EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: SMILEZ, formerly known as Jack Bruno, introduces himself to the world following his high-profile feature on Tekashi 6ix9ine's new album "TattleTales."
We've seen people wear all-black and all-white but have you ever seen somebody rocking all-yellow, all the time?
Meet SMILEZ. He's the 27-year-old artist featured on Tekashi 6ix9ine's new album TattleTales, highlighting both verses on "CHARLIE." Until the release of the controversial rapper's album, nobody had heard of the Los Angeles-based talent. On the street, you would recognize him instantly and now, you can put a name to his face.
With a smiley face dyed into the back of his head, a cigarette hanging from his ear, and all-yellow outfits every single day, SMILEZ is unmissable. Formerly known as Jack Bruno -- who released the popular song "Ciggy Said Light" with Playboi Carti in 2018 -- SMILEZ decided to go about things with a different moniker, hitting gold (or yellow?) this time around.
Releasing music as part of a partnership with Create Music Group, the same label that 6ix9ine is working with, SMILEZ has released his debut single "Head Shoulders," which is a nursery rhyme-like banger that will take off with the right looks.
We linked up with SMILEZ via video chat to get the scoop on everything happening in his life, including his friendship with 6ix9ine, his upcoming work with "legends," and more.
Read our interview below, edited for clarity and length.
HotNewHipHop: What’s up, SMILEZ?
SMILEZ: You know, just another day of living in all yellow.
I love it, the brand is so clear-cut, it’s perfect.
Yeah, in case you were wondering what color I wear all the time, it’s yellow.
It makes sense. It's nice to meet you, virtually, obviously.
I wanted to start off, first of all, by congratulating you on the release of your debut single, “Head Shoulders,” and also for the feature on 6ix9ine’s album, of course.
Thank you, thank you. Good week.
Yeah, absolutely. It’s a big first week for you.
I know, right. We’ve been planning that shit for a while, and I haven’t been able to tell anyone about it, so it’s finally like, 'I told you guys, I knew' like, 'I told you guys I was gonna do something', you know, so finally for it to be out is great.
How long has the feature been in the works for?
Since like May. We did the song in like May or June.
So right when he got out?
Yeah, pretty much.
Were you guys together in the studio?
Yeah. When he first got out, he was at a safe house and shit, and I was there. I was just hanging out, I didn’t know I was gonna do a song with him quite yet, I was just hanging out, you know. We toured together like two years ago so that’s how I knew him and I hadn’t seen him since he got out, so we went over there and then I ran into a bunch of other mutual friends that are with him, so I ended up hanging out while they were making this whole TattleTales record. We had talked about doing a song and shit but it’s like, I can’t really push that cause I’m a new artist and he’s one of the biggest artists in the world, so I’m like, 'Heyyy' you know, 'Let’s do a track'. It just worked out really easily where there was one beat and he was like, 'Why don’t you just do a verse here,' and I was like, 'Yeah, okay,' and I just went in and it was cool, so.
It’s basically your song, too, because you got both verses—he has the hook, obviously, but you’re all over that joint, so that’s a big look.
Yeah, thank you, I think he wants to do the least amount of work as possible.
What do you mean by that?
Literally, he just sometimes, you just catch people on a different day, you know, so that day he was literally-- I was like, 'Do you want to do this second verse,' and he was like, 'Ehhh,' and I was like, 'Okay, fine,' literally it sounds ridiculous, but that’s how it happened. I was just like, fuck, yeah, okay. And then what happened was both verses were fire and it was like, 'Okay, cool.'
Are we gonna see a video for “CHARLIE” one day?
Oh, I don’t know.
Going back to you as an artist— how would you describe your personal style?
My style is just...What is my style? My style is just like, sort of in-your-face, not holding back, just type of, like, I don’t know. Right now, the music I’m coming out with is high-energy, party, good time, sort of simple shit, you know. I’m the type of person that I can get really deep. I have a deep side, I have an emotional depth to me, but I knew that I’m coming out as a new artist, so it’s like a conversation, you know. Like, if I meet a girl, right, and the first thing I say is, 'Hey what’s your name? Where you from? Okay, lemme tell you about...’ like you know, ‘This was the darkest period of my life, and what I was going through.’ She’d be like, ‘What the fuck? Yo this is weird.’ So I knew that coming out as an artist, I wanted to be just light-hearted and show that side, because that is a side of me. That’s the whole thing of like, wearing all yellow, and having a fuckin’ smiley face on my head. It would be so dumb if I came out with just serious music.
I feel you. How old are you?
Where are you from, originally?
I’m originally from Dallas. I lived there until I was like 12 years old, and then I moved out to L.A. with my family and shit, so I’m really from L.A., but living in Dallas, in a more ‘normal’ box in an American city, it probably is the reason I have all these tattoos and am so over-the-top, because it ingrained in me, like, ‘Fuck being normal, fuck all that.’ From an early age, it just made me want to rebel.
Like, you felt like you needed to step outside of the lines to stick out, right?
Yeah, and you get ridiculed. I remember when I was a little kid, I went back to Dallas after living in L.A. for a little bit, and I was wearing a jean jacket— not that crazy. And my friends at the time were like, ‘What the fuck are you wearing?’ It was that type of boxed-in mentality, and that ‘What the fuck are you wearing?’ made me want to go throw paint on the jacket, like, ‘Fuck you.’ Pretty much, that’s the reason I’m wearing all yellow. That one experience.
You got the yellow, you got the smiley face on the back of your head. How long did it take you to carve out this persona for yourself?
Like 10 minutes.
I love that.
Literally, it was really simple. I got the haircut first. Before, my hair was blonde and pink and shit, and I wanted to color my hair, I got bored of it, it was already Corona season, and so I dyed my hair yellow, and I was like, ‘Oh, should I just put smileys over it?’ and I did that and then literally I was like, now this look is so ridiculous, I can’t have my artist name be a normal name. So literally I was just like, ‘Smilez.’ I just thought of that one day and I was like, ‘Oh, that's cool, guess that makes sense.’ And then the idea of wearing all one color, I really like fashion, so just thinking like, ‘Oh shit, what the hell, nobody does that,’ Like, that’s a weird idea to just wear one color and I was like, ‘That’s kind of genius.’
It’s really bold. I rock with it. A lot of people are obviously looking you up because of the collaboration with 6ix9ine— what made you want to collaborate with him after all that has happened?
I mean, there are many things that go into it. Number one, I know him personally, you know. I’m not affiliated with any gangs, I’m not pretending to be a gangster, I’m not pretending to be ‘hard’, honestly, that’s just not who I am, so when it comes to the whole, ‘Why would you work with a snitch?’ it’s like, because he wasn’t really a gangster to begin with, he was a rapper. Really at the end of the day, that’s just a tiny little part of the story. People just listen to his music because they like listening to his music, you know? Because think about all the gangster rappers out there that nobody gives a fuck about. So it’s really just like, ‘Why wouldn’t I?’ He’s the homie, and I like his music and that’s that.
Different things from different artists. When you’re in a situation where you’re touring with someone, you get to see them play every night, you get to see how their team works, how everything goes together, so it’s like, even if it’s someone you think you’re not going to learn from, like it’s hard to imagine you’re going to learn a lot from someone like Lil Pump, but you’re still going to pick up a lot of things. He still came every night and approached the shows with energy, had a cool show...I don’t know, you just pick up different things, really. With Juice WRLD, too, I did a lot of shows with him and he’s such a talented artist, he’d always be in the studio outside of the shows and stuff. I didn’t know him that well, though, because…it’s sad to say but every time I saw him he was kind of off the shit. I’ve had many friends that have dealt with drug addiction and shit, so I’ve seen that before. So that was kind of sad to see but he still did his thing and he still came through and made records all the time and just worked. You just see people that are detailed and work a lot.
I read somewhere that you dealt with your own addiction issues, is that true?
Yeah, I went through that shit five years ago, where I was just getting high all the time, drunk all the time. I was still into music at that point, I still had that same passion and drive that I have now, where I treat it like it’s my first time ever making music, but at that point my addiction kind of took that away from me, so I was just getting fucked up and shit. Luckily I got clean, now I’m five years clean.
That’s amazing, congratulations. How are you dealing with all of those hardships now— do you have something you go to, like yoga, for example, to get your mind off all the bullshit?
I don’t know, actually. It’s like, you have to find shit that you enjoy outside of music, but I’m not gonna lie, there’s a lot of pressure that comes with music, especially right now, in this particular stage in my career, where I just got my first song and I got all these kids checking me out from the 6ix9ine shit, so it’s like, there is a lot of pressure and [as for] how I deal with the pressure, I’m always just trying to figure it out, taking it day by day. You know what does help? Surrounding yourself by many attractive women.
I respect that, I like that answer.
That relieves the pressure, for sure.
Tell me about your debut single, “Head Shoulders.” How did that all come together?
Two months ago, I went to Miami and I was hanging out with some friends over there and they linked me with the producer named Rvssian. I didn’t know what type of shit he was doing, but when I heard the beat it was like, ‘Wow, okay, this guy’s no joke, he’s for real,’ so we got in the studio and ended up writing that song pretty fast. Then after we had that song, we were so hyped we were like, ‘We gotta drop this,’ everyone we played it for was hyped on it. Then we flew back to L.A. and I got Coronavirus.
Oh, you tested positive?
It was terrible. We were in Miami celebrating, and I’m with all my friends, made my first song as SMILEZ, we’re like ‘Let’s get back to L.A. like let’s get to it, get home’. First night, I’m like, ‘I’m just gonna crash, I kind of feel weird.’ Luckily I didn’t have it too bad, I didn’t have to go to the hospital, thank God, but I had a fever for 14 days straight and it would not go away.
Yeah, that’s rough. Could you smell? Could you taste things?
It was around July 4th, and I had infected all of my roommates. My one roommate, Matt, he got it pretty bad, too. July 4th I ordered some Postmates food, I was like, ‘Fuck it, we’re sick, it’s July 4th,’ and we’re eating ribs at the table where we live and I look at him and I’m like, ‘Do you taste anything?’ and he was like ‘No, do you?’. I said 'No,’ and I’m like, ‘Just tastes like chewing stuff, huh?’ he’s like, ‘Yup.’ I had lost my taste and smell for like four to five days but that wasn’t nearly as bad as just having a fever for 14 days, like, ugh, man.
I’m glad you’re okay, I’m glad all your friends are okay, too.
Yeah, thank God. It was terrible.
So you released “Head Shoulders” via Create Music Group— are you signed to them or is it more of like an interdependent partnership?
Yeah, it’s more of a partnership right now. I’ve known a couple of people that work over there and they’re a very new, up-front kind of company. Fast-forward thinking, you know.
6ix9ine is with them, too. It's nice to see them branching out.
Yeah, exactly. I had known them already but then when they found out I was doing the song with him, it just seemed like a no-brainer to release it with them.
So, before SMILEZ, you went as Jack Bruno, correct?
Is that your real name?
But that name’s retired now, right?
Yeah, that’s retired. I have a jersey in my...you know how in sports, they do that?
You’re hanging it up in the rafters.
It’s just like a jersey, I don’t know what number it was. Maybe I was number two as Jack Bruno, and now I’m number one.
Why did you want to change it? Because obviously you had “Ciggy Said Light” with Playboi Carti, that was a big song. Are you still pushing that or are you kind of like, ‘Alright, now we got better shit on the way?’
It’s literally like, ‘We got better shit on the way.’ I think at that point, it’s easy to come on and knock your old shit, because you want to be improving and always getting better, but it’s just a different thing. I’m at a different place in my life, I’ve been doing music longer, I’m more immature now.
So it’s different. It’s different. I’m not going to pretend and say like, that… like, if you go listen to Jack Bruno, Bruno’s music, whoever this guy is, it's different than what SMILEZ’s music is.
When you were nine years old, you went to a Blink-182 and Green Day concert, and you've said that it changed your life and made you want to pursue music as your career. What can you tell me about that experience and why it was so life-changing to you?
It was fucking awesome, man. It’s so weird how you can remember certain things like that so clearly almost 20 years later, but my cousin had gotten me into pop-punk and punk-rock when I was really young, like seven/eight years old, and I remember I had the Blink-182 Enema of the State CD, and I was always on my Walkman, just playing shit. I don’t remember exactly how I found out about the show, but my mom ended up taking me to that concert and Green Day was opening before Blink-182 and their live show was so exciting and so energetic that it got me hooked on them, it got me more into punk-rock, and it was just like, for me it was like, ‘I wanna do that. Period.’ Like, ‘The end.’ And I always rode with that idea of like, I always tell people if I’m talking to them on a serious note, I’m always like, ‘What would the kid version of yourself want to do with your life? If you didn’t worry about what anyone was going to say, if you didn’t care about any of that shit, what would you want to do?’ And the thing is, I have a clear answer from when I was a little kid, and I always remind myself, I always go back to that, too, because I haven’t found anything that I like more.
I love that. When you’re a child, I feel like you already have everything planned out in your head where it’s like, ‘I want to be a firefighter, I want to be a doctor, I want to be an artist,’ you know? And that was a very clear path for you, so I respect that you’ve actually taken the steps to pursue it.
And the thing is, I’m 27 right now. I’m not 18, I’m not 19. You have to love what you’re doing to stay in it this long. That’s the bottom line. It’s funny, too, cause on the internet you get everything positive you could ever imagine said about you and everything negative you could ever imagine said about you. I love that. Of course, you see someone in all-yellow and you’re like, ‘Oh, industry plant.’ I’m like dude, okay, first of all, there ain’t any 27-year-old industry plants anywhere in the world, so shut the fuck up. It’s just funny because I think they think I look young, so they’re really complimenting me at the same time. I’ll take it.
I mean, all those people you just mentioned are such influences. If it’s not musically, like Drake influences me with his ambition and his music influenced me a lot. Kanye West, his outward thinking, how he gets so passionate about clothes, you know, like that type of shit. Nirvana, the rawness and the destructiveness of them. The Clash, I love The Clash, it’s really hard to be cooler than The Clash. It’s funny, me talking about this shit, because as a brand-new rapper, nobody… it’s more obvious for a kid to wear a Clash t-shirt and not know their music than it is to not be wearing a… you know, like, it’s weird for someone to actually know about music but I do and The Clash is fucking amazing. I see a lot of the punk-rock and hip-hop parallels. It’s almost one and the same to me. It’s like, maybe you pronounce the words a little different, or whatever, you know, guys that were born in Atlanta in the ‘90s pronounce words a little different than people that were born in the ‘60s in the U.K. The attitude and the thinking behind both of those genres, and the time periods of music, are so similar.
That’s why I get so inspired by different types of music. And then you talk about someone like a straight pop star like Lady Gaga and I don’t jam her music every day, I like her music, but what I like is the crazy stunts she would do earlier on in her career where she would wear whatever the fuck she wanted and piss people off. For where she was on the pop plane, she was destructive. It’s interesting and it’s fun to watch.
Before the end of 2020, are you going to be releasing more music?
We got more songs, we got more collaborations, we got more videos. I plan on just taking over the world by the end of the year.
Who have you been working with in the studio?
Oh, you know. Just legends.
Okay, this is big. Can I have a hint?
Okay, I’ll tell you one that I haven’t worked with yet, but I’ve been talking to— Akon. He hangs out and gives feedback on the music and just blows my fucking mind. Every time he says something, it’s so intelligent. He’s a great guy. First thing when we met, he was like, ‘I just gotta tell you, I love yellow. Yellow was my favorite color when I was a little kid.’ He calls me Yellow Man now. He just drops little things that he says, like little wisdom bombs on you. He’s just a really smart guy and a cool friend, so we’ll see.
That’s dope. Is there anything you wanted to add before we close out?
I think we got all of it. I appreciate you taking the time, I love HotNewHipHop for real, it’s one of my favorite things.
I appreciate you taking the time as well. I'll let you go on with your day. Have a good one!
Alright, appreciate it, man.