If you thought that Orlando, FL was all about the Magic, SeaWorld and convenient access to Walt Disney World, it’s time that hip-hop put a little something new on your map. The duo of Smilez & Southstar have a prototypical rap success story: two solo artists who were banging out their own songs locally, who found larger success by collaborating together on DJ mixtapes; eventually, jumping off local radio play for their joints and getting internet love on the unground hit “Who Wants This?” before landing national distribution via BMG on ARTISTDirect Records.

For most regional acts, the story would end there with the artists content to sell a few hundred thousand and lounge. Producers Nasty and LVM had a vision beyond regional hits though, and their sample of the Marvin Gaye/Diana Ross song “Stop, Look, Listen (To Your Heart)” on “Tell Me” made it one of the biggest crossover rap songs of 2003. The catchy sing-a-long chorus is hard to argue with:

“Love, hate, mis-takes
Tell me whatcha think is goin on? (Whatchu think ha?)
De-bates, all, day
Tell me whatcha think is goin on? (What’s goin on girl?)
Too late, heart-breakĀ 
Tell me whatcha think is goin on? (Whatchu think ma?)
What’s goin on? What’s goin on?”

The real magic of the song though lies in the blunt honesty of the rappers who eschew posteuring and machismo to rap about the hurt of failed relationships, as Smilez does in the opening verse:

“Love, trust, good sex, and security
If you ever felt weak Smilez was your energy
Trips across seas, showed you the finer things
No more Burger King it was fine dine cuisine
And if it never had it, I don’t think it mattered
We were a classic like Nas and ‘Illmatic’
I was so deceived, I thought we had a thing
You used to blow my 2-way up wit 143’s
The L-O-V had me blind, not wantin to see
Not trustin my friends, all they were yellin at me
How can you do me so wrong? I don’t wanna get gone
I invested three years ma, plus this song
I’m so confused, where to go? How do I choose?
I guess to find real love I gotta pay my dues”

It’s no surprise that this song continues to bang in clubs and on radio, and the strength of the track is so large it’s likely to end up on “Best of 2003” and “Now That’s What I Call Music” compilations. Having such massive hits is often more of a hindrance than help though, especially to unknown regional artists breaking nationally. Ask Atlanta duo Tag Team – they undoubtedly like the money from “Whoomp! (There it Is)” that continues to roll in to this day, but that’s all they’ll ever be known for. The challenge for Smilez & Southstar is to make a lasting impression on at least their hip-hop audience so that even if pop stardom fades they won’t go from national fame back to local Orlando game.

Lead producer Dakari does his best to give S&S the diverse sound that will allow them that chance to advance. “Ridiculous” is a fine example – a punchy guitar sample that gives the track a head-nodding snap, and a braggacious confidence that give completes the tune, illustrated by Southstar’s rhymes on verse two:

“From – MTV to BET
Radio to TV, video to CD
We be, the cats settin them trends, makin them ends
Stay with them chicks that get rated as tens
We steppin on in, slide over give me some room
This a best of 7 series? Then, give me a broom
I got girls all over, wantin me as they groom
With all the cats that try South, layin under a tomb
You think I’m gon’ lose? Huh, you must not seen the news
Have your whole family, start singin the blues
Want to be like us, but you can’t fit in our shoes
Light up a match, I dare y’all to spark up the fumes
Backwards flow, me and Smilez travel the globe
This ain’t a game, us and y’all, we not the same
We the lions in a cage that can’t be tamed
So the only think to do is keep payin your dues”

The lyrical command is fairly consistant throughout, leaving it up to the beats to carry them the rest of the way. The bounce of “It’s On,” the club stripping anthem “Let’s Get Naked,” and the surprising guitar sample of REO Speedwagon’s “Golden Country” on the song “Gully” show a diversity that proves Smilez & Southstar are far from one-hit wonders. S&S still commit the rookie mistake of having far too many time-wasting skits though, in fact almost one-third of the 17 tracks. Surprisingly the title track is one of the album’s most mediocre, and “What Can You Do?” has a nice beat and “It’s Time” may to most listeners feel like an attempt to capture the “Tell Me” lightning in a bottle twice that doesn’t work. Still, with a set of songs including the Spanish influenced “What Can You Do?” and the pounding “Alright,” Smilez & Southstar show they have potential to be a major force in hip-hop well beyond their Orlando roots. The South keeps blowing up, and Smilez & Southstar will be at the epicenter of the shockwave.

Smilez & Southstar :: Crash the Party
7.5Overall Score