Smino salutes his groovy roots with “Noir”
By now, you should be listening to Smino. The St. Louis native has immersed himself in his own thick and oozing groovelines and his music doesn’t aim to please anyone outside of its origin.
Smino salutes his origins everywhere, and his music is only one medium utilized to get those salutes home. His verbiage, slang, vocal inflection and accentation all reads in a blacker than black ebonic that translates only to those versed in a certain lifestyle. Smino’s artwork is soulful and full of rich texture because of his gospel-infused croons and full-bodied melodies.
Everything about the music on “Noir” is joyfully off-kilter, and the majority of it sounds methodical and stewed over. Though Smino doesn’t utilize the more familiar sounds of trap drums and producer tags partnered with violent imagery, he paints in a pallet of characteristically soulful hues.
“Noir” reads similarly to Smino’s debut album, “Blkswn,” in that it’s a lush display of black love and life Smino exists in the realm of music that explicitly serves his community and doesn’t treat them as an audience. He treats his audience like a family, and his music is the soul food he serves to nourish them.
Smino’s references are saturated in local and cultural influence. Local references (“Ran it up like I play for Mizzou/Gotta show me somethin’ b*tch I came from the ‘Lou,”) on “KLINK.” Cultural references (Smokin’ Hadouken, yeah, on that Kamehameha,”) on “SPINZ.”
The thick book of reference materials, a stellar understanding of the importance of location, along with a perplexing knowledge of rhyme and flow all frame Smino’s standard of work.
“Noir’s” sonic highs and lows resonate by utilizing the blank space surrounding the records. “Blkswn” didn’t achieve this effect in the same way. This album uses the silence to create a sometimes sinister yet always compelling funk.
Ahead of his sophomore effort, Smino dropped the visual for “L.M.F.” The video shows him chilling in his hometown, cruising in a classic car, using his hands to make the classic “Lou” L, hanging with a monkey, and of course partaking in copious amounts of smoke. He also hangs around what appears to be his childhood home with family, and in the back yard with local friends. This use of home isn’t an innovation on video creation, as the technique has been recognizable in artist visuals since rap began, but its use does lend more reality to Smino’s STL allegiance. Sure, any rapper could put on for a major city in this genre, but it’s more endearing to fans for someone from an underdog city to put on like Smino does.
Of course, it’s normal to hear “From Atlanta,” or any New York burrough, but there’s an obvious oversaturation of artists from those regions which leads to the same oversaturation leaking into the soundscape.
Smino reportedly spends the majority of his creative process in Chicago, but remains tied to his home and dedicated to representing that. To some less versed in the politics of home declaration in rap, it probably would make more sense for Smino to have claimed a Chicago descendance after he made it. The popularity associated with certain regions like Chicago has led rappers to false-claim in the past, typically to their own detriment.
Those who understand those politics understand that rap fans have more respect and reverence for those who build their way out of an overlooked area to make their name. It’s essentially the same reason the original architects of the Southern dispersion into rap music are held as legends and martyrs for the region, and on reason why Nelly will always have an extremely loyal and dependable fan base— regional representation matters in rap music. That isn’t to say there’s no love for relocators. Take Zaytoven and Metro Boomin for example. One is from the Bay, and the other from St. Louis, but both curated sounds that made them the most trusted producers in Atlanta then the whole rap game.
Jay Balfour, a Pitchfork contributor, wrote a wonderful article about Smino’s language use on Noir, but he got one thing very wrong. In the first three lines of his “Noir” review Balfour said,
“The second album from the Chicago MC is lighter and more fun than his debut.”
Smino is a born and bred St. Louis MC, and a full length listen to any of his music, especially “Noir” will provide proof to that point. From the rhythmic adaptation, to the country grammar sprawled across each track, Smino maintains his loyal poise.
For blacker than black soul, textural density and cultural picture painting, I not only recommend, I advise you listen to Smino’s “Noir.” There aren’t an abundance of rappers making music even remotely this organic. In a land of trap drums and bubble-gum rap, “Noir” presents itself as an entity obsessed with originality.
Smino is falling further into his stride with each new release, and his growth to a unique artist seems inevitable— much to the pleasure of his core fan base.