Custom Made Smitty (aka Shane Smith) has been a fixture in Fort Wayne's rap scene for quite a few years, mostly honing his craft as a member of the Hometown Hooligans. He has made appearances on some of the area's best rap CDs over the years and recently began work on a solo album to show what he can do on his own. That album, Welcome 2 Fort Shane, is now a reality.
Though Smitty's album sports only five tracks, it gives us an idea of what this Fort Wayne-born and -bred rapper is all about: keeping old school alive. Raised on a steady dose of Earth Wind and Fire, Al Green and Marvin Gaye, Smitty wears his influences on his sleeve as he raps proudly about his life, hometown and his Hooligan brethren on the title track and the self-explanatory "Is This Funky Enough." "Funky" is also notable in that it may also hold the record for number of Roller Dome references in one song, as Smitty reminisces about growing up on the South Side near one of the city's most cherished landmarks. The song is simultaneously amusing and autobiographical, an attribute that permeates throughout the album.
The middle of the album sees the catchy "Will E.," a tip of the hat to unexpected music and lifestyle influence Willie Nelson, and the uptempo "Take Em' Back" which will have you hitting the repeat button again and again. Both songs contain infectious grooves worthy of Smitty's old-school influences but also feel very relevant to today's music, while the album's closer, "Most Underrated Mack," has the type of vibe one would expect from an R&B aficionado. The song's slow groove and lyrics bring to mind Barry White, updated for the new century.
With the help of his Hometown Hooligan brethren, all of whom appear in different combinations throughout Welcome 2 Fort Shane, Custom Made Smitty uses funk and soul melded with well thought-out lyrics to create some great hip hop songs. All five songs on this album are catchy and unique. It's obvious that Smitty has spent his time paying dues in the local scene wisely and has developed a unique sound. Like he says in the title track, his debut really was well overdue. Recommended listening for anyone who thinks that the Fort Wayne hip-hop scene has grown tired and stale.