It goes without saying that D Smoke is a fantastic and new hybrid hip hop superstar.
After winning the 2019 Netflix competition, Rhythm + Flow, he was put on rap fans' radar as a rising voice from Inglewood, California. He released his debut album, Black Habits, which earned him two Grammy nods at the 63rd annual awards ceremony, and his latest effort, War & Wonders, pushes his acerbic and acrobatic lyrics into an upper-level stratosphere.
But way before all of that, he was known around Inglewood as “Mr. Farris.”
In fact, during my time with him and organizers with CASA of Los Angeles, The Crete Academy, Cancel the Contract: Antelope Valley, and a host of precocious kids, I’d witness just how much of an impact the 36-year-old rapper and philanthropist had prior to any sort of music industry acclaim and success. Mr. Farris, who taught Spanish and financial literacy at Inglewood High, View Park High, and Augustus F. Hawkins High School, received his B.A. from UCLA, and happily arrived at the event with family, friends, and his cute canine Kobe in tow
(Note: All the while holiday cheer blared from the speakers and out of the mouths of exuberant Black babies.)
It was Dec. 18, and all throughout Inglewood, the aforementioned parties and a gathering of volunteers came together for Reimagining Community During the Holidays. In partnership with Black Santa and Adidas, we would travel to sing Christmas carols to those in need, while giving back and supporting the foster youth and homeless community. With over 30,000 foster youth and at least 63,706 people experiencing homelessness in Los Angeles County, this was an amazing (and necessary) opportunity to exhibit compassion at a time when folks don’t have their families nearby.
With “Jingle Bells” and “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” being practiced by those baby cherubs before we left, the day felt more in alignment with Ubuntu than Yuletide, and D Smoke was determined to instill confidence and excellence as the director of this youth choir group.
As we all packed up and headed to the first of three house visits, the organizers Waunette Cullors and Christian Green (Cancel the Contract: Antelope Valley), Charity Chandler-Cole (CASA of Los Angeles), and Brett Mitchell (The Crete Academy) made sure to drive home the message behind the melodies.
“Joining us, joining the mission of helping out on the ground, and in the community is how moments like this can grow opportunities for positive changes in our neighborhoods,” said Chandler-Cole, a former foster kid who now heads CASA of Los Angeles, the very organization she struggled against as a teen.
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This insight into the mind of Mr. Farris, a member of one of Black entertainment’s most diverse and rich musical families, continued to prove why his ascent into the mainstream was not a fluke.
I arrived with the group at The Virtuous Woman, Inc., two houses located in the Inglewood area run by Rev. Deborah Manns and includes her Project Destiny and Project Home of Hope initiatives, which aim to prevent women and girls, ages 10 to 24, from entering the juvenile justice and prison systems. With services ranging from a support group for runaways to assistance for victims of sex trafficking, addictive behavior recovery and transitional housing options — the sight of these smiling Black faces (and D Smoke as a maestro) became contagious to those watching in earnest.
Directly attacking the cycle of poverty through education and love are principles very rich within those from South Central. I’ve only been living in the area for a month, but it is woven into the DNA of those I’ve come across and had conversations with. In fact, my time around D Smoke highlighted that without these specific tenets, most artists from the area wouldn’t have such a rich and rooted sound that resonates with millions around the globe. “[While this neighborhood] is a lot better than it was in the past,” a native Los Angelenos named Ms. Patricia Robeson shared with me, “it is because of the goodwill created by artists like D Smoke, Terrace Martin, Ill Camille, and others that Inglewood, Compton, and South Central are able to meet the needs of the native community here.”
The third visit before we headed to the Black woman-owned Sip & Sonder coffee shop was to The Sanctuary of Hope. Founder and Executive Director Janet Kelly and her team are dedicated to eliminating intergenerational poverty by “promoting the value of higher education and housing stabilization.” With all eyes on them, Smoke and the kids had their routine — equipped with a call-and-response solo — down pat, and residents reveled in the free clothes from Adidas and camaraderie with a “community dude who happened to get into rap.
“[D Smoke] is a part of a group of community-minded artists that we need more of in Inglewood and across Los Angeles,” a resident who wished to remain anonymous said to me.
And when we arrived at Sip & Sonder, D Smoke, a man who said his fondest holiday memory was that he was blessed with both parents in the household, conceded the floor to the likes of Charity Chandler-Cole, Waunette Cullors, and Hattie Mitchell (co-founder, The Crete Academy).
The message was clear that it is way past time for all of us to add more care and compassion to those in need, despite it being the holidays or not.
“For us, it is about showing up and showing out for these kids,” Ms. Chandler-Cole said to the packed coffee shop. “We can’t cancel the contract or reimagine our community without stepping forward and giving with our whole hearts, which would be very good.”
One small correction, that would be super good.
Kevin L. Clark is a screenwriter and entertainment director for BET Digital, who covers the intersection of music, film, pop culture, and social justice. Follow him on @KevitoClark.