All of my favorite Reno rappers are moving away and becoming other cities’ favorite rappers. Wordsmith and multi-instrumentalist Chari “Knowledge” Smith left The Biggest Little City for the Bay Area, but last Saturday, Aug. 11, she returned home where her skills were polished.
Her new group, Modern Monsters, played Pignic Pub and Patio with Reno’s Weapons of Mass Creation.
Modern Monsters are a five-piece rock band with the clout to cover Rage Against the Machine (and not just the song “Killing in the Name,” but an ambitious “Bullet in the Head.”)
Smith has always surrounded herself with guitar talent, from Spencer Kilpatrick in Reno’s Knowledge Lives Forever to Modern Monsters’ Wes Ettinger and Rich Wells. Her new compatriots know their way around their instruments. Ettinger is a maniac brimming with energy, Wells keeps up with Tom Morello solos like nothing.
[pullquote]It’s like the members of Rage Against The Machine, Radio Head, Pearl Jam and The Roots got together for a family reunion just in time to save America from impending doom.”[/pullquote]After answering a Craigslist ad for a band wanting a hip-hop artist, Smith was introduced to Ettinger and the gang.
“I played one gig with MoMo and it was magic,” Smith said. “It resonated in my heart, my mind, and stirred the fire in my belly. It was reminiscent of my times with Knowledge Lives Forever. After the first handful of shows, we joined forces and decided to make a marriage out of it.”
Smith says Modern Monsters is full of her favorite genres of music and it’s all tied together with a powerful, revolutionary, social message. Their sets are a push and pull of genres, often meeting in the middle of interludes to incorporate both Ettinger’s and Smith’s voices.
“It’s like the members of Rage Against The Machine, Radio Head, Pearl Jam and The Roots got together for a family reunion just in time to save America from impending doom,” she said. “It makes you want to pump your fist in the air, sing along and go out into the world the next day to make it a better place.”
Through hip-hop and rock, Smith has never been afraid to speak up about injustice and expose reality. She has the temperament and articulation to start an uprising alone, but when she teams up with like-minded peers, it’s something to write home about.
“The music stirs your soul,” she said. “It’s sonic therapy not only for us, but for our fans.”
In the past, Smith has recruited artists to join her projects, in MoMo’s case, she’s joined an established group. She said it requires patience and care to not force anything and allow things to develop organically.
“It feels like we’re all dialed in together and pointed toward the right direction,” Smith said. “My favorite moments are when we are on stage together. The energy is electric and it’s radiating off all of us in unison when we’re in the pocket. It’s exciting and fun to share the stage with them.”
Smith’s life is a whirlwind. She’s in two groups in the Bay Area, produces and performs solo and continues to expand her musical influences and talents. She’s currently in a jazz phase. Until recently, her vocals, production and synthesizer knowledge has been self-taught. Now she’s happily enrolled in the Masters of Composition Program at Mills College.
“Music is my saving grace,” Smith said. “It’s always been my dream to be surrounded by it each day. It lifts me up. I’m happiest when I have uninterrupted creative time.”
She’s breaking up her hectic schedule to show her new group the debauchery Reno has to offer. It’s their first Reno show, but it’s still a homecoming for Smith. She hasn’t performed here since 2015.
“I am overjoyed to be coming back to Reno,” she said. “Not many other places exist that will allow you to play on a stage when you’re not that great. It prepares you for the day when you will be. It’s a rare and special thing.”
Smith learned and polished her craft here, surrounded by love and support. She said one of the greatest things about Reno is the supportive creative environment and community that exists.
“People will support you no matter what you’re trying to achieve,” she said. “I feel blessed to have been able to get my start here and grow here as a musician.”
Going from Reno to bigger, less friendly places leaves an impression, a hole that used to be filled by conversation and eye contact is now a brushed shoulder or a “smile and nod.”
“I also love and miss the people here,” Smith said. “People will look you in the eyes when they speak to you. I’m expecting it to be a killer show. We are prepared to put on a show to remember. Pignic will never be the same again.”
— Tony Contini
ABOUT Tony Contini
Photographer and journalist Tony Contini graduated from the University of Nevada, Reno with a bachelor's degree in journalism and a minor in art photography. He loves working with bands and telling stories. Photography portfolio: https://www.TonyContini.com
Remember when you were young,
you shone like the sun.
Shine on you crazy diamond.
Now there's a look in your eyes,
like black holes in the sky.
Shine on you crazy diamond.
You were caught in the crossfire
of childhood and stardom,
blown on the steel breeze.