Hip-hop/rap artist TooSmooth grew up in a rough neighborhood on Chicago's South Side, where he hid his passion for music.
Even though he was from a musical family -- his father was a Chicago State University music teacher (Kanye West was among his students) and his uncles played in bands -- it wasn't until the family moved to Schaumburg for his freshman year of high school that TooSmooth (real name, William McClam) felt comfortable enough to start singing, writing and producing songs.
"In Chicago, you're trying to fit in to survive. In Schaumburg, I could just be me. Everyone (at Conant High School) accepted you just for you," recalls McClam, 20, who now lives in Florida and just released a new album, "The Come Up, Vol. 3 (Signed)."
He graduated from Conant early, earning a music scholarship to Full Sail University in Florida. While there, his first single, "In Love," was picked up by U.K. radio stations and his career took off.
TooSmooth's biggest hit to date is the single, "Future Dreams," which has aired on MTV, and which McClam wrote about his childhood friend, Michael Haynes. Haynes had just earned a full-ride basketball scholarship for college, but was shot to death in July 2012 on the South Side, a few days before he was supposed to leave.
"It hit me hard. I even saved the news clippings," McClam said. "I was on my way to living my dreams, and he got his taken away because he couldn't get out fast enough."
As with many of McClam's songs, the song's a sad but triumphant story. Some of his music is autobiographical. In "Future Dreams," he raps:
It's more than just a notebook,
It's more than just a pen.
It's more than just a few words I can rhyme over again.
It's my life.
TooSmooth's life is, well, going along smoothly. He runs his own record label, Lights Out Entertainment, and is responsible for all of the work involved with creating, releasing and promoting his music in the U.S. and Europe.
TooSmooth was accepted as a member of the Grammy Awards' Recording Academy, which allows him to vote on the awards and attend the music industry's biggest night. He walked the red carpet for the first time at last year's Grammys. While he jokes that "no one knew who I was," he was honored to be surrounded by the biggest names in hip-hop.
In "Future Dreams," TooSmooth raps that he's "trying to be the next Kanye, sittin' on the top." Now, he's moving in that direction.