Interview by: Martin Bauman
When it comes to making music, Mississauga’s Smash Brovaz are very serious about their craft – just look at the title of their latest album, Think It’s A Game? Consisting of emcee/producer Junia-T (above, left) and emcee Crooklin (above, right), the two have been collaborating under the Smash Brovaz moniker for nearly a decade now, constantly learning and improving. The results show on their latest effort, a boom-bap driven, jazz-influenced 10-track album featuring the likes of Rich Kidd, Slakah The Beatchild, and Richie Sosa. The Come Up Show caught up with Smash Brovaz when they were in London to talk about their latest album, what inspires them, what’s next for them, and more. Read the full interview below.
TCUS: First off, welcome back to The Come Up Show to both of you. It’s great that we can catch up for a proper in-depth interview with you guys. It’s always interesting to hear how groups are formed in the beginning. How did you two first connect?
Crooklin: The first time we connected, we were at a house party. We were cypherin’ in the back – there was probably ten people cypherin’ – and yeah, that’s how me and Junes linked. Our homie from Ridge Block, he brought us together. Since then, we started making music, he brought me through Silver Fox basement, 3-5 Playa originals, and we started rapping, man. We were 3-5 Playa back then, and then we moved into Smash Brovaz in probably 2003-2004, and we dropped our first album in 2005. So it was about 2004 that Smash Brovaz united.
TCUS: How did you transition to calling yourselves Smash Brovaz?
Junia-T: In the beginning, Crook and I were like the main guys rollin, but it was random – one day, just kickin’ it, I was like “yo… Smash Brovaz.” I feel like that’s us with the game, killin’ it. But, you know, we gotta spell it v-a-z to keep it on some hip-hop shit. Seen [laughs]. And we just ran with it, because it’s more about us just getting to making the music. That’s all we cared about.
Photo credit to Danielle Da Silva
TCUS: Junia-T, you handle a lot of the production for the group. What came first for you, rapping or producing?
Junia-T: For me, it was rapping. [For] lot of producers up here, it starts with the rapping, but it ends up being the production thing after, because we need to get beats. We don’t have the resources or know the people that make the production at the level we want to perform at, so you just gotta start making beats. And that’s how it started for me: emceeing first, and then I became a producer.
TCUS: What equipment are you producing with?
Junia-T: I keep it simple, man. Just FL Studio and a laptop. Some records, maybe a little bit of ripping off YouTube, but [I’m] keepin’ it pretty old school and simple.
TCUS: Crooklin, you were in California last year mixing your solo project. You mentioned one of the most inspiring parts of the trip was working with Yancy Deron and the rest of Live Now Die Later. What was that experience like?
Crooklin: I had met Yancy out in Texas, actually, when we were out there for SXSW. We met in the basement of this West Side party, and everyone was there: Kurupt, Snoop, just everyone West Coast. It was crazy, just O.G. West Coast cats performing at the SXSW event. So we went out to Cali and as soon as I got there, it was just like “alright, let’s link up.” We went out to Pasadena [to Yancy’s studio] – those are the homies – and from there, we went to a couple more studios and put together a little EP. I’m looking forward to dropping that this year; me and the homie have a lot of music together. It’s gonna be fun. All LNDLiens, the whole crew that they mess with out there, everyone out there is crazy. Sincere, Intricate [Sound], Kofi, Craig Gillespie, all the homies out there, shout outs to them.
TCUS: 2012 was a big year for you guys in terms of connecting with other artists: you met Kendrick, Mos Def, A$AP Rocky, Young Guru, Action Bronson, Just Blaze, and a whole lot of other artists. What memory stands out the most from those names?
Crooklin: I was out in Cali with Addy and Rich [Kidd] – they were recording the SonReal and Rich Kidd album The Closers – and one night, we went through Dr. Dre’s studio. It’s like the Aftermath/Beats By Dre studio, [and] it was incredible, man. It’s in this little back alley, and we went into the studio, and Kendrick was chillin’ in there – he was mixing good kid, M.A.A.D City. I really got to witness [the process] two months before it actually dropped. He was doing the interludes, and I was watching the way he was working on the album, and he was so particular and so focused on it. That really inspired me to stay a little longer, and when I was in True Studios with the homie Glen, we would do the same thing – I was trying to be real picky with everything that we did. And man, my solo album’s coming crazy, I’m proud of it.
TCUS: Let’s talk about your latest album, Think It’s A Game? What’s the inspiration behind this album?
Junia-T: I would say [it’s] us taking the music seriously, and really wanting to do it. We’ve been doing it for so long on the performance level, because that’s how we built our name locally, and now [we’re] translating it to that music we want to share with the world. That was really what it was. And it’s a long time coming, because for those who really followed us, we dropped the “Whatchu Need, Whatchu Want” video, and a lot of our fans at the time thought that was the move [and] we were ready to go. There were a lot of things we didn’t really understand about what needed to be done to do it right. We had to take that step, learn from it, and keep going until we were ready.
Crooklin: 2012 was a big learning process for us, man. We learned a lot in the game. That’s why when we were out there meeting all these people, really and truly, it was just [us] being students of the game. [We were] going through it all, just trying to grasp that worldwide concept of how people are taking in music worldwide, because that’s where we’re trying to get to right now.
TCUS: Throughout the album, you both mention the reasons why you continue to make music. Crooklin, on “Whatever”, you say: “I make music just to make myself clear.” Junia-T, on “TO 2 LA” you say you don’t rhyme for the fame, you rhyme “for the expression of pain bottled up.” What’s the importance of hip-hop as an outlet to both of you?
Crooklin: I do a lot of my music just to let a lot of things out that I go through in life. As well, I try to embrace every type of feeling in terms of the party aspect, the real life aspect, going through shit, and everything. Talking about hip-hop, talking about how you’re gonna eat another emcee’s food, everything. I try to take emotion and put it all into hip-hop – that’s where it started from the jump. That’s how all my legends did it, everyone that I look up to, and I just try to take it that way.
Junia-T: For me, a lot of it’s the same. But also, I find when I’ve been writing, as I’ve been maturing as an artist, it’s been self-therapeutic. It’s almost like I’m leaving little messages for myself in my lyrics and my music to remind me where to be and how to be. So as much as I’m expressing the feeling in the moment, I’m also reminding myself through my music [about] the standard of living of how I want things to be done. It’s really just the life-force keeping a brother going, you know what I mean? I find that same connection between music that I choose to listen to; it pushes me to be a better person in all aspects of life, whether it’s being a father, or a friend, or a musician.
Crooklin: I’m gonna quote the homie Kendrick Lamar: “We don’t make black music, we don’t make white music, we make everyday life music.”
TCUS: Crooklin, I’m coming right back to you again. Your verse on “Soul For Tomorrow” talks about your father passing away. What advice did he have for you before he passed away?
Crooklin: That’s a touchy one right there, man. That’s my dude. Me and Rich were actually on tour in Australia when it all went down; it was a crazy time. But [he’s] really the reason why I make music, man. That’s it.
“So I was caught in a daze, my head was spinning from a call from the grave/ “You gotta get it, son,” that’s all he could say.” – Crooklin on “Soul For Tomorrow”
TCUS: This quote comes from “Soul For Tomorrow”. Crooklin, you say: “I’m from a city where/ to be yourself, man, they really scared.” Why do you think that is?
Crooklin: That’s funny, man, I was waiting for somebody to call that one out [laughs]. I knew someone would sooner or later. I’m not trying to disrespect anybody or come at anybody, it’s just something that [I’ve noticed]. Really and truly, I’m a traveler; I travel all around the world – I’m not trying to boost – and I see a lot of ways in how people do it. I mean, it’s just about being yourself – that’s what music really is; it’s an expression of self. And I feel like a lot of people, from Toronto specifically, are just scared to be themselves. I’mma stick with that right there [laughs].
TCUS: This is another quote of yours, off “Be Free”: “If I wanna dream, I can’t be asleep.” What’s the significance of that line?
Crooklin: I stay up late, late, late at night. I work on a different clock than the regular person; I wake up at 1 o’clock, 2 o’clock, and I go to sleep at about 7 o’clock [in the morning]. I literally feel like there isn’t [sic] enough hours in a day. I’m up for about 20, I try to sleep for a couple, and then I’m back in the studio a couple hours later. I feel like if I wanna really dream and I wanna get to where I’m dreaming, then I can’t be sleeping. I just gotta keep it going.
TCUS: This is a tweet of yours: “The first job of an artist is to make art. Not fashion, not money, not photoshoots, not image.” Can you talk about this?
The first job of an artist is to create art. Fashion is not 1st. $ is not 1st. Photoshoots are not first. Image is not first.
— Smash Brovaz™ (@SmashBrovaz) January 13, 2013
Crooklin: That was me too, but Junes, go for it. We both feel that way [laughs].
Junia-T: You know what? At the end of the day, it kinda ties back to that one line: just being yourself. Being an individual, all of those things come into play if music is what you want to do. Fashion is a part of how people interpret you. How you create your music, the soundscape of your music, your personality, your charisma, all of those things… Instead of just trying to tap into something that became popular, just becoming more self-aware and having more self-confidence makes whatever you do that much stronger. We’ve always been Smash Brovaz, and I think that’s why people have connected with us and supported us.
TCUS: This is another tweet of yours. Crooklin, I’m guessing you wrote this too: “I miss what hip-hop used to be.” Can you explain?
I miss what hip hop used to be…
— Smash Brovaz™ (@SmashBrovaz) January 4, 2013
Crooklin: Shit, I was going through my collection, and I pulled out Ras Kass, I pulled out Westside Connection, I pulled out Only Built 4 Cuban Linx, Iron Man… Damn, I was going through some classics. Really and truly, it’s just crazy to think about how it used to be so thorough and it wasn’t as watered down. Again, I’m not coming at anybody. But I’m also happy that hip-hop has really grown. I love what it was, but I also what it is right now, because it’s at a beautiful place right now. I really get inspired when I listen to the new school, just as much as the old school.
TCUS: What excites you the most about hip-hop nowadays?
Junia-T: I think the fact that all the borders, musically, have been broken down – as much as I first used to hate on that stuff. Because it’s gone from an analog medium to digital, there’s no more rules when it comes to making shit, and I think that’s what’s cool. There are these people that have been creating in their basements their whole life that probably didn’t have the social skills to share their music, but they found ways for it to be heard and it’s changing the game. And it [also] leaves it open for people that are being themselves creatively; it inspires them to just put it out there and not worry about what the status quo [is]. When it was just dominated by the labels back in the day, it was really marginal for something unique to get an opportunity; you still had to conform in some manner, just to get a chance to do what you like to do. [Technology] finally evened the playing field; we got to see a whole new era. When we started, you needed to press vinyl to drop a single, and where we’re at now, we just press the ‘send’ button on our email [laughs].
TCUS: That’s all from me, is there anything else you’d like to say to the people out there?
Crooklin: We’re just trying to take this worldwide, and come along with the ride. We’re about to really try to make this happen, and we need the support from all our Canadian people – everyone from your brother to your sister, tell them about Smash Brovaz. We’re trying to do this.
Junia-T: Worldwide, worldwide.
Crooklin: Shouts to our homies Addy Papa and Rich Kidd, those are the brovaz, and shouts to The Come Up Show. Shouts to Martin, shouts to J.R., shouts to Chedo, y’all [are] fam. You’ve been riding from the jump. Thank y’all. Peace!