Ben “Doc Brown” Smith began his career in 2000 as a battle rapper, competing in live events such as the now defunct Mudlumz, an infamously tough gig based at the Dingwalls nightclub in Camden Lock where amongst others he battled and lost to fellow UK rapper Sway. Smith became a recurring battle champion at the fledgling competition “Jump Off” in 2003, when the now internation event was housed underneath Yo! Sushi on Poland Street in London’s Soho, moving to the Swiss Centre in Leicester Square (Now the M&M museum). The following year Smith’s growing reputation as a personality of the underground scene made him the host of a monthly event at his friend’s record shop Deal Real on Great Marlborough Court off Carnaby Street in the West End.
Deal Real Records
The night was loosely named “Friday Night Live” and initially acted as a platform for aspiring young artists from the UK to perform at an open mic, hosted by Smith. In an interview from 2006 Smith stated he provided “light relief mixed with an authority necessary to marshall what was always a pretty raucous night.” The night was also notable for being the venue where Smith discovered a sixteen year old Lowkey, whom he promptly featured on his first breakout single “Donnie’s Lament”, and who went on to be one of the most respected political rappers in the UK and internationally.
The popularity of the monthly event soared and soon Deal Real was attracting Hip Hop celebrities from the US, performing in the store to promote their own European tours. The first to perform were the Jungle Brothers. Others included Pete Rock and CL Smooth, Slick Rick, The GZA, the Black Eyed Peas, Rhymefest, Pharoahe Monch, Canibus and Cee Lo, as well as a host of DJs including the producer and frontman of the Business Intl, Mark Ronson.
It was in the shop that Smith met Ronson for the first time, caught in an impromptu rap battle with Chicago rapper Rhymefest, whom Smith admitted “beat him on his home turf”. However, Ronson recalled Smith’s ability to please a crowd with both good humour and a level of self deprecation often unusual to the Rap genre, and invited Doc to join a live set up that would form the basis of Ronson’s sophomore album Version.
The first gig Smith performed with Ronson was at the Fabric nightclub in the Barbican area of east central London. The line up consisted of Ronson on guitar, Daniel Merriweather, Amy Winehouse and Beverly Tawiah on vocals, former Jamiroquai bassist Stuart Zender and the Scottish brass section The Haggis Horns.
Smith continued to tour with the band until spring 2007, rapping on stage alongside Lily Allen on the Kaiser Chief’s cover “Oh My God”, providing the Ghostface Killah vocals for the song “Ooh Wee” and performing his own lyrics on the instrumental cover of Kasabian’s “LSF (Lost Souls Forever)”.
The first breakthrough record and Smith’s biggest hit to date was a track entitled “Donnie’s Lament”, better known as the “Mad World Remix” due to it’s extensive sampling of that year’s Cristmas number one “Mad World, performed by Gary Jules, originally by Tears for Fears.
Smith’s version is notable for a number of reasons. Firstly, its sample led to legal issues with the label Sanctuary, who did not sanction the remix, despite Smith’s appeal to them. Smith was therefore unable to recoup any money whatsoever despite his versions popularity.
Secondly, the song had a level of mainstream airplay unusual for UK Rap at the time, being championed by Jo Wiley and Jonathon Ross among others. Some commentators have argued that the song helped raise awareness of the genre as a whole and earmarked a new wave of British rap artists.
Thirdly, the song provided a cameo to a sixteen year old rapper named Lowkey, who today is cited as one of the most politically influential rappers in the UK, Europe and particularly the Middle East, where his tireless campaigning for Palestinian rights amongst others has been lauded by many.
On the back of the tracks small success, Smith released three full length offerings: Citizen Smith Volume One, The Document and Citizen Smith Volume Two. It was during his work with the producer Mark Ronson that he was inspired to create the album Another Way, which features no samples and mostly live studio music. Having moved into stand up, then television and film, the album is as yet unrleased and has built a cult status among fans, many of whom have dubbed Another Way ”the farewell album”.
In July 2011, a short film was released to accompany the song “Blighty”, a song from the unreleased LP. The film features an interview with Smith at the end credits, in which he describes the film as an open project for young people to interpret his lyrics visually. The film was directed by photographer Kwame Lestrade and shot with the aid of various young people as part of a lottery funded youth project.
Late in 2007, a chance phonecall from former BBC Radio 1 host and comedy writer Danny Robins, for whom Smith had previously written some spoof music, led to Smith working as a script consultant on Robins’ BBC Radio 4 sitcom “Rudy’s Rare Records,” a vehicle for veteran UK comedian Lenny Henry. This eventually led to walk on roles and more editing and writing work on other Radio 4 comedy shows, including “Music Therapy” and “Look Away Now”.
Encouraged by producers at the BBC, Smith attended an BBC industry gig in January 2008 at a small venue in London’s Great Portland Street name The Albany, where he performed a comic song and told an anecdote regarding being the first rapper to work for Radio 4. By his own admissions in an interview from 2009, Smith claimed he “ran out of things to say” and called for the audience to offer words, names and places, with which he improvised a comic rap. According to Smith, the venue managers were impressed and invited him to perform a short set at a late night variety show named “Spank!”
Smith then entered a national talent competition for comedians called “So You Think You’re Funny?” and his third ever stand up gig was in the first round of the competition in spring 2008 at the Hobgoblin Pub in Forest Hill, South East London. Smith eventually made the last eight at the grand final in Edinburgh that August, an event in which by his own admission he “froze up,” delivering what he saw as a disappointing performance.
Regardless, the performance led to interest from bookers, and Smith began a new incarnation as a professional Stand up Comedian in October 2008. Since then he has performed at the prestigious Tartan Ribbon event at the Edinburgh Festival, debuted his own one man show “Unfamous” which sold out its run at both the Pleasance Theatre, Edinburgh and London’s Soho Theatre. He also gave a one off performance of Unfamous at the Elgar rooms in the Royal Albert Hall in March 2011. In April 2011 Smith was invited to take the show to the Melbourne International Festival for one month.
Television and Film Work
Since moving into the world of Comedy, Smith has taken on various roles in front of and behind the camera in both Film and Television. As an actor he has played roles in the acclaimed BBC series “Rev” and “Miranda”, as well as Channel 4’s ”The Inbetweeners”. Smith also provided voices for the characters Budge and Koggs on the cult CBBC series “Big Babies” for which he also sang the theme tune.
In Film he has played a role in Ben Miller’s “Huge” as well as a co-starring role in the thriller “Other Side of the Game”. Smith is also credited as a songwriter on the Joe Cornish-directed film Attack the Block. The character “Hi Hatz” is often seen and heard playing songs he has recorded. These were written and recorded by Smith and re-voiced by the actor Jumayn Hunter.
Smith created a 13 part teen comedy-drama for the BBC called “The Four O’clock Club”, on which he is also the co writer, and co-musical director. Smith runs his own production company named Bust-A-Gut Ltd, which- whilst focussing on television and film- has also re-released the back catalogue of his music.
Most recently he has delved deeper into dramatic acting, starring in the Frank Spotnitz (X-Files) penned “Hunted”, a thriller for Cinemax. Smith then went on to shoot an episode of Midsomer Murders and is currently the newco-star of ITV1′s Law & Order, airing spring 2014.
With one foot still in comedy, Smith is developing a music based project with Ricky Gervais having appeared alongside him in Derek for Channel 4 and The Return of Brent for BBC’s Comic Relief.Smith also stars in a new comedy called Give Out Girls for Sky (Jan 2014) alongside voicing the lead role in the popular children’s animation Strange Hill High (BBC).