Inglewood’s finest, D Smoke, entered the world’s heart by winning Netflix’s “Rhythm + Flow” competition in 2019, but he kept himself there by touring worldwide. After recently opening up for Alicia Keys on her “Alicia + Keys World Tour,” he got a front-row seat to what live show mastery looks like from a legend.
“ She does a whole DJ set where she’s singing, playing piano, and deejaying at the same time. Her show continually evolves; no show was the same,” D Smoke told REVOLT.
In this installment of “Tour Tales,” the layered lyricist covers his humble beginnings touring with his brother SiR on Miguel’s “War and Leisure Tour” in 2018, how his stunning piano skills got him on Alicia Keys’ tour, and his tricks to staying healthy on the road when all you have is Burger King for miles.
What was the first tour you went on?
The first tour I went on was with my brother SiR on Miguel’s “War and Leisure Tour” in 2018. I was playing keys for SiR. It was incredible. My brother and I have opened up for plenty of people. We opened up for Kendrick Lamar in 2011 at the Whiskey a Go Go. That was our first full tour going to 34 different cities. We did our own setup. We carried all our own stuff. We unloaded the sprinter van and carried our stuff in.
Since it was your first tour, what mistakes did you make that you learned from?
I completely lost my voice one time. I was playing piano and singing background for SiR. On one date, I had to tell SiR, “Hey, bro, you won’t have me singing tonight, man. They shouldn’t even set up my mic.” I had been drinking the night before. The night before, we had a great show, so we celebrated. Come to find out, that dried out my voice. So, I learned about the art of self-care on tour and the art of hydration. I learned about turning the bathroom into a steam room.
What was your favorite song to perform with SiR?
There was something incredible about getting to that endpoint when we were doing “D’Evils.” Also, I love when we do “Fire.”
What was the camaraderie like with Miguel? How did he interact with you and your brother?
It was interesting because Miguel was super supportive. But, at the same time, we were doing a 30-minute set … he was doing an hour and a half. So, all the things we are learning about — taking care of ourselves — he’s also doing it, so it’s not like we were always kicking it. But, in those cities where we had extra time, he’d tell us, “Hey man, we’re having a function over here. Y’all should pull up.” Or, if he’s about to end his show, he’ll say, “Y’all give it up for SiR.”
Years later, you went on your headlining “War & Wonders Tour.” You called the Roxy Theatre performance “a family affair.” How did you put that together?
The Roxy show was such a beautiful event because it was special. I looked out and saw my family. I saw my students; I saw my Gs. I saw some gangsters out in the crowd. It was such a mixed crowd. There were so many familiar faces, but it was just so much love in the room. The energy from the onset of the show was so high. T.I. is like one of the [“Rhythm + Flow”] judges that have been the most actively involved in my career and the most responsive. I could hit him and he’ll pick up, and it’s just dope that it wasn’t contingent on me signing to him or anything. We kept a relationship, and I actually got close to his family. He flew me out to Atlanta and I hung with them, worked out with their trainers and stuff. [Dani] and I took a liking to each other on some brotherhood-type s**t. We had songs together, so it made sense if he came out. TIP came out in Atlanta and performed “Stand Up,” my favorite T.I. song. My blood cousin Tiffany [Gouché] came out at the Roxy, as well as my mom, who sings on “Black Habits.” Robert Glasper came out.
What is your rehearsal like?
Some of my preparation is general piano exercises. Random story: I did a show in San Francisco this summer, and I thought that because it was summertime, it was going to be warm outside that day. San Fran gave us the real San Fran winds. They almost blew me off the stage. My hands were freezing, and I couldn’t even play what I usually played, so I could just do chords. So, now I try to do finger exercises that have my hands strong and warm and keep my dexterity up to par. That’s part of my practice. I use the piano for transitions and moments. My wife played violin on my whole “War & Wonders Tour” and the tour with Alicia in Europe. We had the horn section come out for certain shows like the L.A. show; the entire unit got together. A big part of it is me orchestrating what’s going to happen and what I want to hear because the more pieces you have, the more variables. If it’s not orchestrated correctly, it leaves a lot of room for disaster. Even if I have a musical director, I play a very active role in orchestrating what I want to hear behind me because it still should feel like the song.
Since you mentioned it, how did you connect with Alicia Keys to get on her tour?
Alicia and SiR connected first when they did “COLORS” together. Afterward, I reached out to her, saying, “Hey, I saw what you got with my brother. It was dope.” She hit me back, saying she’s a fan of what my family and I are doing. Then, she invited my wife and me to a video shoot for her song “LALA.” Snoop [Dogg] was there with his family. Russell Westbrook pulled up. He and I reconnected because he went to UCLA with me. Once they finished a certain scene, a piano was in the middle of the room on a platform that Alicia was playing. I asked her, “Can I mess with that?” She told me to go for it. So, I reached into my bag of tricks and pulled out my most elaborate classical piece. She was like, “What the hell?” We exchanged info right there. We took pics. Then, they stayed in contact. Later, she tried out what she wanted to do for the tour at a private show with about 500 people. She said, “I want to create a moment where I play something, you play something, and then we go back and forth a little bit. Then you do a song from the keys and we collab on it. That was a year before the tour started. They hit us up, saying they wanted us to go on tour with her for seven dates in Europe. We spent time with her and her family.
You shared a special moment with a kid in Copenhagen who knew every word you rapped.
He doesn’t even speak fluent English, but he knows these songs. I hadn’t seen him the entire show. Later in the show, they brought the kid to the front. I scan the crowd every show to see who’s in there and who’s giving us the most energy because we will give it back. So when they brought this kid to the front, the energy went up, and he was rapping, “Hurry up and let me go/100 percent with the flow/I’m ready to blow/Hurry up and let me go.” I saw him do it for two choruses. It wasn’t until the last chorus that I handed him the mic and he bust, bro. He was saying it with conviction. I shook his hand, chopped it up with him, and I think we took a picture. I can’t imagine if I went to an Outkast concert at 10 years old and they were like, “Hey lil man, come say this verse.” If they pulled me up, I would’ve been like, “Back in the day, when I was younger, hunger/Looking to fill me belly with that Rallys bulls**t/Pull s**t off, like it was supposed to be pulled/Full as a tick, I was stoned like them white boys/Smoking them White Golds before them blunt, got crunk/ Chunky a**es, passes getting throwed like Hail Marys/And they looking like Halle Berrys.”
What did you learn from watching Alicia’s show?
I learned how to use songs to create moments. Sometimes you must remind the audience, “Hey, this is happening, and this is special.” So, when it’s a song that allows for that, she’ll let the music play and talk to the crowd. She’ll create transitions. She’ll coordinate with the lighting on what’s happening behind her on the LED screen to create memorable moments around songs. She does a whole DJ set where she’s singing, playing, and deejaying at the same time. Her show continually evolves; no show was the same.
You are a very health-conscious person. How do you maintain that on tour?
Don’t go on tour at all if you’re not somewhat of an extremist. You have to be able to go against the grain. You have to be able to say “no” when it’s time to say “no.” That means whether it is to liquor, steak, and stuff when you really need to do fish and vegetables. You also have to go the extra mile to find some fresh juice. A lot of people go on tour and just eat burgers the whole time, and people put on tour weight. We hit Whole Foods and stocked up on tour. We had vitamin cabinets and all that stuff. So, those were our extra steps. We’re also clearing out the green room because the things on our rider are healthy. If they’re bringing us oranges and Essentia waters at every stop, it’s like, “Man, we need this stuff on the tour bus.” So, we’ll grab all the waters, oranges, little fruits, and stuff they gave us and load it up because it comes in handy when you’re 15 hours away from the next spot, and all there is, is Burger King in between. So, if we have to do Burger King, we should do it with an orange (laughs).
What do you have coming up for the rest of the year?
There’s a big festival coming in Inglewood. I won’t say the name until I know they are officially booking the Farris boys. Of course, we have some spot dates coming up. I’m also filming on a show called “Mayor of Kingstown.” I just dropped a single called “El Rey” that went crazy. My primary strategy is to keep my foot on their neck.