show my understanding of arrangement. I think if you know something about music, you’ll listen to those tracks and think, “Oh, there’s something here that I should look into.” I feel like either one of those tracks are really good ones to get people to become a Smba fan.
What’s the story behind your single “Xo,” and what led to the remixes? Do you have a favorite version?
Funny enough, I was in a pretty good relationship when we wrote “Xo.” Ben (Lucas Lex), [WASTED]Ju and I were in the studio working on music. We had been there all day and we hadn’t made anything, so we stepped out for about an hour to get tacos. When we came back, Ben pulled up this loop that was super crazy. I started working with some drums. Ben got in the booth and we wrote the hook while they were in there. I went home and wrote my verse and came back to record it. Ju did his verse then as well. After that, we sat on it for almost a year, and then we started rolling it out. Somewhere down the line, “Xo” became my most content-heavy rollout. The show, remixes, the music video, the Instagram posts. I’m glad people like the track! I really like it, too. I think it’s a great pop song, but for me and my team, “Xo” was a really big exercise in what you can do with a rollout. I think we learned a lot, and the next rollout should be really immersive. Oh, and my favorite version is actually the “Dagz” Remix by like half a point. He did the synths better than Ben and I.
Who are some of your favorite artists you’ve worked with?
WASTEDJU easy, he’s a genius. Gayun cannon, Atsen, Ben FKA Lucas Lex. Geniuses.
We’re coming up on the two-year anniversary of your EP Claustrophobic. How do you feel about that?
When I started music, I did not know I would be one of those artists that dropped every two years. Genuinely sorry about that. But, I feel good about it. I feel more mature. I feel more confident. I feel like, even if you’re a Smba-hater, you’ll agree this new EP is my best work and the best showcase of my taste. I’m one of those artists that needs a lot of time between statements to live and grow, and I’ve accepted that… I’m not sure all of my fans have though, haha. I’m glad my art can live and speak for itself while I’m busy growing up.
How do you think your sound’s evolved since the EP’s release?
My taste has evolved, if anything. I’m not sure I have a sound, per se. I like to think I’m very sound-fluid. I love music and I’ve listened to and studied so much more music since I released that project. I’ve developed my relationship with music. I’ve gained more confidence in my abilities. I’m committed to making higher-quality, timeless music. Production-wise and lyrically I’ve gotten better as well. I’m collaborating more. I spent so much time thinking about my feelings and this story. What I want and don’t want. I’ve really learned a lot about my design language. I’m sure that this project will captivate not only my fans but anyone who listens — in a much different way than my other projects have been able to.
Looking back on Claustrophobic, would you do anything differently now?
Maybe I’d re-record some of my vocals, but that’s it. I could only afford so much studio time. Changing it would be disrespectful to that version of me. For a long time, I wondered why that EP didn’t get received by as many people as some of my other releases. I think it’s just because it’s just a very personalized experience. That EP is all about my manic episode and losing my sister and losing my first love. It’s relatable, but it’s also not in a lot of ways. The people who got it, got it though. I got some messages from kids telling me how they use this EP for comfort. A kid told me he used “What If” to cope with the death of his dad. I don’t know. This project did exactly what it needed to do and expressed what it needed to express, even if the me that exists now ever thinks otherwise.
Do you have anything on the horizon listeners should be on the lookout for?
Yes. I’m dropping music this year. A new project, and some shows…
Interview by Omi Salisbury, edited for length and clarity by Morgan Ciocca
Introduction written by Omi Salisbury and Morgan Ciocca
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