Though not a household name outside of New Orleans and circles of New Orleans Rap fans, he was one of the undisputed pioneers in the city’s scene. Like a hip-hop Zelig he seemed to exist in the eye of the city’s musical storm, never to break out nationally but always respected by musicians around him. In a violent era that saw many of New Orleans’ musical talents cut down at a young age, Smooth collaborated freely and frequently with members of warring camps, always appreciated and always relevant. It was with especially cruel irony that Smooth, a rapper gifted with both lyrics and flow, was felled by cancer of the mouth and tongue.
Tim Smooth was born Timothy Smoot west if New Orleans in the Kennedy Heights area of Waggaman, on the West Bank in Jefferson Parish. He took the title “the Knight from Kennedy Heights.” and began
rapping as a student at Marrero‘s L.W. Higgins High School. In the ’80s, rap from anywhere but the east and west coasts was a regional thing. New Orleans produced Ninja Crew, New York Incorporated, Warren Mayes, MC J’ Ro J’, 39 Posse and Tim Smooth. When labels were interested, it was usually other southern labels like Dallas‘s Yo! Records and Ft. Lauderdale‘s 4 Sight. If the major labels were aware of southern rap, they certainly kept quiet about it.
In 1991, Smooth released his debut, I Gotsta’ Have It on Yo!, following the lead of Gregory D and DJ Mannie Fresh who’d two years earlier released “D” Rules the Nation before moving to RCA in one of the earliest (and abortive) instances of a major showing interest in the South. The year before, Yo! had also released fellow New Orleanian rapper (and Parkway Pumpin’ associate) Lil’ Mac‘s full-length debut, The Lyrical Midget. I Gotsta’ Have It was an instant New Orleans classic, the humor and confidence of which, belied the fact that it was the first release by a teenager.
Three long years passed before the release of 1994’s Straight Up Drivin’ Em which was released by Houston‘s Rap-A-Lot Records and Priority Records in the final year of their partnership. On the track, “Sleeping With The Enemy” Smooth traded verse with West Bank legend MC Thick who a short two years later was gunned down.
The record was produced by Tim Smooth’s long time collaborator Mark “Too Cool” Marine and Leroy “Precise” Edwards, a major New Orleans Rap producer whose signature sound can by heard on releases by local legends like Black Menace, DJ Jimi, Fiend, G-Slimm, Ghetto Twiinz, Juvenile, Mystikal, Partners N Crime, Sporty T and many lesser known artists, particularly on Big Boy Records.
Tim Smooth next moved to Big Boy, where he ghostwrote lyrics as “Playboy Sha-Burnke.” It was at Big Boy Records where he met another graduate of Parkway Pumpin’, Mystikal, with whom he formed a lifelong and close friendship. By Mystikal’s own admission, Smooth co-wrote “The Mind of Mystikal” off his self-titled debut. Mystikal would find global success after moving to No Limit, which in 1996 had finally piqued the interest of Priority Records, who’d signed a $30 million deal. In 1998, Cash Money signed a similarly large deal with Universal. Meanwhile, the once locally-dominant Big Boy practically fell apart around the same time. PNC, Drama Squad, The Ghetto Twiinz, Fiend all left, as did Smooth.
Smooth arrived at Mobo Records to release Da Franchise Player in 1998. Unfortunately, much like Big Boy, Mobo was on its last legs. By then the small-but-once illustrious West Bank label had suffered the murder of Everlasting Hitman and Lower Level Organization‘s Ace Nitty, the incarceration of Ruthless Juveniles‘ 4-Shob and Lil Badness, and the loss of Cheeky Blakk, Ricky B & Manny Boo and MC Spud to other labels. Da Franchise Player was again produced partly by Leroy “Precise” Edwards as well as Swift and Merrill “Real Roc” Robinson, the major production talent who’d made tracks for Da Mobstas, Raw II Survive, Felony and the massively underrated Lokee at Tombstone as well as L.O.G.‘s classic Camouflaged Down at Untouchable. The record featured two collaborations with G-Slimm, who’d been murdered in 1996 as well as Mystikal, then in the process of blowing up national for No Limit.
He released “Handle Yo Business” b/w “La-Di-Da-Di” (the song with Mystikal) as a single in 1998 and it showed Smooth to still be at the peek of his powers. Nevertheless, as Mobo crumbled all around, it failed to even approach the level of stardom achieved at the same time by his New Orleanian peers in No Limit and Cash Money.
Let it Be Written came out in 1999 on the fly-by-night Camped Out Records — it was their only release). It featured a couple of big name collaborators, including Kangol Slim and Tre8. The producers were Ice Mike, Wydell and Roland & Goldfingers. The latter two, interestingly, had been around the New Orleans rap scene for some time, having produced the first Cash Money first release in 1992, Kilo-G‘s The Sleepwalker, right before Mannie Fresh became the label’s in-house producer. Not surprisingly, whatever its merits it couldn’t overcome the insurmountable obstacles facing a by-then veteran artist on a no-name label.
Smooth returned five years later in 2004 for The Invisible Man, again on a fly-by-night label, this time Major Move Ent. (again, their only release). Again he was joined by local legends including Black Menace, a solo J-Dawg and Choppa. Produced by C-Los, Cazal, Fiend, General T, Hakeem, Happy Perez, Tailormakerz, Timmy Fingaz and Precise.
A cast of locally famous rappers appeared in a promo showing respect. It still wasn’t enough to jump start Smooth’s music career.
In 2005, Hurricane Katrina ravaged New Orleans and the bungling (or disinterested or evil) Bush administration seemed content to sweep what was left of one of the country’s jewel cities under the rug. Nonetheless, Tim Smooth and Big Herc started “The Big Ass Morning Show” on Hot 104.5 FM. Unfortunately, the airwaves went silent in 2006.
Smooth was diagnosed with cancer in 2010. Unlike every single developed nation in the world, the US doesn’t provide healthcare for those that can’t afford it so Smooth’s friends and family organized a benefit concert in Marrero. There was also a car wash organized to help defray medical costs. Part of Smooth’s tongue had been removed but he ultimately succumbed to his disease. Hopefully he’s found peace now.
Eric Brightwell is an adventurer, writer, rambler, explorer, cartographer, and guerrilla gardener who is always seeking writing, speaking, traveling, and art opportunities — or salaried work. He is not interested in writing advertorials, clickbait, listicles, or other 21st century variations of spam. Brightwell’s written work has appeared in Amoeblog, diaCRITICS, and KCET Departures. His work has been featured by the American Institute of Architects, the Architecture & Design Museum, the Craft & Folk Art Museum, Form Follows Function, Los Angeles County Store, Skid Row Housing Trust, and 1650 Gallery. Brightwell has been featured in the Los Angeles Times, Huffington Post, Los Angeles Magazine, LAist, Eastsider LA, Boing Boing, Los Angeles, I’m Yours, and on Notebook on Cities and Culture. He has been a guest speaker on KCRW‘s Which Way, LA? and at Emerson College. Art prints of his maps are available from 1650 Gallery and on other products from Cal31. He is currently writing a book about Los Angeles and you can follow him on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.
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