Beats, rhymes and life are three of the corners where hip hop intersects. Few other TV shows have been able to cover all of these angles in-depth and authentically quite like REVOLT TV’s “Drink Champs,” which thrives on its candid conversations with the biggest and most influential figures in the game. In honor of such a one-of-a-kind show, REVOLT will be recapping each weekly “Drink Champs” episode, so you can always catch the gems that are dropped in each lit interview.
In the latest episode of “Drink Champs,” DJ EFN and N.O.R.E. chop it up with rapper Smoke DZA and manager extraordinaire Hovain Hylton about their respective journeys in the music industry. A native of Harlem, New York; Smoke DZA spent the early aughts ghostwriting for various artists while releasing music as one-half of the group Smoke & Numbers before embarking on a solo career. Releasing his debut solo mixtape, Substance Abuse, in 2008, he quickly became a force on the mixtape circuit. He’s still respected for his rhyme skills and character.
Muscling his way into the industry from the streets of Brooklyn, Hovain Hylton’s intellect has helped turn upstarts like Troy Ave into budding stars, affording him a reputation as one of the rising power players in the rap industry. Since breaking ties with Troy to pursue other endeavors, Hovain has continued to add to his resume by working with the likes of Busta Rhymes, Styles P., Smoke DZA, and a host of other notable artists.
To help give fans a recap of the episode, REVOLT compiled a list of nine things we learned from the Smoke DZA and Hovain “Drink Champs” episode. Take a look at them below.
1. Hovain On The Sacrifices That Comes With Being A Manager
Being a manager to the stars can be a rewarding position, but also comes with its fair share of sacrifices, which Hovain touches upon when asked of the downside of the grind. “Let’s say I’m managing you and I got plans to go out with my wife and my kids,” Hovain explains to N.O.R.E. “And you say, ‘Yo, Hov, I got an emergency, you gotta come to the studio.’ Guys, I can’t go. I gotta go pull up on N.O.R.E. I gotta do it. So, being a manager, you’re selfless, you put your artist before yourself ‘cause that’s the role of the job.”
2. Smoke DZA On His Partnership With Johnny Shipes
Hovain may be assisting Smoke DZA with his daily itinerary and deals, but at the beginning of his career, DZA’s affiliation with Johnny Shipes and Cinematic Music helped put him on the radar. “Well, how I started out, I ain’t originally have management,” DZA reveals. “Me and Johnny came in together. I helped start Cinematic with Johnny, which tied in to being an owner of the Smoker’s Club, a tour that we started at SXSW. We launched it at South By in ‘09. We had Devin the Dude headlining, and under Devin, it was me [and] Wiz [Khalifa].”
3. Smoke DZA On The Origins Of The Smoker’s Club
Marijuana has been one of the common denominators in bringing creatives together for quite some time, particularly in hip hop. This had led to a number of affiliations being created, one of them being The Smoker’s Club, which Smoke DZA along with a few close friends helped spearhead. “The Smoker’s Club is basically our ‘[The] Breakfast Club’ (referencing the radio show) of pot smokers,” DZA explains. “The tour started with me, Curren$y, and Big K.R.I.T., Fiend, Corner Boy P and gradually, it extended to Juicy J, Joey Bada$$, Ab-Soul, B-Real, Method Man, Redman, Berner, the list goes on. But, it’s something we just started as our crew. Niggas just always smoked together...”
4. Smoke DZA On His Friendship With Curren$y
Notorious for their marijuana consumption, Curren$y and Smoke DZA have been closely affiliated with one another for over a decade. DZA expounds on his initial interactions with his ally during his sit-down with EFN and N.O.R.E. “Funny shit is, I met Spitta when he was smoking blunts,” the Kush God reveals. “I met Spitta in 2008 when he was on the [XXL] Freshman cover.”
5. Hovain On Working With Artists With Different Personalities And Needs
As the guiding hand behind the careers of numerous rap stars, a large part of Hovain’s duties is managing different personalities. “It’s like anything you do,” he offers. “You gotta know what you’re signing up for and every artist is different. The way I am with DZA is not the way I am with [Luh] Kel is not the way I am with Styles [P]. Every artist is different. Management is not a broad thing. It’s a la carte, so the things you may need from me, he may not need.
6. Hovain On His Fallout With Troy Ave
Hovain’s partnership with Troy Ave yielded massive success, but ended following the 2016 shooting at Irving Plaza. When asked of the circumstances surrounding the split, Hovain responds in a diplomatic manner. “We worked super hard,” he says of his time as Troy’s manager. “We got together, we did all types of shit independently. We made a bunch of money from the ground, it was really just us two, maybe two or three people at a time. We got a lot of endorsements, we made a name for ourselves and we parted ways. He’s doing what he’s doing and I’m doing what I’m doing.”
7. Smoke DZA On His Relationship With Dapper Dan
A pioneer in hip hop fashion, Dapper Dan has been an inspiration to many including Smoke DZA, who knew him since childhood while growing up in Harlem. “Dap watched me grow up,” DZA reveals. “Dap knew me before I rapped, when I was playing basketball. Me and Jelani, his son, we both went to private school, we were the niggas in the hood that wore uniforms. And we both liked basketball, so before we went on our journeys to get to school, we’d be in the schoolyard, shooting. And fast forward, when I started rapping, they always supported me.”
8. Smoke DZA On Big L’s Legacy In Hip Hop
As a lifelong Harlemite, Smoke DZA is well-versed in the historic neighborhood’s rap legacy. When asked of Big L’s influence on Harlem and its aspiring rap artists, DZA sings the late icon’s praises. “To somebody like me that was born in the era of Big L and studying rap patterns, and studying Big L himself, he is Mt. Rushmore,” DZA says. “For a young kid, I don’t really know how that correlates, or a kid from Harlem. It’s certain young kids like my artist Jayy Grams that actually is meticulous to certain rap music and studying patterns and watching battle rap and doing different shit to sharpen his sword. Studying somebody like Big L would work for him ‘cause metaphorically, how he set up his bars, structure, the type of beats he rapped on — for someone that caters to lyrics — like Benny the Butcher, that is shit that kids could take. That’s nutrients and vitamins.”
9. Smoke DZA On His Alliance With Griselda Records
As one of the most sought out collaborators in the New York rap scene, Smoke DZA often works with household names long before their rise to fame. Griselda Records, which enjoyed a breakout 2019 and continue to churn out material, initially linked up with the Kush God in 2016. “West[side Gunn] had sent me a song,” he recalls. “I feel like [it was] off, like, H[ermes Wears] Hitler 4 [or] Hitler 3 called ‘Mr. Fugi’ with some wrestling shit. And I remember Combat Jack telling me about them, and this is before the Eminem situation, so I was already privy to knowing and hearing how niggas gave it up. And I was already a fan, so when they hit me up, I was like, ‘Anybody that likes wrestling that’s doing that type of rap I do, I’m embracing it’ ‘cause it wasn’t a lot of people that was doing it at that point.”