Meeting up with an artist in a hotel lobby for an interview usually isn’t so special. However, when we met up with Woodie Smalls in the Aloft Hotel in Brussels early May, we were in for a treat. During that whole week, the Sint-Niklaas based rapper moved his studio to the re:creative space in Aloft, where he would record a bunch of new music with surprise guests like K1D, Faisal, Bakermat and Cyra Gwynth. Another pleasant outcome of Woodie’s studio time in the centre of Brussels, is his new single ‘Tokyo Drift’. And a song title like that, screams for a video recorded in Japan. And so he did. From Sint-Niklaas to Tokyo, sometimes it can be that simple.
Hey Woodie, #AloftLive is quite a unique project you’re participating in. How did it came about?
"Toon Carpentier, who advises on branding and PR, was the one who came up with the idea. I immediately fell in love with the concept and so the collaboration with Aloft was born. They also want to take this approach abroad, as Aloft has a couple of hotels around the world. The basic idea is that I move the studio to Aloft for a whole week, with the intention of recording a bunch of new music with surprise guests. Everyday an artist or producer, without me knowing who, will join me in the studio. It’s fun to just roll in the studio and start to work on some songs and so far it’s been a super productive week!"
To what extent does this project differ from your normal production process?
"Concerning the surprise guests, there obviously is a lot of difference to how my production days look compared with when I work with befriended producers. As a logical consequence, it causes a different sound in the collaborations. Beside that, there’s also Mills who’s joining me this week. A producer with whom I’ve been working with a lot lately. It’s nice that we can work on a couple of things during this week. Normally I have to go look for Mills and meet up with him, but now we’re spending the week together in the same studio. It’s definitely more effective."
In what kind of output will your studio time this week result?
"Well it will absolutely be released, but I’m not sure in which form. After this week, I’ll listen to the tracks and evaluate. For now, I’m here to make good music and enjoy myself. But it probably will be released somewhere later this year or early next year."
Tell us a bit about your musical journey: how did you came into contact with music?
"My uncle played a big part in my musical development. He had this home studio where there were tons of records. When I was eight, I visited his place for the first time and I was overwhelmed. He would also record and produce his own tracks. I was so impressed by that process, and it made me realize I wanted to do the same thing: have my own studio and record my own tracks."
What were your biggest musical influences back then?
"Pharrell, Kanye West, Lil Wayne, Jay Z,…Those were artists I looked up to and still do actually. It’s cool that I discovered them back in the days through their videos on television. Nowadays they’re still around and they’re huge!
In Belgium, I’m pretty keen on Stromae. Music wise it’s not always my thing, but you must admit his branding is very on point. The whole package and his story is spot on."
Your previous releases were ‘Soft Parade’ and ‘Space Cowboy’. What is the next step? A new album?
"I don’t know if this new material is fit for something like my previous albums, because the sound is very different. Maybe it’s more of a project. I’m sure it will spark something good, but it’s hard to say what exactly. When I started to work with Mills, he encouraged me to sing more on my tracks. It’s very new for me, but it does result in a new musical direction. I think it’s something I want to do more down the line. A good mix of rapping and singing."
Do you have a lot of gigs planned for the summer?
"Well, it won’t be as busy as last year. It’s going to be a bit more low key. I’m doing a couple of gigs in Belgium and I’m looking forward to foreign shows in Holland, France and Germany. Especially that last one looks sweet, because I’m sharing the line up with a lot of names I’m familiar with. That’s going to be nice!"
When listening to Woodie Smalls, I wouldn’t immediately say you’re from Sint-Niklaas. Did your environment influence you as an artist?
"I’m not sure. My homies and I were not always aware of the fact that we grew up in Sint-Niklaas and that we should behave different, you know? To us it’s just the town were our parents live and where we grew up. My mother just happened to live there. Apart from that, we were always on the road actually. As soon as one of my friends had a car, we were out. It’s not the most convenient place to live when you have to go to the studio or perform at festivals or clubs, but it is what it is."
Are there any plans to move to a big city?
"It seems like I’m the last one of my friends who still lives in Sint-Niklaas! I could leave, but the time has to be right. For the moment, I still enjoy living at my parents their house."
We recently discovered TheColorGrey is related to you? Any plans to do a collaboration soon?
"Yeah, Will is my mother’s brother, which makes him my uncle. His album just got out and he’s super busy now. I would like to work with him some day. I think my new tracks lend themselves to a collaboration with TheColorGrey. So who knows, maybe in the future."
‘Tokyo Drift’ by Woodie Smalls drops June 16. Keep an eye on Woodie Smalls' Facebook page for more updates.