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When Kenny Smith walked into Euclid Central Middle School in 2005 as a new kid transferring from South Euclid, Julian Ferguson and his friends took notice. Though he was small and quiet, Smith was decked out head-to-toe in trendy clothes. Ferguson and company were also into looking good, and the new kid quickly became part of the crew. He also showed a knack for music, piping out Charlie Wilson songs for friends at lunch.
By the time they were in Euclid High, the group's universe was bookended by sports and music. Thanks to computers and the popularity of rap, everyone was at home honing their inner Jay-Z. "It was the thing that everybody in the area was doing," says Ferguson. "Everybody had groups, everybody was rapping and recording at home, then putting it up on Myspace. We started like that. [Kenny] was just one of the better ones."
By the end of high school, Smith had decided to devote himself to a music career. The plan wasn't a tough sell to his mother, Shauna. Smith was her only child; whenever he was out, his phone would buzz with calls from Mom keeping tabs, not because she figured he was knee-deep in trouble, but because of how close they were. When her son announced he wanted to rap, Shauna wasn't about to run a lot of parental interference on his play.
"I told him, 'If you want to focus on your music, I'll support it. But I have to see you waking up every day writing, making things happen,'" she says. "I'm the kind of person that believes you should wake up doing something you enjoy every day. If that's something you truly enjoy, you have to make it happen. It isn't going to come to you."