Written by: Latoya Coleman
Edited by: Madeline Blue Schussel
Photos by: Malik Daniels
Styled by: Ronald Gravesande
Grooming by: Abigail Smith
It was only a few years ago that Algee Smith came out to Los Angeles with a plan to be here for about a month–to audition during pilot season. But he “didn’t have any bread,” was crashing at his “home girl’s crib,” and was only able to show his appreciation by walking her dog and buying some groceries. After spending all his cash going to auditions (hopping in and out of Ubers), he came to the realization that it was, in fact, time to pack up and head back home to Atlanta. That’s when he got the call: he’d booked what would be his TV breakout role, starring as Ralph Tresvant in BET’s 2017 R&B boy band biopic, The New Edition Story. And while wrapping up that show…he booked the role of Larry Reid in Detroit, a film directed by Kathryn Bigelow and written by Mark Boal. Algee was not only to star in the film, but his original song, “Grow,” ended up being featured in its soundtrack. And then, while filming Detroit…he got a call that he had booked the role of Khalil in The Hate U Give film, an adaptation of the young-adult novel by the same name. While in between his roles, he also managed to release his first EP, Listen, which ended up charting #11 on iTunes.
It’s tempting to think of these moments as a fortunate streak of serendipity–but Algee would strongly disagree with that. As I sit with him in on a smooth, navy velvet couch, he says, “The whole process came to fruition due to my affirmations.” Proponents of the Law of Attraction would call this “raising your vibration.” And in raising our vibration to a definite positive, positive things—such as financial abundance, the dream job, that longed-for acting role, love, and even renewed health—can be magnetically drawn to us.
“When I came out here, I created a vision board with exactly what I wanted: how much money I wanted to make, when I wanted to get a film by–I didn’t know what type of film,” Algee admits. He feels his success has been a combination of his vision board work, faith, and his daily affirmations.
“One thing is, I’ll wake up every day and I say I have favor, I have peace, I have blessings over my whole life. The universe, the creator–whatever you believe–I don’t chase money, money follows me–from the north to the south, east and west. Money is just paper, it’s just energy. I speak health over my family, I speak wealth over my family. (Sometimes, I get more specific, depending on what’s going on.) My creator never puts anything before me that I can’t endure,” he explains. “I say about 10 to 12 affirmations every morning.”
This routine has ingrained Algee’s positive outlook on life. His happiness shines through him, even at 10 am on Friday of Labor Day Weekend in DTLA, right after having to reschedule his EP release party. “You don’t understand the energy it took to tell everyone about rescheduling…But it’s all good! Sunday night on a three-day weekend will have a better turn out,” he realizes. He is super relaxed and dressed in a black, blue, and pink vertically-striped button-down shirt, and a pair of black jeans. He is rocking his signature hairstyle of four cornrows going straight back, with shaved sides. His tone is low and mellow as we chat, and this lets me know he just might have the singing gift. And since Algee Smith IV was born with a fashion designer for a mother and a musician for a father, this sort of makes sense.
Immersed in the arts at a very young age, Algee always knew that he wanted to be in entertainment. Born in Saginaw, Michigan, he started out rapping and later committed to singing. “My mom always says when I was younger, like one or two years old, I was beating on pots around the house, making noise,” he says, air-drumming. “I wrote and recorded my first song between 9 and 10 years old. The song was called ‘We Some Riders,’” Algee laughs. After recording this song, Algee learned “what it felt like to record…and what it felt like to use [his] voice,” a voice he describes as “uniquely high-pitched.” “I remember the first time I tried to perform it out in front of this big crowd and I had my head down the whole time because I was shy. And after that, I vowed that that would never happen again.”
Since then, Algee has spent his time building his confidence by perfecting his craft. At the age of 8, his family moved to Atlanta, where he launched his acting career. His mom homeschooled him as he pursued work in the industry. Prior to New Edition, he had small roles on the Disney Channel and other TV networks. He attributes these early successes and his positive outlook to the support and sacrifices of his parents. “One of the major lessons I learned from [them] was just how to step out on faith,” he tells me. “They really helped me have the foresight to not focus on where I’m at, but [instead, on] where I’m going.”
And Algee seems to only be on the cusp of where he is going. As one of the new young faces of Hollywood, this 24-year-old has taken on roles that tell powerful stories that speak to the Black experience in America. In the age of #OscarIsSoWhite, #MeToo, and #BlackLivesMatter, there’s been ample discourse around race and gender. These movements have also inspired a rise in People of Color telling their own narratives in both TV and film. Algee is one of the representatives of these powerful stories. “A lot of my characters have these heavy and vulnerable [arcs]–it’s a lot of darkness,” he reflects.
While he lists Ralph Tresvant from The New Edition Story as one of his most enjoyable roles to date–mainly because he got to interact with the original members of the group, perform their music, and learn their original choreography–all of Algee’s roles have made powerful statements about being a Black man in America. As Larry Reid in Detroit, Algee portrayed a victim and survivor of police brutality during the 1967 Algiers Motel riots. Algee worked alongside the real Larry Ried, and he even recorded a song with him for the movie’s soundtrack. “The stories that were told on set, and just, the whole experience of meeting him and working with him was very deep,” Algee shares. In The Hate U Give, he played an unarmed teenager gunned down by cops in front of his best friend–a girl played by talented actress Amandla Stenberg.
But the highlight of Algee’s 2019 career path has been being a part of the most talked-about series of the year, Euphoria. Starring Zendaya and produced by A24 and Drake, Euphoria took over Sunday nights on HBO this summer. Euphoria is a realistic American teen drama that follows a group of East Highland High students (after graduation) and their experiences of love, sex, bullying, drugs, friendships, and trauma. Algee plays Chris McKaya, a Black guy living in White suburbia. We see flashbacks of him getting called the N-word in Pee Wee football. He’s now a small-town football star in a mixed couple with Cassie (Sydney Sweeney), completing his first year of college, and all the while, trying to enter a White fraternity.
Algee is central to one of the most popular and controversial episodes, entitled “The Next Episode.” In it, Chris McKay (his character) gets sexually assaulted, in front of his girl, as part of hazing for the fraternity he hopes to join. In the middle of the night, a group of his peers burst into his dorm room while he’s with his girlfriend and pins him down on his stomach while one of them humps him from the back–and it’s unclear whether his character was actually raped. “Man, I’m not really sure what happened, exactly,” Algee confesses. We see Algee’s character, moments after the assault, crying on the bathroom floor. When he talks about having filmed this challenging scene, he admits, “It was something I had to sit with for a while. It’s very dark. But I had to come to grips with…that I’m an actor, and I’m in this position for a reason. And there is somebody who has been through that. So it doesn’t matter if I’ve been through it. I’m here to bring real life to my characters and to people.”
While stirring up HBO viewership, Algee spent his spare time this year releasing his second EP, ATL. Named for the city where he was raised, he was inspired by his vision board work. “When I came out to LA from Atlanta on faith, that is what inspired this project–that whole journey,” he explains. “Also, because I grew up in Atlanta, and it embodies the sound of Atlanta through my ears.” Having grown up on the southside, he recalls: “It just felt like the coolest place to be. It influences me in every way, from the who I am, how I talk, how I walk–I mean, even the way that I think!” He just released his first single off this 9-track project, “All Girls Matter”–an upbeat song that celebrates women of all different shapes and sizes. It has an eclectic music video to match, and Algee plans to release a video for every track. He also has a clothing line, FBP, which is an acronym for “Favor, Peace, and Blessings.” These past few weeks, as things wind down a little, Algee tells me he’s been chillin’ with his french pitbull, Bo$$, and that he’s already recorded the theme music for their soon-to-be vlog on YouTube. “Doggie Days, ohhh Doggie Days,” he sings to me in his high-pitched voice.
But amazingly, Algee is not too caught up in the race for accolades. He tells me he doesn’t want Emmys or Grammys, but instead, that he would like to focus on “work that is fun, and to get strengthened and sharpened in different roles.” With Will Smith as his idol, he hopes to emulate Smith’s diverse acting career. Algee does aspire to have a superhero role, but he admits that right now, he needs “to get in the gym first.” He looks at his arms and laughs.
Still, don’t let Algee’s innocent smile, positive outlook, and pretty-boy swag fool you–he has some edge. While his energy is uplifting, Algee admits that he does have dark days–even if they don’t last long. And he does have ambitions to be a shark on Shark Tank, since he has “mad business ideas,” he tells me, pointing to his temples. He is also covered in 8 tattoos–the first one, he convinced his mom to let him get at age 13. (It probably helped his case that he chose to get “Momma’s Boy” scribed on his chest!)
With his own career on a steady rise, Algee has some words of wisdom for the very next star out there: “See the future–don’t be discouraged by where you are.”
And on his own path, he remains awesomely optimistic. “I put something that I love out there in the universe, and now, I’m just enjoying [the ride].”