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The Northerner

Rapper uses past to inspire career

Brett O'Bourke

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Miami rapper Smitty does indeed have-as advertised on his much-rotated single-diamonds on his neck.

Built like a pit bull, all shoulders and sinew, he is slouched on an over-stuffed couch in a lounge at North Miami’s Circle House studios.

The mid-morning sun slides in through a small window and dances on the coaster-sized, encrusted medallion hanging from his thick neck.

“This is the biggest hip-hop studio in Miami,” Smitty said. “They used to not even let me in here.”

But that was before he stared writing for Dr. Dre and Diddy, before he signed with J Records and put together an album featuring the likes of Swizz Beatz, Timbaland, Kanye West, John Legend and Scarface.

Before the Biggie-sampled single, “Diamonds On My Neck,” dropped in May and became one of the hits of Memorial Day weekend, catapulting Smitty into Miami’s hip-hop consciousness.

“It’s a good time right now,” he said. “I’ve been out on the road a lot traveling, being out there in the clubs and things … The record will be out in September, so it’s nice to be home for a little while and relax.”

Home is the cracked concrete of Little Haiti. The 25-year-old rapper (born Varick Smith) said he has two younger sisters and two brothers, raised by a mother who works in billing at Broward General Medical Center, and a father who he says has been in and out of jail.

“I call it the beautiful struggle. Even though we didn’t have the best family environment, we were loved people. Being on welfare with a parent on drugs, growing up in Little Haiti taught me independence. It gave me the edge to brush my shoulders off.”

Smitty said hanging out on the street freestyling gave him a place to be and the outlet he needed to stay out of major trouble.

In 1997, he started getting serious about rapping while in college at Florida A’M in Tallahassee.

“I got into school, luckily,” he said with a grin. “I saw my whole world open up. When I got to Tally, I thought this is good, but I’ve gotten this far, I might as well go farther.”

The summer after his sophomore year, he and a friend decided to drive out to L.A, in his friend’s beat-up `91 Nissan Stanza, to try and make inroads into the rap game.

It didn’t take long for Smitty to find work. A contact hooked him up with a meeting at Will Smith’s Overbrook Entertainment, where he got some work writing rhymes for some of its artists.

But his first big break came while stalking Dr. Dre on the set of the 2001 movie “The Wash.”

“I waited all day and all night for him,” Smitty said. “Finally, he came over and I just started spitting for him, the kind of stuff I figured he wanted to hear. Two weeks later, I was writing for him for the `Truth Hurts’ album.”

After he penned Hollywood for the sound track for “The Wash,” Smitty said he and Dre talked about a recording contract but nothing solid ever came from it.

A few months later, another stalking-this time Diddy doing an appearance on Jay Leno-landed Smitty another writing job.

“I told him I don’t want to sign, I just want to write for Bad Boy Records,” Smitty said. “He gave me a song to work on and I went home and wrote six or seven verses. I don’t even remember if they were hot, but the next thing I know I’m staying in Puffy’s penthouse on Broadway, writing for Bad Boy.”

At Circle House, Smitty has slouched so far into the couch he is practically lying on his back.

He tilted his head back and stares up at the ceiling, enjoying the relative peace of the moment and contemplating his next moves.

“I want to do for Little Haiti what Biggie did for Brooklyn and Outkast did for Atlanta,” Smitty said. “I may or may not be the voice of Miami but I’m one of the voices. And I’m pretty loud right now.”

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Rapper uses past to inspire career