Smitty has been in rooms with all the elites of the music industry, and he continues to flex his strong pen game for two decades and counting. With two Grammys to his name, endless Platinum plaques, and an unwavering passion for creating timeless, meaningful music, Smitty has been the go-to writer, producer, and creative for the biggest projects to date, writing specifically for the likes of Will Smith, Diddy, and Dr. Dre.

Smitty’s love for Hip Hop dates back to the first time he ever heard Common’s “I Used to Love H.E.R.”, fondly remembering going home and seeing the song’s music video on Rap City. And while he started as a rapper, with a standout moment in 2006 collaborating with Scarface, Kanye West, John Legend on “Ghetto,” Smitty recognized his place as someone behind-the-scenes, rather than in the spotlight as a recording artist.

And if there’s one thing you can count on from Smitty, it’s his endless stories behind some of music’s biggest records and moments. Speaking on his roots in Florida, he states, ““Florida has a certain aggression to it but at the same time, a soulfulness that keeps you connected to the streets whether you’re in Paris or Beverly Hills.”

Sheen spoke with Smitty in downtown Los Angeles to discuss his roots in Florida, what brought him to Los Angeles, MC Lyte giving him his first check, working with Dr. Dre on the Super Bowl, how he got a record with Eminem, and more!


For those who don’t know, who is Smitty?

First of all, a child of God. Gotta say that first and foremost. I’m a battle-tested creative, battle-tested songwriter, that’s been through quite a bit to get to the point where I have such a reference point musically. It’s turning me into a better person. The ups and downs I’ve had to go in the music industry have applied to life and made me a better human being. That’s why I hold the craft dear, at this point.

What part of Florida are you from?

I say everywhere. It’s funny you ask this, I’m a Florida boy. I was born in Miami, then I moved to Hollywood, then I moved to Fort Lauderdale throughout my travels. I graduated school in Pompano, where Kodak Black’s from. I went to college in Tallahassee, then I moved to Orlando. I lived all over Florida and got so many footprints there, that I can’t say I’m from one place. I gotta say I’m a Florida boy because I spent 10 years in each place. I got stories and family.

What was your upbringing like as a kid?

To summarize, I lost my right eye when I was 10. I was in the streets in Miami playing. I was playing with a car antenna, I got hit by the car and it detached my retina. I had to go to all types of surgeries. My eye used to really be like Biggie’s, you couldn’t tell. That’s how I know God is good. My mom opted to keep the eye, not give me a glass eye which doctors were trying to do. I ended up being the guinea pig for advancement in eye surgery. They’d try so many different things on my eye because at that time, they didn’t have to have a patient this young. I’ve tried every surgery, every contact lens, every new thing. 

I was against all odds. Not the coolest kid in the class, and that’s when I delved into writing. Rhyming and writing, I didn’t know it was rap at the time. Writing basically, I’m a writer. Hip Hop was growing. Well if I could write and put some words together, I could freestyle. I didn’t know what I was doing with it. But because I wasn’t the cool kid and I was trying to deal with adjusting as a young man with one eye, I delved into writing. It turned into that being my personality. That’s the kid who writes, the kid who raps. That’s how that happened, I was forced because I didn’t have the girls and all that shit. Let me write. That’s what Florida was like for me, a lot of that type of shit.

How did you learn how to write? What was your first opportunity?

My first opportunity was I drove to LA. I was battle rapping at Florida A&M. I started visiting a couple colleges to battle, because the guy had heard me from Chicago. He said “you should come to Howard for the summer and battle.” I went to Howard, Morgan, all the black colleges and battled. Three of them, Howard was the biggest one. I realized okay, I’m kind of nice. I come back from Howard with this pep in my step like if I can do this at Howard, I could do this anywhere. 

Dipset had a show in Tallahassee, they were at a hotel. I go to the hotel by myself, I paid my friend $5 to take me. I spit 100 bars for the manager. The manager said “yo, come to the show.” So I came to the show. Cam’Ron, Jim Jones, backstage. All they had was “Horse & Carriage.” I spit for them. “Yo, you nice. Keep writing, keep going.” When I got back to the dorm, the manager called me like “ain’t gonna lie, you’re nice. But Steve Stoute told me, ‘you gotta make records. If you want to make business, I need you to write records’.” At that point, all the battling shit stopped in my mind. Man, I’m finna write.

I started learning how to write. I gotta structure the energy I’m putting into the freestyle, in writing. It wasn’t easy. I’m gonna write a good 300 bars that I could spit anytime. I’ma fuck around and drive to LA, so I went to LA for the summer. Me and my man drove in a Stanza, had to pull over and put water in the car every five minutes. We saved up enough money. Listen, I’ma be here for three months. We was in Koreatown. If it didn’t work out for three months, we go back to school. I damn near had my classes picked and everything. 

You went to LA with what intention? 

To run into somebody and spit those bars that I wrote, but I wouldn’t have wrote them if the manager for Dipset hadn’t told me “yo, you gotta write. Because the freestyle’s working, but it ain’t gonna get us nowhere. Start writing records and send me the records.” I said cool, I’ma do that. Now I go to LA with these 300 bars in my head, whoever I run into.

Fuck around, true story. Kareem Grimes is a big actor on the show All American on CW. I go to church with my man because it’s a job renaissance. I’m like I guess if you wanna go, I’m not trying to go to church. The dude sees me writing, he’s like “what ya man do?” He’s like “he writes, he’s trying to run into people.” He says “you should meet my cousin.” I put his cousin on the phone, I rap for his cousin. He’s like, “hold on.” He calls MC Lyte at the time, who was signed to Will Smith. “Leave a message on the phone.” I left a message rapping. Lana’s my big sister, she took me in. She says “yo, bring them to me right now.” 

I go to her house, I start writing for MC Lyte. That’s how I ended up working with Will Smith. The rest is history. The first check I got as a writer was from MC Lyte. Now, she’s a spokesman for BET. I met Queen Latifah. She took me to New York the first time to try to get me a deal. I wasn’t even Smitty at the time, didn’t have a name. I was just writing, that’s the first person to give me a check. That’s how all that transpired to yo, I’m a songwriter now. I didn’t even want to be an artist. I don’t know how to be an artist, I’m not a star like that. “Yeah I’m that guy,” I’m not like that. I’m quiet, sit in the studio. 

When we worked on the Bad Boys II soundtrack, Diddy used to force me to come to the club. Because I wanted to sit in the studio all day. “Yo Playboy, I need you to come hang out with me. Get the lifestyle and how I’m living.” I feel you, but I just want to stay in here. And it worked out because we got a Grammy [for “Shake Ya Tailfeather”], but he likes to be out. I’m a studio guy.


Talk about the Super Bowl with Dr. Dre, and the role you played.

Super Bowl was crazy! It was a small role, but it was magnified because of how that was magnified. Dre told us about it a year ahead. When The Weeknd was performing, Dre told us about it. He came and asked ICU the crew: “what y’all think about us doing the Super Bowl?” We all said, “dope! You or the crew?” He’s like “well definitely the crew, but it’s hard to get everybody together. And we need a girl.” 

We all planted the seed: “maybe Mary J. Blige could be crazy though!” He’s like “Oh yeah you think so?” But he ultimately is the decision, he’s the boss. We all went back and forth, but him and Mr. Iovine made the ultimate decision. We had no part in that, but he’s like, “how would it look to the fans?” Because remember, it’s pandemic and everything else going on. We’re like “man Doc, it’s a no-brainer.”

The whole time we’re working on the Grand Theft Auto soundtrack, we were making music. We recorded 300, 400 records, just to have those five records that ended up being on the video game. That’s really what it was. While we’re mixing that and nitpicking that to death, because it takes them a year just to say this record is ready, he’d come in and ask for little changes. Invite us to the rehearsals and ask for our feedback. What are we seeing? What little changes can we make? I had a few pinches here and there, but nothing to the point of “you gotta do it like this.” It was “yo that’s dope. Oh you’re gonna transition into that?” 

Matter of fact, at the last minute Fredwreck, one of the OGs of ICU, he’s the one who gave the idea to start [hums melody]. When he started at the end with “I Ain’t Mad At Cha” and Dre was playing the piano, Fred was just downstairs playing. Doc heard it, we’re three days out. He’s like, “damn we should add that.” So they changed all of that. That was a microcosm, an inside look of how us being a fly on the wall helped us realize this is what it takes to have this level of creativity. We were studying, students were like “oh holy shit.” As we asked questions, he asked questions back, which allowed us to get our little input on what we thought should happen. When we saw it, we were just as surprised.



Eminem is my favorite rapper. How did you guys tap in on Music To Be Murdered By?

We were with him a couple months ago. We were finishing up another album, he’s about to drop quietly. You know, he drops when he feels like it. How that happened, this is during the pandemic. Dre’s sending him all the stuff we’re working on for GTA. That was almost 300 records, a lot of features in there you never may hear. Dre sends him so many records that he’s like, “yeah I feel you, but I’m keeping this one for me.” [laughs]

Dre’s like “Nah man, it ain’t ready.” Em’s like “nah, I’m keeping this one.” We didn’t even know what Eminem was going to do with it. In our mind, we’re thinking Eminem may drop, he may not drop. This is the second time he’s done it. When he dropped it, we’re like, “he’s gon’ take it Doc?” He said “yeah, he’s gon’ take it. I gotta mix it though.” I said, only thing I brought to the table as Smitty was, “well, we can improve a bar here or a word here.” Which he’s like “yeah, I’m down to improve.” Some he agreed with, some he didn’t. Last minute, we changed a couple of bars.

A lot like the Nipsey Hussle record, “Diamond Mind,” it was a last minute thing. Because when it’s with Em, he wants to make sure everything is perfect. At that point, we’re contributors. That was all Eminem, Rosenberg, the whole Shady Aftermath. That’s something they wanted. They weren’t going to let a Dr. Dre record with a verse where he’s sounding flawless go. He put it on Music To Be Murdered By, which went Platinum a year ago. It might be double by now. That’s me being at the right place at the right time.

Talk about your production deal with Roc Nation.

It’s funny. It’s still in good standing, but I don’t activate it because they had a lot of issues during the pandemic. I just set it to the side, maybe it’s there one day. I still have a great relationship with Omar, a great relationship with Dizzy over there. We had a meeting with Dre’s son, he produces. We sent him over there, trying to get them some records with Kalan.FrFr. I’m bringing people together, that’s what I’m inspired to do. I’m inspired to put Omar on the boom with the next great writer. I’m inspired to put Roc Nation to the next great producer. That’s where I find my value. That’s what makes me wake up.

What’re you most excited for next?

Honestly, I’m excited to impact the culture for the new writers. I’m really looking forward to the new creators, because there’s a lot of talented people. But it’s becoming fewer and farther between people who are committed to their craft. The craft has become me blowing up. That’s not the craft, that’s the result of you perfecting your craft. It’s no project or song in particular, I’m looking forward to inspiring people who want to be committed to the craft. 

Let them know there is a pot of gold being committed to the craft. It might not be a million followers, it might not be what social currency says it is. But there’s a lot of fulfillment you get to be able to feed your kids’ kids’ kids, with you being committed to your craft. That’s what I’m looking forward to. That’s why I’m doing this interview with such zeal, because I’d rather talk about this, then talk about the new single I got. We can talk about Snoop and Dre all day, but they probably only see the value in me because I see the value in perfecting my craft.

Photo Credits: Courtesy of Smitty