After spending his adolescence building up a street buzz under the name Young Savage, the Philadelphia rapper Shawn Smith reclaimed his own name for his autobiographical debut, SINK OR SWIM: A SHAWN SMITH STORY. Once known for his voracious freestyles and quippy punchlines, Smiths latest chapter brims with big-picture storytelling and astute social commentary. I figure I can be a spokesperson because they never gon be able to tell their own story, he says, casting a light on his Southwest Philly friends and family. People being aware of that cycle [of poverty] could open their minds up, he adds optimistically. And yet, theres no preachiness in his perspective. Instead, Smith has figured out a careful balance in rapping about his upbringing: hes equal parts sharp-tongued and warm-hearted.
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