[Warning! The following contains spoilers for the first season of Netflix's Rhythm + Flow. Read at your own risk!]
One of the familiar refrains from those who watched Rhythm + Flow, Netflix's sleeper hit rap competition, was how the show appealed to folks who aren't huge fans of music competitions or, for that matter, contemporary rap music, but with its stellar production, heartwarming stories from the talent, and hilarious banter from Cardi B, Rhythm + Flow's first season was a major mic drop.
The show released its final three episodes on Wednesday, revealing which of the emcees in the group secured the $250,000 bag and major clout from having won such an intense competition. By the finale, rappers D Smoke, Londynn B, Troyman and Flawless Real Talk remained, but it was D Smoke who wowed the judges with his fabulous performance of "The Last Supper."
The 33-year-old former Spanish and music theory teacher from Inglewood, California, shook up the competition with a last-minute reveal that he could play the piano, and, after impressing everyone with socially conscious lyrics, guitar skills, and a bilingual flow all season, seized the grand prize with a dazzling performance. TV Guide talked with D Smoke about his win, what he'll do with his cash, and what that tense moment with Snoop Dogg was all about.
How are you feeling, and what have you been doing since the season wrapped?
D Smoke: I'm feeling incredible, overwhelmed with joy. It wrapped March 1. Since I won, I've been spending time with family. I did some traveling — I went to Atlanta. And of course, I've been doing a lot of music. I shot three music videos. Two projects were already in the works prior to the show and another completely new one is coming. So within the next three months I'll have out a seven-song EP and a 15-song album-mixtape.
Did you have a feeling you were going to win?
D Smoke: At what point, that's the question. When I first got to the competition in L.A. there were 30 rappers trying to battle each other backstage. I didn't know what was going to happen, let's put it that way. After the first time I got in front of the judges it confirmed those people would get my artistry. I knew T.I. would see my authentic presentation of Inglewood. I felt Cardi would appreciate my voice and my fluent Spanish, and Chance the Rapper would appreciate me as an out-of-the-box artist, he'd appreciate how creative an artist I could be.
Did you integrate Spanish into your performances because you knew Cardi B would be a judge?
D Smoke: Actually, I had been doing that a while. I'd already done a series called 'Run the Subtitles'-- a series of one-minute raps to popular beats and putting it on social media. I already had my own momentum with that and it gave me the confidence to be myself and keep doing what I'm doing.
How did you come to speak fluent Spanish?
D Smoke: I went to a primarily Latino middle school. All my friends spoke Spanish and my parents took us on vacation to Mexico when I was 10. I was like, 'Oh, I've got to learn Spanish.' Once I was in college, I kept it up; I majored in Spanish literature... In the '90s, Inglewood had a strong history of riots between black gangs and Mexican gangs. It spilled over into the schools. There [were] still remnants of that when I was growing up but that didn't change the fact that, even then, blacks and Mexicans were coexisting and collaborating and chilling together. Plenty of my homies were Mexican, and once they found out I was learning the language, they supported that. I really believe music is the best way to overcome divisions and bring people together.
Your style is so much different from a lot of the rappers who were in the pack; a lot of them were redundant or predictable in what they rhymed about and their flow. When you were in that pack, did you ever think, 'Maybe this isn't for me' and consider leaving?
D Smoke: Someone did walk, a really good rapper. He decided at that stage it wasn't for him. I would be lying if I said I didn't have those same concerns at one point, but I decided they would see what I had to offer and I would stand out, and I'm glad my assumption was correct. Another factor playing into me deciding to do it was that Netflix could serve as a global platform for me to tell my story and between the judges and the network it was going to have more authenticity than a typical reality show. That's what kept me there. There were far too many trap-style rappers for me.
What are you going to do with that big windfall of cash?
D Smoke: I'm going to invest. I'm going to give out a couple of scholarships to young people in the community through events where we can share information about what programs are available to the kids, and then of course kids, and then of course I'm going to be investing in my craft. I also will buy a place in Inglewood.
Speaking of Inglewood, can you help me unpack that moment where Snoop asked you where you were from? He kept asking you, and you said Inglewood, and it was apparent he was trying to get you to see if you would claim a gang affiliation and you didn't. What would have been the wrong thing to say?
D Smoke: I think there was no wrong answer, there's just an honest answer. Snoop sensed authentic
West Coast energy and he probed me to respond to a real West Coast question in whatever way I saw fit to answer. Perhaps he anticipated a different answer; perhaps his assumption is that I would have banged a gang. Whatever I would have said, he'd have have said, 'OK, I see you.' Snoop has plenty of music calling for peace between Bloods and Crips. He's called for positivity; it was not a threatening situation. I just wanted him to know where I was coming from.
Why'd you wait until the end to reveal you play the piano too?
D Smoke: It's a competition. You have to keep some tricks up your sleeve. I'd imagined the other contestants were going to do the same. so they could go out with a bang. I anticipated people were going to speed things up and go high energy [going into the finale]. Mine was the Mr. Rogers approach. Everyone else is going 100 miles an hour, you slow it down and make it memorable. ... [For the final performance] we had a day. In that day, we did two beats, a hook, two verses... I recorded my verses in 20 minutes. Constructing the song was the meat of it. We had a full day in the studio, and then on the next day I had rehearsal with dancers, but that's why our steps are pretty simple. It was more stage direction — where to be, a couple steps we hit in unison but it was all strategic, like 'How do we make a statement?'
What was the statement that you wanted to make?
D Smoke: What I was saying basically is that it was the Last Supper. I made no apologies playing into the metaphor. Like as artists we're sharing this common experience and bonding but for the sake of where we're heading, there's a line and I am distancing myself. I wanted to take people home, and take the competition home, with a home-cooked meal.
Rhythm + Flow is now streaming on Netflix.