When I first heard Woodie Smalls‘ debut single Champion Sound back in May I knew the record was going to be big but what happened next was something no one anticipated including the young rapper himself. The single went viral in no time and it didn’t take long before the radio stations caught up. Woodie Smalls decided to postpone the release of his EP-turned-album and started working with Tim Dalle from KijkenMag.
A few months later the 19-year old rapper has landed a record deal with Sony, performed all over Europe during the summer, put out his debut album Soft Parade, received seven nominations for the Red Bull Elektropedia Awards of which he took home one (Best Urban Act/Chase Award) and came in at third place (Best Album) & second place (Breaktrough Artist/DJ/Producer/MC) in two other categories. It’s safe to say that 2015 has been a pretty crazy ride for the young Sint-Niklaas native. We headed to the KijkenMag HQ for a conversation with the man himself. We talked about his debut album Soft Parade, his balloon fetish, landing a deal with Sony Music, meeting Tyler, The Creator & much more.
First off all, congrats on the release of Soft Parade. You must be thrilled that the album has finally been released. It must have been hard to keep the project hidden from the world for so long?
I recorded it a few months ago and the original plan was to put it on SoundCloud after the release of my first single Champion Sound, but everybody told me to wait because they thought it was really good. That’s when we decided to start working with Tim Dalle from KijkenMag because we really wanted to make a video and even he told me to wait to release the music so we waited but I’m really happy that it’s out now.
How did you link up with Tim Dalle?
My cousin Grey who also raps, used to work with Tim and he told me to go to Tim’s office to discuss some ideas and now I’m here.
It all started with Champion Sound, you got a lot of attention for that song and sometimes that can be a curse when it comes to releasing a full album. Do you think you’ve lived up to the hype?
I think so because I get a lot of good reactions, not only for Champion Sound but also for the other songs on the album so I’m pretty sure I delivered a first good album.
Did you expect that the first single would take off like it did?
No, not at all. I think it would build up but it happened really fast. Everything that has happened so far has been a total shock to me. I knew that I had potential but I never thought it would happen this fast. It’s been a crazy ride so far and I’m loving it.
When did you fall in love with hip hop?
I started writing music when I was eight years old. I always wanted to have my own album and my own videos and now it’s happening so I’m really happy about that. My uncle used to have a studio where I recorded together with my cousin when we were little. I never put something out because people weren’t putting music on the internet when I was eight. We just did it for the fun of it, that was a really great time.
How does it feel to have your cousin on your album?
It’s crazy because I always thought that we would make something sick but never something big like this. When we were younger he always used to ask me to rap on his beats and this time around it was me asking him if he wanted to be on my album. It really felt like good old times when we were recording. Just Grey, me & K1d having fun in the studio.
K1d also plays a big part in your carreer. How did you guys meet?
We live in the same neighborhood and he was the only guy who used to make music and he told me that I rapped really good. I went over to his house and I recorded a song that he thought was really good and he told me that I should keep making music. K1d is very important because if it wasn’t for him, I probably wouldn’t have been making music today because I actually wanted to pursue a carreer as a basketball player. My brother plays for BC Oostende and I wanted to be just like him and I was getting better and better but K1d convinced me to fully focus on my music.
It definitely seems like you made the right call because you recently landed a deal with Sony Music Belgium. How did that happen?
I think I’ll always remember that day. We had just done an interview with FM Brussels and Tim told me that Sony was really feeling my music and that they would like to meet me. I really couldn’t believe it at first. Later, we had a meeting with the guys from Sony and they told me that they wanted to sign me and release my album. That was really sick because I thought they just wanted to know what my plans for the future were but they really wanted to sign me immediately.
Weren’t you scared that you were going to have to compromise on your sound?
A little bit, but I told them from the jump that I wanted to do everything my way and that I wanted them to understand the world I’m trying to create. They told me that they were down with everything I do and that I wouldn’t have to change anything. That’s the main reason I signed with them.
Your music has a very laid-back, 90s-inspired vibe. Has it always been that way or has that changed over the years?
I like oldschool music, that’s why I rap on these oldschool beats because it’s what I listen to when I go outside and that’s what was on my iPod when I was younger. I used to always listen to Mobb Deep & Biggie Smalls but I have new stuff coming up that has more of an electronic vibe to it like ‘About The Dutch’.
I would also like to talk about the artwork of Soft Parade. It seems like you have a soft spot for balloons…
I’m really infatuated with balloons. I think balloons look really nice so I used them in my videos and on the cover of Soft Parade. I think I have a balloon fetish but I’m not quite sure yet.
You grew up in Sint-Niklaas which is not really a place where hip hop lives. Did your hometown inspire you in any way to make music?
It’s where I met all my friends. In a lot of my songs I give my friends shout outs. You can hear all the things I do with my friends in my music. My city inspired me in that way, not the people that live there or how the city looks.
I’ve noticed that you and your crew are really tight. How important is it to have them around during your performances?
We’ve all known eachother for a very long time. I met all the people that I give shout outs in my songs when I was 11 or 12. I really look at them as family and it’s always fun to have family around and K1d is on stage with me during all my shows because it’s always more fun to have a friend with me on stage.
This summer you also performed at the Encore Freshman Festival in Holland. What was that experience like?
That was fun because Dutch people already know a lot of hip hop and everybody in Holland loves hip hop and in Belgium it goes a little bit slower. Everybody was feeling what we were doing on stage and we had a lot of fun. It’s also nice to meet new people.
I saw a picture of you and Tyler, The Creator while you were in Amsterdam. It’s no secret that he’s one of your biggest idols. How was it like to meet him in person?
It was crazy because I’ve been listening to his music since I was fifteen. He had this screening of a GolfMedia movie in Amsterdam and then the next minute he walks in. It’s really weird to meet someone you look up too. It’s even kind of creepy.
What did you guys talk about?
We talked about Snapchat, music & movies. He likes movies, he doesn’t know how to use Snapchat, he likes riding bikes and he likes to talk about girls. He’s really a crazy dude.
Hearing all this it’s clear to me that you had a great, if not, the best summer of your life. What’s definitely going to stick with you?
My release party. That was the greatest thing that happened this summer because everybody who was there came for me. When people go to festivals they also go for other people and not only Woodie Smalls but at my release party everybody was there to see me perform. That was such a great feeling.
Do you think the success you’re having will have an effect on the rise of hip hop in Belgium?
Definitely, I’m changing things already. They’ve been playing my song on every radio station in the country. It’s the first time that a Belgian rapper has gotten so much attention so I’m kind of changing something already.
In your interview with FM Brussels you even said that you’re coming for Stromae…
Yeah! Fuck all this underground bullshit. I want to be great, I want people to remember me. I want to change a lot of things and I’m not only focusing on Belgium. I want that international appeal man.
What’s the most valuable thing you’ve learned so far?
That I shouldn’t rush things because when you rush things it’s not natural anymore. If has to be natural because it has a big impact on the music. Sometimes I was trying to rush things but I quickly learned that that was not the way to go.
What’s next for Woodie Smalls?
I’m working on a new project which is really different from Soft Parade. It sounds more mature and it’s crazy. Sometimes I can’t believe that I really recorded that. It’s supposed to drop early 2016 so be on the lookout for that.
Check out Jawbreaker, the first single of the new EP here.