The unstoppable rapper N3 and his cohort Chico Cas Tha Chix are gaining attention for their aggressive-politically-charged lyrics, and their unique blend of sounds from multiple genres of music. The duo known as Smacktown are currently touring with U.S. rapper Lock Smith who they recently collaborated with on their latest track ‘Beast Mode II.’ Farley Ward caught up with N3 from Smacktown to get the lowdown on the Sydney based duo.
So I only discovered you guys late last year when you supported the Swollen Members tour. But since I tracked you down on the internet I now realise that you guys have been doing this for a long time now, like seven years or something right?
Yes, I think we’ve been working together for about seven years or so.
So, Smacktown consists of yourself and Chico Cas Tha Chix, am I right?
Yes, me and Chico!
I have to ask, where does that name come from?
We are both from Hispanic backgrounds, and Chico is just like a nickname people get because it kind of means little.
I get the feeling you guys have known each other a long time?
Well, we’ve been working together for about seven years, and we’ve known each other for about eight years.
And how did Smacktown form?
Well, Chico was actually going to Tafe with my brother, and that’s how I met him. We started hanging out at home. And I had just started on a new project; it started with DJ-ing and the electronic scene, and I thought I’m going to start rapping to this thing, and start a little group. And I asked him if wanted to be involved, and he said ‘yeah, got nothing else at the moment, let’s try and see how this goes together’, you know.
Awesome, you guys work so well together! So, since I found out about Smacktown, you guys have supported and collaborated with a number of other popular international acts like; Jarren Benton, Dirty Dike, Mobb Deep, Xhibit and La Cocka Nostra. Plus I noticed you’re a support artist for R.A. The Rugged Man’s upcoming tour. That’s a pretty impressive line-up! Out of all the international acts, you have opened for so far, which artist got you most pumped?
Hmmm, Swollen Members was amazing, but I think I’d have to say Mobb Deep, just because they brought a lot of people in, you know what I mean? So, the crowd was really massive, and it was good to be exposed to such a big crowd who wouldn’t usually come to our show, or be exposed to your music. And the atmosphere at that show was really receptive, so I think that’s the one I enjoyed the most.
You guys are down in Sydney, hey?
We are originally from Sydney. Umm, I moved to Byron Bay about ten months ago, just to focus on music and get away from everything.
Well, that’s a change of scenery then!
Yeah, it is. It’s much more relaxed. You know, in Sydney there is a lot of things going on, a lot of friends, a lot of distractions. Here in Byron it’s actually pretty good. I get a lot done.
Your sound is very different to any other Australian musicians around at the moment. Sometimes I hear Jarren Benton-ish sounds, other times, Linken Park, and occasionally I feel there could be hints of a Rage Against the Machine influence. How did you come up with your unique sound? You said you were into DJ-ing?
Yeah. Well before all that I was into normal hip hop. Then I got into the electronic scene. It was like really heavy electronic beats, and we were rapping to really fast tempo beats. So that kind of came from slowly moulding that kind of music into hip-hop as well. The influence, well we are influenced by a lot of bands, a lot of music. We love Metallica to Tech N9ne, so we got a wide range of music that we like. So we just take inspiration and music from all over the place and just sort of blend it together as much as you can.
I got a CD from you guys at the Swollen Members gig. And whenever I play your CD wants to know, ‘who’s this’, and they become instant fans! When you are performing, which of your songs recieves the biggest response from the audience?
That’s a real tricky question. Maybe ‘Beast Mode’, that always gets a really good response.
You seem to get a good response, regardless. From what I have seen, you really get the crowd going with your energy! So, how do you decide what to write about? And do you write songs together? What’s your process?
Umm well, I do all the music, I produce all the tracks. And usually from there we go, what does this sound like? Or I might have an idea before I start the song, so I know what kind of feeling I want to bring into the actual tune. Then I go to Chico and go, ok we’re going to do this or that, and get his input. Then just pick a theme or idea and each of us write a verse, according to the theme of the song, you know.
So, Fight Music, that’s your record label, yeah?
Yeah, I found it in 2010 I think it was. And then I let it go for a bit. And now I’ve just picked it back up. I recently brought Rhys on board, and he helps me out with everything. So he’s pretty much a partner in the business side of things. Since then it’s been going a lot better.
So you guys organise all your gigs and stuff? Like, you are 100% independent then?
Yeah, everything is all independent. Like sure, we have our friends in each state who help us out, who we sell shows to and work with. But yeah, the core of things are coming from here, the Fight Music HQ.
Fight Music makes me think of activism and rebellion. I’ve picked up that vibe a bit in your lyrics also. The lyrics for ‘Powerless’ are obviously politically driven. A lot of musicians are strong advocates for change, and will use their craft to spread awareness or whatever. Do you believe that music has the power to influence people to stand up against corruption and injustice?
Yes, definitely. I think music is one of the most powerful things on Earth. That’s why the radio stations are full of the music we hear all the time because it puts people in those modes. Like, it’s all about sex and stupid shit, in my opinion, that the majority of the music on the radio. People are reflected by that. And so music is a very powerful thing. Everyone listens to music, and if you can raise awareness or talk about a subject that the media won’t talk about, or the world should be more understanding of, I think it’s very important. Music has an important message, and it shouldn’t just be fuelled with mind numbing lyrics or whatever.
I have spoken to other artists who kind of sit on the fence on certain issues so as not to offend anyone. So, it is refreshing to see you have an opinion and are not scared to voice it.
Yeah. Its is a bit aggressive in some ways. Like obviously we don’t want people going and running amok or anything. But it’s more about people realising and being aware of what is going on. That is what is really important. The more people who understand what’s going on, the less people are going to be concern themselves with what they think is normal or what they think life should be or all those things. There’s a lot of subjects that we could touch on.
If I were to try and describe Smacktown’s music, I guess I would call it a concoction of hip-hop mixed with electronic-dance and metal? But from what I have picked up, you have mainly worked alongside hip hop artists. You seem to favour the hip hop genre then?
It’s just what’s being given to us right now. It seems to be the easiest genre to crack. If you want to jump in the metal scene, you need a band, you know what I mean? It’s a bit more complicated. We haven’t really tried to tell you the truth; it’s just that we’ve been hand fed hip hop. That’s how it has been working, so we have just been going with it.
I’ve watched your YouTube videos, and they all have quite dark; Quentin Tarantino inspired themes. Especially the clip for your latest track featuring Lock Smith – Beast Mode II, which was dubbed; ‘too brutal for blogs!’ For a video of such an aggressive nature, did you worry about how people would react to it?
No, that’s the things. You are doing it for that purpose. You are doing it for people to go, ‘Holy shit, look what these guys did.’ So, whether it’s good or bad, people are going to talk about it. I like horror movies, I like action, I like things that make you feel something, you know what I mean? And I was just like, let’s push people’s buttons and we how far we can go!
Well, I checked out some of the comments in the feeds and it has had a surprisingly good reaction so far. I didn’t see any negative comments.
So far. We got more negativity from the Chelsea Grin video; just because religion was involved. If religion is involved, people will jump at you. That’s what it’s all about if it’s good or bad, its controversy; people are still talking. That’s all that matters. Your fans are the ones who ill understand it and think what a cool clip. The ones that hate it aren’t the people you are focusing on hearing it.
You are currently sharing a tour with Lock Smith from the U.S. How did you meet Lock Smith and how did this tour come about?
Well, I was watching his film clips the first time we saw him about a year ago, then I was like, ‘dude we got to do a track with this guy.’ He’s one of the best lyricists I’d ever come across or even seen. And we did a track prior to this one, on my solo EP that I got coming up. And we thought, let’s bring him over so we can film the video and while we do that, why don’t we do another one with Smacktown, to promote and do the whole tour together. So it’s the Beast Mode Tour. And we’re getting him down in Australia, exposed to Australian fans. And from there it all evolved into the tour that we got.
He isn’t very well known here in Australia just yet, but he is getting rave reviews from all directions in the US right now. He is a machine! I’ve never heard someone spit that way! So what’s next for Smacktown after this tour ends? You said you were working on solo albums?
At the moment, I’m working on my side of things, and then I’ll be working on Chico’s side of things. We are just expanding other avenues. All I can ay is that mine might not be as hard as Smacktown, but it will definitely have those elements. It’s going to be something new, and something different definitely has a lot of international features up the sleeve that I’m probably not going to name just yet.
Yes, don’t go giving away any secrets until the time is right! But we would love to be the first to know when you are ready to spill!
REMAINING TOUR DATES
BYRON BAY 01 May 2015 Woody’s Surf Shack
BRISBANE 02 May 2015 Chalk Hotel
NEWCASTLE 08 May 2015 The Small Ballroom
SYDNEY 09 May 2015 Oxford Art Factory