The first time Columbia rapper Fat Rat Da Czar and Lexington singer-songwriter Justin Smith worked together was in 2005, when the two hopped into Smith’s Jeep Cherokee bound for an Atlanta recording studio.
Fat Rat, a hulking man with chest-length dreadlocks, rode shotgun next to Smith, a small-town kid with a blond buzzcut and a heavy Southern accent.
They didn’t talk much. They didn’t know each other well enough.
When Smith put the mellow-mooded Jack Johnson in the CD player, Fat Rat stayed silent.
When he put hip-hop group Goodie Mob’s “Soul Food” in the player next, however, Fat Rat said, “This is my kind of guy right here.”
In Atlanta, the two recorded a song for Smith’s upcoming solo album. Then Fat Rat asked Smith return the favor on his next record.
They fleshed out ideas and melodies. Fat Rat, six years Smith’s senior, shared tips on the music business. Smith got Fat Rat hooked on Ben Harper. Fat Rat brought Smith reggae legend Peter Tosh’s records. They discovered a shared love of 2Pac.
“It’s really the most natural friendship there is,” Fat Rat said.
After years of collaborating on each other’s solo projects, the friends spent the past two years recording as a duo.
Their self-titled debut, “Colorblind,” comes out Tuesday, Sept. 1.
The recording process, done at a friend’s house and mastered at Jam Room Recording Studio in Columbia, was super easy, Smith said.
“Nothing was forced. The whole album started off as us having fun in the studio. Then we said, ‘Man, this is pretty good. Let’s not stop.’”
The result is a blend of Fat Rat’s hard-edged hip-hop and Smith’s folksy singer-songwriting, although Smith does have a background in hip-hop. He uses the word “folk-hop” to describe his love of acoustic guitar and his rap sensibilities.
Some of the songs on “Colorblind,” like “Stained,” are retrospective and insightful. Others, like “I Got It,” are light and what Fat Rat calls “braggadocious.” “If you need it, then I got it,” the chorus goes.
“It definitely doesn’t sound like anything else,” Smith said of the record. “It’s hard to classify.”
So is their friendship, some might say.
But the two are genuine and straightforward around each other. They laugh easily and can usually tell what the other is thinking as he is thinking it.
That makes creating music together a breeze.
The two already are about halfway finished with their second album, Fat Rat said.
“We’re having so much fun, there’s no reason to stop.”
If you go
There will be a release party for “Colorblind” from 7-10 p.m. Friday, Aug. 28 at 701 Whaley. Free. Hear and buy the album early before it is released Tuesday, Sept. 1.