On a chilly Friday night in early 2017, Murda Beatz got off the elevator at Manhattan’s Platinum Sound Studios and bumped into a teenage rapper wearing designer jeans and seemingly in the midst of his growth spurt.
“Smooky!” Murda exclaimed, dapping up his young friend. They chatted for a moment before Smooky MarGielaa returned to his session down the hall.
“Send me beats!” he called to Murda over his shoulder. Smooky’s request did not appear opportunistic, despite Murda’s exalted stature and connections to artists like Drake, PartyNextDoor, and Migos. It appeared organic and neighborly, as though the two of them were certain to reap a windfall from the combination of their talents.
It is true—Smooky MarGielaa is 15 years old, and there is no rapper his age better positioned to ascend to rap stardom. The Bronx native is ASAP Rocky’s newest protégé and a member of AWGE, ASAP Mob’s creative collective.
He appears on five songs on ASAP Mob’s new mixtape Cozy Tapes Vol 2: Stay Cozy. On “Black Card,” which sounds like it could be Cthulhu’s entrance music, he sings of VLONE, Balmain, and foreign cars. This June, on the eve of his 15th birthday, he turned up on stage with Kendrick Lamar, then rolled with Rocky to a party hosted by Khloe Kardashian.
Music runs in Smooky’s blood. He comes from a line of Malian griots and grew up playing the balafon—a West African instrument similar to the xylophone—alongside his father, the prominent singer Abdoulaye Diabaté. He traded in the balafon for the mic two years ago when he downloaded Garage Band on his phone, and he hasn’t looked back since.
We caught up with Smooky and discussed the day he met Rocky, his friendship with Squidnice, and how his career has affected his studies.
How did you meet Rocky?
I had a performance with ASAP Twelvyy. We were the main people on the flyer. We were the ones that set up that show and everything. It was all ages until 12 o’clock. We were all in there, waiting to perform. And, you know, it’s a club, so after 12 they start serving drinks, so we had to leave. They kicked us out around 12 o’clock or so. That’s when we were chilling outside. Me, everybody, we’re trying to figure out how we’re about to get back in.
Then we see a big SUV come. We’re like, "Oh, shoot, who this?" Then out of nowhere, ASAP Rocky come out. Carti come out. All of them come out, the whole Mob. Twelvyy, every single one of them.
I’m like, "Oh shit, it’s lit!" So I’m like, "What’s good? I’m Smooky MarGielaa, I’m from the Bronx." And he was fucking with me. And I was kicked out the club, so I’m like, "Yo, I’m trying to get back in that crowd that can get me in." Security was already on us, not about to let these kids back in. Then we see our manager, he went right to the back door and opened the back door for us. I just started performing, and ever since then Rocky has been fucking with me.
What do you think he saw in you?
I don’t know. The swag, the talent, all that. Everything is that little feeling you got. Like, "Yeah, he the one right there."
Do you see artists like Lil Yachty, Lil Uzi Vert, and Kodak Black as your peers, or do you see yourself as a different generation of rappers?
I’m the new generation. I’m different from everybody. I’m Smooky MarGielaa. But they’re all nice. They all got it.
There’s an amazing photo of you with Rocky, Tyler, the Creator, and Kanye West. Do you get starstruck in front of big names like that?
I don’t be starstruck. I be with my big bro Rocky most of the time. So it’s regular to me.
You’re tight with Squidnice too. How did you guys connect?
The first time me and Squid got really cool was after a show I had in Webster Hall. He had a show there, too. Then one day I was in LA and I was fucking with this producer. The producer knew Squidnice, like, "Yo, that dude sound good on the track." I’m like, "Yeah, I know him. Squidnice, he’s from New York, I be seeing him a lot." He’s like, "Oh, word?" So you’re about to tell him to pull up in the studio session if he’s trying to pull up. He pulled up to the studio session, we made a song, and ever since then we’ve been cool.
I’M THE NEW GENERATION. I’M DIFFERENT FROM EVERYBODY. I’M SMOOKY MARGIELAA.
Are you finished with school?
I’m homeschooled right now. I take classes online.
What classes do you take?
I’m in 10th grade. I take biology, English, algebra, and geography, and all that. English is my favorite.
How often do you go to LA?
I’m in LA a lot. I come here all the time.
When you were working in the studio with Rocky and the Mob, did it occur to you that would end up on Cozy Tapes Vol. 2?
It was regular, I didn’t even know I was gonna be on the project. They told us when they were cooking the project, this song should be on it, this song should be on it, this song should be on it.
How has playing the balafon informed the way you rap?
When I play the balafon, it has melodies in it. Sometimes, you can hear that melody in my voice. It has that impact.
You FaceTimed Diddy. Did he have an words of advice?
Yeah, he said I’m nice. Stay focused and stay out of trouble.