COOL KID: “Music is my entire life,” says the singer, who sees a Grammy in his future.
In an exclusive sit-down with TALLAWAH, the reigning ‘Rising Stars’ champ talks about challenging himself, staying true and what Beres Hammond told him.
MEETING your idols can change your life. Last month, over a game of dominoes and some man-to-man reasoning, Beres Hammond offered some sage advice that changed the way Akeem ‘Short Boss’ Smith approached his craft as a singer-songwriter.
“Before meeting Beres I had the kind of mindset, where I just wanted to write whatever came to me, record it and then me and my team would put it out. But after talking with him, I look at it differently. He told me that whatever you put out there now can determine your whole career. So whatever you’re saying it should be about impacting people’s lives positively. It should be about substance,” recalls Smith, who visited Beres’ home and ended up talking with the lover’s rock legend for well over three hours. “He let me know that as an artiste I can really touch somebody’s life when I open my mind. I would say he really opened my thoughts and my head space.”
Short Boss’ manager, Ryan ‘Tango’ Prendergast, has some smartphone footage showing Beres, a guru in black, giving Short Boss the talk, the domino table not far away. In the video, Beres also emphasizes the importance of grooming and nurturing the talent as you build your career.
If last season on Digicel Rising Stars proved anything, it’s that Short Boss has remarkable potential and groomable talent. And, clearly, Jamaicans feel the same way, as they shelled out the big bucks week after week to vote for him to become their 2017 ‘Rising Star’. And he’s beyond grateful. “It’s been great. This is like a new beginning for me, a new stage of my life. They made me who I am right now,” admits the 23-year-old Jamaica College alum, who tried out for Rising Stars five times before finally making it to the live, in-studio rounds.
What made the difference this time around? “I wanted to do well, but I never used to put my all into what I was doing. So I got a little tutoring and I decided that if I made it through this time I was going to put 150% into every performance. And that’s what I did,” he says.
Jamaicans responded to the sweet treble voice, the charm and the immense passion the aspiring singer brought to the stage. Now, it’s a combination he is banking on to take him far – with the right people in his corner helping to steer his career.
Seated inside the lobby of the Knutsford Court Hotel on this warm Saturday morning, the Portmore-based singer, who loves a good karaoke joint, says there’s no limit to the heights to which he plans to take his career. “My aim is to get to the level of a Beres or a Bob Marley. They took their music to the international public and became legends in the business. I want to achieve that too,” he says. In fact, Beres and Celine Dion top his list of dream collaborators.
He also wants to win a Grammy or two; he wants to tour the continents; and he wants entire families to listen to and enjoy his music. But, at present, the primary aim is to get some of the best producers in the game to help him create some hits, as he puts pen to paper. That’s where his management team comes in. “We’re taking our time. We’re finding some good producers to work with so that when the time is right and we drop an album or an EP, we will get the kind of response that we want,” says Prendergast, who also works with megatalents like Khadine ‘Miss Kitty’ Hylton and ZJ Sparks. “Short Boss is an entertainer. People like the complete package, so we know we can get him to that next level. Nothing in life is easy. It’s just for him to put in the work and stay focused.”
If by putting in the work you mean putting on a swell show for the fans, then Short Boss is your man. By his own admission, music is his life – and it isn’t hard to see why. For one thing, he never stops humming (even midway our interview when there is a pause) and his cellphone is loaded with videos of his favourite main-stage appearances from over the past year, along with some original material (soothing reggae-R&B) that he’s been working on.
This month, he’ll get plenty of opportunities to test the new material (and his usual interpretations of classic tunes) when he hits the stage on the RJR/Gleaner Cross Country Invasion Tour, which commenced last weekend. He’s also booked to perform at Love Expressions (with Alaine and Verlando Small) on February 10. He has a show in Negril on February 13, alongside Marcia Griffiths and Christopher Martin. And the big one on the night of February 14, when he’ll perform for the lovers in the house at Red Rose for Gregory at Jamaica College, opening for headline acts Freddie McGregor and Kelly Price.
Already, Short Boss is learning the importance of patience, professionalism and having a thick skin. “People will always have something to say. There will be good comments and bad comments. I’m getting used to it,” he tells us. “If everybody likes you or has something good to say, then something is wrong. I just embrace it and go through.”
With his star on the rise, it hardly comes as a surprise that his management team is giving very serious thought to a name change! With all the artistic growth that awaits him, he can’t stay a short boss forever. “People overseas have been expressing an interest in him. We’ve been getting a lot of calls,” Prendergast explains. “We feel that changing the stage name will work in our favour on the international scene. We have a few options, but we haven’t yet made a final decision.”
Short Boss is a sobriquet he’s had since childhood. Now he’s all grown up, sporting blonde highlights and a little muscle. With music in his heart and endless success on the brain, the singer (who stands at about five-feet-five-inches) says he’s getting ready for a serious change of pace. “Music is my entire life,” he says of enjoying the ride. “I want to market myself as a family brand. I don’t want to subject myself to any one style or genre. I want to give my fans a little bit of everything.”
Photography by Paul Beale.