Over the course of six months, D Smoke went from a relatively unknown teacher/rapper from Inglewood, CA to the winner of Netflix reality show Rhythm + Flow to a promising global artist who’s arrived with his personal style, ideas and multi-language cadence on his debut album, Black Habits.
Though a quick Google search would reveal that D Smoke is the brother of SiR, an R&B crooner from Kendrick Lamar’s TDE camp, his music rests on his own laurels, not his brother’s. Like a modern-day soundtrack to a Black Panther movement, Black Habits praises the power of the Black community while also speaking to its specific struggles, celebrations and purpose. D Smoke uses phrases like “sun-kissed child” and “cinnamon color citizens” to honour the variations of Black skin tones, and repeatedly reminds Black listeners that “they’ll love you more when they find out your magic” throughout the album.
Black Habits takes on a duality of love and fight, a nod both Martin Luther King and Malcolm X at its core. Songs like “Bullies” and “Top of the Morning” address the physical approach to finding freedom, suggesting “any means necessary” to be seen, he raps about different kinds of freedom rooted in love, too; body positivity (“Real Body”), financial gains (“Fly”), family (“Like My Daddy”) and inner peace (“Free”).
In unison with Jackie Gouche, D Smoke sings lines like “Black magic, Black excellence Black habits, this Black medicine, everything” on “Black Habits I” and plays with Kanye West’s “Addiction” for “Closer to God,” opening his second verse spitting, “What’s your addiction? Is it money? / Is it girls? Is it trees?” (Trees, of course, referring to marijuana, often a “Black medicine” in its own right.) Though self-medicating may be the subject at hand, it’s also just a way of understanding the process of freedom.
D Smoke doesn’t gloss over his purpose on this album; he delivers his message with such vigour and power that, regardless of race, you want to listen. His ability to flawlessly transition between English and Spanish adds an extra layer to the album that highlights the Afro-Latinx community who are often hidden behind their more fair citizens.
For an album that boasts 16 tracks, it feels right. It feels like D Smoke is showing his magic. (WoodWorks / EMPIRE)