By John Benson
In theory, a hyphen indicates a combined meaning or division of a word at the end of a line, but in hip-hop, this small dash connotes something more in the form of danger, anti-establishment and individuality. Just ask Jay-Z and Bone Thugs-N- Harmony.
However, local rapper D-Rae — who in the past opened for Wiz Khalifa, Yelawolf and Machine Gun Kelly — was feeling constrained by the hyphen, which is why earlier this year he reverted back to his original name, Drae Smith.
“I didn’t like it anymore,” said Smith, a 2009 East Palestine High School graduate. “It was kind of childish to me, so I thought I’d just go with my regular name. For me, it was just the hype and something people did when I was younger. Now my music has become different. I’ve matured.”
Initially, Smith said he was worried any credibility in the Northeast Ohio music scene he’s built up over the years would be lost on the name change. Then after thinking about it, he realized syllabically it sounds the same.
“As far as style, before I was regurgitating stuff I was listening to and hearing the mainstream stuff,” Smith said. “But that wasn’t me. I’m from a small town, a humble background. I’m a normal guy. I’m not a partier. I just wanted to make music that really had meaning in people’s lives because that’s what music did for me when I was younger. I didn’t want it to be party, mainstream music. I wanted it to be real music that people can listen to and get something from. So that’s my whole theme now.”
Musically, Smith said early on he was influenced by everything from AC/DC to Jay-Z, Ludacris and Ja Rule. Today, he’s not sure where his music fits into hip-hop but he feels that’s a good thing. It shows individuality. When pressed for a comparison, he said maybe Drake.
Take for instance his new single, “Without You,” from his recently released mix tape “Down to Earth.” The emotional song is still hip-hop, but he said it’s got more of a melodic R&B feel. “It’s rap, but it has content,” Smith said.
Up next for Smith is a new mix tape due out this year, as well as his debut full-length effort in 2015. In fact, next year will find a starting gun of sorts going off in Smith’s career. Currently studying business and marketing at Youngstown State University, the MC said once he graduates, he can then concentrate fully on his hip-hop career.
Drae Smith will perform at 9 p.m. Saturday at University Pizzeria and Italian Eatery, Lincoln Avenue, Youngstown. Tickets are $5.