D Smoke: KCRW Guest DJ set

Friends getting ready for this weekend’s big West Adams Block Party. (L to R: Anthony Valadez, D Smoke, and Novena Carmel). Photo by Malorie McCall.

Ahead of the 4th annual West Adams Block Party happening this Sunday Sept. 3, one of the headliners D Smoke hits MBE for a rousing guest DJ set. The philanthropist, entrepreneur, GRAMMY nominated multi-instrumentalist, and smooth-as-silk emcee brings a wide breadth of sonic styles — from System Of A Down to Chopin. Highlights include: The former educator sharing deeps thoughts on how to overhaul the American education system, the long game happy ending to the story of his mother, Jackie Gouché, having to turn down an opportunity to tour with Stevie Wonder, and Novena, Anthony and D Smoke all sing/shouting along to “Chop Suey!” live on air. D Smoke is sure to pull out all of the stops this weekend during the FREE community event, playing cuts from his 2020 debut LP Black Habits and beyond. Plus, sets from Georgia Anne Muldrow, Arrested Development, and (hey now!) KCRW DJs Novena Carmel and Anthony Valadez.  

Read on for the stories behind the song selects. 

System of a Down – “Chop Suey!”

That song — me and my brothers discovered it playing Tony Hawk Pro Skater. We’d just play video games and the whole soundtrack was music we would not choose, but just love. And that one stuck out and it was that gateway into listening to other things … Hoobastank, you know, just all these things we wouldn’t ordinarily [seek out]. And now you know, I like to surprise people at karaoke and hit them with [like] “What is that?” Kings of Leon, or just something random. 

… Man, when artists know how to use dynamics to tap into different emotions. For example, if you cry your eyes out, you’re gonna pass out and go to sleep. Can't help it, that's how your body works. Or if you throw a fit, or you run a sprint, you're gonna need that moment. So it's like, for art to tap into those dynamics is just impeccable. And then [the intense verse structure of the song] goes back up. It's like if you're on a treadmill, or on a Stairmaster doing interval training.

Chopin – “Fantasie Impromptu”

For me, I have a personal connection with [this piece of music], with my mother. I learned this in high school. And she had a music teacher by the name of Mr. Dunlap at Crenshaw High School that she was very fond of, that was her mentor. And so she lovingly passed it down to me, like taught me most of it just by showing me each hand — one hand at a time, putting them together. And then the rest of it, I read the music and learned on my own. But then I competed with it in high school, and it was just something that took me months if not a whole year to learn how to play. Then another year or two to get comfortable playing it in front of people. It's a beautiful piece.

[One segment of the music] is just real nature-y, like over the pond type of thing, still waters. But then the other one is a little storm. [It’s] organized chaos, the early part. It's called “Fantasie Impromptu” so there's this magical kind of element to it even when it's going crazy and going fast. But this is for sure a therapy piece if you can play it. The first part is getting out frustration like, “Ooh, you know, he's gone crazy.” Then this part here is just like the massage. I love that it's movements and stuff. And a lot of people who aren't familiar with the song [might] think you kind of just flowed into another song. That's how different the two movements are.

Outkast – “Elevators”

I felt I knew how intelligent Outcast lyrics were. And my older brother, Ron-Ron, put me up on Outkast. And, and in watching. And listening to the albums at a time where, where it's not on a playlist. You listen to the whole album, and you could pull out the insert of the CD and read the lyrics. My brother would break down what it all means, what the references refer to, because at 10 years old I’m not catching all this. And that was like, okay, it's cool to be super cool, a little bit futuristic, intelligent, and hood. To talk about being familiar with what it means to… want to or actually have a pistol on you… Or being familiar with what it means to know you might have to fight when you walk outside, but you’ve got a heart and you're actually spiritual as well. I think that was something that resonated with me, because growing up in the church we're a certain type of spiritual. But to reconcile that with like, “I'm walking through these real streets and this hood out here.” 

Everybody needs that middle person [like an older sibling to introduce you to music]. [You’ll hit that point where you think] “Oh, those are my parents, they don't get it.” [You need] somebody that's closer to your age, a young adult saying like, “hey, that part is real, and this part is real too.” And it's like, “Alright, cool, I could walk this path.”

SiR – “Something New (Feat. Etta Bond)” 

[This is] like a travel song, right? It's falling in love on the road, but it's like me and [D Smoke’s brother] SiR. When he first got signed to TDE, his first tour he went on was opening for Miguel. Crazy. We were roommates at a time he was like, “Who should I take on tour?” I was like, “Man, take a drummer because a drummer is going to elevate the set, the energy immediately.” And he was like, “Nah, bro, I want you to come on tour with me.” 

So that was one of those songs that was just like … SiR has a way of connecting with people. I'm hype, you know, I'm big energy. And it's like, he'll slow it down and own the room in the same way. So [hearing this song live on that tour] was one of those moments I'll never forget. He just made everybody love that moment, and chill. It's beautiful, you know? So I just remember that.





Anna Chang