2011 was a big year for Simeon “SmCity” Booker, as a rapper as much as a concert promoter. He didn’t release nearly as much music as some of his peers, but the University Heights native became one of the most visible figures in the DMV through his Indie Life concert series, which put local hip-hop faves on the same stage as national underground MCs like Freeway, Skyzoo, Black Milk, and others.
It felt like the ultimate kumbaya move for a scene that in the last year became a lot more competitive. It was also a shrewd move for the business-minded rapper: He became a regular at U Street Music Hall and got to rub elbows with well-established, out-of-town talent.
Not surprisingly, Sm’s new album, The Indie Life: Hate, Love & Money, is a bit of a playback. “And I done booked up all the shows/Put myself on, see I done booked up all the hoes,” he rhymes on the methodical “Twilight,” bringing New York’s Skyzoo along for the ride. Throughout the 48-minute project, Sm is ambitious and assured, acknowledging the strides he’s made while embracing the work left to do. Sm already promotes shows, shoots videos, and releases his music through his own Twenty20 company. But while The Indie Life is chiefly concerned with the game and its rules, SmCity has to square his striving with more anarchistic impulses. “The goal is not a record deal,” Sm says on “My Own Boss.” “The goal is not a check for a meal, I’m sayin’ fuck how the executives feel.”
That middle-finger mentality isn’t surprising coming from SmCity, whose WTF approach is evident in the visual complements to The Indie Life’s early singles. In the “Watch Me” video, Sm holds a record executive hostage, forcing him to read a list of demands into a camera. In the intro to “Twilight,” he and a mysterious woman are seen playing a game of Russian roulette. (He doesn’t lose, but she shoots him anyway.) And in the video for “My Own Boss,” Sm and Pro’Verb visit K Street NW to walk—and rap—among the Occupy D.C. protestors. Sm spits about the business of hip-hop, but he also spends a lot of time bemoaning the 1 percent.
Sonically, the album is as fidgety as its maker, moving from traditional boom-bap to glossier rhythms as he rebukes critics with X.O. (“About A Hater”) and taps Oddisee and Phil Adé to rebut D.C.’s longstanding crabs-in-a-barrel syndrome, wherein jealousy causes less-established rappers to hate on their more successful peers.
All told, The Indie Life is a love letter to the indie grind. It’s an album about struggle, the pursuit of fame, and frustration outweighing the achievements. Plenty of rappers can do braggadoccio, but it’s irritation that makes SmCity interesting. —Marcus J. Moore