Musicians are barely getting a slice of music industry revenue, largely eating off of live performances instead. For ’Tour Tales,’ we dig into the rider requests, delayed shows, diligent preparation, and future of touring by talking with the multitude of people that move behind the scenes. Record executives, photographers, tour managers, artists, and more all break down what goes into touring and why it’s still so vital to the livelihood of your favorite artists. What happens on tour stays on ‘Tour Tales.’
Before touring off internet-released mixtapes was a business model for labels, Smoke DZA was one of the first rap artists doing it. For the last decade, he’s been a fixture on the road and a menace to fire alarms everywhere.
“They cut off the alarm, the crowd goes nuts, and people start performing again. I’m like, ‘Man, it ain’t going to be my little blunt that set this shit off.’ Sure enough, I lit that motherfucker up and the alarm goes off again. They had to get the firefighters back in there to cut it off because of me,” DZA told REVOLT.
In this installment of “Tour Tales,” DZA explains his first time meeting Mac Miller, what he learned on tour with Method Man, and his first ever show in Japan.
Ten years ago, you, Curren$y and Big K.R.I.T went out on the first “Smokers’ Club Tour.” What was it like touring at that time?
I remember a lot about that tour. For one, that was the first time we were on the road for a bunch of time. We were always doing shows and shit. [Curren$y] used to tour with Lil Wayne and was doing shows. But, this was the first time of us cutting up on the road and having our road. It taught me road etiquette, as far as how to move and how to keep relationships nourished in different cities because when you get to those cities, those are the people that will help you navigate through the cities. That first tour was a struggle tour because we were really poor (laughs). Touring with those guys was probably one of the best times of my life.
What moments stick out to you?
I’ve been blessed to perform in front of the best crowds in history. I remember in Chicago it was like the first Smoker’s Club show with 3,000 people. This was around the time I put out the song “He Has Risen.” The reception I got from the crowd had me like, “Oh my god. I’m here.” Chicago has always been good to me because when Rugby was open, I used to shop at Rugby in Chicago. I used to look forward to going on tour just to go to the different Rugby store in different states.
What mistakes did you make onstage?
Maybe my voice control. In the early days, it would be me screaming, and being so excited and hype. My voice would be a higher octave. Sometimes when you watch YouTube videos of old Biggie or Wu-Tang performances, they might’ve been doing the same thing because everyone’s excited when you grab that microphone. After touring for all of these years, you learn how to project your voice without screaming and it helps with your breath control. I’m a big guy and when I’m performing, I don’t get tired. I’m not dying onstage. I might be Patrick Ewing in the fourth quarter sweating, but I’m not losing any tempo or my pace because I studied and practiced breath and voice control so much I got immune to it.
The following year, you went on the “Smoker’s Club Tour” with Method Man. What was that like?
That one was learning from someone that was a master of the craft and one of the top performers of our time. That’s where I learned showmanship. Being an MC and being a performer are two different things. I know how to handle myself in any situation. If this shit ain’t right, I’m going to try, and kill time and pass time until it gets right because crowds can be hostile if you don’t know how to smooth the crowd when things are fucked up. If you show frustration with them, you can lose the whole show like that and I always think about the performers going after me.
Method Man was an ill guy. I would watch him stand on people’s hands like he was walking on water. That was the first time I saw that. People were doing mosh pit and shit, but Method Man was walking on the fans’ hands. Method Man is a good performer and I learned more from watching him than having full conversations with him. I always try to pick my legends’ brains when I’m around them.
Did you ever have a problem with venues when it came to smoking?
Around that time, a lot of venues didn’t allow it. We would either smoke on the bus, and then come to the venue and do what we do or we would sit on the bus until it was time for us to go on. That was the trick because the bus is always parked on the side of the venue anyway unless we’re in a place like Chicago where we have to park in a lot. Most of those venues we got to smoke at. But, if we’re in North Carolina and the bus is parked outside, ten times out of ten, we’ll be smoking in the bus until it was time for us to go on. Spitta would come [see] me perform. I’d watch him perform. K.R.I.T. would do the same. Until it was time for that, we’d be parked in the bus doing our thing and having our own company.
I’ve broken the rules a lot. I’m probably the friend who breaks the rules a lot. I remember we did this DD172 show at Brooklyn Bowl [in 2010] and they told us not to smoke in there. So, I ended up smoking anyway. That made the crowd start smoking and the fire alarm went off. The firefighters came and over the music, you heard the fire alarm sound go off. They cut off the alarm, the crowd goes nuts, and people start performing again. I’m like, “Man, it ain’t going to be my little blunt that set this shit off.” Sure enough, I lit that motherfucker up and the alarm goes off again. They had to get the firefighters back in there to cut it off because of me. Spitta tells that story all of the time.
I was at that BluRoc Festival Show. I remember Curren$y saying no one could smoke and then Dame came out with a joint.
That was my joint I gave him. That was the joint that set the motherfucker off another time. Smoke DZA gave him the joint.
Your first headlining tour, “He Has Risen Tour,” was the following year with Flatbush Zombies and Mr. Muthafuckin’ eXquire. What was it like putting that tour together?
I didn’t feel like I was ready to go out by myself even though I did all of the stuff I did. That was actually Flatbush Zombies first tour they were ever on. That’s history within itself. It was an interesting tour because it taught me that people aren’t just going to come out if you’re not with a promoter that’s actually promoting your show. When you’re on Smoker’s Club and have all of these future legends on tour, you don’t have to strain in promoting the tour. But, when you’re by yourself and the people aren’t coming out as you feel they should, it’s not because you’re wack, but because your shit is not promoted. They don’t know you’re there until you post it on Instagram and they go, “Smoke was here?” That’s the next day. That tour taught me shit can’t be on cruise control without a major label or something promoting. I learned a lot from that tour. It was fun because I was going around the world with a group of people I handpicked myself.
You worked with Flatbush Zombies early in their career, as well as with Mac Miller. You and Curren$y did a show with him at Santo’s Party House in 2010.
That was Mac Miller’s first time performing in New York. I remember they reached out to me. Arthur Pitt was a part of Rostrum Records at the time. He reached out and this was the blog era, so this was around K.I.D.S. came out. I was already aware of Mac. I liked him and the idea of what he was doing. When I met him, I loved him because the first thing he said to me when I met him was, “My favorite rapper is Big L.” That made me smile ear to ear because that’s one of my favorite rappers. Mac’s energy was unmatched because it was genuine and pure, and it stayed like that. I remember being in L.A. for Rock The Bells and not being able to go home for Thanksgiving and Mac invited me to the crib in L.A. I had the homies with me too and he was [like], “Nah, all of y’all should come.” That’s who Mac was as a person.
In the early times, having him on those shows was ill for me because it was new for all of us. I feel we were the first guys from the new generation that kicked off touring. Before the “Smoker’s Club Tour,” I can’t think of any other independent artists touring off mixtapes. As far as the new guys from the blog era, we were the first guys on the road. Before that, the only thing close to people going on the road and linking up was South by Southwest. That’s how we started the Smoker’s Club. That’s when we figured out we should take this thing on the road for real. Steve-O and Jon[ny Shipes] put that together and the rest was history. Me, Wiz, Spitta, Mac, K.R.I.T., Dom Kennedy, Nipsey, The Cool Kids, and so many more were the core base of the whole touring aspect of the new generation.
What does 2020 Smoke DZA know that 2010 Smoke DZA didn’t know about touring?
Sponsorship. If you have an “All-In,” which [is] when they give you your fee and travel in one sum and you have to figure out how you move with that. If you don’t have that, then having a brand that would give you some cash if you promote their product is how you stay afloat on the road. I’ve partnered and did different collaborations with different brands. I like staying at certain hotels. Sometimes the budget might not allocate me and the homies staying at the hotels. We’re grown men and a lot of niggas aren’t doing that shared room shit. I need my own space, but I have to make sure my comrades are good. I have to make sure my driver is good. I have to make sure my DJ is happy. I have to make sure my road manager is happy. I’ve been blessed to have a lot of good tour managers to help man that ship.
What is the most memorable show you’ve ever done?
That’s so hard. Well, when I made it to the Summer Jam stage, [that] was a milestone for me because I always said I’m not going to Hot 97 Summer Jam until I can perform and that was my first time going. I performed right before Joey [Bada$$]. It was me, Joey, and then Action [Bronson]. It was good billing and I got to perform for my hometown crowd.
My most memorable show may actually have been my show in Shibuya in Japan. The night before that, I performed at a lounge for a small intimate crowd of maybe 50 or 70 people there. I was just happy to be in Japan. I didn’t really think of what the next night would be after that night. That night it was just some friends that wanted to see me at my friend’s spot. Fast forward to the next day, I’m headed to the venue, I get in the elevator and I can’t really hear what’s really going on. I don’t know what I’m stepping into. It’s my first time in Japan. I step out the elevator, walk in the venue, and the venue is jam packed. There’s probably 1600 people in there. I was thinking, “Maybe there’s a showcase and they’re here for one of the big Japanese acts.” At this point, I’m still discrediting myself.
I go backstage and do what I do, which is not really sanctioned in Japan. But, I’m with some really good people so I’m able to do what I do, which is smoke weed for anyone living under a rock. I step onstage and the fucking roof blew off. I never saw a thing like that in my life. I looked at my friend and my friend gave me one of those Jordan shrugs. I hit them with a “Riiiight” and they said, “Riiiight.” I was like, “Oh, shit. They’re here for me.” I rocked for an hour and when I was done, they didn’t want me to be done. I might’ve shed a tear on that stage. Who would’ve thought speaking on my humble beginnings would’ve taken me all the way to Japan. These people don’t speak English and I’m Rosetta Stone to them.