Simone I. Smith Talks Hip-Hop 50 Jewelry Line and The Evolution of Rap Music
The Bible says, “He who findeth a wife, findeth a good thing.” When it comes to marriage, many of our rap legends have been married to their partners for years and demonstrate why a strong home life can translate to a long career. Maybe none more than LL COOL J.
James Todd Smith and Simone I. Smith have been together since their teenage years and have four children and three grandchildren. The couple has intertwined their lives, businesses, and legacies and built a life of love with faith as their foundation.
BET.com talked to Simone as she celebrated the release of her Sister Love jewelry collection with Mary J. Blige. The collection features throwback-styled earrings and necklaces that celebrate the legacy of hip-hop and women of the culture.
BET.com: You founded your company in 2011. What fuels your passion for jewelry?
Simone Smith: What inspired me was the lack of good quality, big hoops. And I’m a big hoop girl. And you know, I just couldn’t find them. So I talked to my husband and I said, ‘You know what, I want to design a jewelry line.’ And he was like, ‘Okay, well go ahead and do the legwork. Find yourself a manufacturer.’ I did, and he taught me and supported me, and here I am now.
BET.com: When I think of iconic lines in Hip-Hop, I especially think of many from your husband, “I want a girl with extensions in her hair/bamboo earrings…”
Smith: “At least two pairs!” (Laughs) Todd gave me my first pair of door-knocker earrings when I was 17. And I’ve been addicted ever since. So yeah, I started wearing those big hoops at 17, and I still wear them now at 53.
BET.com: Your new Sister Love collection with Mary J. Blige features jewelry that speaks to the culture. How did you two come to collaborate?
Smith: Mary and I met In 2004, but I had always been a fan. What black girl growing up in the hood is not a fan of Mary J. Blige? So, you know, Mary was always my friend in my head. Every time I saw Mary, we always gave each other love. When I finally got a chance to hang out with her at one of these industry events that Def Jam had, we exchanged numbers, and we just hit it off. And when I started to design Simone I. Smith, Mary was one of my number one supporters, so I was always sending her jewelry.
And one day, we were hanging out, and I think I was showing her some new hoops. And she was like, ‘Shorty, we need to do something together. It’s time.’ And we called it sister love because that’s what we are. That’s my sister, I love her. She loves me when we’re together, it’s nothing but love. We support each other. And it’s all about women supporting women. We created Sister Love in 2018 and now it’s 2023—and we’re doing amazing.
The Hip-Hop 50 collection reintroduces the fly girl styles, but door knocker earrings have never gone out of style. So we brought them back, modernized them, made them shiny.
BET.com: Speaking of Hip-Hop 50, what has the celebration been like for you? I know LL has the FORCE Tour.
Smith: The tour is going well. It’s been a few years since my husband was out on the road for this many dates. But, as for the culture, it’s been amazing to see how Hip-Hop has lasted. When I met Todd, society thought that Hip-Hop was going to be a fad. They didn’t think 50 years from now that it would have the longevity that it has, and it’s still here and is not going anywhere. It’s evolving.
My husband did the Rock the Bells Festival. He did it for the first time last year and it was amazing. Seeing queens like Queen Latifah, Salt n Pepa, MC Lyte, and Monie Love was amazing. It’s incredible to see how many people are still doing their thing and how many have evolved into acting and have been able to take Hip-Hop and grow in their careers and lives.
BET.com: I know you have a special love for women in Hip-Hop. How did you feel about where we are currently with all of the young women getting their shine?
Smith: I love it. I love seeing where women are in Hip-Hop because when Todd started, there were very few female Hip-Hop artists. It was a very male-dominated industry like most industries are, and seeing Meg Thee Stallion and I love…Coi Leray, Ice Spice, and Rapsody. Her spit game is incredible. You can tell that she loved rap music from the 80s and the 90s. I love seeing the ladies shine because there was a time when women in Hip-Hop didn’t get their flowers.
BET.com: When you design your collection, do you have women like them in mind? Who is your ideal customer?
Smith: A fly girl. A woman who’s not afraid to wear big hoops—even though I make smaller ones. But when I think about women I design for, I think about a woman who wants to feel good and look good.
BET.com: You’re always very open about your spiritual life and how important your faith is to you.
Smith: I wouldn’t be who I am if it weren’t because of God. My grandparents laid a spiritual foundation. And I believe in my heart and soul that without God, nothing is impossible. And that’s how I raised my children. I wake up every day and ask God to guide my steps. My husband and I go above with our tithes, help others, and honor God because we know we will not have the things we have. Without God, I would not have been blessed to be cancer-free for 19 years.