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SOCIAL STUDIES: An interview with Sy Smith, Hardest Working Woman in Underground Soul

John Richards (Twitter: @jrichards202) | 6/7/2012, 3:41 p.m.

Sy Smith: Oh that's a good question. I was extremely influenced by hip hop and hip hop culture. I was really into Run DMC, Beastie Boys, De La Soul, Jungle Brothers, Tribe Called Quest and that whole Native Tongues crew you know? The way I write tends to be more rhythmic the way a rapper might write, you know what I mean?

I'm really in to like Busta Rhymes, Brand Nubians and all that. I think I was influenced by that sound that came out of New York, to answer your question. A piece of my heart stays in New York and is always going to be a part of the city, you know? Musically I've always been into the live sound, which is what we do here in DC, you know? Everybody would see a band, you know all the kids, all of us growing up, that's what we did. Or even at our little dances in high school, you know, we'd have the local band that played at the high school played at the dance before the DJ, you know what I mean?

Washington Informer: Yeah, and more than likely the band went to the school.

Sy Smith: Right, exactly, exactly. I've always been into the live element; you'll never catch me doing a track date [laughs]. I think that's one of the huge influences of growing up here in DC.

Washington Informer: Are you still singing backup on American Idol?

Sy Smith: No.

Washington Informer: Okay, but you were on there for six seasons right?

Sy Smith: Yeah.

Washington Informer: How was that experience for you?

Sy Smith: It was very cool, it's a lot of work, it definitely makes you keep up your chops, you have to be quick on your feet, and you have to be a quick study for that show. It's not something that everybody can do or everybody's cut out to do. Ricky Minor, the music director when I was there, he runs a tight ship. His crew is always people that he really trusts. I was working with some great musicians on that show, and a lot of us had worked together prior to that show. A lot of us were with Whitney Houston's band with Ricky or just other situations like the Essence Awards, Lady of Soul Awards or the NAACP Awards, stuff like that. But it was really a good experience. And hey it was a union job; shout out to the union [laughs].

Washington Informer: [Laughs] There's American Idol, X Factor, The Voice, and now Duets. Do you think we've got to the point where there are too many vocal talent shows? Are we over-saturated?

Sy Smith: Are there too many? Oh there's Sunday's Best, right?

Washington Informer: I forgot about that one.

Sy Smith: Yeah, I love that one. Personally, and this is just my own personal taste, I don't really watch those shows I can't, I just don't really like them that much [laughs] but it might be a thing too where like when I get in the car I don't necessarily turn on the radio to listen to music, I make music so much that I don't necessarily wanna be educated by it all the time. The one thing about some of the reality shows, the vocal competition shows, I've always found it strange when somebody who's judging the vocal show can't really sing at all. [Laughs] I always thought that to be a strange element with some of the shows. I think it's very interesting though, when the judges are actually singers and can articulate what it is that they are looking for in a competitor or whatever. I think those shows have way more credibility than the ones where it's just a judge whose famous for whatever reason he's famous for. You wouldn't have like a non-dancer judge judging a dance competition would you?