S.A. Smash rapper Metro looks back on 20 years of ‘Smashy Trashy’

Two decades after its release, the rapper spoke about the duo’s Def Jux debut, the late Camu Tao and how a pair of ‘young knuckleheads’ turned out a Columbus hip-hop classic.
Camu Tao (left) and Metro of S.A. Smash
Camu Tao (left) and Metro of S.A. SmashCourtesy the artist

Metro said he didn’t listen to Smashy Trashy – the sole album he and the late rapper Camu Tao recorded together as S.A. Smash – for years following Camu’s 2008 death. He couldn’t. The record brought the memories of his friend too close to the surface, dredging up a sadness at odds with the duo’s endless stream of in-jokes and a relentlessly raunchy, raucous vibe that led some critics to label the pair the Black Beastie Boys.

“And I wasn’t mad at that. I was flattered,” said Metro, born Keith Lawson. “But all of these songs, they were just so real to us. We did a song called ‘Weird,’ and it was just because we were in New York at some Russian party and we looked up and we were the only brothers in the room. And that’s why the song be like (singing), ‘I know this seems weird to you/We the only niggas in the room.’ And it was funny. We would laugh our asses off. And then we were like, ‘Yo, fuck it. Let’s make this a song.’”

Even the duo’s name arose from an inside joke, with Metro ribbing Camu for misreading a Sam Ash advertisement. “I was like, ‘You idiot. That says Sam Ash not S.A. Smash,’” he said “But then we were like, ‘Yo, that sounds like some kind of wild rock band or something. And we became S.A. Smash. And the rest is history.”

Released 20 years ago on June 3, 2003, Smashy Trashy serves as a snapshot of two young Columbus knuckleheads (Metro’s term) living virtually responsibility free in the heart of the campus area while navigating a haze of parties and women, the loose recording sessions initiated under the guidance of late producer DJ Przm.

“I think I was honing my alcoholism at the time,” Metro said, and laughed. In a 2004 interview with the website MVRemix, Camu shared his own tales of debauchery, recounting how he once woke up on the front porch of Metro’s house with a coat over his head following a night of drinking – an instance that helped inform album track “Get Home,” a deliriously tipsy tune centered on the idea of being too drunk to make it back to your own bed.

The city's nightlife proved essential in other ways, too. Before recording a song, Metro and Camu would often test it live during the legendary hip-hop night at long-gone campus institution Bernie’s, believing if it got a crowd rocking it could do the same to stereo speakers once captured on tape. Even now, Metro describes the skuzzy sound of the album as “Bernie’s hits the road.”

Working in tandem, producers Przm and Camu created a series of unpredictable beats that stretched from strutting alien chimes to crunchy numbers that mimic weirdly rhythmic trash compactors. On the mic, Metro and Camu similarly keep listeners on their toes, the pair’s playful, off-kilter lines reflecting their respective personalities and the sense of freedom with which they lived at the time.

“[Camu] always wanted to keep everyone off balance,” the rapper El-P told me in 2015. “Even in his personality, you never knew what Camu was going to do or say, and that endeared him to us very much.”

Going into sessions, Metro initially planned to make a solo album, sketching out early tracks at a time when Camu lived in upstate New York with rapper Copywrite. But after Camu returned to Columbus, he started to sit in on sessions, becoming so excited by the sound Metro and Przm were creating that he soon asked to hop on a track. “And obviously I had no problem with that,” Metro said. “And then it became a team effort. … It wasn’t like, ‘We’re two great MCs who got slapped together.’ It was like, ‘These are brothers. This is family. They love each other. They look out for each other. They’re knuckleheads.’ And that’s what the album sounds like to me.”

While recording for Smashy Trashy began in a house off-campus – an area Metro said he and other musicians and artists gravitated toward because “they rented to dummies with no real background checks and it was cheap” – Metro and Camu finished sessions in New York City after landing a deal with the El-P founded record label Definitive Jux. Before signing, the pair also received overtures from Eastern Conference, an NYC-based label for which Camu worked as an in-house producer, eventually choosing Def Jux in part because Metro was enamored with the idea of being on the same label that released the Cannibal Ox record The Cold Vein.

“And that’s how Vast [Aire] ended up on the album,” Metro said of the Cannibal Ox rapper, who delivers a guest verse on the Smashy Trashy track “Slide On ’Em.” “And if you listen to the album, he’s on songs where he’s not even rapping, where he'd just get these little ad-libs or be in the background. And that was because he was just there all the time.”

While the party that began in Columbus continued outside of the studio in New York, the sessions themselves took on a more professional tone, the pair fully aware that label support came with a new set of expectations. “It wasn’t as loose. We were on time. We knew we had to get things done,” Metro said. “Before, we were just making songs and we didn’t care where they landed. … After signing, it felt more real, like, ‘Oh, okay. This is really happening.’”

Twenty years later, Metro has a complex relationship with the album, appreciative of what the two accomplished and the good times evoked by the songs, but also stung by the reality that the pair’s inside jokes are now his alone. “When Camu was gone, I didn’t want to think about it, and I didn’t want to hear his voice, because it just made me sad,” Metro said.

But the record has endured, continuing to find an audience despite the fact that business complications have so far kept the album off streaming services (it can be heard on YouTube), and despite the fact that Metro initially feared the two had made a record that would have trouble finding an audience outside of their small circle. “I thought this was just some little boy’s club shit from Columbus and not everybody was going to get it,” he said, describing his collective's existence at the time as a repeating cycle of going from the house to the bar to Bernie’s and back again. 

With the benefit of time, however, Metro has similarly rediscovered his own connection to the music, describing the sense of joy that takes over now when he hears a song like “Smash TV” kick on.

“When I hear that song, I think about Przm, and how no one could do that sound. It was just so crunchy, with these off-beat drums that were just dragging like some sasquatch foot or something,” he said. “And the chorus was just so stupid, and we didn’t care. [Singing] ‘It’s Smash TV! Turn up the volume, it’s that easy!’ It was so fun. And that smile is what I think of when I hear it. It warms my heart thinking of all those old memories.”

Related Stories

No stories found.
Matter News