Smino is the freshest voice coming out of St. Louis since Nelly introduced mainstream to “Country Grammar” and lured us with his nursery-rhymed hook.

However, though his artistic presence is refreshing, don’t mistake the fresh talent coming from the Lou to be the sequel to Nelly and his St. Lunatic crew.

Smino’s vocal ability is acrobatic and experiential in that his stacked country grammar floats seamlessly between rapping and singing without exiting the enthralling flow of the record. Weaving between relatable subjects from young love (Anita, Wild Irish Horses), blunts and booze (Netflix and Dusse, Edgar Allan Poe’d Up) to introspective views into the crime rates, poverty cycle, and weak sense of hope in his hometown (Father Son Holy Smoke, Long Run, Ricky Millions), ultimately, Smino delivers a tsunami of the “ratchet and righteous” in his debut, blkswn – a title that has no relation to the film of the same name, but rather paints a picture of the man the artist is becoming, he explains.

Over the dizzying and dreamlike production of Monte Booker, the 25-year-old and 1/3rd member of the music collective, Zero Fatigue — inclusive of Booker and emerging vocalist Ravyn Lenae — serves a lyrical aesthetic that will attract the bar-hunting listener and also provides a vibe just right for a laid-back session.

Released on March 14, in honor of “St.Louis Day”, which commemorates the 314 area code, blkswn isn’t asthmatic, but an adrenaline pumps through that doesn’t bore nor exhaust.

With heavy creative ties to Chicago, the popular Classick Studios is home to a majority of Smino’s recordings, blkswn is complemented by a number of vocally unique features from artists such as theMIND, Lenae, Via Rosa, Akenya, and NoName who slides on the record with a secret verse to close out the 18-track album, just to name a few.

EBONY caught up with the Midwest artist who kicks off his Swanita tour in April, to learn more about his album, artistry and his hopes to be a change agent for his St. Louis hometown.

Photo credit: Taylor Madison
Photo credit: Taylor Madison

EBONY: One thing I really enjoy about your music is the various ways you utilize and experiment with your voice.  How did you develop that delivery skill?

Smino:  I’ve been rapping for a long ass time. I definitely was one of those kids that used to go on the lyrics sites and read them. I know most of Twista’s Kamikaze album, then Ludicrous. Eminem’s “The Way I Am” was probably the first lyrics I ever remembered. It was just like dudes who could really rap and I always wanted to incorporate different stuff that my pop’s played around the crib. He put me up on Rachelle Ferrell. I was watching a video of her performing in London or somewhere but I was seeing her making all these crazy faces and with each face she was making a whole different voice would come out of her and I was just like damn. Stuff like that was always cool to me. I’m a musician too, I play the drums, and as a rapper I incorporate my voice as if a drum was doing a solo or a sax was doing a solo and try to switch it up like ‘ok, right now, I’m rapping like a bass or saxophone.’ That’s how that started and then the words just come from my life experiences.

EBONY: I love “Oxygen” from your blkjupiter project. It paints a picture. You can hear the soul and vulnerability in your voice. What was that heart-hitting, message-driven song on blkswn that you had to make sure made your debut project? 

SMINO: The song “Long Run.”  That was the last verse I finished but I wasn’t that confident in the whole song. That was the one I didn’t know if would it [really] hit.  But, I was just like damn, the message and what I’m saying in the verse, and I’m really talking about my city and the experiences from my city. I felt like I never heard anybody talk about it like this. It just kind of added the [final touch] to the project because I wanted to make it all feel continuous like you were saying. I wanted it all to feel like one good song. So that one was definitely a challenge to write and finish.

EBONY: You’ve been gaining solid looks and recognition on a national level for a while now, what factors do feel have contributed to your success? 

Smino: I think the biggest thing that has contributed to my success and my art, is that I keep it so family-oriented. I think people like the feeling of seeing the same group every time you see me. They grow to expect [certain things] from this group of friends. That’s why my album features were specifically chosen–it’s all people that I can literally pick up the phone and call anytime of the day about anything, [It doesn’t have to be] music related.  I feel like that contributes the most. And Monte (producer). Every time he’s growing, I’m growing and every time I’m growing, he’s growing. We planned it that way but it wasn’t forced. We just rock like that. Even Ravyn (Lenae), Jean (Deaux) and Jay 2 – all of them.  Everybody’s growing and it’s becoming more of a wide spread thing. I feel it’s something in our spirit right now.

EBONY: Coming from St. Louis, where were you during the Ferguson protests? Did Mike Brown and the attention averted to the city have any effect on your artistic goals and wanting to push a deeper message out through your music?

Smino: The morning Mike Brown got killed, I was actually in St. Louis and had just done a show. We woke up the next morning and one of our friends – he was actually the one that took the picture of Mike Brown laying out in the street. It was just kind of crazy to wake up from a show and see everybody talking about it on Twitter.  That same night we had a candlelight and it was real peaceful. Everybody was trying to hold each other up. The police pulled up at the candlelight – a line of them – like we were doing something wrong. I saw a little girl throw a brick at a police window and shit just went crazy.  Seeing that and then seeing how many people are just helpless trying to do anything to make something out of their situation. It just made me realize that the only thing I can possibly do to change anything is help myself by making my voice as big as I can and keep it as real as I can while doing it, so people can have some type of hope and maybe one day I can be in position to move some stuff around, and have some type of opinion or say-so.

EBONY: What do you want people to know about your hometown?

Smino: I feel like a lot of people don’t know much about St. Louis period. A lot people don’t know how many cold ass [talented] people that are out there. I just had a listening party there and it was mainly for the creatives – this person did cut and sow design, another Djing or whatever, and it was just tight to see all these people coming together creatively. Metro Boomin’ is from here blowing up and he’s still reppin’ the crib. People need to know that there’s more of that coming. My homie Bari, he’s from St. Louis and he has an EP coming that’s definitely about to change shit.  I can’t even explain it. St. Louis is a city that doesn’t have a lot of influences.  We’re cool with whatever is around us at the crib, but I want people to know that St. Louis has that creative [talent] coming like in the early 2000s.

EBONY: On the intro to “Ricky Millions” – which is another one of the joints that stand-out to me – you open with the statement, “I just want to make my mama proud, and my daddy rich.” It seems that you’re on that path, would you agree?

Smino: Hell yeah! [Ricky Millions] is one of my favorite songs on the album too. It’s one of the first songs that went on the album. My cousin, Drea Smith, who’s on [that record], that’s her hands on the album cover and one of the rings she’s wearing on her index finger is yellow – my grandma gave it to her. Our grandparents always made sure that we stuck to the music. My grandma got me some bongos when I was in the first grade. I wanted to make a real memory in that way.  My big cousin (Drea), she’s the reason why I even pushed to transition to Chicago. Fam looking out for Fam.  I always make [my mom] proud and she’s even proud that I  even went off to Chicago. My Daddy had kids since he was 18, he never missed a day of work, took vacations,  or called in sick. I feel like he deserves all the bread, anything he wants. But it’s like setting out to be what I said I’mma be is probably going to make them the most proud. I definitely feel like I’m on that path to do that.