Oh man, a lot! I had to move, like physically move; some relationships suffered because I needed a very specific type of support and if I wasn’t getting that, then I felt isolated. [There were] new demands on me that I wasn’t prepared for—and I was meeting them, at whatever expense. I had to teach my family how to be good family members based on what I needed, because it was all new. Things like, “Hey, as a family we have new rules: We don’t post in real time saying where we are, and we don’t put embarrassing videos of each other up on the internet no more because they are consumed in a different way.” And some people rejected the lack of freedom. They didn’t understand that that meant I [would] have to be selective in which family members I could be around.
The people who understood it, it was rewarding for me—like, “OK, cool, I’m not crazy.” Because at times you’ll question yourself, like, “Am I an asshole because I’m strict on how I wanna be represented in the world?” I’m a private person in certain respects, I like to go out and be in my own mind, walking and stuff and now to be stopped and people who want to take pictures… you enjoy it, but it’s an exchange of energy. And now going out in public places means giving out a lot more energy than you’re soaking up.
When you were nominated for a Grammy, you were the least-known rapper in the category; some people cracked jokes and raised objects to that. Did that tarnish the moment for you?
I wouldn’t say it tarnished it, no. And I wasn’t mad at the outcome, either—I’m a huge Nas fan, and I was in a good company, so I think it was just a good moment for rap. But yeah, there were some people who were like, “Who Is D Smoke?” But I don’t take the bait, especially when people say stuff over the internet that they wouldn’t say in person. I don’t chase conflict. If conflict is brought to me then it’s a whole different situation. But I’m not one to bite the bait. My team was mad. But we’re not worried. So many people want to be something in the industry, but we’re real life dope. If you know me in real life, you know.
How did your role on Bel-Air come about?
The call I got was from Tasha Smith. She was my acting coach when I was in high school and I was booking stuff: CSI, Boston Public, The District, Judging Amy. I was always the disgruntled high school kid, gun in his backpack, you know [laughs]. I showed up and did my best at playing D Smoke. It’s interesting playing yourself but taking direction from others, taking their creative direction for what the scene is. We [found] that balance and had fun with it.
I’ve had mentors who say if you want to have a serious chance at movies and film as an actor, don’t play yourself, don’t be D Smoke starring as D Smoke. But I looked at some of the things Pac did: He made some appearances as Pac, then went on to have a prolific, if short acting career, and showed a lot of promise. It’s really dope to be included on [Bel-Air] because if you look at things like Fresh Princeyou had Biggie Smalls on there at one point. Fresh Prince and Martin were the two pillars of Black television. Black art is so delicate that when it’s done right, we don’t forget. The Black community doesn’t forget, the hip-hop community doesn’t forget. So that’s when I was like, “I’m not turning that down.”
Who are your biggest acting influences?
Don Head. I love Don Cheadle. Of course Will [Smith] and Denzel [Washington], but I say Don Cheadle first because I feel like he’s so underrated. I’ve seen brilliant performances from him.
What’s your favorite?
Everybody knows he was in Iron Man and stuff, but he was in The Family Man with Nicolas Cage. I loved how he played the hood angel who sends Nicolas Cage on this “glimpse”; in very few scenes he had to show such range, because he starts off robbing this liquor store, Nicolas Cage intervenes, and [Cheadle] is like, “You just did a good thing!” But Nicolas Cage talks too much, and [Cheadle] is like, “You just fucked it up” [laughs]. And then, next time Cage sees him, Don Cheadle is this rich guy who takes on the life of Nicolas Cage while Nicolas Cage is in this glimpse of what his life would be like if he wasn’t a billionaire. He showed so much range and controlled—without being the main character—how the movie moved.