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Friday, July 1, 2016

Countrified rapper gives back to Community

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Big Smo will perform his unique brand of rap Friday night in a fundraiser for Community Middle School's parent-teacher group.
(Submitted photo)
Amaria Smith is a student at Community Middle School, whose parent-teacher organization needed a boost.

Her father John is an area native, a businessman in the process of launching a national brand, and one vested in growing his community.

So when Susan Haynes, president of the school's parent-teacher organization, approached Smith to help, he knew baking cookies wasn't an option.

To a growing fan base -- made up in part of the 1.6 million YouTube viewers of Hick-Hop anthem "Kickin' It In Tennessee" -- he's Big Smo.

Clean show

And Friday evening, the gym at the middle school will be home to Backwoods Bash -- a fundraiser for the school organization.

"No parental advisory needed," he said of the all-ages appropriate event which features sets by musician friends performing country covers and original pieces. "It's my-clean cut show, I'll do six to eight songs [in my set], with some songs from my new album -- it's completely clean."

While a student at Central High School, Smith found his voice as a writer and, along with close friend Ray Riddle, began the process of learning music production. He'd had some success as a rapper, but in 2003 found himself dissatisfied with the genre.

Deep thought

"People pigeonhole you as a certain type of person if you are into rap music," he said.

"I thought I had to do what people want to hear," said Smith, of the time of introspection which almost stalled his career. "Real deep down, I felt no inspiration to write. I don't even like rap music. I thought, I'm just going to stop -- if you can't be yourself and sell that then there's no point."

The self-examination took him back to basics.

"I started thinking about the person I was, where I want to be in life in the future, and I started thinking about that person -- the me that I am and who I wanted to become."

New approach

His words became a reflection of his life, his love of family and life in the "mid-Tenn." Underneath it was layered as a country sound inbred with an urban beat. "I love the twangy country instruments, the good beat, the hard-hitting bass, so I was like let's take these two elements and mix them and see what happens."

The result was the album "True South."

"I loved it -- this was me," said Smith.

Unionville's first country store, Barber and Sons, owned by Smith's great-grandfather, has been converted into a recording studio, and it is there that the music and videos are created.

While developing the song "American Made," Smith began to tinker with video editing and cinematography. "I caught on real quick, how to use a camera and angles. I taught myself, I'm self-taught on all this stuff."

Viral video

He decided to create a video of his own, and called some friends over to visit his 32-acre farm in Unionville.

"We all pulled together, had a cookout at my house, I invited a lot of people, told them to bring some raw meat for the grill and we spent all day, just hanging out." The result was the hard-hitting video "Kickin' It in Tennessee" which went viral on Facebook last year.

"It just went through the roof," Smith said. "Once we posted the video, ... it went all the way across the country and came back." This week Smith heard from a viewer in Switzerland, who wrote, "I love your country hick music."

Personal growth

The song itself is three years old, and while Smith stands by the effort, he is quick to point out his personal growth since the song was penned. "As a man, an artist, every day I grow a little bit more. I am a different person today than I was when I wrote it.

"Three years ago when we were struggling to make a break into this industry, I decided there were things I needed to do to catch people's attention," he said of the song about the backwoods country lifestyle.

In the meantime, his personal life shifted.

"I started realizing what was important," said Smith, full-time dad to daughters Lanica and Amaria and father of Ansley, who lives with her mother in another state.

Keeping it safe

He re-evaluated the message to younger members of his audience. "I have a responsibility to give these kids something tangible, a lesson they can learn. I made a lot of mistakes in my life and I write about those .. but with a good outcome at the end."

There exists a sanitized version of "Kickin' It in Tennessee," which will likely make an appearance at Friday's show.

"There's a fine line there between performing for adults and children," acknowledges Smith. "I'm changing the words for the show for the school, because I understand the school will be under scrutiny."

"We do want everyone to be assured this is a family-friendly show," stressed Joy Caskey, the school's vice-principal. "We're very grateful that he's willing to give of his time."

If you go

Backwoods Bash will be held Friday at 7 p.m. in the Community Middle School gym. Tickets are available at H & H Piggly Wiggly in Unionville.