We managed to pin Josh ‘Shlick Smit‘ down long enough to fire a volley of questions at him. They range from insightful to insipid, but they give you a good idea just what this guy is all about.
Q: Lets start this nice and generic, who or what are you?
A: My name is Shlick Smit. I’m a writer, a gypsy, a seeker of truth, a lover of music, an eternal cynic, an organizer (kind of) and all around strange entity. Oh, I also rap.
Q: Who or what were your influences? What got you into making music?
A: I’ll limit this to rap related stuff, otherwise it might become an essay. When I first got into hip hop there were 3 groups which I always had in heavy rotation: A Tribe Called Quest, Gang Starr and Hieroglyphics. I think those guys really had the most influence on my foundation as a rapper. There are a lot of certain projects from different artists that motivated me. I’d say GZA‘s “Liquid Swords“, Cannibal Ox‘s “Cold Vein“, Robust‘s “Potholes in My Molecules“, Mr. Lif‘s “I, Phantom” are just a few I can name for you. I think I’ll always be inspired by cats pushing the envelope, whether it be lyrically, sonically, structurally or conceptually.
As for why I got into making music, I guess you could say it was in my blood. My grandfather played jazz trumpet for over 60 years and was friends with Dizzy Gillespie. Apparently, Lee Konitz taught my aunt how to play clarinet. As for myself, I was a pretty decent soprano before my voice changed and was able to sing back notes played on the piano exactly. I almost went to some prestigious traveling choir school, no lie. I got accepted, but they weren’t trying to give me a scholarship, so I never went. Honestly, I’m thankful, because when I found rapping a few years later I knew it was what I was meant to do.
Q: Internet Music has a pretty consistent theme, what do you write about when your not writing about the sticky world wide web?
A: I think I generally like to write about searching. To me, humanity always seems to be on a quest to figure everything out and I feel like that idea is at the core of my writing. Sometimes the searching can be positive and sometimes it can be negative, I like to reflect the paradox. The specific topics I could address vary depending on my inspiration. The next little project I’m working on deals with trying to break the walls of perception and the question of freedom. I don’t want to give too much away right now, but I will tell you it’s going to be one track with some short songs within that one track to serve as movements within the overall composition.
Q: So you used to be a New Yorker? But now you’re not? What’s that all about?
A: Well, I was born in New York and had spent almost half my life there, so that city is always in my heart. Honestly, I’ve never been the type to rep an area, so being seen as a New Yorker isn’t something I think about. As to why I left, it’s really just a reflection of my nomadic nature. I have an urge to see as much as I can before I’m gone. In addition to that, I just felt like I needed to expand and not get stuck in a local scene. The internet presence I had been building seemed to point me to the west coast, so I followed. Funny thing, I was actually supposed to end up in Colorado but my plans got ruined and I ended up stuck in Southern Cali. We’ll see where I end up next.
Q: So you’re a rapper, what’s that like?
A: The only times I feel different than any other human are those transcendent moments when I’m creating or performing. I guess the rap community is a funny thing with all the egos colliding, but I try to just focus on what my heart tells me. I’m just some dude who deals with his life quest through rap.
Q: How long have you been doing this and what are some highs and lows that you’ve experienced as a wandering wordsmith?
A: I started freestyle rapping around 15 or 16, I’m 28 now. I mainly did it as a release when we’d get high. Eventually I started doing it at parties and such. People seemed to like it, so I decided to try writing songs. I remember I used to live with a kid who build a little booth and had Pro Tools and Reason 2.0 (yeah, I’m old) and we both produced our first albums. I called myself The Orator. Wish I still had a copy of that album. The journey has been a long, strange grind. I have had some incredibly dope moments, such as performing in front of hundreds as part of a number of Props To Hip Hop performances, becoming part of the Freestyle Mondays NYC family, being able to experience and rap at 5 Pointz on a number of occasions and rocking shows and building with dope artists in multiple cities. I have also had some moments where I really questioned my path. There have been a time or two where I’ve had to perform in almost empty rooms. I’ve dealt with multiple failed group attempts that I really believed had potential. I’ve consistently been broke, living on couches, working odd jobs. I even went through a period where I was hustling and seriously considered quitting rap. I have a good feeling the ups and downs don’t stop, so I’m expecting more.
Q: Internet Music features a lot of guests and clips both praising and condemning the digital age, what do you really think about the internet and it’s effect on music?
A: The internet has definitely changed humanity’s path, without a doubt. It gives us the ability to access and build on information at such a rapid pace, yet at the same time disconnects us from our human experience. Obviously the internet has great benefits, but it also opens a whole new can of worms in terms of societal control. I feel like it’s no coincidence that the human attention span has dropped from 12 seconds to 8 seconds since 2000. There’s a real psychological effect that viral information has on people. In a poetic sense, it’s almost like the internet is the forbidden fruit, offered to us as if it can make us gods. The same paradox is evident when you look at it’s effect on music. On one hand, releasing music has never been so easy. Anybody can get heard, online networks can be used to build with people you would have never met and projects can be sent all around the world in a flash. On the other hand, there is this info overload again. There is this cheapening effect that occurs from the over saturation. Instead of widening the creative spectrum, it somehow inspires more concentrated trending patterns which change with the winds. It honestly makes it harder to blaze a trail and all just leads back to the same people who owned music before still dictating the landscape of what’s accessible. We’ll see what happens in the future. I only hope that we can harness more of the positive opportunities the internet affords us.
Q: The collaboration that has gone into Internet Music is a major reason that it gels so well. Did you really meet everyone involved online? And how?
A: I have met more than half the people involved with this project face to face, but pretty much everybody involved is someone who I developed a regular relationship with though online communication. Benny Els is a cat I knew from Freestyle Mondays and we built a pretty close relationship through the NYC scene. I originally wanted to get him on every track, but schedules conflicted. The Palmer Squares I have done a few shows with and stayed with in Chicago a couple times as well as them coming to NYC. Lars and PJ (who did the art) are guys I knew from NYC. Jordan Wilson I met at MULA 2014. He’s actually in the background of the Mission Underworld CypherLyfe vid. In Sanity, Dalton, Aleyes and Articulate Advocates are all core members of CypherLyfe. In fact, I talk with them all pretty regularly. Particularly Phil Gonzo, who I am in contact with almost daily. LiwenLWC is a cat I found randomly on YouTube a few years ago. He lives in Europe. I messaged him and the rest is history. I feel like these relationships and how the internet has been a focal point in our development together was essential to the overall concept of the piece. It was really vital to have this project play out thorough multiple points of views.
Q: So along with making your own music under the Shlick Smit you also run or help run the Youtube CypherLife group, could you tell us more about that?
A: CypherLyfe was actually semi inspired by The Palmer Squares. I saw what they were doing with YouTube Cyphers and it really sparked something with me. I wondered why these didn’t have a structured community around them. I aslo saw they way most Facebook groups are just spam boards and I really thought we could build a useful group. It’s always been focused on providing a place for constructive criticism and community building. I have come across some really dope artists and seen a lot of emcees make great strides through the group. Plus, the cyphers are always cool because you get to see how one beat can be approached in many different ways.
Honestly, I might be prouder of this group than any other thing I’ve done in hip hop. If the readers wanna check it out they can go here:
Q: Ok, so it’s time for the really hard hitting questions. Picture this scene: you’re in an alleyway, you are approached by a drunk Hulk Hogan. He wants to mug you, what do you do?
There are so many reasons this is a weird question. I guess my first instinct in this situation is a swift kick to the nuts and hit skates. Shit, I guess that divorce hit the Hulkman pretty hard, huh?
Q: Do you have any shows coming up? Anything you’d like to promote? Other than Internet Music because we will totally allow that.
A: I’ve been on a hiatus in terms of performing. Southern California’s scene hasn’t given me what I’m looking for in that sense, so I have been taking the opportunity to develop new ideas and material. I am considering a Canadian tour, but that’s in the early working stages. Really, really early. Haha. I do have the new project I mentioned earlier in the interview which I hope to have out by the fall, accompanied by a full video. The project is going to have production from The Loard, Phil Gonzo and D.R.O., as well as no emcee features, so it should be interesting. I’d say just follow my social networks to stay updated.
Q: If you could hire one mega rock star or hip hop legend to work on your next project with you who would it be and why?
Jam Baxter. I guess this guy isn’t exactly a legend in the states, but I know he is in the UK underground. Do I even have to explain why I want to work with him? His level of lyrical genius is incredible, his flow and voice are on point. He is not afraid to try many things other rappers wouldn’t touch with a 10 foot pole. Plus, I really think our styles would go together nicely. Shit, if there’s any way you can tip High Focus to my existence, I’d be very happy.
Q: Name someone in the world who you truly hate.
A: I try not to waste my energy on hate and I certainly don’t think an individual is worth hating. I can say that I really, really dislike disingenuous people and those who aim to take advantage for personal gain. Which is plenty. (Editor: this is the correct answer, you passed the test Shlick Smit.)
Q: Name someone in the world who you truly love.
My mother and brother. That’s my blood and I would die for them. Honestly, though, I really have a lot of love for all the people I have grown close to during my journeys and I would do whatever I could for any one of them.
Q: Finally, is hip hop dead?
A: Absolutely not, you just have to know where it’s hiding. The mainstream has never really been a true representation of the culture. Hang out with me for awhile and I’ll show where to look. Trust me, it’s stronger than ever. Just ask Task1ne.