Rapper Shawn Smith Talks New “Chain Gang” Music Video, Meeting JAY Z and More

If hip-hop history has taught us anything, it would be that amidst a lyrical drought, a unique voice always arises. Refracted through the prism of beats and rhymes, the disparate experiences of this voice inform our constantly evolving worldview while restoring our wavering hope in the genre. Pushing the boundaries of hip-hop’s infinite possibilities, Philly wordsmith Shawn Smith fits this description. And considering the anticipation surrounding his new music, one thing is for sure: Shawn Smith’s got next.

With an ability to spit voracious freestyles while crafting intricate stories, the Philly MC chose “Chain Gang” as his first single because he says, “The Chain Gang video is a soft launch to what I’m kicking off this year. The mixtape era is my direct inspiration to pick up a pen in the first place. This record is all of those moments wrapped into a new musical mural — an appreciation to hip hop and what this feel has done for the streets of Philly.”

The latest music video finds the young virtuoso on the streets of his hometown, paying homage to state property and waxing poetic about everything from his admiration of Michelle Obama to questioning why Congress still hasn’t passed anti-lynching laws. Directed by 12vy of the Midnight Collective, Shawn can be seen decked out in a Marcus Garvey-inspired Pan-African flag poised underneath Artist Miguel Horn’s latest alleyway sculptural project ContraFuerte. In “Chain Gang,” Smith paints his rhymes in cinematic detail, pushing the boundaries of hip-hop while also paying homage to the OG’s that paved the way. Describing the raw and gritty record with intricate punch lines as a “State Property flip,” Philly inflections pepper everything from the bars to the beat. Smith recently debuted “Chain Gang” at Freeway & Friends Live – Philly Freeway 20 Year, and the track is exclusive to Youtube and Audiomack.

Long before his lyrical gift attracted the attention of some of the industry’s most recognized and respected figures (Black Thought, Meek Mill, Jay-Z), Smith honed his craft as a brotherly love hip-hop hopeful opening up for rap elites like Rick Ross, Jeezy, DMX, Juelz Santana, and Ice Cube. His debut album Sink or Swim: A Shawn Smith Story was released in Fall 2018 to acclaim. From memorable appearances on Sway in the Morning to his 2018 BET Hip Hop Awards Cypher freestyle, Smith is a modern day renaissance man, crafting narratives ranging from urban struggles and politics, to art and fashion, showing how diverse he is as a young, black man.

What inspired you to create Chain Gang? Mani sampled this Beanie Sigel joint I loved called “One Shot Deal.” Immediately I knew I wanted to create a moment that reminded me of the energy rap gave me in the early 2000s era. Especially a moment that happened in the city I’m from — Philly. 

What was the inspiration behind the video? For the video, we went with our very own essence of the Philly streets mixed with a 90’s DMX energy. RIP! 

How has your music evolved since your debut album, Sink or Swim: A Shawn Smith Story? Since my first project, I’ve grown a lot as an artist, visually and musically. What’s more important to me now as a creator is a connection. When I create now, besides storytelling and rapping, I strive to create a genuine connection with the listener of sounds and feelings. My expressions are more open arms to a lot of different people, and I just love taking people on my/our emotional journey.

What other projects do you have in the works for 2023 and beyond? For the rest of 2023, we plan on releasing, releasing, releasing. More freestyles, projects, singles and plenty of other content from merch to physical art. I’m into a lot of different things, and I plan on displaying that a lot for my brand, SINK OR SWIM.


You were spotted at the Roc Nation brunch this year. How was that experience, and how was it being around hip-hop royalty? Going to the Roc Brunch is always an honor. There’s black excellence and amazing vibes. Being able to rub shoulders and shake hands with people that inspired me to make music is beyond inspiring. It’s almost like ‘Network Heaven.’


What was it like working with artist Miguel Horn on the ContraFuerte sculptural project? I actually did not participate in the creation of this project, but wouldn’t that be something?


What would you say is the biggest lesson you’ve learned in your music career so far? The biggest lesson I learned in my music career so far is that consistency is important. Also, the rules change quite often, the game stays the same, but the players change every day. The main thing I pick up from mentors is how to create longevity and sustainability. So I would say consistency, hard work, and relationships will take you far.


Who are some artists you want to collab with? I want to work with Jay-Z, Kanye, Wayne & Kendrick for starters! After that there’s a list. Lol


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