Sumukh Mysore AKA Smokey the Ghost is an independent hip-hop/rap artist from Bengaluru. He has been playing a vital role in building the indie hip-hop scene in India and thriving against all odds. Following the release of his new song Gombai with MC Bijju, Smokey talks about his upcoming album, songwriting process, future plans and philosophy.
What’s the meaning behind your stage name?
Basically, Smokey the Ghost is an ambit concept to the many alter egos I have, like Smokey the Brahmin, Smokey the Clown etc. The Ghost possesses everyone and everything and takes all forms, yet these people see through it and ignore its presence.
Tell us about your new release, Gombai.
Gombai is a song about the Matriyoshka dolls that represent out families. We are all dolls in some way, encapsulated into each other, painted in different colors but made of the same wood. This song represents the family I see in every human being. The song is written by taking lyrics from a Kannada play and rearranging them in such a way that it seems like we are talking to a metaphorical gombai.
Who are your influences?
The early part of my influences in music involved Eminem, Big L, and Rakim, and slowly evolved to Chance the rapper, Kendrick Lamar, and Kanye West, until it broke beyond rap into jazz like Herbie Hancock, Donald Byrd, Thelonoius Monk etc.
What’s your creative process?
There are a lot of plots I draw from, and everyday, I discover a new part of the process that I never knew before. Most of the time, I chase a concept, and the intent behind the concept drives all the progress around it. Intent is very important for me too. This relationship determines the speed of the process; sometimes it’s 15 minutes, and sometimes its months. I think it’s too complex.
How is the new album coming along? Is it a concept album?
Yes, it is. Very early, we made the distinction between what we thought an album was and what a mixtape was. If a song is a page, a mixtape is different pages from different books, and an album is different pages from the same book. So I am trying to bring together many aspects of a South Indian Brahmin boy like me and India in general into the album. This will not sound like a ‘black guy’ album, we are going to focus on what’s culturally relevant to us.
Photo courtesy of Smokey the Ghost
Which is your personal favourite song off the album?
My album? Maybe the next song that I make in it will be my favourite (laughs). I think for now, it’s this song called Breathe, we get the best reactions for it when we do it live. It has a heavy political undertone and you won’t even know it, I think my country will need it.
Do you conceptualize the artwork for your album? How much involvement do you have on the visual side?
I make sure that I am part of every single aspect of my album. Apart from that, I found the concept for it was pretty much a story which I’ll save for later. For now, I conceptualized the artwork while on acid.
How do you think this album is turning out as compared to the vision you had when you started it?
It’s the same, but somehow, it’s changed in different ways. After meeting many musicians and my first psychedelic experience, I started re-writing and researching, learning and enhancing my capabilities. The album has changed its features quite a bit since its birth. But I think it will be fun when it drops. It’s been a journey and it’s taught me so much, I cannot wait for it to be done.
Photo courtesy of Smokey the Ghost
What’s the most interesting tour experience you’ve had?
I saw a truck flip 360 right in front of me, while on my way to a show in Guwahati. The scene played again and again in my head throughout the show. It was pretty intense, but I got out alive and I’m thankful.
What’s next for you?
Next, I want to start a hip-hop magazine and drop more albums, maybe EPs. I don’t know, so much to do.