Super Smack is a Filipino American rapper that has been leveling up in the music game ever since his first ep, Neon Red, hit streaming services. With a unique blend of gaming culture, anime references, good vibes, and a message for change, Super Smack’s pens music that blend pop and rap in ways that make the nerd in any of us step on the dance floor.
After finding his artistic foundations through dance and acting on Broadway musical theater to his passion to help others through civil duty, Super Smack has found a way to connect his music and his activism together to help people find a light in these trying times. After the recent release of his super groovy and bouncy song, “Black x Gold” with nerdcore royalty, Mega Ran and preparation of his next EP, Neon Blue, Smack was able to sit down and talk to The Nerds of Color about activism, identity and how music can be a bridge to bring us all together.
The Nerds of Color: So the creation of Super Smack, how did you come up with the name or the artist persona?
Super Smack: That’s a really good question. So I’ve been doing music stuff my whole life, was dancing and singing since I was a little kid. And after college, I went into a roundabout career in tech and government, but I wanted to perform. So I quit, started auditioning for musical theater gigs.[…] After I ended up getting cast in a few shows, I met Rafael Casal and Daveed Diggs — who was the original Lafayette and Jefferson in Hamilton. They encouraged me to apply for this workshop that they were doing, it was a writing and performance workshop on rap and the stage at the Public Theater in 2016. I wrote an original song to apply and got in. I spent the whole summer with other rappers and playwrights just creating creating and it was really, really exciting. That was kind of the first seed of me exploring songwriting and writing original music.
A couple years later, after doing a bunch of Broadway shows, decided that that was what I wanted to focus on. I was looking at rap artists that I really liked and listening to a lot of their early works. They tended to be inspired by the home and the neighborhood that they grew up in. So Nas writing about Queens, and Jay Z with Brooklyn, right? I thought about what is the home that I would want to write about and, honestly, I was born in Arizona. But, the first home that I can really think of when I grew up was in video games, comic books, and superheroes. Nerd culture stuff was the block that I grew up on. So I was like “Oh, let me start with that” and I started crafting my style, my artistic image and vision around the things that inspired me when I was a kid. So Super Smack is a riff on Super Smash. It’s also something that’s loud. It’s like an undeniable sound. It’s just in your face. So once I thought of Super Smack, I was running with it ever since.
Yeah, It’s definitely a visual word. I can see it and hear it. So was hip hop a genre of music that really connected to you when you were younger? Did you always want to rap?
I had always been a writer. I wrote poems as a kid. I wrote a song to ask a girl out to prom. That was probably the first original song that I wrote. I never saw myself as a future rapper but once I got started doing it and I got encouraged by other rap artists saying, “you know, rap can be anything that you want to be.” I think part of the fun of being an artist is evolving an art form and getting to be part of that expansion of what the art turns into. That’s something that was really, really cool. Hip hop has been, in my experience overall, a very inviting space and it was cool to get exposed to the kind of subculture and sub genre of nerdcore hip hop over the last few years. Mega Ran, who’s my collaborator on the song, is one of the progenitors of that genre. He is someone whose work I’ve admired for a long time, in terms of showing everyone these are the things that I love. That inspired me to show the symbols that really resonate with me, I’m going to put them into my music and say something really real and make a dope hip hop track, but I’m going to do it in a way that is kind of unique to me and my interest and my voice. That’s something that that was honestly really inspiring to me when I first heard Mega Ran’s music, and it was really cool to get to collaborate with him.
Nice. So now that you’ve been an artist, and performing has been pretty much a big, foundation for you, do you kind of feel that you are using a lot of your musical practice or musical theater background as a means to kind of enunciate or expand the way that you perform?
Yeah, The musical theater and the live performance aspect, finds its way into my music, whether or not I try to put it there. […] I think, especially rappers from the early in mid 2000s, OutKast is a big inspiration of mine and even before that, you know, in the ‘90s and ‘80s, so many of these artists used performance to tell a story, are these so ingrained and intertwined with hip hop? I think musical theater has a lot in common with that. So I love the kind of flexing that theatrical side and finding a way to work that into my songs.
It’s funny, because sometimes there’s a tension between making a song that is really narrative and theatrical, and making a song that is very pop and accessible, right? A pop song is something that’s — if it’s playing on the radio, you might flip to that station and it’s in the middle of the song, but you’re still following along, right? Whereas if I’m telling you a complex, three-part epic narrative, and you just start listening to it in the middle, you might be confused. So I think there’s a balance there, and something that I’m exploring is how can I do both? How can I tell a story, and also make something pop and accessible? That’s something that we definitely had to do with this song.
Speaking of some of your songs, I was able to get a chance to listen to “Everybody Got Game” and I like how out-of-the-box it was creatively and how it used the idea of having people around you, that are connected to you, help push you towards your goals and actually have those friends in the song doing ad-libs. This song had similar themes to your new song, “Black x Gold,” in finding ways to come together with this, and you being more outspoken about Stop Asian Hate. You are bringing more awareness to communities coming together. So I was wondering if that’s something that you kind of just discovered, as you’ve been performing more or if it’s that something held important to you when you were growing up in comics, video games and anime?
Yeah. Oh, man. I think you hit it on the head. You hit it on the head in probably some some ways that I maybe I haven’t even thought about yet. Because I think there is there is this connection. There’s this through line from “Everybody Got Game” directly to “Black x Gold.” I’m a really social person. Not necessarily extroverted- introverted. I think we all have kind of a mix of both of those sides. And I love my alone time, and I love being in my own head, that’s when I’m best creatively but I also feel such a strong connection with my friends and my family. […] Those are the people who inspire me. […] That idea of togetherness I thought is a fun thing to put into hip hop songs. I think hip hop historically has been such a solo art form, right?
It’s all-it’s very personal, which is why it’s so powerful. It’s about your personal story and for me, my personal story is so intertwined with other people. So to make a track where it’s not about me being better than everybody else. I’m gonna make this track where I’m literally just pumping up my friends.[…] That’s definitely stretches into “Black x Gold” as well. I never thought of those songs as so connected. But since you pointed it out, I think that’s totally right.
So, when you started working with Stop Asian Hate movement, what kind of-what was the moment that made you decide that you wanted to talk about it? And then, kind of since then, what do you feel has changed or hasn’t changed?
So I’ve always been really interested in public service and the civic space. I studied international relations in college and worked in public sector technology to find how can we use technology to help solve problems at the local, state, federal government levels. That’s been my day job for most of my adult life and music was always this escape for me to talk about things that are really personal to me. But as I’ve continued to grow as an artist, now there are people who just know me as Super Smack and don’t know who I am in my day job or non-artist life. They’re interested in what Super Smack has to say about these things. And I am […] interested in what Super Smack has to say about these things. So over the last few years I’ve been trying to break down this artificial barrier that I’ve set up between what I care about in my day job and what I care about in my music.
With the Stop Asian Hate movement, right off the bat it was super personal because I have a lot of Asian friends and family. Those first few weeks of COVID had so many stories of people being like “Oh my God, this happened to me on the way home” or “Oh my God, I got yelled at the supermarket” to people I knew personally and it kept happening. […] Certainly most people of color understand that these tensions didn’t just start happening overnight. Maybe the media will start writing about it overnight, but this stuff goes back. I can think of experiences I had when I was a kid, when I was picked on or singled out for being Asian. I felt it was really, really important to say something. I saw how the conversation was developing and I think there has been a lot of really, really positive change just in terms of exposure, right? One big problem that I think oppression against Asian Americans has had is that it’s a lot of Asian writers have felt like we haven’t either been comfortable taking up the space, or we’ve tried to take up the space and other people have not allowed us to take this space in terms of just saying, “This is stuff has been happening. Let’s talk about this, let’s have a conversation.” There hasn’t been historically a lot of interest, especially from non-Asians, in having that conversation. So I think that that I’ve noticed the change in that this past year, at least in a lot of circles that I run around in.
People call it a reckoning, I think that that term is probably appropriate. Mega Ran and I started talking about how people are a lot more comfortable and a lot more used to talking about racism in terms of black and white, or white versus everybody. But what about the other dynamics? Because there’s a lot there that gets really complicated. There is anti-Black tension within the Asian community. There’s anti-Asian tension within the Black community, and there’s anti-whatever tension in a lot of other communities. These things are a lot more complicated than a social media conversation, or national media conversation usually tends to be. So that’s kind of where the genesis for the song, “Black x Gold” came about.
Yeah, I can see that coming through really well. Do you think that a lot of the reasons that lead to the inability to have your own space to talk about the racial injustice Asian Americans have dealt with has been because of the stereotype of the model minority, how it separates and stigmatizes you from other minorities that share in the struggles of America’s systemic oppression.
I think a little bit. The model minority myth is out there, and it’s really harmful. And it’s really important to start breaking that down. I think a lot of the reason why a lot of Asian Americans historically haven’t been as quick to either take that space or feel comfortable occupying that space, or when they’ve tried to take that space and other people have denied them that space. Because people have been trying and I think one miss-narrative over this past year is like, “oh, wow, like the Asian Americans have awakened and they’re angry now and now they’re finally talking.”
It’s like, no, we’ve been angry. You’re just listening for the first time. I think that there is a dynamic with immigrants, because I was talking with my buddy, who’s Jamaican American. His parents immigrated from Jamaica and we’ve found that we had a lot of common in our relationship with our parents. And I think there’s this thing, this has been my experience and his as well, but I think immigrants who come to America, it’s just work hard. Even if it’s bad in America, it’s nowhere near as bad as it was in the homeland. Otherwise, we wouldn’t have come here in the first place. So there’s a kind of, sometimes subliminal, sometimes explicit, stop complaining so much. Just work hard. And I think taken into an extreme, it’s this idea that if you work hard enough, if you study well enough, you eventually get a good job. Sure there’s racism in America, but you can outperform that. Which is, obviously, a fallacy in and of itself, right?
But I think that’s more of an immigrant thing, rather than an Asian thing, or a Black thing, or a Latinx thing. I think it’s for people whose parents have chosen to emigrate to America, and then they’re in the second generation, I think there’s a lot of that going on in our [upbringing].
Do you feel there’s a double identity or living in double spaces from this kind of experience? Does it feel like it’s always been there?
I think in terms of my career, it’s a triple, quadruple identity, because I’ve had three or four careers now. Right? There’s government and tech and theater and now music recording artist. So that is always a-there’s a lot of context switching that happens there. I think that Asian identity thing was something I didn’t think that I grew up with. I wasn’t really aware of it so much growing up. I was just kind of me, and maybe I was spoiled because when I was 10, we moved to Southern California and there’s lots of Asians there. Maybe that was it, because I don’t know if it was college or the fact that I went to college on the East Coast; I went to college in DC with a lot less Asians. All of a sudden, I became a lot more aware I was a walking talking Asian person. That’s how people saw me. And people wouldn’t even see [I’m] Filipino.
In California, I got to be Filipino. But, when I left California I was just Asian. I think it depends on the environment that you’re in. And I have definitely felt at certain times, now I feel I have like three identities. I’m Asian, American, and I’m Filipino. And obviously, Filipino is a part of being Asian, but they’re different things. […] Sometimes it’s frustrating when you feel like you’re not fully in control of those identities. If I choose to occupy these three identities, that’s awesome. That makes me feel good and I’m grateful for that. I take pride in all those things. but it’s very frustrating when it feels like someone else is forcing those identities on me. That is something that getting to pick up a pen, write a song, pick up a microphone, and shout into it and have everyone listen to me. That is something I love about being in a creative artistic space, it’s because I can tell you, this is who I am. You don’t get to tell me, I have the mic. So I’m going to tell you and that’s what I love about it.
That’s awesome. Any last thoughts, anything else you’d like to add about? Kind of the main takeaway you want people to promote?
I hope that people get hope from it. And I hope that people find it uplifting, that’s a goal of mine and Mega Ran’s. There’s a lot already that’s out there in terms of, like, things that will make us feel sad. The things that make us angry and those are totally valid. […] But we felt like something that we wanted to contribute and that we had in our hearts was like, yeah, there’s problems and let’s talk about them. So we can actually come together through those problems and through these tensions between communities but also let’s all bop to this beat together. I think we’re really excited about getting to make this song [and] just give people warm, a uplifting feeling. I certainly felt that.