^ Psych’d Baltimore show at Crown, Baltimore, MD
Shawn Smallwood is a DJ and producer hailing from Baltimore, MD. Known for his unconventional club remixes, a Shawn Smallwood party will usually involve odd-couple pairings, such as fusing Michael Jackson and Bobby Schmurda, or nostalgic club renditions of Sesame Street and Deniece Williams. In February, Shawn rocked the crowd at Baltimore’s Crown Lounge for Psych’d, a festival-worthy lineup of artists, including Baltimore’s TT The Artist and ALoiecious Elliott.
Shawn discusses the origins of the Psych’d shows, how to make it in Baltimore, and why Purple Rain is such an important part of being ready to go out and party. Listen to his guest mix, the inaugural edition of my “Melt” series, on Soundcloud (free download).
Q: Tell me more about the Psych’d show.
SHAWN: Psych’d is an event put together by a DJ out of Houston named HI$TO and is supposed to be, not necessarily a celebration, but a way for people to hear new dance music: new juke, new club, new bounce, just new electronic music, period. That kind of music doesn’t get played here that often. It’s an opportunity for us as artists and musicians to play our own music.
Q: Why did you host the party at Crown? Who chose the venue?
SHAWN: The venue chose us. We’ve been playing here consistently for a while now and they like what we do and so they asked us to come back, so we’re really fortunate and happy to come back.
Q: How did the DJs come together? Are you all part of the same collective?
SHAWN: HI$TO booked Pysch’d, so I was very fortunate to play the very first one he did right down the street. So he’s been just build this up and continuing to grow with it and sticking to it. He booked acts from all over. We had an act from Delaware here tonight [No Sir E]. [HI$TO]’s going to work with Gianni Lee who’s a pretty big DJ out of Philadelphia. That’s his homeboy – they have a pretty big EP coming out.
^ Shawn takes over the decks at Psych’d Baltimore after HI$TO’s set.
Q: How do you decide what you’re going to play, especially when playing to such diverse crowds?
SHAWN: Part of being a DJ is reading the room, looking at the people in the room and playing records that they’re going to like. That’s 75% of being a DJ. If you can’t accomplish that particular skill, you should look for another line of work. That’s what I tend to focus on. If it is a room full of white kids, I’m going to place the records that may not have even heard before. If it’s a room full of black kids, I’m going to place the records that maybe they haven’t heard before. That’s the goal for me: a cultural, kind of explorational (sic) thing.
“I’m going to place the records that maybe they haven’t heard before. That’s the goal for me: a cultural, kind of explorational thing”
Q: Your set list is very diverse, both in your playlists and where you source songs and samples for tracks. What influences you the most?
SHAWN: Movies, and watching a lot of TV – sitting around smoking weed. It’s a movie montage, for real. When you come out, you want it to feel like you’re in that scene in the movie where everybody getting dressed or everybody about to go out. That montage of music you hear that makes you pump up and say “yeah, we’re going to the club. Fuck yeah! It’s time to gout!” Like at the beginning of Purple Rain. At the beginning of Purple Rain, Morris Day is on stage and Prince is playing next? That’s the kind of feeling you want to give people, that it’s the beginning of Purple Rain in here.
“That’s the kind of feeling you want to give people, that it’s the beginning of Purple Rain in here”
Q: When you began DJing, did your mixes always sound like this?
SHAWN: They’ve always sounded like this. My homeboys play a lot of rap music, a lot of trap music. So what happens as a unit, is that we try to cater to everybody. So I handle the dance music part of it; I tend to be the “dancier” aspect of it. I tend to be the opener essentially. Before all the hits come on, there’s a guy who’s filling time, and playing records that you want to hear, or think you want to hear, like Michael Jackson. Trying to get away with slick things, doing different stuff. Being able to get away with it, that’s the trick. It’s all about being sneaky and be like I’m going to play this record and see what happens. Like the Free Willy thing, I started playing that out in public and people were like “damn, this hard!” and I said “I know! This is hard as shit! This is the hardest record I’ve ever heard in my life, and I’ve listened to it hundreds of times!”
“Being able to get away with it, that’s the trick. It’s all about being sneaky and be like I’m going to play this record and see what happens”
Q: You do a lot of shows out of town. Did you get your start in Baltimore and then travel, or vice versa?
SHAWN: A lot of people start locally and build it up. I was very fortunate, in that the first shows I was playing were always on the road, and were always out of town. So I’ve had this backwards following of where there’s five or ten people in New York, five or ten people in Philadelphia and five or ten people in D.C., and that’s my following. Instead of having fifty people in Baltimore and now saying “we’re going to take this on the road.” I went on the road first. Baltimore is a city known for DJing. If you come from outside, you have to come correct, so I had to go out and show people that this is legit, this is for real. This is good enough that other people want to hear, maybe that will make other people at home want to come out here. It’s an uphill climb.
“If you come from outside, you have to come correct, so I had to go out and show people that this is legit, this is for real.”
Q: Where will you be in five days, five months and five years?
Five days from now I will be home on my sofa, smoking some weed. Five months from now, that’ll be July, I believe we’re working on doing Artscape in Baltimore. Five years from now, hopefully standing in our club somewhere and we’re making people dance. People are coming out and having a good time. We’re not worried about alcohol, drugs, anything else but having a good time.