justLISTEN! Cam Smith
Interview by Alan Ng
Words by Alan Ng & Amie Nguyen
Photography by Alan Ng
The amount of musical talent coming out of Atlantic Canada seems to be increasing as of late, and Cam Smith is no exception. An aspiring hip-hop producer and rapper nurtured in Nova Scotia’s small but growing street culture scene, Cam is a driven artist who believes that artists’ dedication to keeping their work fresh and constantly evolving is what keeps the masses interested and is what builds up a scene. To this end, Cam is meticulous in his craft and is always trying to evolve, whether it’s through perfecting his beats, elevating his lyrics, or trying to create a natural progression of sound from album to album. Cam has certainly shown the ability to keep his songs dynamic, musically and lyrically; his songs are rich with a depth of meaning, as their content often tackles the emotional and social pitfalls of being a young adult, such as alcoholism and the ennui of wayward youths.
In this interview, justalilhype! uses this opportunity to get to know Cam Smith. We find out how he got into rapping and whether or not he considers himself more of a rapper or a producer. Cam also tells us about his hip-hop heroes, his production equipment, his creating process, the Atlantic Canada hip-hop scene, and how his sound has progressed between his albums “Downtown Lights” and “Start Line.” The Atlantic Canada hip-hop scene is certainly growing, and with such a talented and forward thinking individual like Cam among their growing roster of representatives, their future looks promising indeed.
Please introduce yourself to our readers.
My name is Cam Smith, from Dartmouth, Nova Scotia. I am a hip-hop producer and rapper.
How did you get into rapping and producing? Which one came first?
For me, producing came first. I always had a love with music. In high school, I started fooling around with Fruity Loops, which I am still using to this day. One thing lead to the next, and for me, rapping was sort of the next step that I needed to take.
Many rap-producers nowadays do not label themselves as one or the other, but honestly speaking, which one do you think you excel in more, and why?
Honestly, I would say producing. I love rapping and I know my beats well enough that I know what kind of lyrics to write on those beats but I definitely think on the production side of things, I can branch out and work with all kind of different artists, and not just in hip-hop, in R&B, and in some electronic music. I couldn’t work with certain genres of music as a rapper, but through productions I can.
How did graduating from the Recording Arts program at Nova Scotia Community College assist you in putting your talents to use? What did you learn there?
The funny thing about school was that I didn’t learn too much, it was more just an introduction to the industry and the people that were involved with it. It was kind of a wake up call as to where I fit in, what I need to do, and what I need to get done. It was more of that over a technical type of thing because I am still using the same programs I did since day one; I have learned to master tracks. School was more of a way to get a certificate and a way for me to be introduced to an industry full of people who have also done the same course and did the same type of program.
Name your favourite rapper and producer. How does this person inspire you?
That’s a crazy question. Currently, I would say the best artist out, hands down, would be Kanye West. I feel that Kanye, whether it’s lyric wise or production wise, his whole style, likes to have creative control of everything he does. I am the same type of person. I edit and direct all my own music videos. On my last project, I made sure I did the album work for it; I stay with both the beat and lyrics. I like to have my hands on in everything, and I feel he does the same. Having that type of control really sets your brand above everyone else. I feel like he does that perfectly.
Your production game is definitely well demanded, as seen by my own eyes in the recent DJ Olympic Competition. What would you say sets your music apart from the others?
I feel like there’s a quality. There’s a quality in my sound and there’s a quality that you might not get with other producers. I take a lot of time into making sure little things are where they need to be. I remember after winning the producer’s festival at this year’s Hop Scotch festival, Ghettosocks came up and said little things, putting it through a phase, or EQing this out, or having a drop there was what set me above the other producers. I feel like that is what I have to offer to other rappers, those little pieces of music that the average listener couldn’t pick up on, but from a production stand point, it really sets it above from being another instrumental you can buy online for 20 bucks.
From producing to MTV, XXL Magazine Video Blogs, to Canadian artists such as Quake, Kayo, and Cali Snipes- what is your favourite aspect about working with other people and working with them creatively?
I feel a lot of times, you get in these ruts where you are going down one lane and you kind of get stuck. Dealing with all sort of different people like Quake, Kayo, and other people like that, they give a new sound and idea to me. That sparks my interest and love for music all over again. Sometimes I feel like I am stuck at certain places in music, and someone will come in and give their advice, and it just helps me out and makes me want to do it even more.
The Downtown Lights project was well received throughout the city, and it’s a very conceptual piece that deals with everyday life struggles- tell us some of your everyday problems and how you are able to relate it to your music.
That was the first project I ever did where I went behind the microphone and that was only in February. Everything has been happening so fast, but for me, especially in that time of my life, it was when I was 19, 20. I was able to go to the bar scene. In life, things and people were changing. Through music, I used that to express my feelings. Whether it was songs like “Monster” where I mentioned how people can change through drinking, or a song like “Let Go” with Earl B, where I expressed the feeling that young individuals feel when they do not know what to do with their lives.
This month, you are about to drop a self-produced project titled “Start Line”. Tell us a bit about what people should expect from it. How is it a progression from “Downtown Lights”?
It’s definitely a whole new sound. Like you have just said, the last piece was a conceptual piece. This is more just straight music. It’s different sounding; I let Kayo hear it and he was surprised on the different flows that I had. I am really switching it up. In terms of production, I am taking it into new lanes. Everything is really banging. I got the compression there, I got it EQed, it’s hitting, and the flows are different. It’s a whole new sound and I am doing it with new subjects. Letting my emotional out, such as the song “Hold Your Thoughts”, that’s a perfect example of what I am trying to do. I want people to be silent for a moment; I really want to speak my mind. For the past few years, I might not have said certain things or want to say certain things. Now I feel like I should, and letting it out through music is such a creative and special way.
What is your creative approach when it comes to creating music?
A lot of the time, I would be at some place where I won’t have a musical instrument around me. I’ll be listening to something and it inspires me for the type of music that I want to make. As soon as I get home, I would jump through the beats. I usually start through getting my syncs and keys, then building it with drums and everything else. Once the beat is totally done, that’s when I do my writing. A lot of people I know, they might want to write the lyrics before hand and match it to the beat. For me, because I create the beat, it’s something very special to me. I build the lyrics the same way I would add, like an instrument. My lyrics are just another instrument to the song; I usually save it for last because that’s the finishing piece.
What marketing aspects of your music do you take up? It seems like you are heavily involved with that process.
Oh yeah. I am the type of new-age producer/rapper that understands that the internet is so crucial to what I do, such as being able to edit and direct my own videos, owning my own camera, and being able to take pictures. Now that I have all that control, it helps me branch out contacting people and introducing my beats. I have the World Wide Web at my finger tips, and being able to do as much as I can do is going to help me set myself above the rest.
With doing so many tasks from producing, to directing your own music video, how are you able to manage your time, and who’s on your team?
I guess the person that helps me the most is my friend A.R. Obviously I can’t shoot the videos myself. So he shoots them, and I do the editing. If I need a drive somewhere, or do any little task, he is always down to help out myself, or Jay Mayne, which has been such a great help.
Tell us about your thoughts about the Atlantic Canada hip-hop scene. What is it like to be an artist hailing from Nova Scotia?
I guess the first thing I would like to say is that it’s pretty small. There are a lot of people here that want to rap or produce. I guess not a lot of them have a very hard drive that artists like Kayo or Quake, or Jay Mayne have, that really want to work the same way I want to work. I think the hip-hop scene here is a scene full of care, and love of what we do. You got things like the Hop Scotch festival; there may not be the largest crowd, but the crowd there are people that are very interested in what we are doing. And it’s not just producing or rapping, they want to see everything. Rappers in bigger cities, some of that stuff can get washed-out. The b-boy, the graffiti artists, a lot of them get washed out and it’s just the rapper on stage. Here, we like to show love to everybody even though it’s not too big. The ball is slowly starting to go, and let that culture and community grow.
Where do you see yourself in five years? You are going at a pretty quick pace since the drop of your first mixtape in February.
That’s a very hard question. I honestly don’t know where I see myself. I love what I am doing now and I am going to continue working as hard as I can and continue to make connections and doing what I need to do. Whether in five years that takes me to an amazing place or not, I really don’t care. Before February, before I released the mixtape, I was doing music years before that. That’s the main thing I love in life. I’ll continue to make music whether anyone wants to listen to it or not. Five years down the road, I’ll be doing exactly what I am doing now. Whether that’s on a stage in front of 50,000 people or 500 people, I’ll just continue to do it.
What is HYPE?
HYPE is being energetic. Living your life to the fullest. I think a lot of people in life in general are afraid to live, but they are not afraid to die. I mean that in a sense that they don’t chase after opportunities, they don’t chase after what’s in front of them. They kind of sit back and let life ride out. Being HYPEd and being energetic that chases after their goals and dreams, that’s what being HYPed to me is. I try to bring a HYPE performance when I produce, I try to make sure the stuff is banging. We are living, we are moving, we are loving, and we are doing everything that we need to do.