D Smoke is a talented rough diamond rapper from Inglewood in California whose seismic rise to fame came about thanks to the Netflix music competition ‘Rhythm and Flow. Unlike his mother, who toured the world as a backing singer for Tina Turner and Michael Jackson, the 37-year-old school teacher D Smoke had almost accepted his lot as a humble secondary school teacher, leaving his pipe dreams of becoming a concert pianist well behind him.
But, when 37-year-old Farris applied to audition for Netflix’s brand new urban talent show Rhythm + Flow in 2019, he could never have predicted just how fast his life would change. In this article, we deep-dive into the life and career of D Smoke and find out how he’s using music as a vehicle for social change.
D Smoke’s rise to fame on the inaugural Netflix series Rhythm + Flow was a tense time for the artist. With prize money of $250,000 and a ready-made music industry career ready to be served up on a plate, there was everything to lose.
Although he had been writing songs since he was a teenager, going public in front of the likes of Snoop Dog and Cardi B meant laying himself bare. His style was so very different from the others, it was instrumental, real and classy. He could never have known quite how quickly his fanbase would increase, as he told US Music site Vibe:
“My following grew from 7,000 followers prior to the show to 700,000 and counting, and that’s in less than a month”.
Even from behind the dark glasses and bravado, anyone who watched the Netflix competition would have seen the raw emotion on the judges’ faces. Arguably the most memorable moment of the show was when D Smoke broke the mould by playing the piano alongside the emotive and down-tempo song ‘Blessings’, a spine-tingling song he wrote in tribute to his late brother.
His incredibly emotive performance stunned the judges, and with unique lyrics like this it is hardly surprising:
“Making melodies and beats out of bullets and sirens”, “it’s safe to say that growth is an uncomfortable process, and pain is a necessary investment for progress, I stress that if ever you get ill or hurt against your will, it’s just a quiz from god, this is our test, uhh yes”.
The judges praised him for his heartfelt lyrics and crystal-clear delivery. D Smoke’s performance was a great example of how music can be a powerful tool to express emotion, connect with people, and tell a story.
After winning the competition, and the associated $250,000 prize money, D Smoke released his debut album, ‘Inglewood High’, which offered a truly unique blend of hip-hop, soul, and jazz, and featured collaborations with artists such as Ty Dolla $ign, SiR, and BJ the Chicago Kid.
The album, which pays homage to his hometown, is filled with gritty expression and captures the adversity faced by so many in the area. Inglewood High made an impressive debut coming in at number four on the Billboard R&B/Hip-Hop Albums chart in October 2019.
The Inglewood High album is a culmination of his own lived experiences of growing up in a place where police shootings were rife and “everyone knows everyone”, plus his unexpected achievement of getting grades good enough to teach the next generation – a generation who would rise through the ranks just as he did.
He uses the album to tell the third-person stories of his student’s lives, and school trends, alongside his own stories from Inglewood. Here is a flavour from the album’s self-titled track Inglewood High:
“Did my homework in class
Walked the halls with no pass
Eleventh grade, I had it made, held my balls when I laughed”
“…My older brother sang and SiR chose to ball for his pass
I chose to get perfect grades and catch fades in the grass”
As is evident from the “perfect grades” reference in the EP, D smoke is clearly not only a very enigmatic man but a highly capable one too. Prior to winning the show, the Spanish teacher come songwriter relied on his students for feedback, describing them as “his harshest critics”.
Before D Smoke put himself before hip hop royalty Snoop Dog and Cardi B, he was teaching in the school where he formerly attended as a pupil. He described himself as an “academically competitive student” and says this is thanks to his impactful teachers who pushed him to achieve.
After leaving Inglewood High, he went on to attend the California State University in Northridge, where he earned a first-class degree in Spanish and a minor in Africana Studies.
D Smoke then built upon his academic success further still by adding multiple creative titles to his repertoire. D Smoke isn’t just a top-class pianist and a rapper, he is a producer, educator, and award-winning songwriter as well.
With a famous vocalist mother known as Jackie B, and a successful musician brother called Sir Darryl Farris aka SiR, Smoke hasn’t just impressed Rhythm + Flow judges. Well before his Netflix appearance in 2007, the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers was inadvertently recognising his talents when they gave an award for a song he co-wrote with his brother, SiR.
Smoke has had a hand in writing songs for a wide variety of artists, from American R’n’B singer Jaheim to the Los Angeles girl group the pussycat dolls. D Smoke says he has been writing lyrics and songs since he was a teenager and credits life’s adversities for his gift.
Since winning the life-changing competition, Rhythm + Flow, D Smoke has been nominated for countless awards, with 2021 being a bumper year for him when he was nominated for the following awards:
- Grammy Awards, Best New Artist and Best Rap Album (Black Habits)
- NAACP Awards – Outstanding New Artist
- Pop Awards, Best Music Video (Black habits)
Alongside his cluster of nominations and Netflix success, D Smoke has been featured on tracks by West Coast rap legends like Snoop Dogg, E-40, and Too Short, as well as less well-known artists such as Kamaiyah, Jay Rock, and G Perico.
If his collaborations with the likes of Anderson Paak, Snoop Dogg, and YG are anything to go by, it seems the hip-hop community simply can’t get enough of his intelligent, classical, raw-style talent.
D Smoke appears to be the unlikely success story that is fast becoming the gift that keeps on giving. He is on course to become the man who altered the steer of west coast hip hop all together. His NPR tiny desk session, which he recorded at home during COVID, features just him and his piano and some highly empathic conversation about collective consciousness and has now racked up over a quarter of a million views on Youtube.
Smoke’s most recent album, War and Wonders, which was released in September 2021, is his fourth studio album, songs from which have helped him achieve over one million listeners per month on the streaming platform Spotify.
So What is D Smokes Recipe for Success?
D Smoke’s given name is Daniel Farris. He was born on October 17, 1985, to a single mother living in Inglewood, a city located just ten minutes from California’s famous LAX airport. The city itself, though well outside of the Hollywood inner circuit has birthed many famous greats with heaps of Olympians, NBA players and rappers all sharing the rising star of hip hop’s birthplace.
But life in Inglewood was far from easy for D Smoke growing up. The rapper describes his childhood as “difficult”, acknowledging that this was the case for many others from the area too.
Childhood was a testing time, his highly talented vocalist mother ‘Jackie B’ tried hard to juggle her singing career alongside raising her young sons alone, offering D Smoke a childhood experience that was far from conventional.
D Smoke was not without a father altogether though and contributes much of his creative output to the challenges he suffered surrounding his father’s absence. Smoke talks of his once very active father, who is said to have coached baseball and chauffeured him around, before suddenly being no longer a part of his life when he was imprisoned for six and a half years on account of drug offences.
But when the star’s father was eventually released, D Smoke’s attitude changed altogether. The fights he would frequently get into at school, while his dad was locked up, eventually faded out. D Smoke described his father’s new freedom as being “a beautiful adjustment” for him, regularly attributing his success to his father’s desire to be a better man when he was released.
D Smoke consistently casts his father in a very positive light and also credits him for his desire to help young people succeed. The rapper has a huge passion for mentorship and is intent on making sure his music inspires and nurtures the next generation.
To this end, the rapper has developed a scholarship programme at his former school in Inglewood, which aims to offer children grants to support their education and encourage innovative educational experiences for them.