D Smoke on Life After ‘Rhythm and Flow,’ His First Grammys Experience, and Popping Up in ‘Bel-Air’ (2024)

Skip to main content

Find anything you save across the site in your account

Find anything you save across the site in your account


The Inglewood rapper won Netflix's rap competition series and hasn't looked back since.

By Paul Thompson

D Smoke on Life After ‘Rhythm and Flow,’ His First Grammys Experience, and Popping Up in ‘Bel-Air’ (4)

D Smoke.

Daniel Farris, the 36-year-old Inglewood native better known as D Smoke, has had to learn to be patient when waiting for the perfect opening. “My one rule is I don’t start writing a verse until I’m in love with the first line,” he tells me. Before breaking through to a national audience in 2019, he had worked quietly for years, honing his skills as a rapper and producer while holding down a job as a music theory and Spanish teacher. Some early success—shortly after high school, Farris signed a publishing deal alongside his relatives, including the now TDE-signed SiR, and penned “Never” for Jaheim—teased the young artist with the possibility for more. But for a long time after, D Smoke’s own songs were not heard outside his immediate community, or the classrooms in which he taught.

That changed virtually overnight when D Smoke won Rhythm + Flow, the Netflix hip-hop competition series judged by Cardi B, T.I., and Chance the Rapper. That streaming notoriety, combined with a series of songs that highlighted his ability to mine his own life for dramatic tension and move seamlessly between English and Spanish, earned him an enthusiastic fan base. Last year, his debut album, Black Habits, was a surprise Grammy nominee for Best Rap Album, alongside Royce da 5’9”, Alchemist & Freddie Gibbs, Jay Electronica, and Nas (who won for King’s Disease). His follow up album, War & Wonders, deepens Habits’s grooves, further establishing D Smoke as an expert in terms of song structure, narrative writing, and vocal dexterity.

If he has his way, D Smoke’s belated success will not be relegated to music. In the early 2000s, he secured a number of guest-starring spots on television shows including CSI, Boston Public, and Judging Amy. This was largely due to the influence of the actor and director Tasha Smith, who was a family friend and who helped secure D Smoke for a guest role in Peaco*ck’s Bel-Air.

Beyond his music and acting pursuits—and the “Black, hood, and futuristic novel he says he’s finished—D Smoke is working on restoring a boxing gym he trained at in his youth. But for the most part, he’s trying to tap into whatever energy he can best channel. “My mom said a long time ago—and I’ve since heard several artists say the same thing—some of the greatest songs write themselves,” he says. “It’s here to be grabbed. Instead of trying to come up with the words force them out of yourself… you play, you let your mind wander, you let the beat inspire you. You play until something hits you.” GQ talked to Smoke about his music origins, fame’s effect on his otherwise normal life, and Bel-Air.

GQ: Tell me a little about the Inglewood you grew up in.

D Smoke: I grew up on the East side of Inglewood, which we call the “Topside.” And it’s really beautiful, to be honest. People think of Inglewood and associate it with, you know, “Inglewood is up to no good,” gang-bangin, Mac 10 and all that stuff, and there certainly is that element. I tell people Inglewood is not a ghetto, but it is a hood—meaning that, you won’t know just by looking around that you’re in somewhat of a dangerous area because of the tailored lawns, palm trees, combined with beautiful California weather. You develop an affinity for the environment although it can be somewhat dangerous.

I grew up on the side of Inglewood that’s relatively pretty—mainly homes, not apartment buildings. But my teenage years taught me that that same environment still presented me with a certain set of challenges when it came to traveling and feeling safe and just navigating the city. I went to four different elementary schools, three different middle schools, but then I did all my years at Inglewood High School and it just gave me a whole lot of pride in my city. That, combined with my grandmother owning a home in Inglewood since the ‘70s, when it was predominantly white before everybody had moved out. I grew up in a mainly Christian home with minister parents; my mom’s side all did music. I had a father in the home once he came home from jail when I was eight. So the home was very sound and wholesome. But then outside was—although it was beautiful—still hectic and somewhat dangerous.

You had an uncle who played bass, too, right?

My uncle played bass for like, Chaka Khan, Prince… everybody. He’s like a gospel bass legend. We used to go to his jam sessions as kids; it was the one time when my parents would let me stay out ‘til 1:00, 2:00 in the morning, just because it was so in line with what we wanted to do for ourselves. Even as kids we knew we wanted to do music. My first time making a beat I was 8 years old and it was on my uncle’s studio equipment, so music was always in the family. My grandmother, she used to tour and ended up slowing down in order to take care of her kids.

How does hip-hop enter the equation?

I think there were a couple elements. My oldest brother—he’s my half brother, my dad’s son—he put me up on Outkast in 1996, and I had already started to take a liking to Tupac just ‘cause I liked how he moved through the world. But Outkast, artistically, is what made me want to rap. I think going to Inglewood High, catching the bus through the city, being an independent teenager in the L.A. streets, I think that’s what showed me what rap culture was about, not just rap music. That’s what really opened my eyes to the fact that this music is shaping people, and is guiding people’s lifestyles.

So your earliest raps, in your math notebooks or whatever—what were you writing like?

My first raps, I was trying to replicate Andre 3000. And then there was a Kanye phase, But yeah, Andre 3000—and Big Boi. Outkast was who I wanted to be like when I first started rapping for sure.

When did you first think of music as something that you could do professionally?

In high school we started putting out CDs, just burning them ourselves and selling them. This was myself, SiR—well, no, SiR [wasn’t involved] yet because in high school SiR wanted to play basketball. But my brother Davion Farris and my sister Tiffany Gouché, who was still in high school but was already making beats. So you know, we started making music together and playing it for our friends. And then it was in college when, even though I had a full academic scholarship, I took out a loan and built a studio in my parents’ garage. That’s what attracted music industry people to sign us.

Most Popular

  • Justin Bieber Wore Two Humongous Pairs of Balenciaga Sweatpants at the Same Time

    By Eileen Cartter

  • Forty Years Later, the Air Jordan 1 High ’85 ‘Bred’ Is Back

    By Adam Cheung

  • The Kendrick Lamar/Drake Beef, Explained

    By Frazier Tharpe

We got signed to Warner Chappell, and I ended up writing and producing a song for Jaheim that won an ASCAP Award. So it was around then, when I was 19 years old, that I was like, ‘OK, we could make a living off of this.” I’m hearing my song on the radio, and I’m getting checks. We always believed [we could do it], to be 100 percent honest, because we had seen it work for my uncle, and we had seen it work to a certain degree for my mom, even though her primary source of income was being a minister. It wasn’t that we doubted ourselves until those things happened, but it started to feel real when checks started coming in and [we were] hearing our song, a song I wrote and produced, playing on the radio.

Your own music is so personal, sometimes it’s hard for me to imagine you writing for someone else. Was it difficult, or frustrating, to write for other artists?

Man, I think that even when you write for other people, there are personal feelings you can create and incorporate into the song that don’t completely remove you from it. It’s just a whole different exercise. It’s very freeing to write for other people because you don’t have to say, “I stand behind this, I stamp this with my own signature,” you know? You can be like, “This is fun, let’s go this direction, let’s play.” It’s imaginative. And that’s an exercise I like just as much as writing for myself. Writing for myself always came from a place like, “Alright, I have real life successes outside of music, so there’s a specific way I want to portray myself.” Whereas creatively, I can go many directions just because I started off playing classical piano and writing songs, stories, all kinds of stuff. I enjoy writing as an exercise.

Now when you say you want to present yourself a certain way, was there a point in your adult life, like when you were teaching but still making music, when you felt constricted in what you could say?

Absolutely, but it wasn’t so much teaching. My parents, they’re ministers, so there was a point where I was trying to volunteer to play keys for a church. [Church officials sat me] down saying, ‘We’re not gonna let you volunteer.” It was because of a song I put out called “Fighter,” [which was about] you know, with these little street beefs, if we would put guns away and just duke it out, we could shake hands afterwards or live to fight another day. But it was misconstrued as me promoting violence. It made them feel so strongly to not allow me to volunteer—I wasn’t even asking for pay or anything. That’s what made me make a music video to that song, because I was like, “Alright, if it made you feel that strongly, maybe this is something I need to get behind.”

You worked very steadily for years, then saw your profile explode almost overnight. I assume there were challenges to your personal life because of that.

Most Popular

  • Justin Bieber Wore Two Humongous Pairs of Balenciaga Sweatpants at the Same Time

    By Eileen Cartter

  • Forty Years Later, the Air Jordan 1 High ’85 ‘Bred’ Is Back

    By Adam Cheung

  • The Kendrick Lamar/Drake Beef, Explained

    By Frazier Tharpe

Oh man, a lot! I had to move, like physically move; some relationships suffered because I needed a very specific type of support and if I wasn't getting that, then I felt isolated. [There were] new demands on me that I wasn't prepared for—and I was meeting them, at whatever expense. I had to teach my family how to be good family members based on what I needed, because it was all new. Things like, “Hey, as a family we have new rules: We don’t post in real time saying where we are, and we don’t put embarrassing videos of each other up on the internet no more because they are consumed in a different way.” And some people rejected the lack of freedom. They didn’t understand that that meant I [would] have to be selective in which family members I could be around.

The people who understood it, it was rewarding for me—like, “OK, cool, I’m not crazy.” Because at times you'll question yourself, like, “Am I an asshole because I’m strict on how I wanna be represented in the world?” I’m a private person in certain respects, I like to go out and be in my own mind, walking and stuff and now to be stopped and people who want to take pictures… you enjoy it, but it’s an exchange of energy. And now going out in public places means giving out a lot more energy than you’re soaking up.

When you were nominated for a Grammy, you were the least-known rapper in the category; some people cracked jokes and raised objections to that. Did that tarnish the moment for you?

I wouldn’t say it tarnished it, no. And I wasn’t mad at the outcome, either—I’m a huge Nas fan, and I was in good company, so I think it was just a good moment for rap. But yeah, there were some people who were like, “Who Is D Smoke?” But I don’t take the bait, especially when people say stuff over the internet that they wouldn’t say in person. I don’t chase conflict. If conflict is brought to me then it’s a whole different situation. But I’m not one to bite the bait. My team was mad. But we’re not worried. So many people want to be something in the industry, but we’re real life dope. If you know me in real life, you know.

How did your role on Bel-Air come about?

The call I got was from Tasha Smith. She was my acting coach when I was in high school and I was booking stuff: CSI, Boston Public, The District, Judging Amy. I was always the disgruntled high school kid, gun in his backpack, you know [laughs]. I showed up and did my best at playing D Smoke. It’s interesting playing yourself but taking direction from others, taking their creative direction for what the scene is. We [found] that balance and had fun with it.

I’ve had mentors who say if you want to have a serious chance at movies and film as an actor, don’t play yourself, don’t be D Smoke starring as D Smoke. But I looked at some of the things Pac did: He made some appearances as Pac, then went on to have a prolific, if short acting career, and showed a lot of promise. It’s really dope to be included on [Bel-Air] because if you look at things like Fresh Prince, you had Biggie Smalls on there at one point. Fresh Prince and Martin were the two pillars of Black television. Black art is so delicate that when it’s done right, we don’t forget. The Black community doesn’t forget, the hip-hop community doesn’t forget. So that’s when I was like, “I’m not turning that down.”

Who are your biggest acting influences?

Don Cheadle. I love Don Cheadle. Of course Will [Smith] and Denzel [Washington], but I say Don Cheadle first because I feel like he’s so underrated. I’ve seen brilliant performances from him.

What’s your favorite?

Everybody knows he was in Iron Man and stuff, but he was in The Family Man with Nicolas Cage. I loved how he played the hood angel who sends Nicolas Cage on this “glimpse”; in very few scenes he had to show such range, because he starts off robbing this liquor store, Nicolas Cage intervenes, and [Cheadle] is like, “You just did a good thing!” But Nicolas Cage talks too much, and [Cheadle] is like, “You just f*cked it up” [laughs]. And then, next time Cage sees him, Don Cheadle is this rich guy who takes on the life of Nicolas Cage while Nicolas Cage is in this glimpse of what his life would be like if he wasn’t a billionaire. He showed so much range and controlled—without being the main character—how the movie moved.

Related Stories for GQEntertainmentMusicHip Hop


Wayfair Coupon20% off $250 spend w/ Wayfair coupon codeMichaels CouponMilitary Members save 15% Off - Michaels couponASOS Promo CodeEnjoy 30% Off w/ ASOS Promo CodeEbay CouponeBay coupon for +$5 Off sitewidePeaco*ck TV Promo CodesEnjoy Peaco*ck Premium for Only $1.99/Month Instead of $5.99Samsung Discount Code$100 discount on your next Samsung purchase* in 2024
D Smoke on Life After ‘Rhythm and Flow,’ His First Grammys Experience, and Popping Up in ‘Bel-Air’ (2024)
Top Articles
Latest Posts
Article information

Author: Eusebia Nader

Last Updated:

Views: 5363

Rating: 5 / 5 (60 voted)

Reviews: 83% of readers found this page helpful

Author information

Name: Eusebia Nader

Birthday: 1994-11-11

Address: Apt. 721 977 Ebert Meadows, Jereville, GA 73618-6603

Phone: +2316203969400

Job: International Farming Consultant

Hobby: Reading, Photography, Shooting, Singing, Magic, Kayaking, Mushroom hunting

Introduction: My name is Eusebia Nader, I am a encouraging, brainy, lively, nice, famous, healthy, clever person who loves writing and wants to share my knowledge and understanding with you.