Smino comes from St. Louis, Missouri; a city mostly famous in hip-hop for birthing early 2000s Starter-cap-on-tilt rappers like Nelly, Chingy and J-Kwon. The 27 year old loves his home city and the music it’s known for, but he also wants to push the boundaries of its sound beyond those classic street anthems.
On his debut album, blkswn, Smino rapped, sang, and sometimes even scatted like an old jazz crooner. His second album NØIR, leaned even further into R&B, soul and funk—the kind of music Smino listens to in his downtime.
I call Smino a few weeks out from his second Australian tour, joining the Laneway Festival lineup and performing some sideshows in support of his second album NØIR. He’s just finished a writing camp in Atlanta, he tells us, and he’s still on a high from hanging with Buddy and JID. When he talks, everything is either ‘something-ass’ or ‘something as fuck’. He’s an affable guy, aware that he’s now making a real impact on hip-hop, but never weird about it. We talk about this newfound sense of responsibility, music in the Midwest, and having a band that would throw hands for you.
Smino, what’s up? I’m just about to eat breakfast, it’s 8AM here.
Yo, I just got to Los Angeles from Atlanta man, I’m chillin. Just been out there with Dreamville and shit. It’s like 1PM here.
I want to start off by talking about your performance on Jimmy Fallon the other night with Noname and Saba – it’s one of the best late night performances I’ve seen in a minute. Had you ever performed ‘Ace’ with Noname live before?
Yeah, she’s a real one. Noname is definitely a real one. The first time I did [‘Ace’] was on New Year’s in Chicago, we were performing it at one of her shows when the ball dropped at midnight. But nothing on the scale of Fallon before. The first time we actually rehearsed it was at the Fallon soundcheck. That shit was tight, it was dope. I appreciate it too man.
Do you get many opportunities to kick it with them outside of performing, or are you all at the level now where it’s hard to meet up?
I mean, we’re all busy as hell! But when we know we’re all going to be in the same city we literally make sure we hang out, you know what I’m saying? Artist ass shit.
Let’s talk about Noir. You hold it down for 18 tracks, and outside of the Zero Fatigue family the only features are Dreezy and Valee, right? Are you particular about your features?
Thank you man. Yeah, Dreezy and Valee—they’re both from Chicago so I still kept it Midwest as fuck. To tell you the truth—I just realised this because I just left this rap camp with J Cole and Dreamville working on The Revenge of the Dreamers album—I realised the reason I don’t collaborate with people is because I don’t know them! I don’t collaborate as much literally because I only hang out with my real friends. But I recently just made a bunch of new friends, so going forward I’m going to be doing a lot more of that shit because it’s fun as hell. I just like working with good people, good artists, the motherfuckers with the good vibes. It ain’t necessarily about like, “I want to work with the biggest artists in the game, I wanna work with Drake.” I honestly don’t give a fuck to work with Drake, I want to work with my peers and other people that are pushing the game forward.
The music has really evolved, even from Blkswn to NØIR.
Appreciate it bro. There’s a bunch of stuff on the new album which are based off my life experiences post Blkswn and I think I just grew some more man. I can’t fucking wait to make music, you caught me at the craziest time. I just literally just got back from the best shit I’ve done in my life—the camp I mentioned. It was a rap camp in Atlanta, it felt like summer camp bruh. All the cool niggas were coming through like JID, Buddy, Cousin Stizz. It was all the upcoming artists, it was some of the coolest shit ever.
Your live show has changed too, you’ve got a band now. How did you link with them?
Yeah they’re called The Band Band. Shit, they’re just the homies man. Luckily I’ve got a band director now so he can really take care of shit, ‘cause I’m so busy these days. He’ll set up the rehearsals and all of that, so it’s a real team thing now. If it weren’t for them niggas being so on top if it, the shows wouldn’t be as organised. My band is super cool—they’re the homies, they would beat someone’s ass for me, all that.
That’s good, [laughs] you’ve got the right people around you.
[Laughs] “You’ve got the right people around you.” Hell yeah. Cold nigga. Where you at, what part of Australia?
I’m in Melbourne man.
Oh yeah, I got in a fight last time I was in Melbourne with some security guards. They were racist as hell.
Yeah, we gotta sort that shit out.
Hell yeah. But bro, I’m so excited to play with the band out there ‘cause the energy at that last Melbourne show was crazy!
What’s the creative scene like in St. Louis these days, is it different to when you were staring out?
Nowadays I’m starting to see a lot of St. Louis people diversify their sound and really do whatever the fuck they want. I think before me it was a lot of street artists—there still is and that shit is dope, I love that music—but I’m starting to notice a lot more artists making shit that says “This is me,” finding some kind of identity. There’s a lot of soulful shit coming out of St. Louis which might not sound like a lot to you, but where I’m from is hood as fuck—people don’t always want to hear soulful shit. So to hear artists from my city who feel like, “It’s a time where I can be myself and put my music out how I want into the world, and people are going to respect that shit because I’ve seen a motherfucker like Smino do it, I’ve seen somebody like Sza do it.” It’s a big ass inspiration for me to keep upping my sound and taking my music as far as I possibly can.
So you’re doing this to represent St. Louis.
I am St. Louis 1,000 percent. It’s really like that. I just realised that the last time I was at home. I kind of reflected on my responsibility there. The recognition I get back home from all of the kids made me change my perspective on that.
What do you get up to when you’re back there?
I just go see my momma. I honestly don’t really do to much in St. Louis, I just see my family ‘cause I don’t get to see them too much. That’s where I go for downtime, or to LA where I’m at right now.
What have you been listening to lately, anyone we should have our eye on?
My favourite artist right now is Buddy. I love Buddy. He’s wild as hell, he’s super fucking talented. My homie Bari from St. Louis is super talented too. I’ve been listening to this band called Butcher Brown from Richmond, Virginia lately, it’s like a funk band but they fuse it with hip-hop. I’ve been listening to a bunch of old shit like K-Dee from LA, some old ass hip-hop shit. My favourite album to bump on the regular is the new 21 Savage album, a lot of people probably wouldn’t expect that but that’s my favourite daily shit.
Lastly, once you’re finished touring this album what are some of you goals for 2019?
A lot man, I’m going to put out an album and get nominated for a Grammy this year. A lot of shit is going to happen bro. I’m working on a name for the album. I actually started working on it before NØIR came out, so I’m finishing it now and I’ll put it out this year as fuck. Just a bunch of music and travelling man, that’s all the fuck I do.
You can catch Smino on his upcoming tour of Australia at Laneway Festival, The Corner Hotel in Melbourne January 30th and The Metro Theatre in Sydney February 6th. Tickets here.