Country rapper Big Smo follows his own poetic path

Posted: August 28, 2014 at 1:58 a.m.

Big Smo

When it comes to rap music there is a definite type of style -- an edgy vibe, gold chains and a baseball cap with a flat bill cocked jauntily to the side. When it comes to country music the standard tends to be boots, jeans and cowboy hats.

But what do you get from a genre known as country rap that has a dollop or two of Southern rock thrown in?

Big Smo

9 p.m. Saturday, Juanita’s, 614 President Clinton Ave., Little Rock

Admission: $10 general admission

(501) 372-1228

Well, you get Big Smo, star of the A&E reality series of the same name.

Smo, whose legal name is John Smith, was raised on a small farm in Tennessee, where he still lives with his two daughters and new wife, Whitney. As a child he was simple and very country, a Sugar Creek kid through and through, he says. His musical influences included Johnny Cash, Jerry Reed, The Notorious B.I.G., Run-D.M.C., Kid Rock, the Beastie Boys and Little Walter, the blues harmonica icon.

As for where the nickname came from, Smith says his "older brother's nickname was Sma, so people just started calling me Smo." But he has also been called Hick Ross, Honky Kong, Boss of the Stix, Smocephus and the Hulk.

Many fans had their first glimpse of Big Smo on YouTube, where his music videos have had more than 16 million views and sold more than 150,000 digital tracks.

Smith explains, "YouTube became the place for seeing what was happening, so we took advantage to get what we were doing out to the world." With a lot of grit, determination and courage, he persevered and teamed up with Warner Music Nashville to broaden the band's horizons.

"The most important thing," Smith says, "is that when we went from being independent artists to being on a label, we didn't lose any control of who we are and what we do. That's why the label called us. They told me 'We'll let you drive. We like the way you steer.' I was like, 'Cool, I won't let you down.'"

His vocal style is deep and husky, and perfectly suited for his mishmash style of twangy country strings and percussion-heavy rap. His signature raps come from poetry he has written, developing his delivery over time.

Smith says he worked hard at it: "I was the student who became a professor."

Manager Dan Nelson, DJ Orig and bandmate Haden Carpenter write with him. Their songs don't embrace the usual rap topics like money, sex or extravagance. Nor are they the honky-tonkin,' beer-drinking and somebody-done-somebody-wrong ballads of the country music genre. What his songs do embrace is hard work, determination and the spirit of folks who are doing their best to get by, all while enjoying life. His lyrics showcase what he loves, and according to Smith, "that's music, my fans and my family."

Many of his newer fans discovered the singer on the A&E reality series Big Smo. But how does one become the star of a cable series? Smith says that he and Nelson "put the show together to begin with. And after talking to Dave Mace at A&E, things really started to roll." The first season recently ended, and many of his fans, or "kinfoke" as he calls them, are hoping for a second.

In the early days, with his YouTube fame buoying him, Smith produced his own CDs and toured all over the southern United States in a converted church bus. Viewers of the TV show will remember the episode where the old bus bit the dust and the search for a new one was on. Let's just say the band is traveling with a little more style these days.

Saturday, Big Smo and band head to Juanita's in downtown Little Rock as part of their Backwoods Whiskey Tour, in support of the 13-song album Kuntry Livin' released June 3. Along with Orig and Carpenter, the group includes guitarist Travis Tidwell, bassist Eric Flores and drummer Ryan Peel.

Where does the Boss of the Stix want to be in 10 years?

His response is simple: "I want to be doing what I do on bigger stages for more fans."

Weekend on 08/28/2014