Picks to Click
The SXSW Class of 2002
Wednesday, March 15, Back Room (11:30pm)
By dodging the limitations of West Coast/Dirty South pigeonholes, Cali-to-Austin transplant Smackola has carved out a versatile niche for himself in the local hip-hop community. Since 1997, he's built a solid River City fan base, and his slammin' Black Zorro EP may portend even bigger things to come. It all started back in Sacramento, where Smackola came up in rapping along to Run-DMC.
"I'd rap the first line of whatever they were rapping and then change up the second line, and I started getting good at that," he says. His name comes from lyrical prowess, as in talking smack, "but since I'm half-Hispanic, one of my friends said, 'Naw, that's Smackola!'"
After stints in Georgia and Alabama, Smackola joined the military and was stationed at Guantanamo Bay. "As soon as I got to Cuba, I was like, 'Oh, man, I can't do this!'" he recalls. "It was a good experience, but I wanted to do music." Before finishing his hitch, Smackola was transferred to Fort Hood, which meant regular treks south to check out Austin's rap scene. He returned to Sacramento after being discharged, but he found Austin's wide-open environment preferable to a stylistic lock-down.
"Austin hip-hop doesn't have its own sound," he asserts. "There's a lot of diversity. You've got the Down South rappers, the Screwheads. You've got East Coast-oriented acts, and you've got West Coast. Everybody I run into is doing something different."
In 2000, Smackola released Verbal KunKushunz on Body Head Entertainment, the label founded by boxer Roy Jones Jr. Said label owner's own debut on Body Head, "That Was Then," went to No. 2 on Billboard's Hot Rap Singles chart in February. "He's pretty cool," Smackola says of Jones. "He doesn't swing on me or nothin!'"
Smackola's designated hitter on the Black Zorro EP is "Turn It Up," a hypnotic, Southern-flavored ode to boomin' systems that's already attained notoriety via a heavily rotated video on the Austin Music Network. "I can probably be heard more by having the video air on AMN than having the song played on radio," he says. In addition to working with his Waay Foul crew (including Jade, DJ Crash, and Mr. Dizz), Smackola has put together a rap/rock collaboration with Vallejo called Dirty Wormz. "Austin's built on this live music thing, and I'd see Overlord doing it, so it was something I always wanted to try," he says. "It's live, but it's still gritty and real rough."
Smackola hopes his SXSW 02 showcase, co-presented by Hip Hop Mecca, will lead to bigger and better things, both for himself and Austin hip-hop as a whole. "When I was first going to jump in [to SXSW], a lot of people were saying, 'Aw, man, that's here, but it ain't for us,'" he relates. "But to me, it's a music convention, and if we're doing music, we need to be there. We need to come in the door and let 'em know, 'Hey, we're here.'
"There's hip-hop in this city going on somewhere every night of the week. I've never been in any city like that."