By Josh Weiner
He’s “a young rapper with such obvious talent and star power,” Rolling Stone wrote with adulation of St. Louis rapper, Smino. His album blkswn, which they ranked as one of 2017’s finest rap releases, “boldly diverges from any current dominant aesthetics” by infusing R&B-inspired beats with “acrobatic chains of syllables, delivered with an unpredictable swing.”
Smino, born Christopher Smith, Jr. in 1991, has been making such strong impressions on critics and fans for years before coming through with his debut LP last year. It helps that he was raised in a very music-oriented family: “His father plays keys, his mother sings, his older cousin toured the world and his grandfather is a Hall of Fame blues bassist player,” XXL explains. “Music is in his blood.”
Such an upbringing has demonstrably influenced Swino’s musical output, which features many traces of such instruments along with a good amount of drums, which Swino had been playing for years before he ever decided to give emceeing a try. As a high schooler, he teamed up with his friend Bari Allen to form a hip-hop collective YDOC (“Young Dumb and Outta Control”), thereby securing his first formal foray into the genre.
Smino had trouble finding his footing for a while, after dropping out of Columbia College and spending a few years shifting around Chicago, Milwaukee, and St. Louis, trying to make ends meet. “There was a period of time where he wasn’t doing anything but selling beats, just to keep doing music and making money,” according to an article by Noisey, VICE’s music channel.
Things picked up for the rapper in 2015, the year he joined a music collective Zero Fatigue— who have been praised as “Chicago’s next hip-hop visionaries”— and released his first two official mixtapes, S!Ck S!Ck S!Ck and blkjuptr. Along with blkswn, his three releases have combined for memorable tracks as “Oxygen,” “Wild Irish Roses,” and the T-Pain assisted “Anita (Remix),” many of which are structured around the theme of “feeling like an alienated black person.” These songs have also been strengthened by their author’s “melodic vocal style, which pushes the tics of someone like Chance the Rapper into fresh territory, stretching and warping his vocals to form a new vocabulary,” (according to Pitchfork).
Smino will be appearing at several American festivals and European venues throughout the year, all while staying true to his guiding principle: making his hometown proud. “I’m going to be the next voice of the city, St. Louis” he exclaims. The city’s hip-hop community has decidedly lacked any defining superstar since Nelly has aged. It will be exciting to follow such a talented MC with a very sharp ear for effective musical styles, as he stakes his claim to the throne. “You can go as far as you want in anything,” he reminds us. “That’s what I’m hoping to achieve.”