Big Smo Talks to Rocking God’s House…
His New Reality Show on A&E!
June 11th is a big day for a small town hero from Unionville, Tennessee. A&E is set to premier the new Reality Documentary Series Big Smo (#BigSmo) at 10:30 pm Eastern Time (check your local listings) about the life of country rapper Big Smo, also known as “The King of Hick-Hop” (#HickHop) — and, in case you’re wondering, hick-hop is an intriguing blend of outlaw country music, Southern rock, and hip-hop.
And, as Ron Burgundy might say: “It’s kind of a big deal.”
The trailer hints that Big Smo could very well become the next Duck Dynasty — and once you see Big Smo in action, you will understand why.
Although Big Smo was technically born in San Diego, California and, until age 3, was raised on a Navy base where his father was stationed, his backwoods country boy roots lie deep in the soil of Unionville, Tennessee, the small town that he proudly calls home.
And this country boy has captured the world’s attention by taking country rap and turning it into one of the catchiest, most interesting sounds ever heard in the music world. The 1.8 million views for his YouTube video “Workin'” is a testament to what I — and my cohorts at Rocking God’s House — call “Big Smo Mania” — a craze that has boiled over at the grassroots level and is spilling out onto the national stage like a pot of country sausage gravy on a summer day.
Although he is now signed to major label Warner Bros Records (#WarnerBrosRecords) and is watching his music dreams come true, he’s a family man first and foremost. As his press release states: “Surrounded [on the TV show] by a lively extended entourage including his mother, childhood buddies, long-time girlfriend and two young daughters, Smo is driven to stay grounded and succeed in a business known for hard living.”
His new show will display the reality that has become Big Smo’s life: certainly his professional country rap career, yes, but also his personal life and his ever-popular persona as one of the champions of “the sticks” — the pride of middle Tennessee. The show will also highlight his beloved family, as well as the support of lifelong friends and loyal fans, whom he affectionately calls his “kinfoke.”
I recently had the joy and honor of sharing an in-depth discussion with Big Smo about a wide range of topics:
How did the A&E television show come to fruition?
Honestly, this was my third run at television. I had done a sizzle pilot with VH-1. I had also done a follow up attempt with CMT. Both of those concepts were not exactly the direction of the show we wanted to go in, but we still tried really hard, and they both were just unsuccessful. After those two attempts my manager had built a relationship with one of the guys at A&E, and they were kind of following what we were doing and staying interested and after those two attempts they reached out to us and was like, “Hey, we want to take a stab at this,” and, honestly, at first I was beat from trying twice and wasn’t really interested. There is nothing worse than failing three times in a row at something. We went in with the positive outlook that the third time could possibly be the charm. These guys are really interested and have been interested with not only the idea of the TV show, but our idea, our version of the TV show, which is what we were wanting to do in the first place but didn’t have control.
So when we negotiated with A&E and the production company Brownstone Entertainment, they were very much interested in getting our version of who we were — which is the only version that you should get. They were awesome, and they let me be on as a writer, and my manager became an executive producer on the show. We had really full control over not only what we filmed as the ideas and the stories behind it but also in [the] edit. They gave us a lot of control, which is what made this TV show a success in everybody’s eyes because there is no better storytellers for the story than us.
Overall, it was a song like “Kicking It In Tennessee” with a homemade video that got the attention of a lot of people. When you have millions of views a lot of people translate that into possibly millions of dollars, if done right. So, honestly, the song “Kicking It In Tennessee” — and the video I shot for it — social media, and the power of the Internet all brought me to where I am today. You know, 13 plus years of being a dedicated independent artist, and then now going on two years of being an artist on a major label, I have just grown a lot in this business. I started off doing grunt work for not only myself but for other artists. You grow, you learn, and you become what God and the universe intended you to become.
Your songs have an honest, authentic feel to them. Will the same feel be incorporated into the show?
Absolutely. Everything that our show presents is a life experience that we have definitely lived. It is just a delayed type experience. If we were running around here like the Truman Show, if we were living in a world where cameras were sitting all around us and shooting live feeds, then that is what you would be getting; and that’s impossible, knowing how television works and knowing that you have to film something that has to go into the editing process, and then it is released. You are automatically looking at a three to four month delay. Really our show is like a three month delay of what is really going on in our life. It is happening to us while we are filming it, but to the viewer it is happening three months later. And that can get confusing when you are living and filming your real life: you’re excited because something happened, but you can’t share it because the world hasn’t seen it yet.
Take my relationship with my girlfriend, who, to America, is still my girlfriend: first episode we get engaged, and maybe by the last episode maybe you see a wedding. But in reality we got married last December. While we were shooting the show we got married. For different reasons you have a real relationship here and you got a real woman who loves you and you really want to marry her in real life, and then you have TV. It’s like you try to convince a woman that she is going to have one wedding, and she has the option to have three. We all know how women are, and I am all about making my woman completely happy; so I had to have a real wedding, then I had to have a real ceremony, and then we had to have the whole thing again for television. It’s tossed up in the air. Is that considered fake? No, it’s not considered fake. We had a real wedding — even our television wedding was very real and emotional, where my brother came in and there were things for our TV wedding that we were not allowed to do for our real wedding that we applied to our television wedding and we really enjoyed it: like I got married in Costa Rica. Well, my family wasn’t able to be there. My friends weren’t able to be there. That was just something I wanted to be able to do for me and my wife. When our television wedding happened, we were able to have all of our friends and family, and my brother who is a pastor was able to conduct the ceremony, and it was everything I would have wanted my wedding in Tennessee to be.
You are already extremely popular. Are you still able to go to Walmart and shop without getting mobbed?
Man, this just happend for the first time, and you hear all these stories about coming up in the industry. When I first got signed to Warner Brothers, it was a big deal to me, even though I didn’t say anything via social media. I didn’t go out and announce it. It was just a big thing that happened in my life, just kind of a stepping stone, and when I got to that point people were like, “Things are going to change for you; you are going to see a big change,” and I was like, “No, you won’t.” I had been out on the road in my little 25 passenger tour bus — church bus — and they were like, “It won’t be long [until] you will be rolling around in a big Prevost from state to state,” and I was like, “Get out of here.” And all of that stuff has happened now. I remembered somebody once said, “Man, it is going to be hard for you to go and get out to Walmart after the show comes out and you start advertising it,” and I said, “No, it won’t be no big deal.”
Shoot man, I had to go to Walmart with my kids the other day. I didn’t even get ten feet into the store with nothing in my buggy, and I got attacked by about 25 people. The door greeter lady was like, “Well, look who’s in Walmart.” It was like a fly trap, everybody was just sucking in towards me.
I got three daughters, one of my daughters lives in Ohio, and she is not on the show, and she was with me on this trip to Walmart, and she was like, “Oh my gosh, I do not want to be a part of this at all.” She was looking at her sisters saying, “I don’t see how you do this. I don’t want to be on TV,” and I told her, “Hey, that is your call.” I would not force any of my family to be a part of what we are doing. All of my family that are involved have stepped up and said, “Hey, I want to do that.” My mom and my kids are really excited about it.
June 3rd is your release date of Kuntry Livin. What are your plans to celebrate? [This interview was conducted prior to the album’s release.]
It is a big day. My management had me off that day, and I was looking at my schedule, and I thought to myself, “I can’t be off tomorrow.” I said, “Wait a minute, my album come out tomorrow. I should be somewhere signing autographs and taking pictures and doing something.” So I called my buddy Rodney Yoes down at the local barber shop where I have been selling my music since my first CD, and I told him I would like to do a CD release signing party, and I figured the barber shop would be the perfect place. He okayed it, and I asked my management if we could set up a big grill and cook some hamburgers and hotdogs and serve some of my BBQ sauce and sell the album — that’s what I wanted to do, so we’re going to go do it, right here in my headquarters in Shelbyville, Tennessee and the Yoes brothers barber shop; we are going to just hang out and kick it with our kinfoke.
Is most of the show shot in Tennessee?
I live on the outskirts of Bedford County in Unionville, which is right on the edge of Bedford and Rutherford. We shot most of the show here at my house. We also went into Shelbyville and shot stuff. We went into Murfreesboro. Of course, we did some stuff in Nashville and at Warner Bros and in the studio at Sony. [But] it is totally a middle Tennessee production. We stayed true and close to everything. We didn’t use props or unreal locations. All of the stuff you see is our stuff: we used our cars, we didn’t use wardrobe, and we used clothes right out of our closet — and no make-up artist. I just woke up, wiped the sleep out of my eyes, and we started filming.
My uncle Jerry Furlough is in your music video for “Neighbors.” How did he get to perform in that video?
For the “Neighbors” video concept, we wanted our fans to be able to be in the spotlight. I came up with the concept of just shooting individual fans singing parts of the song, and we just put it all together. Ole Jerry Furlough and Lewis Orcutt come over, and Jerry always brings me a good knife and some other goodies, and I needed a shot for this video, and I had those two rednecks sitting there and I got them to do a piece, and boy they were so nervous. You could see it in Lewis’s eyes; he had looked like he had just seen a ghost. Them boys had never had a camera pointed at them with their consent. Then, of course, they love the song, and they think that they know all the words, until you say, “Alright, sing it in front of a camera,” and then it turns out they don’t know what all the words are. Your Uncle Jerry has been a good friend and a good fan for us for a long time, and he was just out at our recent CD release party in Murfreesboro, and I got to see him and hang out with him a little bit there.
Can you give us some insight on your collaboration with Darius Rucker?
That was by far one of the greatest opportunities in my music career. Darius Rucker is one awesome dude. We went and met with him in West Virginia. He had a show at the University of West Virginia. And we showed up to do this co-write with him, and we was sitting on his tour bus with my buddy Casey Beathered, a songwriting friend out of Nashville who also co-writes some stuff with me on my new album.
We brought him [Casey] in because he is always good to write with, and then my manager Dan Nelson, me and him, when we were in Costa Rica on my wedding trip back in December we had this jungle house made of all glass and had a pool in the center — looked like a little lagoon — and I was swimming around this pool, and I got a concept for a song. I thought this house would be a cool place, I would love to own this house, call my people over from the United States and tell them to come on over to my place. And I was like, man, that is the name of a song: “come on over to my place.” So I immediately started writing right there on the side of the pool.
When I met with Darius, you don’t show up to co-write with Darius with an empty plate. You show up with meat and taters, veggies and cornbread, and you let him look at it and see if he wants a bite of it. I showed up with this song idea, and I said, “This is perfect for us; it’s perfect for me, and it’s perfect for you; it’s perfect for the collaboration, man, check it out: ‘Come on over to my place.'” He said, “Let me hear the idea,” so I laid the idea out for him, and he was like I love it let’s do it. Then we all busted out pen, paper, phones, everything, and we started writing and finishing the whole song, and by the time we had the rough recording on a phone he was ready to take a nap before he jumped on stage and rocked the house. We stuck around and watched the show, and it was amazing to watch Darius Rucker perform. We left from there and met up two weeks later in Nashville at the House of Blues studio, and I had my A&E TV crew there, of course, to record the recording session. It will be on the TV show, and it’s going to be a really big deal.
“I don’t believe you should sell the Bible and its love; you should just give it away.” –Big Smo
Does your family pray or express your faith on the TV show?
Sometimes we do. Whenever I sit down with my band and eat I find myself really moved just sitting around a table with a bunch of guys who are all working towards the same goal and dedicated [to] not only their dreams but my dreams as well, and it motivates me to sit down and bless them and bless our food and sometimes we will do that. God knows that we are thankful. I probably pray five times a day in my own way: I talk to God all day every day. When I look up to the sky and ask my dad for answers, I am really talking to him and God and the universe: I believe in all of it because none of it would be possible without the other. We pray, and when I am not on the road, I go to church; but I wouldn’t bring my faith and entertainment into the same platform and try to sell my faith in my image because I don’t think my beliefs should be something that are for sale. I’m not one to decide or judge. I just know how it feels in my heart. I’m not always walking a perfect line. I have a great relationship with God on a one-on-one basis. I have raised my children in the church, my children are baptized; I am baptized. When I am in town and available to go to church, I am sitting next to my mom. My brother is the youth pastor at my church, he is also a deacon. My oldest daughter right now is gone to church camp. It is very safe to say that our family is God-loving, hard working, [and we] try to be good Christians all the time. That is why God allows us to ask for forgiveness. That is something I am thorough about every day because you never know when it is going to be your time to leave. I love God, but I wouldn’t sell my faith. I don’t believe you should sell the Bible and its love; you should just give it away.
Throughout the first season of Big Smo on A&E, Big Smo will celebrate some exciting milestones. Just to name a few:
- you will see him prepare for his major record label debut with the album Kuntry Livin
- he will share his personal journey as he gets a brand new tour bus
- he will share the experience of having his music played on the radio and collaborating with Darius Rucker
- you will meet his daughter, who is blossoming right before her daddy’s eyes
- you will get to learn more about his ever-growing fan base known affectionately to Big Smo as “kinfoke”
- you will get an in-depth look at true Southern living, strong family ties, and a man in the midst of his ride to fame
- And last but not least, you will see Big Smo realize that it might be time for him to take his relationship with Whitney, his girlfriend, to the next level