I am hip-hop magazine caught up with Oakland filmmaker Shomari Smith and found out more about his documentary “Til Infinity”.
Q. Who is Shomari Smith?
Hmmm…Shomari Smith is a visual artist, and a lover of hip hop music and culture, but also most importantly i’m a husband, a father, a brother, a son from East Oakland California.
Q. Tell us about “Til Infinity”. Why did you make this documentary? What does hip-hop mean to you?
“Til Infinity” is a full length documentary film celebrating the 20th anniversary of the release of the Souls of Mischief’s classic 1993 debut album “93 ‘Til Infinity”. We take an in-depth look into the Souls’ history and the events leading up to their Jive recording contract signing. We also explore the stories and the creative process behind the making of the entire album track by track.
This documentary was made for many reasons, but the most important reason for making this film was to create something that would contribute to hip-hop culture in a positive way. Hip Hop was the first art form I discovered that spoke to me as a peer. The artists looked and dressed like me, they were from the same type of city environment, they spoke slang, they were young, I could completely relate to the music, the b‑boying, the djays, and most of all the graffiti. I almost felt as-though this music was being made for people like me only. I had no idea it would spread world-wide. So Hip Hop, to me, is everything. I was born in the mid-70s and had the opportunity to grow up along-side Hip Hop. “93 ‘Til Infinity” accomplished the same goal of contributing something positive to hip hop 20 years ago influencing and inspiring the next generation of emcees, djays, and producers who would follow from Kanye West to Eminem and so on. This album also served as a bridge for many north american east coast hip hop listeners who felt like there were no emcees in California who pushed the boundaries lyrically. When you hear the Souls of Mischief, there is no question around their lyrical skills. The Souls story is an important piece of Hip Hop history that must be told.
Q. You had such a roster of Hip-Hop artist to interview. How did it feel interviewing all these legends who have had such a great influence on the culture?
It was amazing to have the opportunity to speak with Phife Dawg, Dante Ross, De La Soul, King Tee, Stretch & Bobbito, Ice Cube, Mobb Deep, The Pharcyde, Yasiin Bey(Mos Def), Murs, Too $hort, Black Moon, Talib Kweli, Redman and countless others. As a fan of the music it was a dream come true. With any project I’m working on, I remind myself to enjoy the journey because the pay-off is in the process. I really would stop and take some time to soak in each moment during the making of this film. It was great to ask these greats about moments in hip hop that I had been following for years.
Q. Are there any artist you would have loved to interview and didn’t get the chance to, if not why?
I had a list of “hopefuls” for this film. I was able to get, at the very least, a “shout out” from the majority of the artists on the list. But I really wanted to do a formal sit-down interview with Ice Cube because of his direct connection with Del Tha Funkee Homosapien, The Souls, and Hiero from their very early stages. Ice Cube played a huge roll in making their dream appear “reach-able” when they were developing a young rappers. I would have loved to hear Cube’s perspective on the early Hiero movement. The sit-down interview didn’t happen because Ice Cube is a busy man as you would guess but his staff was very responsive and gave me an opportunity to get a shout out from him backstage at the Rock the Bells music festival in L.A. in 2012. I also wanted to do a sit-down interview with ?uestlove with whom I met after an afternoon DJ set he performed in my hometown of Oakland, CA in 2011. We were scheduled to do an interview that day but he had just spent the last 2 hours standing behind the 1’s & 2’s and was super tired so he graciously gave me an on-camera shout out and a contact email to set up a formal interview. I took steps toward contacting him though that email and also spoke with his manager’s office a few times through a contact I received from a friend who is from Philly, but his team never responded. Also during my first day of shooting backstage at the 2011 Rock the Bells music festival in San Francisco I spoke with Common briefly about answering a few questions on camera. He said yes, but had a few visitors in his trailer who were waiting on him and he would be available in a bit. I went to cover the Souls’ meet and greet for about 20 minutes and when I returned to Common’s trailer he was gone. The other hopefuls were Eminem, Kanye West, and Pharrell Williams and I wasn’t able to get a response from any of leads and contacts I had for them.
Q. The documentary is because of the debut album 93 ’til Infiinity by Souls of Mischief. Albums such as Illmatic and The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill are forever referenced and are seen as timeless master pieces, do you see any albums which are out now which can be immortalised the way these albums have been?
I believe classic albums define an era. “93 ‘Til Infinity”, “Illmatic”, “Only Built For Cuban Links”, “Straight Outta Compton”, “Miseducation of Lauryn Hill”, all define specific eras in Hip Hop for me. With these types of masterpieces, you press play and you allow it to play from the beginning to the end. It’s hard to declare an album an “instant classic” immediately upon it’s release but there are a number of albums from the past few years that I feel have the potential to achieve hip hop immortality:
Kooley High “David Thompson”
Kendrick Lamar “Good Kid M.A.A.D. City”
Actual Proof “Black Boy Radio”
Apollo Brown & O.C. “Trophies”
Casual “The Hierophant”
Pro Era “PEEP-The aPROcalypse”
Joey Bada$$ “Summer Knights”
RapSody “She Got Game”
Q. Which other directors inspire you to break boundaries?
I admired all of the young African American directors that emerged from the late 80’s and early 90’s, Spike Lee, F. Gary Gray, John Singleton of course because they decided to tell their stories from the perspective of a young black male in the United States. Whenever you trust your own personal vision, there’s a possibility of breaking boundaries. Hip Hop culture is based on pushing the boundaries that have been set up in our society, and my documentary was made in the spirit of Hip Hop culture. We need to experience stories from all walks of life, from all cultures and regions.
Q. If there is a film you wished you directed, which film would it be and why?
“Til Infinity” would have been that film for me if I had not taken on this project. I had every opportunity to make the stars align for this film and I took a chance and trusted my gut feelings. It would have been painful to see this film happen and not be the one responsible.
Q. Although you are a director, in a fantasy world and your were a recording artist, which 5 artist dead or alive would you love to work with?
If I had the opportunity to work with any artist dead or alive as a recording artist I would jump at the chance to work with The Ummah (A Tribe Called Quest & Jay Dee A.K.A. J. Dilla), Patrice Rushen, Roy Ayers, Michael Jackson, and Hiero of course!
Q. Do you have any other future projects you can tell us about?
“Till Infinity” is my is my sole focus at the moment, but I am working on a short about the Casual/Saafir, Hiero/Hobo Junction Battle that will possible be available on the DVD extras of “Til Infinity”.
Q. What does 2014 hold for Shomari Smith?
Regarding the film, 2014 will hopefully be a year where I am able to share this project across the nation and possibly the world and spark the next project or inspire the next first-time filmmaker to take a chance and follow their passion.
Q. Tell us where we can see the documentary.
My next screening will be happening in the Bay Area as a part of the Oakland International Film Festival April 6th 2014., you can find out more information about future screenings on our website www.tilinfinitydoc.com
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