|Intro||British comedian, actor, screenwriter, voiceover artist and former rapper|
|A.K.A.||Ben Bailey Smith|
Film, TV, Stage & Radio
|Birth||1 December 1977, Kilburn, United Kingdom|
Ben Harvey Bailey Smith (born 21 September 1977), also known by the stage name Doc Brown, is an English rapper, comedian, actor, screenwriter, radio presenter and voiceover artist. He played DS Joe Hawkins in the TV series Law & Order: UK. He is also known for playing Nathan Carter in the CBBC TV series 4 O’Clock Club from 2012 to 2015.
He also voiced a number of episodes of the popular show Funny Animals: Unleashed. This show was aired via 4MUSIC.
Doc Brown was born Ben Bailey Smith, son of a Jamaican immigrant, Yvonne Bailey, and an Englishman, Harvey Smith, who was 30 years his wife’s senior. Raised in the Willesden area of north-west London, Smith is the younger brother of novelist and essayist Zadie Smith. Smith attended Hampstead School and Malorees Junior School along with his sister, and was often seen in her shadow. Upon leaving school, Smith decided to pursue a musical career as a rapper. Doc Brown is a graduate of the University of East Anglia. He abandoned his drama degree halfway through to study American history. Explaining his stage name, he has said: “Doc Brown’s been my nickname since school, after the scientist in Back to the Future, because I was gangly and geeky. When I started doing rap battles in my teens, it became my hip-hop handle and it’s stuck.” His younger brother, Luke Smith (Luc Skyz) is also a musician.
Doc Brown began his musical career in 2000 as a battle rapper, competing in live events such as the now defunct Mudlumz, an infamously tough gig based at Dingwalls nightclub in Camden Lock where he battled among others before losing to fellow UK rapper Sway. Smith became a recurring battle champion at the fledgling competition “Jump Off” in 2003, when the now international event was housed underneath Yo! Sushi on Poland Street in London’s Soho, moving to the Swiss Centre in Leicester Square. The following year, Smith’s growing reputation as a personality of the underground scene made him the host of a monthly event at his friend’s record shop Deal Real on Great Marlborough Court, off Carnaby Street in the West End.
Deal Real Records
The night was loosely named “Friday Night Live” and initially acted as a platform for aspiring young artists from the UK to perform at an open mic, hosted by Smith. In an interview from 2006, he stated he provided “light relief mixed with an authority necessary to marshal what was always a pretty raucous night”. The night was also notable for being the venue where Smith discovered a 16-year-old Lowkey, whom he promptly featured on his first break-out single “Donnie’s Lament”, and who went on to be one of the most respected political rappers in the UK and internationally.
The popularity of the monthly event soared and soon Deal Real was attracting hip-hop celebrities from the US, performing in the store to promote their own European tours. The first to perform were the Jungle Brothers. Others included Pete Rock and CL Smooth, Slick Rick, Gza, the Black Eyed Peas, Rhymefest, Pharoahe Monch, Canibus and Cee Lo, as well as a host of DJs including Mark Ronson.
It was in the shop that Smith met Ronson for the first time, caught in an impromptu rap battle with Chicago rapper, who Smith admitted “beat him on his home turf”. However, Ronson recalled Smith’s ability to please a crowd with both good humour and a level of self-deprecation often unusual to the Rap genre, and invited him to join a live setup that would form the basis of Ronson’s second studio album Version.
The first gig Smith performed with Ronson was at the Fabric nightclub in the Barbican area of east central London. The line-up consisted of Ronson on guitar, Daniel Merriweather, Amy Winehouse and Beverly Tawiah on vocals, former Jamiroquai bassist Stuart Zender and the Scottish brass section The Haggis Horns.
Smith continued to tour with the band until early 2007, rapping on stage alongside Lily Allen on the Kaiser Chiefs cover “Oh My God”, providing the Ghostface Killah vocals for the song “Ooh Wee” and performing his own lyrics on the instrumental cover of Kasabian’s “LSF”.
The first breakthrough record and Smith’s biggest hit to date was a track entitled “Donnie’s Lament”, better known as the “Mad World Remix” due to its extensive sampling of that year’s Christmas number one “Mad World”, performed by Gary Jules, originally by Tears for Fears.
Its sample led to legal issues with the label Sanctuary, who did not sanction the remix, despite Smith’s appeal to them. Smith was therefore unable to recoup any money despite the popularity of his version. The song had a level of mainstream airplay unusual for UK rap at the time, being championed by Jo Wiley and Jonathan Ross among others. Some commentators have argued that the song helped raise awareness of the genre as a whole and earmarked a new wave of British rap artists. The song also provided a cameo for a 16-year-old rapper named Lowkey, who today is cited as one of the most politically influential rappers in the UK, Europe and particularly the Middle East, where his tireless campaigning for Palestinian rights among other things has been lauded by many.
On the back of the track’s small success, Smith released three full-length offerings: Citizen Smith Volume One, The Document and Citizen Smith Volume Two. It was during his work with the producer Mark Ronson that he was inspired to create the album Another Way, which features no samples and mostly live studio music. Having moved into stand-up, then television and film, the album is as yet unreleased and has built a cult status among fans, many of whom have dubbed Another Way “the farewell album”.
In July 2011, a short film was released to accompany the song “Blighty”, a track from the unreleased album. The film features an interview with Smith at the end credits, in which he describes the film as an open project for young people to interpret his lyrics visually. The film was directed by photographer Kwame Lestrade and was shot with the aid of various young people as part of a lottery-funded youth project.
Late in 2007, a chance phonecall from former BBC Radio 1 host and comedy writer Danny Robins, for whom Smith had previously written some spoof music, led to Smith working as a script consultant on Robins’ BBC Radio 4 sitcom Rudy’s Rare Records, a vehicle for veteran UK comedian Lenny Henry. This eventually led to walk-on roles and more editing and writing work on other Radio 4 comedy shows, including Music Therapy and Look Away Now.
Encouraged by producers at the BBC, Smith attended a BBC industry gig in January 2008 at a small venue in London’s Great Portland Street named The Albany, where he performed a comic song and told an anecdote regarding being the first rapper to work for Radio 4. By his own admissions in an interview from 2009, Smith claimed he “ran out of things to say” and called for the audience to offer words, names and places, with which he improvised a comic rap. According to Smith, the venue managers were impressed and invited him to perform a short set at a late-night variety show named Spank!
Smith then entered a national talent competition for comedians called “So You Think You’re Funny?” and his third ever stand-up gig was in the first round of the competition in spring 2008 at the Hobgoblin Pub in Forest Hill, south-east London. Smith eventually made the last eight at the grand final in Edinburgh that August, an event in which by his own admission he “froze up”, delivering what he saw as a disappointing performance.
Regardless, the performance led to interest from bookers, and Smith began a new incarnation as a professional comedian in October 2008. Since then, he has performed at the prestigious Tartan Ribbon event at the Edinburgh Festival, debuted his own one-man show “Unfamous”, which sold out its run at both the Pleasance Theatre, Edinburgh, and London’s Soho Theatre. He also gave a one-off performance of Unfamous at the Elgar rooms in the Royal Albert Hall in March 2011. In April 2011, Smith was invited to take the show to the Melbourne International Festival for one month.
Film and television
As an actor, Smith has played roles in the acclaimed BBC series Rev and Miranda, as well as Channel 4’s The Inbetweeners. He also provided voices for the characters Budge and Koggs on the cult CBBC series Big Babies, for which he also sang the theme tune. In 2013 Smith also guest starred in the Channel 4 comedy-drama series Derek, in which he played a young man sentenced to community service in a nursing home.
In film, he has played a role in Ben Miller’s Huge as well as a co-starring role in the thriller Other Side of the Game. Smith is also credited as a songwriter on the Joe Cornish-directed film Attack the Block (2011). The character “Hi Hatz” is often seen and heard playing songs he has recorded. These were written and recorded by Smith and re-voiced by the actor Jumayn Hunter.
Smith created a teen comedy-drama for the BBC called 4 O’Clock Club, on which he is also the co-writer and co-musical director. He starred in the show in series 1, and made guest appearances in series 2-4. Since series 5 his brother writes the raps. The show has currently run for 118 episodes. He runs his own production company named Bust-A-Gut Ltd, which – while focusing on television and film – has also re-released the back catalogue of his music.
Most recently, he has delved deeper into dramatic acting, starring in the Frank Spotnitz television show Hunted, a thriller for Cinemax. Smith then went on to shoot an episode of Midsomer Murders and in 2014, he played the role of DS Joe Hawkins in the final series of ITV’s Law & Order: UK Also he had a viral song on the TV show Russell Howard’s Good News called “My Propertea”. Smith has also appeared in new Ann Summers series Brief Encounters.
In 2016, Doc guest starred on the BBC One television film Damilola, Our Loved Boy as a taxi driver.
In February 2017, he appeared on Dave’s Crackanory reading “Devil’s Haircut” by Sarah Morgan, then in October, Smith appeared as a guest on Episode 100 of The Gaffer Tapes: Fantasy Football Podcast.
His love of film means he has been a guest presenter several times on the BBC Radio 5 Live film review show hosted by Simon Mayo and Mark Kermode where, due to mishearing his introduction, a listener referred to him as “Ben ‘Baby’ Smith”.
In 2018, Smith appeared in the Doctor Who episode “The Tsuranga Conundrum”.
In 2019, he played Richie Hansen, an abusive husband, in a 6 part BBC TV drama ‘’The Split ‘’.
A children’s picture book entitled I Am Bear, illustrated by Sav Akyüz, which has been described as “a rap-style read-aloud story”, was published by Walker Books in February 2016.
As of May 2014, Brown was the producer of The Football Ramble Live.
|2004||Citizen Smith: Volume One||Bust-A-Gut Productions|
|Poisonous Poetry (with Poisonous Poets)||Self-released|
|2006||Citizen Smith: Volume Two: Nothing to Lose||Hiptones|
|2008||Another Way (unreleased)||Unreleased|