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D Smoke's Family Story Of Music Over Panic In A Pandemic
This isn’t scientifically confirmed, but Rhythm + Flow winner D Smoke, 34, probably has a few music notes in his genetic code. His mother Jackie Gouché, affectionately known as Ms. Jackie, was a background singer for greats like Michael Jackson and she sang at her church Bible Enrichment Fellowship in Inglewood, Calif. Her mother before her sang in her church and toured the world as a background vocalist as well. Her mother’s mother was a beautiful soprano singer who spent her whole life singing in church. Even with a pandemic pausing the world, Smoke and his mother’s bond has kept moving as usual, in part, thanks to music.
It’s May 18th and D Smoke, Daniel to his mom Ms. Jackie, is sitting a few feet from his mother at their family home, as they do once a week. Outside their doors, more than 13,000 Americans would die from COVID19-related complications that day, while their home state of California would see its most COVID-19 deaths in a single day. “When we get together, sometimes we talk about how things outside of the family have adjusted. But, to allow it to adjust or change our dynamic as a family is criminal,” Smoke asserted.
The severity of the pandemic isn’t lost on the family. They’ve found their deep connection to music ensures as much. Smoke had a nationwide tour set along with dates in Europe, South America, and Australia before COVID-19 essentially shut down music touring. Ms. Jackie, the minister of music for her longtime church, “had to make a major mental adjustment” after church services stopped after the week of March 15th. For her son, music has helped him reject the current state of affairs as a “new normal.”
“Personally, I don’t use the phrase ‘new normal,’ but I had to slow things down around late March. But, that happened naturally because I have ‘seasons,’ creative seasons. Right now, I’m creating another album, so I think [quarantine] just mirrored that process altogether,” Smoke clarified.
Smoke and his mother don’t fear COVID-19 because they have faith. They don’t let the outside world’s anxiety seep into the fabric of their family because they’re each woven tightly into each other’s lives forming a bond so inextricable that when one member is hurting they all feel it and help. And music is often their love language.
Ms. Jackie’s 57th birthday was March 27, eight days after the California governor ordered all Californians to stay home unless for essential work. For Smoke, family and music are essential. Roughly a week after his mother had to spend her birthday under quarantine, Smoke and his two brothers gifted their mother with a pristine Yamaha C3 Grand Piano. Speaking with her, you could hear the joy emanating from her face through the phone when she describes the piano as the “Rolls Royce of pianos, and it’s a dream I’ve had for the last 40 years.”
The piano has been a haven for the family to sit down and exchange little chords and lessons during the pandemic.
Before Smoke was born, his musical fate was being written by his mother. Ms. Jackie started learning the piano when she was the tender age of 14-years-old. “I felt I was late in the game at 14, so I decided then, when I was a teenager, that when I had kids, I was going to teach them as early as I possibly could.”
As soon as her three sons were toddlers and could reach the keys, she stood them around the piano and taught them the chords, how to play a C-major scale, finger alignment on the piano, and basics skills people go to school to learn. Over the years, the lessons would become more complex and the memories would be indelibly embedded in both Smoke’s music and mind.
“For so many years, she instilled so much in us musically. We literally sat around a piano of kids and got instructed on music theory, harmonies, chord progression, intervals, and stuff like that right in the house, but it was from whatever piano we had. We had the upright that had been passed down three generations, pawned, picked back up and keys were replaced,” Smoke said.
When Smoke and his brothers were kids, their father spent six-and-a-half years in prison.
Smoke was fighting all the time in school while his father was incarcerated. For many, losing their father to prison would make them detach from the world. Thanks in part to music, Smoke attributes his father’s incarceration for why he’s able to connect with the world now.
“If he never went to prison, I never would’ve been a rapper. I would’ve probably been a classical pianist. That’s the x-factor that allows me to speak to a whole different set of people that may actually need music. I think there are people who enjoy and there are people who live by it.”
“If [my father] never went to prison, I never would’ve been a rapper. I would’ve probably been a classical pianist. That’s the x-factor that allows me to speak to a whole different set of people that may actually need music." -D Smoke
So, it’s no wonder that when he received his $250,000 in prize money for winning Netflix’s Rhythm + Flow competition, he made sure part of the money went to pay his mother and father back for their help. It’s also no wonder his mother is in the process of writing a book entitled Raising Men about how raising three young men as a single mother for years helped shape who she is as a person.
Smoke and his mother hadn't recorded any music when we spoke, but Smoke said it was possible it’d happen that same day. If they do decide to work on some tunes, a global pandemic won’t be an issue. “I have all of the same equipment you would find at a major studio at my house,” Smoke said proudly.
That home studio became a pulpit for Smoke after former Minnesota Police officer Derek Chauvin pressed his knee on the neck of George Floyd before Floyd died. On that day, Smoke wrote the song, “Let Go,” a somber incendiary diatribe about police brutality and Black oppression. Four days later, he released the song featuring soulful singing from his brother Sir. You may hear “Let Go” as two artists putting out a song about the times. Smoke, his mother, and probably his entire family, know what they’re hearing is more than music.
“Music is as core to us as eating, breathing, moving, water.” Smoke said.
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