Patient Spotlight: The Heart and Soul of Viper

One of the most promising rapper/songwriters of 2018 is Rakeem Smith, known as Viper. Viper is a poet. For years he has been lying awake crafting lyrics and rhymes and storing them in his mind. Now that he has teamed up with UF Health Shands Arts in Medicine, Viper is ready to share his voice with the world. Today he’s dropping his debut singles, “Love Me or Hate Me” and “Poem.”

“Love Me or Hate Me” has a soulful groove. Although Viper freestyles twice on the track, the tune feels more like R&B at its core. Viper shares his vulnerability from the opening hook, establishing an emotional tone with relatable lyrics focusing on themes of love, loss, and transcending judgment. “Poem” dives even deeper with a palpable sense of sorrow and loss combined with an inspiring, spiritual message of perseverance.

Viper’s vocals for the tracks were recorded at UF Health Heart & Vascular Hospital. During a long-term stay there he met Arts in Medicine artist Andrew Hix, AKA Top Man, who introduced him to AIM artist Michael Claytor, AKA MC. After a couple writing and recording sessions, MC brought in additional collaborators Max Helgemo (vocals) and Ryan Baker (production) to complete “Love Me or Hate Me.” “It’s an honor to help produce a track by such a talented up-and-coming artist,” Ryan said. Max added, “I will sing on anything he’s working on.”

Claytor’s contemplative vocals match well with Viper’s rawness on the tracks. Together the team has produced a full track that balances earworm potential with subdued elements like spoken word.

“Love Me or Hate Me has been with me a long time,” said Viper. “It’s a song about hardship and love, and it carries a message to everyone out there who’s tried to doubt me.”

During the production phase of “Love Me or Hate Me,” Viper told Top Man and MC that he had dreamed up another song to be produced exclusively with MC. Just a few days later, “Poem” was born.

Listen to “Love Me or Hate Me” and “Poem” today by following the link: To learn more about Viper’s story, check out this piece by WUFT, Gainesville’s local NPR station.