If you haven’t heard of Smino, you’re missing out. Smino is a part-time singer, part-time rapper with a knack for alliteration and infectiously catchy wordplay. Due to his collaborations with the likes of Doja Cat, Isaiah Rashad, and Chance the Rapper, he’s often looped in with the “R&B Rap” genre. However, while he does have his fair share of R&B songs, his influences are anything but. His ability to switch between frantic, energetic vocal cadences and soulful melodies is reminiscent of funk legends like Prince and George Clinton from Parliament/Funkadelic, and his lyrics are just as hypersexual. Smino loves using the triplet rhyme scheme that 90s rap groups such as Three 6 Mafia and Bone Thugs-N-Harmony coined. While Smino definitely fits the R&B rapper bill, he brings a unique sound palette that the genre was severely missing.
Smino’s newest project, Luv 4 Rent, is his best release yet. Although he improves on several aspects of his previous works, the biggest highlight of this album is by far and away Smino’s rapping ability. I am always fascinated with the way Smino uses his voice as an instrument, and this album is full of some of the most tongue-twisting verses of the year. Yet unlike many technically skilled rappers, Smino is not trying to impress you with how fast he can rap. His delivery is smooth and effortless. It sounds like Smino always talks in machine-gun rhyming couplets, and we only happen to hear him talking over a rap beat.
Compared to his previous albums, which have been criticized for being long and disjointed, Luv 4 Rent is concise and well-structured. With 15 songs and a 50 minute runtime, none of the songs overstay their welcome, and the way the album’s production switches between silky soul instrumentals and jittery trap beats keeps the listener on their toes. As a personal bonus, the tracklist is bookended by my two personal favorite songs on the album: “No L’s” and “Lee & Lovie.” “No L’s” is the perfect opener to the album because it showcases everything lovable about Smino’s persona: his head-nodding rhyme schemes, his smooth vocals, and his songwriting that ranges everywhere from nonsensical to endearing. “Lee & Lovie”, on the other hand, is a cut and dry alternative R&B song, but it features Smino’s most heartfelt vocal performance on the album.
This is Smino’s third studio album, and although he’s been in the game for more than five years, it is his first project with superstar-level features like J. Cole and Lil Uzi Vert. Not only do these features demonstrate how Smino is finally garnering more respect in the music industry—they are also some of the best parts of the album. J. Cole’s feature on “90 Proof” is filled with classic Cole entendres like “my dawg got to rushin’/Russian like a Soviet pup.” It provides contrast to Smino’s party-all-the-time mentality, with lines like “that ninety proof burned a lil’ hole in my gut.” Uzi’s verse was also memorable, but it was actually Doechii, a rapper I was mostly unfamiliar with, who had the album’s most notable feature on “Pro Freak.” She was the only featured artist who was able to eclipse Smino’s rapid fire delivery, and I hope they collaborate again because they blended each others’ styles perfectly.
Although flaws in this album are sparse, Smino’s largest weakness as an artist is clearly production choice. Almost the entire album was produced by Monte Booker, who is an incredibly talented producer by all means. His past collaborations like “Kompany” and “Kolors” were some of Smino’s first hits, and he still produced some fantastic beats on this album like “90 Proof” and “Settle Down.” Nevertheless, there are a few instrumentals that just don’t match Smino’s excitable personality. “Curtains,” for example, is a song where Smino brings out some of his weirdest and most animated flows, but the beat doesn’t have much going on except for a somewhat uninteresting synth pattern, so listeners have no incentive to revisit it. The production on “Modennaminute” also treads dangerously close to Drake-esque R&B Rap, but it’s saved by a longing, beautiful guest verse from Lucky Daye.
Luv 4 Rent demonstrates that Smino is one of the most distinctive vocalists in hip-hop, and while he still has much to prove, he continues to get more consistent and creative with his albums. From his unprecedented takes on the genre of trap like “Matinee” and “90 Proof” to some of the catchiest flows you will ever hear on “No L’s,” Smino deserves all the accolades coming his way in the future.
Ben Merisotis is a sophomore in the College studying Government. He is the INDY’s Sass Editor.