INGLEWOOD — When rapper D Smoke takes the stage, he’s always representing Inglewood.
So when he won the grand prize of $250,000 on Netflix’s new reality music competition show “Rhythm + Flow” on Oct. 23, he instantly knew he wanted to give back to his hometown.
“It’s important to me because Inglewood shaped me into the person that I am,” said the rapper, who was born and raised in Inglewood.
Born Daniel Farris, the rapper has pledged $5,000 of his winnings to create an endowed scholarship for Inglewood students.
He’s currently in the process of finding people, companies or organizations who are willing to match his donation, with the goal of raising an additional $25,000 for scholarships.
“I took advantage of the community programs in Inglewood,” Farris said. “I studied at the (Inglewood) library. I was a part of the marching band. I was in student government at Inglewood High.”
Farris graduated from Inglewood High School in 2003 and UCLA in 2007 with a bachelor’s degree in Spanish literature.
In fact, rapping in English and Spanish is one of the ways D Smoke won over judges like Cardi B, Chance the Rapper, T.I. and Snoop Dogg.
“Coming from a Spanish literature background but being unapologetically black, I want to challenge how people view what it means to be bilingual or multicultural being that we grow up in Inglewood where the population is more than 50 percent Latino and Spanish is still being referred to as a foreign language,” Farris said. “It’s no longer foreign. It’s very domestic right around us so I think what I’m doing in my music is challenging people to accept the cultural shift … embrace new things in art and in the community.”
In 2009, the then 23-year-old returned to his high school campus as Mr. Farris, serving as a Spanish teacher until 2011.
It was around that time he began working full-time as a writer and music producer at Warner Chappell Music, while still maintaining teacher positions at View Park, Westchester and Augustus Hawkins high schools.
Meanwhile, music is the Farris family business.
D Smoke’s younger brother is emerging R&B singer SiR, who is signed to Top Dawg Entertainment, the same label as rapper Kendrick Lamar.
However, Farris has always longed to be his own solo artist.
Although music is his passion, he’s always had the heart of a mentor, specifically challenging and inspiring black and brown students through language and arts.
“Mentorship has always been key because you can just plant seeds and students will carry those and other people will come along and water them and watch them blossom down the line,” he said.
However, that’s not where D Smoke’s dreams for youth empowerment stops.
“My long term goal is to develop a youth center (in Inglewood) that services the community. It’s an intersection between the arts, sports and entrepreneurship,” Farris said. “It’s a space that serves as an incubation space for the students’ ideas, community ideas, a place to go for the youth.”
Farris himself has witnessed the gentrification of Inglewood.
“I think the first order of business is making sure that there’s a degree of ownership on the part of people who are from the community. For me personally, I want to own the property the youth center is on so that I can ensure that it continues to serve the people who have been in the community long before these changes took place.”
Once opened, he wants to make sure the youth center never gets pushed out of Inglewood due to rising property values that have led to rising rents.
As a former educator, Farris believes he can add a unique perspective when it comes to mentorship and youth engagement.
“My experience in the school system at Inglewood High School working as a teacher, it gives me a good grasp on what’s needed and what’s effective when it comes to addressing some of the changes that have long needed to take place in Inglewood,” Farris said.
“For me, I began teaching at a time where for some of my high school students I was only five years older than them. I’m 23 and some of them are 18, seniors in high school. Although I might be iterating the same principles, values that their parents are trying to instill in them, to see me living those out as a young professional, it meant a lot more sometimes to the youth.”
Meanwhile, with an emerging international platform, he’s turning his attention and notoriety to representing his community with his latest musical project called “Inglewood High” which is a 7-track EP that is currently in the top five for rap album downloads on iTunes.
In January, he plans to release a full 14-song album. He also will be touring (including a performance at Inglewood High), publishing a novel and making several more appearances on film and television.
However, equally as important is his plan to help Inglewood youth through arts, sports and entrepreneurship.
“I just want to make sure those things are available for future generations and more services and outlets are available for youth,” Farris said.