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Smoothvega, back-to-back winner of best rap/R&B artist in our annual Music Awards (2006, 2007), wants to make one thing abundantly clear: He is by no means a “gangster rapper.”

The 22-year-old Fort Worth native, born Lorenzo Zenteno, speaks emphatically about the nature of the rap music world and his unique role in it. “So many artists are about image — not real life — and that’s what I can’t relate to in rap music right now.”Yes, his music is bass-heavy and his lyrics are aggressive, but Smoothvega has been through enough to be able to differentiate fantasy from reality. The teetotaler tells aspiring rappers, “The best way to be successful is to be positive.” It’s not always easy. In 2005, Zenteno and his wife Angela’s son Alexander was born four months prematurely — he died two hours after the delivery in his father’s arms. “When [Alexander] passed, I realized things were small,” Zenteno said. “Nothing is promised, and I didn’t want to hear rappers arguing about petty things.” Less significantly, Zenteno spent some grueling years in the School of Hard Rap Knocks. “People who had been around music knew I was naive, and they took advantage of me,” he said.

Undeterred by getting ripped off by so-called engineers and producers, he embraced the mantra “intelligence over ignorance” and began studying the business and technical ends of the industry. His knowledge resulted in his debut, 2005’s Unbreakable, and, toward the end of 2007, will result in a new album, 3.10.85 (after the date of his birth). Recorded over two years and engineered by Dallas’ Milad Nazeri, 3.10.85 features contributions from some heavy-hitters, including California’s Chino XL and the first Latin rapper ever to be signed by Motown Records, Sinful. Though Zenteno has been through some hard times, he never doubted he would achieve success. “I did everything I could to make what I wanted possible.”

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