After an incredible struggle with death and life, Fort Worth hip-hop artist Smoothvega is back from a 7-year hiatus. During that time he lost his mom and learned how to be a dad. With a what-you-see-is-what-you-get approach, Smoothvega tells all on a new album released earlier this week and prepares for a show tonight at The Live Oak.
Smoothvega never planned to put out an album every year. He thought maybe two or three years between albums, but never expected seven. In 2009 he had completed about a third of his next album when his mother passed away. Two months later his daughter was born prematurely and spent the first month of her life in a hospital. "My wife was on permanent bed rest for that pregnancy," he says. "The day of my mom's funeral we had to go to the hospital before we saw her buried."
"I had to say goodbye to the most important woman in my life," he continues. "I had to leave her funeral early to jump in the car with the current most important woman in my life to ensure the future of the future most important woman of my life." A few hours after seeing his mother in a casket, he was staring at an ultrasound image and being told that his daughter probably wouldn't make it.
But his beautiful daughter did make it. And six months later Smoothvega found out his son was on the way. In this difficult time, Smoothvega actually kept trying to make music. Music was all he knew back when he was 25. "But I should've just fucking took a break," he says. He ultimately did take a break to reflect and start focusing on becoming a better man. "It definitely shaped me into the person I am today," he says. "And the artist I am today."
Smoothvega believes that regardless of circumstance we can do anything we set our minds to. "It's just a matter of how bad we want to do it," he says. On the long road back to resuming his personal career he became involved with launching other careers with his SM2 Management Group. Poignantly, he has helped with fundraisers for funeral expenses as well as the annual toy drive for the All Church Home For Children.
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"You have to live life to be able to talk about life," Smoothvega says of his return. "I'm not trying to be any rapper's favorite rapper." But he does want to display skills and connect with people on a whole new level. His new album, Exclamation Point, was dropped earlier this week and he describes it as "intimacy meets aggression."
Smoothvega's raspy voice is aggressive, but the lyrics explore intimate details about his personal life. For example, "Send Me an Angel" and "You and Me" are two very different types of love songs to his wife. He also grieves the loss of his mother on "Mom." "It's a very genuine, sincere sound," he says. Smoothvega wants people to understand exactly who he is as a person.
Before the hiatus, his career was starting to build momentum and he believes he can get further.
His 2008 release, 3.10.85, had a bigger budget than its predecessors and marked a turning point in his career. The album featured Crooked I, Lil' Flip, Royce da 5'9" and Chino XL. Local radio stations were playing his songs and he had a successful self-promoted concert series. Smoothvega did national shows, but was really starting to make himself known on a regional level, playing several shows in cities all over Texas.
Looking back, he admits to not being particularly fond of his name. "Smooth" was what he called himself in middle school and by high school he added "Vega." "I was into LL Cool J," he says, with a grin. "Trying to be a ladies man." As he got older, he didn't feel like the name accurately represented him. But the name is already branded, his website has been up for 13 years, since he released his first recordings at 17.
Smoothvega is not ashamed of his name, even if it's like a middle school yearbook photo on his sleeve. But he admits that it irks him enough to do the Prince thing and just use a logo on the new album cover. In retrospect, Smoothvega thinks "Retrospect" would be a better name.
Some artists are protective of their image, of what they think the public wants them to see. "I understand that in a lot of ways you have to be a character," says Smoothvega. "But when it comes to who I am and what I represent, I'm a father before I'm an artist. I'm a husband before I'm an artist. There is no artist without them at this point."
Returning to hip-hop, Smoothvega is confident but not cocky. "I'm going to run as hard as I can," he says. "And I know if I run as hard as I can no one can run as hard as me."
Smoothvega performs with Joe Budden at 9 p.m. tonight, Friday, April 24, at The Live Oak Music Hall, 1311 Lipscomb St., Fort Worth, $25-$75.
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