“I think I’m antisocial,” says Smoove’L, sprawled out on a bed at the Maxwell hotel in Manhattan, hours before his packed show at S.O.B.’s. To his right are his publicist and two confidants, but Smoove’s gaze rarely leaves his own side of the room. 

“I’m not a person you can’t approach, but just don’t think you’re about to smile in my face and then we’re friends the next day,” he clarifies. “You’ve got to build something. That’s how it is. I’m a cool person, though.”

Antisocial or not, Smoove’L has been making a lot of noise lately. Rising through the ranks of Brooklyn’s exploding drill scene with viral hits like “New Apollos,” which put a melodic twist on the subgenre’s signature sound, the 19-year-old rapper was rewarded in January 2020 with an Interscope Records deal. Backed by a major label, he’s emboldened to keep pushing the limits of New York drill music.

Born Lefty Frizzell Sanders Jr. in Brooklyn’s Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood, Smoove’L has always approached life differently than his peers. When his friends in Brooklyn were constantly switching from one sport to the next, Smoove always knew he was born to perform on a stage. 

On first encounter, though, he doesn’t give off the stereotypical impression of a kid who was born for show business. In the hotel room, he comes off as reticent when strangers walk in. He surveys the room without saying a word, seemingly feeling out my vibe before agreeing to speak any further. It isn’t until he’s surrounded by friends and family that he lets his guard down and flashes the natural confidence he’ll later replicate on stage.