D Smoke is on cloud nine after being named the first-ever winner of Rhythm + Flow!
ET exclusively caught up with the champion on Thursday, just hours after the series finale of the competition show dropped on Netflix. During our interview, the Inglewood, California, native discussed everything from his big win to what he plans to do with the non-contractual $250,000 prize and what he's learned from legendary judges Tip "T.I." Harris, Cardi B and Chance the Rapper.
"I am just overwhelmed with joy," he raved. "I feel all the love. I worked hard to get to this moment. Words can't really express."
"On that stage, every emotion hit me at the same time," he added, of what he was feeling the moment he was announced as the winner. "I was just joyful, I was full. My family was there, it was an indescribable moment. And yeah, I even shed a couple of tears."
D Smoke, formerly a Spanish and music theory teacher at Inglewood High School, may have won the competition, but the journey certainly wasn't an easy one. With every challenge, he was forced to fight for survival and prove time and time again to the judges why he deserved to stay over the other aspiring rap superstars. When asked to share some behind-the-scenes secrets about the show, he told ET that there was actually a moment where Cardi B, T.I. and Chance called in the legal team because the talent was just that good.
"Cardi, I love Cardi, man," he shared. "She's far more insightful than the casual fan will even know. She enjoys entertaining people, she enjoys making comedic moments, but one of the things that stood out to me was the deliberation when Old Man Saxon and myself were on the chopping block."
As fans may recall, during episode six, "Rap Battles," the remaining contestants were grouped into pairs and had to compete against their partner in a rap battle, all in front of a live audience. Out of each pair, the rules stated that only one would survive and move on to the next round of the competition.
"That deliberation actually went on for 20 minutes, to the point where they called out lawyers to see if they could send both of us through and send an entire battle from another round home," D Smoke revealed. "During that moment when they were trying to decide who to send home, Cardi said, 'Old Man Saxon, you contribute to the artist community greatly by just challenging what people think an artist is and you do so much good work.' And then she came to me and was like, 'Smoke, you do so much good real-life work in the community, I can already see that you'll carry on what you started as a teacher into your work as an artist.'"
"In that deliberation, she showed a true side of her that I kind of wish we would have seen on the show," he continued. "But I understand there's only so much we could fit into 10 full hours."
Cardi made it clear on the show that she was consistently amazed by D Smoke's vast talents, especially in the finale when he showed America he could also play the piano. The judges joked that he was holding out on us all this time, so naturally, we had to ask the rapper if he had any other secret talents he's been hiding.
"I play drums, actually," he revealed. "I'm not sure how much of that I'll be doing immediately. You know, Anderson .Paak is crazy on the drums and performing. I haven't gotten so much into drumming while rapping, so if I do hop on a set, it will be to support somebody else as an artist in the community."
ET also spoke with T.I. on Thursday, who explained why he, Cardi and Chance believed D Smoke was the "clear" winner over fellow finalists Flawless Real Talk, Londynn B and Troyman.
"In addition to his undeniable talent and diversity and an elevated skill set, he had this incredible ability to articulate himself. He's so poised and seemed the most prepared for this opportunity more than anyone else," T.I. said. "As I said on the show, 'Success is where preparation meets opportunity,' so prepare yourself for the next opportunity, you know what I mean?"
"You heard me say that throughout the entire season, and I feel like he was the most prepared for the opportunity. He executed every challenge effortlessly and he was the clear winner in every challenge," he continued. "There is not one challenge that he participated in that you could say, 'Oh, well, that coulda went to [that person]' -- I mean, that was a unanimous decision. After the video challenge and the sample challenge, after that, we all felt the competition was his to lose. He sustained that level of tenacity all the way through to the end."
T.I. also revealed why he encouraged D Smoke to use the $250,000 prize to invest in himself.
"Because it all starts with you," he explained. "You won't ever convince anyone else to invest in you if you're not willing to invest in yourself. I also feel like an artist should have the most equity in their art. The only way you can ensure that is to invest in yourself."
And according to D Smoke -- who already released an EP, Inglewood High, late Wednesday following the win -- that's exactly what he plans to do.
"I most certainly took that advice [from T.I.]," he shared. "The beauty of it is, I've only been doing what I've already been doing with my own teaching salary for years. When you're forced to do something off a minimum budget, you know how to do it well and efficiently. So, now that we have somewhat of a larger budget to work with we'll continue to invest and invest intelligently, as well as save a portion that will allow us to, you know, make it through a rainy day."
"We've got some things in the works," he added. "I'll be doing some scholarships at my high school, where I went and later taught at. So, doing some community events in addition to investing in myself. As the first order of business, we want to put on these events where we're giving out some scholarships to people at the school that I went to and we're also disseminating some information on how to pursue your passions while getting your education. We'll continue to do work, not from an 8-3 or 9-5 standpoint as a teacher, but more so as an ally in the community and doing some things independently."
D Smoke believes that investing in his community of Inglewood is just as important as why he stayed true to himself throughout the competition, a quality which ultimately helped him win it all. His new EP also honors that.
"Staying true to myself was vital because I was already successful as a teacher. I always had that option, not necessarily to fall back on, because I love it, but I just knew that it was important for the hundreds, if not thousands of students that I've taught over the years saw that you don't have to compromise your integrity or who you are in order to be an artist," he explained. "It's been crazy, so many of my former students have hit me up. My favorite thing is when they're in their living room and they're posting videos of them watching me perform and they're yelling at the top of their lungs. Just to watch that is the craziest feeling."
"So Inglewood High is an ode to my city, my experience within that school both as a student and a teacher," he continued. "Its walls hold so many stories that are near and dear to my heart, old stories that I experienced firsthand and those that I witnessed looking at my students' lives. Some things you hear on there will be my own experiences, others will be me narrating in third person some things that I witnessed as a teacher and just a community member in the city."
"I'm super proud of that project," he added. "It's just a short glimpse of things that are to come. I knew it was important to take this moment to share something that people can digest and appreciate, and get a small glimpse into who I am."
Throughout the competition, D Smoke was given the opportunity to work with producers like Sounwave and artists like Miguel, but now that it's all over, any chance we could see him working with the king himself, T.I.?
"Be careful what you ask for," T.I. replied, with D Smoke saying, "Well played, Tip. Well played."
"I let him know he has me as a resource, to tap into whenever he needs advice from this point forward," T.I. added. "He knows that, and I'm sure Chance and Cardi feel the same way."