ORLANDO, Fla. – Rob “Southstar” Campman first rose to fame nearly 20 years ago as one half of the Orlando-based hip-hop duo Smilez and Southstar.
The duo released one album in July 2002. The hit single “Tell Me” peaked at number 28 on the Billboard Hot 100 charts. Campman said he always loved listening to songs on the radio and writing them down to study the song structure. Then a friend asked him to rap in a local competition.
“And we ended up winning and everyone was like, ‘I didn’t even know you rapped.’ And I was like ‘I didn’t know I rapped, either,’” Campman said. “Like, imagine that a kid from Orlando, Florida — an Asian American kid from Orlando, Florida — in the early 2000s thinking I could be a rapper. People thought I was crazy. But we got there.”
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From there, a music producer suggested Campman come to his studio to work on a song with Rodney “Smilez” Bailey.
“We just went in there and it was a good song and we didn’t really think nothing of it and the next thing you know as the album comes out it just takes off,” Campman said. “People are now singing the song and, you know, actually like — when we come out — screaming. Because, in the beginning, like the first show, they were like who are you, why are you opening up for Beanie Man”
Campman said he eventually transitioned from music full-time to working in the financial field. The Dr. Phillips High School grad now has four kids and said watching his son play basketball reignited his passion for the sport, which he refers to as his first love. So last year, he began coaching for Southeast Elite Grassroots Academy. He said he doesn’t always let the kids know about his previous life in music, but with social media, they always seem to figure it out.
“And what I do is I kind of translate what I learned from being a hip-hop artist and the level we got to and kind of make it relate to basketball and what are you guys trying to do in life. Back then my idols in hip-hop and basketball didn’t look like me, because there just weren’t any. Now you start seeing more Asian American presence in — whether it’s hip-hop, whether it’s pop culture. Just to know I played a small role in helping some of these kids know they can do it too, that means a lot. When I grew up there weren’t a lot of people like me and hopefully, you know it’s OK to be different and you’ll be accepted as long as you just yourself,” he said.
Campman said he is always happy to mentor or consult with young artists. The best way to reach out to him is through Instagram. His handle is @iamsouthstar.
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