Smino’s 2017 sleeper hit Amphetamine just went Gold. After years of crafting an imitable sound palette, the Missouri rapper is now ready for the next stages of his career. He speaks to WAVE about his highly-anticipated project, She Already Decided 2, as well as his artistic growth and love for retro sitcoms.
‘The world hasn’t seen the full version of me yet’. Smino isn’t a rapper by any traditional metric. I mean, how many rappers do you know with an opulent, kush-laced Christmas EP,High 4 Da Highladays, and a passion for interior decorating?
The correct answer is just one: Christopher Smith Jr. aka Smino. Born in 1991 and raised just above the Western Banks of the Mississippi River in St. Louis, Smino saw legends like Nelly and Chingy forge hip-hop stardom just as he vaulted towards impressionable adolescence. Taking cues from his city and his lived experiences, Smino’s art pulls inspiration from his retina’s photo album. ‘In my free time, I be buying shit for my house. I love working on my home - I reinvigorate my living space often. I kick it with homies a lot too, we always coming up with ideas’.Smino also spends his free time enjoying thin-crust slices of Imo's Pizza as well as watching re-runs of 1990s sitcoms like Kenan & Kel, The Wayans Bros. and In The House. Oh, and Smino makes music every now and then, too.
At the tail-end of the MySpace era, Smino assumed his first stage name, C. Smi, alongside his rap co-pilot Bari under the moniker YDOC (Young Dumb and Outta Control). As CDs were starting to burn out and MySpace’s mast began to flood, Smino retooled his strategy and sprinted towards the DatPiff revolution.
Smino’s first solo mixtape, Smeezy Dot Com, was released in 2012 under his legal name. The project stands as a training ground for what Smino would eventually become. His track Solar sounds befitting of the Grand Theft Auto IV radio station, thanks to its tinsel-tinted synths, piano and cartoonish bars. While there are echoes of Smino’s signature crooning throughout, a lot of the project falls back onto the popular ‘college kid rap’ of its era. When discussing his musical back catalogue, Smino claims ‘Smeezy Dot Com isn’t cinematic like a movie. It’s more like an old series - like The Jamie Foxx Show’.
After teaming up with Bari once again for 2013’s Retail, Smino returned to the solo front with S!ck S!ck S!ckin October of 2015. Likening the project to ‘a fresh pair of Infrared Jordan 6s,’ project standout Ruby Red stutters and conflates the trippy instrumental and Smino’s nonchalant falsetto into one frequency.
Likening his follow-up EP, blkjuptr,to the 1986 movie Stand By Me, Smino looks at itas a pivotal, coming-of-age moment. Released under his imprint Zero Fatigue and produced entirely by frequent collaborator Monte Booker, blkjuptrwas the first domino to fall, kicking off Smino’s commercial ascent to stardom. Just listen to the smoked-out EP closer Oxygen, sculpted with Smino’s unique vocal tenor and bouncy beatwork. Balancing his psych-rap tendencies with Outkast-tinged crooning, it’s delivered as if from a haunted soul singer trapped inside Smino’s nervous system.
His debut record and current fan-favourite blkswn debuted in March of 2017. Likened to the 2003 Beyoncé musical The Fighting Temptations, blkswn is complemented by a lavender and rose-tinted album cover. Featuring Jimi Hendrix-purple and crimson hues, coupled with a blkswn Afro comb fused to Smino’s cranium, the artwork told you the exact kind of warm, hallucinogenic voyage you can expect. ‘My track Amphetamine from blkswn went Gold recently. I didn’t expect it would become as beloved as it is now, but I knew people would like it. Amphetamine has a lot of substance behind it. The song is tied to another track I did called Oxygen from blkjuptr, and my homie was telling me they needed that same feeling as Oxygen - that was the formation of Amphetamine’.
‘The people I was making that song with [Monte Booker, Bari, Jean Deaux and Noname] loved that shit,’ he adds. ‘To be honest, I thought the song could’ve already been certified, but it wasn’t until I audited the label myself that I actually found out the song officially went Gold, you feel me? People ain’t gonna look out for your shit, sometimes you gotta do it yourself. I really ran the audit up because I was playing a song in London, and motherfuckers were screaming my shit. So, I went back and really looked into it, that’s how I found out Amphetamine went Gold’.
blkswnisn’t just the Amphetamine show, though. Opener Wild Irish Roses - now at well over 100 million streams - is an alien experience, thanks to its Electric Ladylandinstrumental, Purple Raincharisma and Midnight Marauders-like texture.
Reflecting on his mindset during his 2017 blkswnrun, Smino says ‘If I could go back to 2017 and teach my old self a lesson, I’d take advantage of every opportunity possible. I think back to 2017 - I used to be super selective with what I’d do and close a lot of doors for myself. I think, looking back, I really could’ve been a lot more open than I was. Sometimes, there ain't nothing wrong with being a part of the wave - even though you got your own wave’.
Smino’s second LP, NOIR,arrived in 2018. In a review of the album, Jay Balfour of Pitchfork describes it as ‘a raunchy bedroom party album,’ and this couldn’t be more true. For NOIR, Smino swapped out jars of molasses for a trap-tinged rap jam like no other. ‘To me, NOIR is like that Spike Lee movie with Denzel - Mo’ Better Blues. I referenced that joint on my track Low Down Derrty Blues’.
‘In 2020, I was talking to my manager and he let me know that there was no free music anymore. That’s why I made the first She Already Decided - that’s for my fans. This series is my freedom’.Released at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in April 2020, She Already Decidedwas a freeform, 16-track odyssey unshackled by sample clearances and label projections. Blissful opener Fronto Isley beautifully flips The Isley Brothers’ 1975 number For the Love of You. Acting as the last stage of Smino’s metamorphosis from rap crooner into full-blown soul star, this track epitomises the entire mixtape. Envisioning the project as a custom pair of St. Lunatics Kyjuan Nike Air Force 1s, She Already Decided is the closest fans have ventured into the rapper’s mind thus far.
‘I'm making She Already Decided 2 right now. For this project, I'm working with some of my favourite trap producers, so this is gonna be hard-hitting on some rap shit. It just depends on how I feel right now. I've just been listening to a lot of Lil Wayne - the Dedication 2 mixtape, Da Drought 2 and Tha Carter II. In fact, every second thing that nigga ever did was always the best one’.
Comparing the upcoming She Already Decided 2 to the original, Smino says ‘The second one is hard as fuck, I’m not gonna lie. They’re both different though. I made the first one in two weeks and just put it out. I did all the mixing, engineering and transitions myself. It’s really personal shit for me. I like both though, it’s a tie’.
As it stands, Smino’s most recent offering is 2022’s Luv 4 Rent. Featuring guest spots from Lil Uzi Vert, J. Cole, Ravyn Lenae, Lucky Daye, Doechii, Fatman Scoop and more, Smino’s third official studio release is nothing short of masterful. Taking cues from all of his prior releases, the LP is a trim yet bold 50-minute funk boat ride across the Motown and Zero Fatigue ocean. ‘Working with Cole and Uzi was real cool for this album. I got a lot more music with J. Cole on the way. Cole is the big homie, he wanted one of my songs from me originally. I gave him 90 Proof for his upcoming album The Fall Off, but I asked him for it back. I ain’t have to pay for none of the verses, either. You’ll probably hear me on their albums soon too’.
‘I like artists that truly fuck with me,’he adds.‘I never went after someone who truly didn’t know me - it’s like a mutual respect thing. Long story short, Uzi posted a screenshot from one of my videos on his story. I DMed them and said “right on” or something. They messaged back saying they’re tryna be a part of whatever I’ve got coming next, so I said “bet”’.
Currently, Smino’s putting the finishing touches on Luv 4 Rent’s deluxe sibling, as well as She Already Decided2. With that in mind, we took a second to ponder what iconic television characters would make a great fit for his upcoming projects. ‘If I could put anyone on my project, I’d deffo put Moesha from Moesha on there - it’s fucking Brandy. I’d also love Jamie from The Jamie Foxx Show on there too. That brother can sing in and out of the show - it’s a no-brainer. Finally, I think Martin from the Martin sitcom would be great too. He's already a radio DJ for WZUP, he’d do a great job of hosting my shit’.
Speaking about what’s next for him, Smino explains ‘Love 4 Rent (Deluxe) might be on the way, wait and see. The music is done - it’s the original version of the album I made before the COVID-19 Pandemic. We just gotta sort the artwork. Working on my Zero Fatigue brand, we sell hoodies and shit. I’m also stepping into the fashion realm a bit more - do you see this coat?’.