South Minneapolis-bred rap producer Columbus "Rahki" Smith is listed in two categories for the 2014 Grammy Awards this weekend. His production work is featured on Album of the Year and Rap Album of the Year nominee good kid m.A.A.d city by Kendrick Lamar.
Rahki got into music at a young age. Born and raised in South Minneapolis, he played drums in his high school's jazz band, and first began writing his own music on the family keyboard. "My parents had a keyboard at home, and I started learning how to make songs and put chords and melodies together," he says.
As Rahki grew as a musician and producer, he became involved in the local music scene. His rap group, the Pharaohs, hosted a weekly event at the now-closed Tabu nightclub. He says they were the first local guys to be on B96 (now K-TWIN) back when it was still a hip-hop station.
Rahki has fond memories of his first big break. "My first real contract deal was with Troy Hudson, who used to play for the Minnesota Timberwolves," he says. "He saw us out in downtown Minneapolis one day, selling CDs, just really grindin'...I did a two-year deal with him on his label. It was a great experience, doing that."
After years of working with countless other local hip-hop artists, Rahki set his sights on a new frontier of music collaborations. Several of his friends had relocated to Los Angeles, and were working for major recording labels. He began to travel out to L.A., and had opportunities to share his music at label meetings and receive feedback and valuable advice that he still uses to this day.
"Things just kind of went from there," he says. "My beats CD got passed around to a producer by the name of DJ Khalil, who is a mentor and good friend of mine now. I did an internship with him, and then when I went back to Minnesota, he said, 'I want to sign you to a deal,' and I said okay, let's go, I'm ready. Two weeks later, I moved to L.A....The rest is history."
This is not Rahki's first time being recognized by the Grammy Awards. He was a writer, keyboard player and programmer on Eminem's Recovery album, which won a 2011 Grammy for Best Rap Album. He also played drums on Christian hip-hop artist Lecrae's Grammy-winning album Gravity.
This year's Grammy Awards, however, will be the first year that Rahki is nominated as a producer. On Kendrick Lamar's good kid m.A.A.d city, which is nominated for two awards, he is credited for writing and producing the song "Black Boy Fly." Their collaborative efforts began with some Kendrick-inspired beats being passed from Rahki's manager to Kendrick himself, who loved Rahki's music and immediately started writing to it. The two work well together, and are continuing to collaborate on potential future releases.
When asked if he was nervous or excited, Rahki replies, "A little bit of everything. Whether Kendrick wins or not, its an exciting situation to be in."
Regardless of the outcome of the upcoming awards, Rahki's achievements have certainly given Minnesotans something to be proud of.
"Before I moved, I won the first annual Producer Award from the Minnesota Hip-Hop Awards," he says. "I still have that award. It sits on the desk in my studio. That's something that's important to me- for the hometown to know who I am. I put so much hard work into what I did back home that I wanted people to know that I'm from Minneapolis, and hopefully I can inspire people at home to see that they can make it as well."
The 2014 Grammy Awards air Sunday, January 26 at 7 p.m. CST on CBS.