April 18 2011 07:59 PM

You can feed him pills, but Zany-Zanes rhymes are still sick

Shawn Smith doesn't need bling.
Photo by Dave Maass

Zany-Zane talks 10 miles a minute.

With eyes turned away, the 31-year-old rapper answers questions in manic circles, spinning off on flashes of thought and winding back to repeat his original point. His hands pat the air like hes dribbling a helium balloon that he just cant keep down.

I can walk down the street talking like I am to you right now and a police officer is going to swear Im high, and Im not even high, he says, sitting at a table on the patio at Claire de Lune Coffee Lounge in North Park. This is how I am and thats the misconception, and I want you to get that from the interview.

Hes just hyperactive, he says. He can hold it in long enough to listen to a question, but even during those few seconds, he seems about to burst. Then he floods the patio with his volume, which, like a lot of things about his behavior, he cant seem to control. After five minutes, two women sitting nearby pick up and move to the opposite end of the coffeehouse.

Zany-Zane, born Shawn Smith, chose the North Park café for the interview because he performed here once in the late 90s, with the Manifest Destiny crew. Its been a long journey since—through prison, the mental-health system, homelessness and prescription-drug abuse. Today, hes not sleeping on the streets, but he still doesnt have a regular place to rest his troubled head.

What he does have is talent and two albums on iTunes.

Smith wears an upturned cap over a do-rag over a bundle of dreadlocks. Between his eyes, you can just make out a fading tattoo of a five-pointed star. He has to tell people its got nothing to do with the Vice Lords, the street gang that also claims the symbol. Its about symbology and numerology, two subjects he studied while seeking daytime shelter in the public library. Smith also wears a tear-drop tattoo, which represents the death of his mother in 2006 and his father last year, whose passing he learned of through the county jails email-an-inmate system.

Smith was still in jail when CityBeats 2010 Local Music Issue came out, in which one reviewer trashed his self-released debut album, Rubber Room, as standard thug-life posturing over cheap beats. That was harsh—and off base. Remove the beats and whats left are Smiths original and obscene dispatches from ground zero of mental illness.

Alone now on the patio, Zany-Zane busts into Medication Call, a song from Rubber Room that he wrote while serving 26 months in prison on a residential-burglary conviction:

Yin to the yang, yang to the yin, pass the gin and Klonopin / Im spaced out, burnt out, no doubt. Recipe Hennessy and a case of Guinness Stout. I like to black out when Im taking pills / Seroquel is making me sick—two hours on the toilet when Im taking a shit. Personality split, dichotomy / Bipolar, ADHD, going Stir Crazy like Richard Pryor. To calm me down, they feed me Cylert. Lobotomy, electro-shock surgery, my psychiatrist is trying to murder me.

Shawn Smith stumbles over words when he talks, but Zany-Zane strides when he rhymes.

That song, man, people would request every time we was getting medication on the yard, Smith says. You know how music soothes the savage beast, not to be all cliché? Everybody would laugh and they have a better day. Once I seen that, I could make a lifer laugh—that has life—I knew I had something special.

Smith picked up the name Zany in prison. Another inmate said the lyricist was too comical, too wild to be Demented, the title of one of Smiths songs. Smith agreed and added Zane to give it that old-school, Flavor Flav feel.

Demented (Something Wrong with My Brain) appears on Zany-Zanes latest collection, Street Album, which was released digitally on March 1. Throughout the album, he raps himself ragged over simple beats, spitting rhymes about pharmaceuticals, jails and hospitals over samples from One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest. While some rappers brag about gang banging, Smith jokes that hes an unpredictable madman, a psychopath who would decapitate your ass and send it to your mother on Mothers Day. Frequently, his narratives are derailed by shocking non sequiturs, often sexual, violent or self-destructive.

Im going to write whats in my mind right now, you feel me? Smith says. And thats why you get it kind of rude and kind of raunchy. Its not that Im trying to be, but thats just whats coming out of my head right now. Im not really a bling-bling type of rapper, so I really cant talk about having much money. I just talk about what I see and whats on the street.

Smith has more songs to record, but life isnt making it easy. His producer Jeremy Robo Bradshaw of Stay Low Productionz—a 240-pound redhead from Idaho—has been in county lock-up since three days after Street Albums release. Smith wants to sell his albums online, and maybe burn a few discs to sell at the flea market.

I want to make money like that, but if I dont blow up like Jay-Z, Im cool, Smith says. I dont want to be on top. I dont want to be on bottom. I want to be somewhere in the middle with my albums.   

Zany-Zanes Rubber Room and Street Album are available on iTunes. myspace.com/zanyzane619


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