How Smitty Got Tapped In With Dr. Dre & Jay Z, & What Exactly Happened with DJ Khaled

May 12, 2023

Read the full interview on AllHipHop.com!

Smitty is an anomaly in the music industry, someone who’s worked with all the greats and humbly stays behind-the-scenes while quietly celebrating his achievements. To date, Smitty has two Grammy awards to his name: one for “Shake Ya Tailfeather” with Diddy, Nelly, and Murphy Lee on the Bad Boys II soundtrack, and one recently with Nas and Dr. Dre on King’s Disease.

In describing himself, Smitty, real name Varick D. Smith states he’s “a child of God, gotta say that first and foremost. I’m a battle-tested creative, battle-tested songwriter, that’s been through quite a bit to get to the point where I have such a reference point musically. It’s turning me into a better person. The ups and downs I’ve had to go in the music industry have applied to life and made me a better human being. That’s why I hold the craft dear, at this point.

The true definition of a Florida boy, Smitty discovered his ability to rhyme and write after an accident at 10 years old when he lost his right eye. After battle rapping at Florida A&M, Smitty made the bold decision to go to Los Angeles, with 300 bars that he was ready and eager to spit for anyone who would listen. Coming from true humble beginnings, Smitty first got his start working directly with MC Lyte, who gave him his first check as a songwriter.

To date, Smitty’s impressive catalog of credits include the Training Day soundtrack, “Bump, Bump, Bump” by B2K and Diddy, “Mr. Jones” by Pop Smoke, “Diamond Mind” by Nipsey Hussle featuring Dr. Dre, “Ghetto” by John Legend, Kanye West, and Scarface, “Summertime” by Beyonce and Diddy, and many more.

AllHiphop spoke with Smitty in downtown Los Angeles to discuss his love for Hip-Hop, the making of “Ghetto,” getting his first Grammy, how he got tapped in with Dr. Dre and Jay Z, the new Dre and Snoop project, what happened with DJ Khaled, and more!

AllHipHop: Who were the artists you listened to growing up?

Smitty: I listened to everybody, from MJG & 8Ball to Trick Daddy to Nas. I’m one of those types of kids. They made fun of me because I was playing Nas’ Illmatic. They were listening to MJG, whoever was hot at the time. I was always one of those kids where I enjoyed all the music, but what turned it around and what made me realize okay, I’ma do this rap s###, one day I was riding the bus home. I didn’t know what rap was, but I had heard “I Used to Love H.E.R.” by Common.

Rap City was poppin’ at that time, so I went home and saw the video on Rap City. “I met this girl when I was 10 years old, and what I loved most was that she had so much soul.” I didn’t realize, his song to her made me say, I’m in love with this thing too. At that point, I wrote. I wasn’t just freestyling anymore. I said I’ma figure out how to write, to make music. Everybody at that time was poppin’, doing a lot of things. I remember Buckshot Shorty, Heltah Skeltah, all different types of things. The Roots, Jeru Da Damager. My roots run deep, no pun intended. I really am a student of Hip-Hop.

But who made me say listen, this is something. Before people were making millions, when my family was telling me to go to college, before it was cool to rap. It wasn’t cool. You were at the lunchroom table, that part was cool. But it wasn’t oh, you’re gonna make a living off this. My family and everybody’s like, “that’s nothing.” But inside, alright. I’ma do it on the level where it can be something. “I Used to Love H.E.R.”, that record planted the seed.

AllHipHop: Have you met Common?

Smitty: Let me see. I worked with Kanye and John Legend. We did a record called “Ghetto” with Scarface. This is before John Legend was John Legend. What happened was, the company I was signed to at the time was Breyon Prescott with Chamillitary Entertainment. But he had Jamie Foxx. They did “Marvin Gaye, Luther Vandross” [“Slow Jamz”]. At that time, I had signed my deal as a recording artist to Clive Davis. Kanye worked with me because of the success of that record. Ye really was like, “I don’t know.” Me and him became great friends, that’s what’s crazy. He wasn’t crazy about me when Peter Edge, who’s my A&R at the time, played him for me. He was like “he cool.”

What made him get in the studio with me was Jamie Foxx, that record had skyrocketed to #1. When he got in the studio with me, John Legend was just John. He was sitting on the couch. He was saying, “man, Common’s in town. Common might pass through.” Common never came through, but we created that record “Ghetto” which Scarface ended up getting on. That was a memorable moment for me. Because after that, “Gold Digger” took off, and we weren’t friends no more like that. [laughs] We weren’t talking no more, s### changed. I understood.

I ran into him at the club, because the label at the time was trying to get him to shoot a video for “Ghetto.” He’s like “Smitty, I love you.” He took me to the side, like “a) you got too many chefs in the kitchen. Because I told y’all what the record ‘Ghetto’ was gon’ be, before. I told y’all this should have been the single. Now I’m on the road doing a million different things, I can’t stop.” Larry Jackson at the time, who’s the head of Apple, he was my A&R at the time. All these guys can verify, we were upset because we had missed. We should’ve been fashion forward and did the video when he wanted, but it wasn’t testing well at radio and all that label s### they have to do. They wasn’t feeling the streets were f###### with the record. In his defense, he let me down easy to not do a video for “Ghetto.” It’s all good. But through him, I could have met Common, and I didn’t. Shout out to Rhymefest, he was a part of those sessions too.



AllHipHop: Talk about getting your first Grammy for “Shake Ya Tailfeather,” with Diddy, Murphy Lee, and Nelly.

Smitty: That was a mistake because we didn’t understand the record. None of us understood it. We were writing so many different records. Doing records with Beyonce, Fat Joe, “Bump Bump Bump,” a lot of different records. When we were on Diddy’s plane, he’s like “I don’t get this record. You?” I don’t know, the beat is alright. I said just get Nelly verse, then we’ll try to match Nelly’s verse. We’ll write it together. He got Nelly’s verse. He gave me the melody. I started saying what about that word? He said “yeah that could work.”

By the time we got to LA, I was getting signed as an artist. I didn’t even know we got a Grammy for it. I had to find out while I was at a party for my own s###. I was too young to realize how special the moment was, I regret not celebrating it. Until I celebrated this time with King’s Disease, with Nas and DreThree years ago, I took the time to celebrate that. Even though I was in the studio with Dre when he won it, we didn’t expect him to win it. We took a moment and said I appreciate the moment. That moment was so weird, nobody even thought it would win Album of the Year.

AllHipHop: Really?

Smitty: Because Nas and Dre are close. Dre respects a handful of artists that whatever they say to him, he’s a fan first, before he wants to work. Those names are in his back pocket. I know who those names are, luckily, and Nas is one of those names. Nas is that guy. We’re working, he’s like “yo, pull up. Nas is gon’ come by. We gon’ have some dinner in the back, I want you to meet him.” F### yeah, Nas? So he goes downstairs like “wanna hear some s###? Because Nas is finishing King’s Disease. We play some s### we working on, he played some of King’s Disease. I’m just standing by the SSL like I can’t believe I’m in the room with these dudes.

He said, “you should put an outro on it for Hit-Boy. Hit-Boy wants you to put an outro on it, what do you think?” I f### with Hit-Boy. Dre sitting there, I go whisper: “Doc, you should put a little verse on there man. F### it.” Doc’s like “alright, I’ll put a little verse. But don’t put my name on it!” This is what he tells Mass Appeal, “I f### with Nas, I don’t want it to say featuring Dr. Dre. I just want to do it.” That’s why a lot of people didn’t know.

AllHipHop: Why?!

Smitty: I look at it like this, even I had to learn. It’s like playing with Tom Brady with Dre. We can’t really celebrate a win in the playoffs, I got six rings. You can’t come around Brady with that energy of
“oh, I’m so happy we got a #1 record.” No disrespect to all the writers that just got their first Top 40 or Top 10, or first #1. But everybody that’s in that room with us, he labels it the ICU. We call it the ICU. Everybody in there is two Grammys are better. Everybody in there is three or four #1’s or better. The producers, Focus, Blue Tooth, Fredwreck, Kaan, Kion, Champ, Thurzzzz, Dem Jointz, Trev, Coco, Sly, Q, even the engineers, they’re all well-versed. For me to come to the table and celebrate something that might be good, it has to win in order for us to celebrate.

With Doc, it’s never that he’s downgrading it. He’s like, “you know I got bigger plans. I’m Brady, I’m trying to win three more rings. Right now, I’m trying to get a ring for Snoop. There’s no reason for us to celebrate a #1 record with Snoop.” Snoop doesn’t clean up at the Grammys, he feels that’s where we aim for. “Wherever we land is cool, but we aim for that.” So I had to adjust that thinking to get back to the Nas story, which I could see why he wouldn’t want his name on it.

The day we won it, it was COVID. Everybody wasn’t out and about celebrating. It just popped up. I had to call Doc like yo, let me know if it’s cool for me to post and be happy about this win getting Album of the Year. Because I know we didn’t aim for that. He’s like “nah, do ya thing it’s all good man. I love it, but we got bigger fish to fry. But that’s dope for my man.” I took it like that, I had a private celebration and kept writing.

AllHipHop: How did you get tapped in with Dr. Dre?

Smitty: That’s a good story. I done tapped in three times, which one you wanna to hear? The first time, the second time, or the third? I’m on my third run with him, it’s three stories to each one.

AllHipHop: I guess the first one because that’s how you guys first met?

Smitty: I’m tapped in with Will Smith now, with MC Lyte. His best friend is a guy named Charlie Mack, a staple in the Hip-Hop community. C-Love was a dancer for Whoodini that at the time, was styling the set of The Wash soundtrack. Calvin, the guy who met me at the church that took me to MC Lyte, said “yo, I need to get him in front of Dre.” C-Love’s like “alright, let me try to figure out a way. I’ma hit my man Charlie Mack.” Charlie comes to see C-Love’s house, and I rap for Charlie.

Charlie puts me on the phone with Jay Z, I spit the same rhyme for Jay Z. Jay Z says “yo, we gotta get him out of here.” While Charlie’s trying to figure out how to get me out to New York like “yo J wants to meet him, but Jay said two weeks.” C-Love’s like, “well, I’m still taking him to Dre.” I’m going along with the flow. Charlie takes me to Dre, they’re on the set of The Wash soundtrack. Dre’s seeing how long I can wait, because he’s already heard about “yo, we got this kid.” So I sit on that set, not knowing anybody. Just a young kid chillin’, anywhere from 12 to 16 hours.

He finally gets a break, it’s nighttime. Remember, I’ve been there since the morning. He goes “spit.” I spit in the hotel room. I remember even stumbling a little bit. He’s like, “I heard you stumble a little bit, but you fire though. Let me finish this movie, I’ma call you. We gon’ work.” Everybody’s seeing this, so Charlie gets the bright idea. “Well, Dre likes him. Jay likes him. Let’s go to the Jay Leno set, Diddy and Loon are up there.” Charlie takes me to the show. They’re doing “I need a girl!” Him, Loon, Usher. He’s like “yo, I got this kid.” I spit the same rhyme. [laughs] Diddy’s like, “take his beat and write to it.”

So I go home, I write to the Diddy beat. I’m still supposed to go to New York to meet with Jay. That happens, a whole nother story. Now, I’m waiting on Dre to give me the callback. That’s really how writing started because everything hit at the same time. After that, I worked with Dre on the Training Day soundtrack and The Wash soundtrack. We start writing. I fly to New York, I start writing with Diddy. Stuffed me in a room and I was writing to anything he was giving me, grooming me. Jay, that’s a whole story. He passed on me and wished me the greatest luck, but let me know how I can help.

AllHipHop: Wow, you’ve got stories for days. Can you summarize what happened with Jay Z?

Smitty: For days. Charlie says “listen, I’ma fly to Philly.” That’s Will’s guy, he runs Philly. We’re gonna drive up to New York for the Jay meeting. Mind you, I’m already in and out with Puff. To him, I’m still wanting to write as he’s trying to groom. But Puff’s not like “you’re my main writer,” like I became. It was “alright, write to this. Chill out, sit in the hotel and write.” We’re waiting for the Jay thing, this is really what set a fire in me to know that I can do this thing. We’re waiting on Jay. I got 300 new bars in my head because now I got the confidence of, I know I’m nice.

Jay comes and we go to Baseline. Who’s in the room at the time is Biggs, Jay’z main guy who found SAINt JHN. Jay Z, Charlie Mack, and Calvin, the guy who found me. Let me tell you, I spit all 300 bars. They keep flipping beats. Mouth is dry, I spit everything I got. It’s Jay Z. Charlie’s like “yeah baby, we gon’ get him.” So we go back to Philly, we on pins and needles waiting to see what Jay says. The last thing Jay said: ”I want to do it, gimme the weekend.” We go to Philly, it’s taking a lot longer than I anticipated. We go to the Philly game, Charlie is doing everything he can to keep me occupied.

I’ll never forget this, he had got us a room at the Marriott. It was a little suite with two different rooms. He’s like “man, Jay taking forever. Let’s give him his time.” I swear, 6:30 in the morning. He hit Charlie Mack with this long text. “Yo, I don’t want you to think I was playing with your time. I don’t want you to think I took dude lightly.” I had to read it, I’m like damn! “Dude is nice. But right now, it’s gon’ be a conflict of interest with Beanz. I don’t know if he’s doing something different.” I was that pitbull type of tooling at the mouth artists as well. He’s like “I’ma pass right now, but let me know if you need help with anything.”

I ended up needing help from him later on. I ended up signing with Scarface when he took over Def Jam South, he had a group called Facemob. I left, and obviously everybody was disappointed. But I had this smile inside of me like, he said I’m nice. And he don’t take me lightly, this is Jay. At that moment, the intensity and the aggression and the animal in my pen, it was a whole nother thing after that. That’s when all the #1 records started happening, “Burnin Up” remix. I had four #1’s in three, four months. Everything kept going.

Guess when I ran into Jay again? He doesn’t know I’m now Diddy’s head writer, so he comes to Diddy’s house and plays the Blueprint 2. Diddy makes everybody leave and texts me: “yo, come to Big’s room.” It was Room A and Room B, the room that Biggie likes recording in. Diddy says “Jay’s here. I want you to hear his s###, so we know where we gotta be.” I come to room B, it’s me Diddy, Jay, and his engineers. I’m sitting listening to Blueprint 2 for the first time, and he remembers me. ‘Cause I’m a Sag and he’s a Sag. Like a true Sag, he gives me his look like “damn, you Diddy’s man now huh?” Sag’s understand when we get respect, we don’t talk.

It was me, Diddy, him, his assistant at the time. We listened to the Blueprint 2 and that was our moment when he was right about me. I probably wasn’t necessarily ready for what he needed me to be, that doesn’t mean I was somebody to take lightly. Because I kept growing. I kept running into him again at Clive Davis, I kept running into him. But the reality is, now this time I’m looking to run into him again, not at the Roc Nation brunch and not as young Smitty the writer. And that’s why I’m so thankful for Dre, because Doc is putting me in a position where one day I can hopefully get those two together. Just be a fly in the room.

AllHipHop: What can we expect from the last Dre and Snoop Dogg project?

Smitty: Oh s###. A) it’s gonna be great music. That’s not even the given. What people won’t expect is the level of execution that Snoop is committed to. Snoop’s in his bag — it’s funny, I was in Hawaii working with other projects last week. He called me, I’m three hours behind. It has to be 8 in the morning. He’s like “man, this is Snoop. Little bro, I ain’t seen Dre this excited since The Chronic. He’s really excited about what we’re doing.” I said nah, you think? He said “y’all ain’t got what we got. Y’all go on trips on yachts with him, record and all that s###,” because that’s how we started.

He took us on a yacht trip to Croatia. We were recording every day, we had three records for Snoop. When we came back, Snoop said “Yo, this could be something!” That’s what set the plug, that’s what started it. That’s the last thing Snoop said to me, “man, he’s really excited.” And Snoop’s commitment to execution makes us all humble. I’ve seen Snoop come in and not be in the mood to record, and he’ll still give it his all. Because a lot of people are intimidated to record with Dre. I’ve seen some of the biggest names not want to record with him because he’s that meticulous. He’ll make you do the line over and over a thousand times, then tomorrow say, “yeah, I was wrong.”

That’s him, it takes a certain level of commitment to even rock with him. That standard we’re all used to, some people don’t come in prepared for that. So to see Snoop who’s on TV every five minutes, I got the Doggystyle chain on right now. We get all the bags and gifts to come in and watch him humble himself, and say, “I’m down to execute, and the results are in God’s hands,” is humbling for us all. It makes us show up every day like, I don’t care what we’re working on. This is God’s plan, keep working.

AllHipHop: How’d it feel for them to shout you out on Drink Champs?

That was cool, because I’m cool with them before Drink Champs. I know Norega, EFN. Even me and Khaled have a rich history. Much like Kanye, he’s different. I used to record at Khaled’s house. If you go back and look at his first mixtape, I had a record called “Dade County / NY State of Mind.” I was spazzing. I wrote that with him, he had a studio in his garage. This was before he’s Khaled Khaled, he’s just becoming Khaled. I’m not scared to put this out there, our relationship changed because of a label mistake. I’m not blaming anybody, I’m just telling you.

We were tight, I was coming to the radio station all the time. He’d play all my new stuff. It was great. The business of the label got in our way. Maybe someone in the culture reading this can say “damn, I gotta watch that.” I had a record called “Diamonds On My Neck.” Biggie was on a sample and they wanted to remix. Lil Wayne and Twista ended up getting on the remix. Khaled says, “I’m telling you, let me talk on the beginning of it.” Before he talked on anything. This was not a thing how it is now, he hadn’t talked yet. He was just putting out mixtapes. I remember there were big dog pitbulls, it was DJ crews at the time.

He’s like “Smitty, you gotta let me talk on it. You my boy!” I’m your boy, I’ma let you talk on it. I go to the label: “nah, because we don’t want to disrespect other DJs. Other DJs won’t play it.” Okay, this is my home market Miami. You gotta have a version where he talks on it! The suits at the time felt it wasn’t a good idea for him to talk on the front of it. We put the remix out. He plays it because it’s a hot record, but I could feel the shift of “we don’t believe.” when Khaled’s saying “they don’t believe,” I’m giving you an example of the they he’s talking about. They didn’t put it out. The record did what it did, it didn’t reach its potential in my humble opinion.

It changed because at that point, as my record’s not reaching its pinnacle, he’s now talking on other records that are reaching their pinnacles. From “all I do is win!”, the same thing he offered us first, which we fumbled the ball. I’m not complaining, but a lot was fumbled. Which they’ve apologized to me privately. After that point, he takes off. He’s talking on everything, and I have no choice but to eat it. Because me not being primed enough in this industry to understand, I should have forced my hand at that point. Not only as a creative or artist, but as the relationship we were building at the time, that’s a chance I should’ve took on him because he took the chance on me.

He broke “Diamonds On My Neck” in Miami with all his DJs before it took off, so I didn’t see it like that. I’m young, I’m trying to figure this thing out. They’re telling me one thing. By the time I looked up, I hadn’t talked to the man in a couple years. It turns into “yeah Smitty, I remember.” But this is the real undertone of why our relationship didn’t go where it could have went. Hopefully me giving truth like this, turns it around. I ran into him at the Roc Nation brunch, we were cordial. But it wasn’t like that time, and I get that. At the end of the day, when they mentioned on Drink Champs, they were interviewing him. His response was “yeah I remember Smitty,” but it’s a lot behind that.

EFN almost knew what he was doing, because EFN knows I got a lot of footprints in the Dade County music scene. I took a lot of arrows, I was the first Indian over the hill in the Miami scene of Hip-Hop. Coming with a typical backpacker type of energy, into a scene that was booty-shaking and dance music. For me to go over that hill first, I had a lot of allies, and a lot of people who didn’t believe. That whole table at Drink Champs, they know my story, but it’s up to me to sit down with you can tell the people why they know my story. It’s nothing to go into unless Smitty feels we should go into it, which is what I just did.

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