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Sentinel exclusive interview behind the scenes with Gil Smith, music director for the Lil Wayne Concert Tour.
When you think of Lil Wayne you think of hard beats and street anthems. His voice can be heard on the radio more than your favorite morning and afternoon disc jockeys. At this point in time Lil Wayne is with out a doubt one of the more popular artists in the world no matter what genre you compare. But to truly understand Lil Wayne you have to first understand his music and the people behind his popular sound.
That’s why I was excited when I received a call and request to interview producer, arranger and music director Gil Smith who is currently the music director for Lil Wayne’s concert tour. I also couldn’t deny the interview after learning that Gil Smith is a Los Angeles resident living in the luxurious Baldwin Hills area no more than 10 minutes from the Sentinel office building.
Born March 14, 1981, the 27-year-old was introduced to music by his parents who insisted their son take piano lessons until his 18th birthday. Most kids dreaded the task of music but Smith fell in love with music and soon learned his calling. He attended Alexander Hamilton High School Music Academy in Los Angeles where he received a scholarship for Performer of the Year. He would later attend Berkeley College where he majored in Jazz and performance.
It was surprising to find that Gil Smith was the music man behind Lil Wayne’s concert tour because Gil comes from a gospel and R&B background. He is not the type of guy you would associate with Lil Wayne let alone think that he is responsible for directing Lil Wayne’s stage show.
Since the year 2000 Gil Smith has been on the lips of several major artists. He has performed on various talk shows including Good Morning America playing with Chris Brown to The Tonight Show with Jay Leno along side songwriter/performer Ne-Yo, Bow Wow, T-Pain, the legendary Faith Evans and many other notable artist. In 2007 Gil traveled with the music maven Kelis throughout Europe and then in 2008 was given the privilege to entertain U.S. troops with Avant in Iraq. In 2007 Gill was the music director for superstar, Chris Brown and his sold out world tour. Gil will also be accompanying R&B star Brandy on her highly anticipated world tour.
Its one thing to read about someone but it’s another to meet them and get an understanding of who they really are. My first encounter with Gil Smith let me know that this guy is as real as they come. I was set to interview Gil Smith backstage at the Universal Amphitheatre before Lil Wayne was set to perform. I arrived on time but due to a mix-up with the infamous “list”, my name was left off and I was denied access to enter backstage. To paint a better picture, it’s about 1 hour before show time and I am running late now because I have been turned away from every entry gate in at the Universal Amphitheatre. After contacting Gil he ensured me we should be good but of course something or that special “someone” was keeping me from entering with my Sentinel crew. It was a nightmare! Even if I were the President of the Untied States that night the workers and security wouldn’t have let me enter.
It took Gil Smith leaving his dressing room and walking all the way to the back entry gate, which, please believe was no easy walk considering we drove back and it took more than a few minutes. I couldn’t believe that this guy would do that. Most people would have said, “oh forget it lets do it another time”, or sent their assistant to assist me but Gil was a different cat. He walked up a steep hill that probably made him sweat more than he did on stage that night but that shows his determination and character. He kept his word and we were getting an interview done no matter what.
After introductions and a few belly laughs reminiscing about our adventurous entry, Gil Smith took care of my crew as promised. We received V.I.P. treatment as if we were the talent for the show. We were escorted to the bands dressing room where we actually conducted the Sentinel’s exclusive one on one interview.
Sentinel: How did you get hooked up with Lil Wayne and this tour?
GS: Wayne has had a phenomenal year and when “The Cater 3″ came out, I work with a bunch of musicians friends of mine and so we were on another tour and we were listening to it (Carter 3) and we said “ok we gotta get this tour.” We know he’s going to tour, it’s a phenomenal record and we’ve been doing it so long that things just kind of happened. I got asked to do it by one friend of mine but it was going to happen anyway. It was kind of like a little pool.
Sentinel: How did you first get started in the industry?
GS: We grew up taking piano lessonsÂ and at first I couldn’t stand them but that was the rule of the house. And I just fell in love with music when I got in high school and I heard my high school gospel choir. So I checked in the class and rather than sing I just started learning the songs and my best friend and mentor, he was the choir director. He mentored me from then up until now where we are the best of friends and from there I fell in love with music. I then went on to Berkeley College of music in Boston. From there I started touring and it just kind of snowballed from there.
Sentinel: What is it about music that grasps you and keeps you close?
GS: Music for me connected so many other aspects of my life. I started noticing that in other aspects in life I was being that leader. From music being able to say you know what I have friends, I have a friend who is a bass player, I have a fried who is a drummer, “yo’ guys lets get together, study this material, we are going to come together, we are going to learn it, you play this part and I’ll play that part”. What was fun became what I did and I saw a couple of friends of mine actually making a living from doing that. Music just spoke to me in those ways and it let me know, look your position in a lot of aspects of life is to be a leader.
Sentinel: What are your plans for the tour? What have you brought to the table?
GS: I think Wayne being a hip-hop artist we are just now getting into the era where hip-hop artist are using full out bands. You got Jay-Z, you got Kanye (West) and Lil Wayne, and so this is his first tour with a band. So I had to take a lot of his music and I’m just going to let you guys know I am R&B all day. I can tell you every Mary J. Blige song. Hip Hop, I had to sit and dissect.
Sentinel: That’s probably why he called you. It shows that hip-hop needs that ear.
GS: So I had to take his music, go in the lab, I had to learn it and I had to learn all the lyrics because the beats, once the sample gets going it doesn’t change. You know the difference in the song by the lyrics. So I had to take his songs and figure out what songs are important to him. What would he like to do for this tour and figure out how he would like to sage way into an actual show and it was amazing in terms of Wayne. We put together the show, he came, he sat down, we ran the show once and he got up thumbs up and said I love it.
Sentinel: Working with Wayne, how would you describe the relationship?
GS: Awesome, he is one of the best artists I have ever worked with. He lets you totally get engulfed in what you are doing. You present it to him and he signs off on it. He’s that guy. Rehearsal, he’ll come but he really doesn’t need to (lol). He knows his stuff and his material.
Sentinel: What advice would you give to someone that is interested in music or what advice would you give to youth today?
GS: That’s a loaded question. In the day and age where are young people are growing up its different from 10 years ago. It’s different from even 5 years ago in my opinion. I think to get a sense of yourself is very vital. In terms of weather its music or whatever you want to do. To understand who you are and understand what ever it is you want to do, literally you can do it.
Sentinel: Who were some of your mentors? What philosophies or books do you turn to for advice?
GS: I read a lot of autobiographies, a lot of self-help, “How to Win Friends and Influence People”, “There’s No Traffic on the Extra Mile” by Rickey Minor. So people like Rickey Minor and my personal friend and mentor Fred Martin who is a philanthropist. He has a building on Crenshaw Boulevard that helps inner city kids and trains them in the arts. So I’ve helped develop some of the programs over there. And just people who care past good intentions. That’s Fred’s motto and I try to live by that as well. I think it’s important to have a good sense of your self, a good sense of where you are going and a good idea. It’s important to have role models that you can look up to and say I want to be there and just in terms of this music thing, we use to fantasize about doing this literally. So I use to think about this stuff and dream about it and do everything in my power to try and make this happen but I never knew how this was going to happen. And I don’t think the how is important to a lot of people. I don’t think it should be. I think just focus and at one point in time something is just going to pop off.
Sentinel: As music transcends to where ever it’s going to go, where would you like to see music in the next 5 years and where do you see yourself in the next 5 years?
GS: I mean working with Wayne is a great accomplishment. I don’t know, Faith Hill? Garth Brooks? Madonna? It just keeps going and going. I feel like those opportunities how I felt about some of the other opportunities. I don’t know how it’s going to happen but that’s what I want so that’s what is going to eventually happen. And not to be forward about it but the thinking process is important.
Sentinel: What is the highlight of the show for you? What moment stand out above the rest?
GS: There are so many. We have guest artists that come out. We have a segment in the show where Wayne plays the guitar and serenades the ladies. I know they don’t expect that.