Tyshawn Jones and Na-kel Smith are both professional skateboarders who are enjoying very successful careers, despite being so young. They share an endearing affinity for making music, are known for being very stylish and outgoing and naturally personify themselves on stage. The two recently performed their first show on FA Day during the Thrasher Death Match in Austin, TX. We caught up with them to see what it was like and get their opinions on making music along with their thoughts on skateboarding. —Lui Elliott
Death Match was the first time I had ever seen you or Na-Kel perform. Is that the biggest show you’ve ever done?
Mostly, but we had another show in New York. It wasn’t our show, we were brought out. This one actually had our names on it.
Who did you go out on stage with in New York?
It was an Illegal Civ show with Denzel Curry.
How did you react when you were approached to perform at the FA day?
I was, like, “Let’s get it.” I just seen the lineup and that’s what it was.
Who were you most excited to see live?
Do you consider yourself as a rapper?
What is your moniker?
What happened to Young Skrilla Got Bandz God Damn?
I changed my shit; it was too long. I could also be known as Young Skrilla.
Do you prefer to go by your real name?
I’ll go by that, for sure.
How did you get into making music?
Just fucking around, making songs on voice memos. I just wanted to make tracks so we got in the studio. My homie started going to the real studio and I started to go with him.
Who are some of your musical influences on you and why?
I like Chief Keef, Bankroll Fresh, RIP. I like a lot of people. If you make hard shit, I fuck with you.
No matter how many tools you have, if you don’t know how to use them, they’re useless. Do you think you had an upper hand because you had connections to help guide you through the processes of making music?
Nah, I don’t think making music is hard. You just grab a mic and you say what you gotta say in the studio. I don’t think it’s that difficult.
Does it come from a certain place? Where do the lyrics in your music come from?
Whatever the hell is on my mind.
Can you freestyle?
Nah, I never freestyle. I write everything. I’m working on that. I’m not gonna do any freestyle at a radio station or anything like that. I’m not ready. It’s soon. I’m getting my shit together. But right now, I’m straight out the notes.
Tyshawn Jones, hurricane / Photo: Muller
What’s it like being the studio and recording a song for the first time?
That shit is easy. You’re in the studio, chillin’, then you hear the beat. Come with a hook, come with a verse. Niggas be about it.
The first time you made a song, was it like doing a kickflip for the first time?
Nah, doing a kickflip was way harder. It took a long time. Making a song, anyone can do that. All you’re doing is talking. It doesn’t mean it’ll be good, but you can still do it.
In recent years, there seems to be a lot of rappers that claim skateboarding. What are your thoughts on that?
Not shit, really. I don’t give a fuck. But that shit is funny. They be trying to dress like us, shit like that.
Do you think it’s corny?
Kinda and kinda not. I mean, like I said, I don’t really care.
Are there any rapper you know that rip pretty hard? Not just flatground, like skate ledges and shit.
Rich the Kid is probably the best skater rapper I’ve seen so far besides—I mean, me and Nak got an album coming out so it’s over for him. I skated with him once and he boardslid this six-stair rail. That was pretty good, but we shittin’ on him now.
What do you like and hate about the rapper mystique?
I’ve met a lot of rappers and they be mad weird. They don’t talk or nothing. They not that cool.
Do you think a lot of rappers get lost in their own ego?
Definitely, but a lot of people do.
What are some of the similarities you’ve see in rappers and pro skaters?
Attitude-wise, I think skaters are much cooler. I’ve met some rappers that are really cool, don’t get me wrong, but majority of ones I’ve met are weird and don’t say shit.
Do you think that’s their personality or their ego that make them like that?
It could be anything. It could be from growing up in a crazy environment so you don’t trust people. I don’t know. I don’t really judge. I just look. You never know what the reason could be. A crazy upbringing could’ve not shown them a way of dealing with all the fame.
Do you think you could ever skate to one of your own songs?
In a video part or on Instagram?
Nah, then people will say I’m trying to be like TK. I’ll let him have that.
How do you think the skate community would take it if you did?
Fuck what they think. If I like it, that’s all that matters.
Why do you think it’s so taboo to aspire to be a professional skater along with being a rapper?
I think skaters are very opinionated, whether they’re in the industry or not. Everyone got something to say. If you like making music, you like making music. You can skate, too. Look at a lot of people; they do two things. Look at Cardi B. She used to be a stripper, now she a rapper. That sounds impossible but she’s the hottest female artist out. People just talk until shit happens. They only see as far their eyes show them. They can’t see the future. People don’t believe. That’s a problem with the world today.
It’s weird that you can make folk music as a skater and it’s considered okay but rap is not.
I don’t know. Maybe it’s because that’s how skating was brought up. That kind of music was brought up around skating. There wasn’t that many black skaters when it was first starting. That stuff all came later on so hip-hop was not as big in skating until later on. Don’t quote me on that. It’s just off the top of my head.
Do you have any rituals you do before every show to get hyped?
Nah, I grab the mic and I start turning up.
How was it performing at a festival as opposed to a venue?
It was outside, hot and fun. It was different. It’s more people.
What’s something about making music that fulfills you where skateboarding does not?
I think it’s the same game in my eyes.
Do you think it’s important to have passions outside of skateboarding?
Hell yeah. Skateboarding don’t last forever.
Would you ever pull a Jereme Rogers?
No. I would never give up a career I worked hard for something I’m not as big in. I’m not saying Jereme Rogers did that or that I’m big in skating, but if I wasn’t pro at rap, I ain’t quitting.
How were your nerves at the music festival?
It wasn’t even nerve-racking. It was funny. Everyone was on stage. Niggas was jumping in the crowd and stuff. I was laughing. That shit was fun.
I mean, you looked kinda shook up there.
I wasn’t shook. I was regular. I’m just calm.
Have you ever performed on stage by yourself?
No. I’m not gonna lie: it would be low-key kind of hard.
Do you have a different outlook on rappers with an incredible stage presence now that you’ve performed yourself?
I don’t think that many people have amazing stage presence. A lot of people just jump around, that I see. I don’t think they do anything crazy. But I’d give it to them. It’s hard to perform in front of a lot of people and especially to have people turnt up and rock with you.
Is having hype men on stage to get you going a necessity?
Hell yeah, that shit is fun. It’s just all your homies up there. During Blocboy JB there was just 30 niggas on stage dancing. It was funny as fuck.
If you weren’t a professional skateboarder, could you see yourself doing this in the big leagues?
Even though I am a professional skateboarding, I still could. Shit not getting in the way. I’m gonna rock a show then get a clip.
Who is your favorite skate rapper?
What do you enjoy most about making music?
Making a hot song, then listening to it.
What’s next for you, musical-wise?
Record more songs because I’ve been slacking lately.
Can we expect a new album from you guys soon?
Yeah, Nak got like six coming out.
What advice would you give to kids that are trying to skate but also break into music who are too nervous to pull the trigger?
Just do it. Fuck the opinions.
Death Match was the first time I had ever seen either of you perform. Is that the biggest show you’ve ever done?
Yeah, it’s kind of the only show I’ve done by myself. During the Illegal Civ tour, we did a show with Denzel Curry, Show Me the Body and Trash Talk when they did the West Coast side of tour. I came out for three shows but it wasn’t my shows, per se. Mikey was cool enough to let me come out to perform my songs. It was tight. Me and TJ went out there. A lot of people didn’t even know we were going to pop out and perform. But yes, Death Match was my first show with my name on a set.
How did you react when you were approached to perform at FA Day?
I am FA more than anybody. I was trying to go out there and make it fun for everybody. I wanted to make it memorable. Looking back at it, it was kind of turnt out there. I had a crowd going.
Do you have any rituals before you go out and perform?
I like to be in good spirits to go out there and have fun. I’m just trying to put on a good show. I’ve been to concerts, so I know what they feel like to me, from a spectator’s position. I just like that energy. I just want everyone’s energy to be on level 30, just have them going crazy. When you’re going crazy with all these people that came to see you, they can see you, touch you, talk to you, you’re really right there.
How was it performing in a festival setting as opposed to a venue? Was it the same?
Well, people can walk away easier. It’s not like you have to walk outside, you can kind of creep along and be gone. You have to keep people’s attention. It’s hot; it’s all dusty in the pit. It’s hard to breathe sometimes.
When you were up there, it seemed like you were used to it. Where does the confidence and stage presence come from?
The desire to do a good job. It’s like jumping off of a cliff.
In what way?
You’re scared until you’ve actually jumped off the cliff. What are you going to do? Be scared while you’re falling? You’re already falling. Next thing you know you’re gonna hit the ground. People ask me the same thing about acting as well. If I go in there, not confident or ready to perform, then these people will have wasted their time and money on me. I’m not trying to have anyone waste their time and money on me. As simple as that.
Was that the first time you’ve ever jumped in a pit while performing?
Fuck no. I love the pit. I be in that bitch. I like people. I enjoy people having a good time, so I’m in there, trying to have a good time. A lot of people come and perform their songs and people don’t react to it, but if you’re all one, we’re all together, then they’re going to turn up. I don’t know why, it just works that way. At shows, you’re creating a feeling. I really appreciate everyone to come see me out at Death Match. Hell, I appreciate anyone reading this interview. I appreciate everyone that fuck with me. All of you help me live a better life.
Who were you most excited to see live?
Valee. I’ve been fucking with a lot of his songs heavy. Blocboy JB.
Do you ever consider yourself as a rapper?
Nah, not really.
Would you say it’s just something you do for fun then?
I do it to try to get better at it.
On a scale of one to ten, how serious do you take it?
I take everything in my life pretty serious, honestly. What’s the point of playing around? Experiment, enjoy it and take everything for what it is but I can’t play with my life.
Do you have a moniker? What is it?
Na-kel Smith. It’s me. I’m not a gimmick, I’m just me. Everything I say in my songs, it’s really me. I’m true and honest. I’m just telling a story. It’s my side of life, living and my experiences. That’s what my music is, really. Trying to channel emotion so I can stop being conflicted in my head and heart about it. I’d rather make a song about it because if I’m in this mood, listening to the song is not only going to help identify the emotion but it’s going to help me get through it as well.
It’s something along the lines of therapy.
Yeah, because that’s another thing, you know? As a young black man in the black community, mental health is almost frowned upon. You need to be able to keep control under pressure. I ain’t ever talked to a therapist. Your life moves at an outstanding rate, no matter if it’s going good or bad, everything happens at the same time. I just hold it all in. I’ll argue, feel bad, go through it by myself and isolate myself. That’s not the smartest way to go about it. At least making music, if there’s anybody else, they could feel not so alone. They can have something that could match their emotions. That’s what music was to me. I looked for something I could match with, connect my emotions to and understand. Something I could feel. When I’m at shows of my favorite rappers and they say things I connect with, I’m screaming that shit. It’s not what they’re saying, it’s what they’re feeling.
Na-Kel Smith, Losi grind / Photo: Burnett
It’s relatable because it’s real life. It resonates with the things you’ve been through.
Exactly. A lot of people aren’t going to say it because they don’t live that life.
How did you get into making music?
I’ve been around music my whole entire life. My grandmother was a blues singer; my uncle Al McKibbon, he was a bassist. He played all kinds of instruments. He played with Sammy Davis Jr. and shit. My mom was a rapper; she was into music. My dad is super into music. Music was always around me but I never took to it as something, like, “I want to make music.” I just wanted to skate. Everyone wasn’t pushing me towards making music but they made it very open and known that it was a route I could go. I thought it was cool but I wanted to find my own route. I found skateboarding, who I found from Kareem Campbell, who’s my uncle. That was more interesting to me. That was the start of it. Obviously, I became friends with Tyler and Thebe, and they were actually making music. Not only that, they were in my family so I looked at them in a different light. They were some regular-ass kids like me, doing this shit. Even then, during the early days of that shit, I would be in the studio but I wouldn’t hop in. I didn’t want to ride anybody’s coattails. I’m not that type of nigga. I didn’t have the bug for it. I was trying to live my dream of being a professional skateboarder. Later on, niggas joke around and freestyle, do all this shit, then Tyler wanted me to be on “Trashwang.” I did it, came out sick, shit went crazy and performed it a couple of times. I was just hyped as fuck. Then Thebe was putting out his album and he wanted me to be on “DNA”. It was supposed to be a different song at first and then it turned into what it is now. That was my first time capturing emotion in music.
Well it’s about hanging out and being with your boys. Just wildin’ out.
It’s deeper than that. So then I thought it was even crazier that not only had I made a song that people could enjoy as funny and fun, I made some shit that people would cry to. Someone came up to me, told me they cried to it and that it really helped them through some hard times. Even then, I wasn’t locking myself in the studio to make all this music. I was going to keep skating and do what the fuck I do. My family is not going to eat if I don’t skate.
It is your first love. But I think it’s good to have passions outside of skateboarding as well.
I mean, I don’t give a fuck about what nobody thinks. It could be my first love, it could be my second love—it don’t matter. I don’t give a fuck no more about what anybody says or thinks about me because ain’t nobody here. Ain’t nobody living in these shoes. If anybody tells me that I’m lame for trying to make music and to just skate, it makes me want to quit skating all together. Ain’t nobody going to tell me what the fuck I need to do. You feel me? I love skating for my own personal reasons. I ain’t gotta love it for the reasons that everyone else loves it. That’s the best thing about skateboarding: we’re not on a basketball team. If I say fuck y’all, then fuck y’all. You don’t have to fuck with me. If I want to link up and skate, can’t nobody tell me I can’t. Period. I don’t have to prove to anybody that I still love skateboarding, I’m going to do what I do. Everybody out there should do whatever the fuck they do. It’s just me doing me. The reason why I do me is because the people who are too scared to be themselves could do that. You just break doors down.
Do you think it’s important to have passions outside of skateboarding?
No, I just do.
It’s weird that you can make regular guitar and folk music as a skater and it’s considered okay—even cool—but as soon as you want to rap, it’s corny or stupid.
I was just thinking about that, too.
Well, unfortunately, skateboarding is supposed to be anti-jock but we’re the biggest, clique-iest jocks.
Everyone that’s in this motherfucker is a fucking jock. Y’all cliquey. Y’all hoes. On top of that, y’all ain’t even really getting real money! The only people that get real money are contest winners, content crushers—people who always got some shit in the magazine. I’m not one of those people. I skate at my own pace. I’m trying to have fun. I’m trying to take my mind off of negative shit. I do all of this shit and I’m having an amazing life but there’s also a dark side to it. I seen this nigga Bobby Long, or whatever, commenting on Jonah’s Instagram, talking about Weckingball and some other shit. That’s crazy as fuck. First off, fuck Bobby Long. I don’t care who fuck with him. I fuck with Jonah; that’s my friend. I ride for my friends. I ain’t on no bitch shit. I was thinking about it. Y’all really getting on this nigga head because a nigga behind a computer screen said he can’t kickflip? Fuck that. So what? Why do you have to be able to kickflip to appreciate skateboarding? That really had me hot. This is somebody that actually skate. I can see why Internet trolls say little funny shit. I feel like people just want something to say. It doesn’t matter. None of this shit matters. Everyone gets their panties in a bunch over some bullshit.
What’s it like being in the studio and recording a song for the first time?
It’s like trying a trick. You’re trying to figure it out. You’re trying to get it right so it’s wet. You’re not trying to manual and scrape your tail. You feel me?
You want to do it good.
You want to do your shit wet as fuck, to where other people are, like, “That was wet.” It’s the same shit.
In recent years, there have been many rappers claiming skateboarding super hard. What are your thoughts on that?
You already know my thoughts on that shit! It’s me. It’s TJ. It’s Lil’ Kevin. It’s Kevin White. You feel me? Niggas don’t be skating. You could have a hobby, you could have skated before but what you gonna do when it’s time to pop out and really, really skate? To really get a clip? To battle a trick, day after day but not get it? I really skate. I know that pressure and pain that that shit causes, how it fucks you up in your head. Fuck all these niggas.
Who are some rappers you would say rip pretty hard?
Thebe. Another thing, too—People say Jonah can’t kickflip but be in these skate crews with guys that can barely ollie, skating around having fun. But you’re gonna be mad at a nigga that you don’t know. How many niggas you know that be out on the session all the time for no reason?
I have a lot of friends like that.
Exactly. Everyone just wants to have fun. But Thebe, Earl Sweatshirt go crazy. Me and Thebe can play a game of SKATE.
Has he ever beaten you?
On a bad day. On a real, real bad day. He got wet tré flips, backside flips, big flips, hardflips—he nice.
What do you like or hate about the rapper mystique?
It’s a personal thing. I’m not going to sit here and say it’s bad to be a rapper because of this or that. Just do you. It’s the same thing as anything, really. Everybody hates dick suckers. Everybody hates people that just continually follow trends.
Do you think they ever get lost in their own ego, then turn into something that they’re not?
I guess that’s anyone in general.
You keep saying rapping and skaters but we’re all people. Just because I did a show at Death Match, I didn’t get kicked off of all of my sponsors. I’m not about to stop skating. I ain’t forget how to nollie flip and all of that. Skaters do the same thing and get lost in their own ego. Rappers could do the same thing. Filmmakers, models, architects, they all could do the same thing. It’s the human brain. We’re all dealing with shit in our own different way.
What’s next for you, musical-wise?
I’m working on a project right now. All this time I try to plan and find out different ways to make it good and meaningful. Of course, I’m going to take it on tour. I want to figure out a way to take it on tour where I could get clips, too. I don’t want to waste all that time, traveling the world and not being able to skate. I want to be able to go skate. I want to stay in a city for more than just a day, then do a show, next city a day and a show. I want to be able to bask in it a little bit. It’s going on a skate trip where you do a show and get a bag at the end of the show. Everybody go on skate trips for free because companies pay them and shit. Think about it, everybody goes on a skate trip, skates, then goes to the bar or whatever. Now imagine on one of those trips you did the same exact thing but your homie performed. I was in Paris for three weeks, filming for the Supreme video. We skate, chill, smoke, maybe get some food—if one of those nights we can go out, go to the venue, perform and turn it up, along with that good energy, you also get paid for the show.
You ever have one of those days when you’re on a trip and everyone gets a clip? Imagine having one of those days then performing a show.
Not only that, it’s your shit. You’re not going to have any trouble getting in, whoever got the fake ID is gonna be good. Everybody can go on and enjoy themselves. It sets off the trip and puts everyone in a good mood. It’s gonna be good. That’s what I really want to do.
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