Cleveland Hip-Hop Act Smoke Screen To Play 15-Year Anniversary Concert on April 15 at Grog Shop

click to enlarge The local hip-hop act Smoke Screen. - Courtesy of Smoke Screen
Courtesy of Smoke Screen
The local hip-hop act Smoke Screen.
Friends since grade school, Rodney Mynatt and Tommy Sheridan, the duo known as the local hip-hop group Smoke Screen, played their very first gig together nearly 15 years ago at the now shuttered Pirates Cove. To mark what will be their 15-year anniversary, Smoke Screen will headline a show that takes place at 9 p.m. on Friday, April 15, at the Grog Shop.

“The first show was exciting,” says Mynatt in a recent conference call with Sheridan. Both guys grew up together in South Euclid. “We were very green. We were part of a collective at that time, but we shined as the two of us. The crowd gave us some great feedback and participation.”

At the time the gig was booked, the group didn’t actually have any material or a name, but the guys quickly came up with both a name and a few songs.

“We did two songs at the show and hearing people cheer for us, we wanted more of that,” says Sheridan.

At that show, Mynatt and Sheridan met the guys who were running small Cleveland label called Prhymal Rage, who subsequently enlisted them as openers for a gig in Traverse City.

“We played with these older guys we had seen at shows we had seen as kids, so it was awesome,” says Sheridan. “We cut our teeth with some guys who had been doing it for a while, so it helped us out to see them behind-the-scenes.”

The sneaker shop Heart & Sole, which was located on Coventry during Smoke Screen’s early days, played a crucial role in the group's development.

“I worked at the CD Game Exchange on Coventry, and these young kids opened the sneaker shop that had New York brands and things that weren’t happening in Cleveland,” says Sheridan. “They had their finger on the pulse of streetwear and hip-hop culture. That was the same year we started Smoke Screen. It all happened at the same time. We would hang out there and we built a friendship with them. We all started doing shows and they started throwing shows in the basement. It was a big part of the Cleveland Heights culture on Coventry. We met so many people and made so many connections. We became friends with [Grog Shop owner] Kathy [Blackman] and one of the first shows we played [at the Grog] was opening for Kid Cudi in 2008 right as he was getting big.”

Blackman helped the duo get the opening slot for a Black Star show at House of Blues, something the two cite as one of the highlights from the past 15 years.

“To be on stage while they performed and be one of the only two acts there, that was life changing in a way,” says Sheridan. “That’s like reaching your goals. They had a Green Room with our name on the door. It was like a lightning in a bottle experience.”

Opening for Girl Talk at Public Hall in 2012 also stands out as a highlight.

“That show was part of the Rock Hall Induction Week, and we got to play the first show of the week there,” says Sheridan. “It was a sold out show and we did an after party at the Grog Shop that night and packed the Grog and sold that out, and Girl Talk came and was hanging out in the crowd. That was one of those ‘holy shit’ moments.”

Mynatt says the upcoming anniversary show will provide the group with the chance to present a retrospective featuring tunes from its three full-lengths and many singles and EPs.

“It’s going to be fun for us to revisit the older material and perform again and get that feeling back," says Mynatt. "We’ll be joined by Mourning [A] BLKstar and Smith Taylor. They are two prominent Cleveland fixtures right now and really killing it in their respective lanes. They are different, but that fits perfectly. We can fit on bills with different sounds and different genres and people who present their music differently than we do. It’ll add a nice variety to the evening, and we will headline, and we’ll revisit older material and newer material. There should be some other surprises in between there. We are looking forward on getting back on the Grog stage. It’s been five years since the last Grog Shop show and two years since the last Smoke Screen show. We’re excited about it.”
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Jeff Niesel

Jeff has been covering the Cleveland music scene for more than 20 years now. And on a regular basis, he tries to talk to whatever big acts are coming through town, too. If you're in a band that he needs to hear, email him at [email protected].
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