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Spacey St. Louis superpimp Smino has returned after a four-year hiatus with Luv 4 Rent, the long-awaited follow-up to the fan-favorite Noir. And while its title suggests the often transitory nature of strong affection for people, places, and lifestyles, the album offers much more staying power, with strong exegeses of the theme, from the platonic to the romantic. There’s a lot to like, and plenty of reasons to revisit.
From his introduction in 2017 with the groovy, P-funk-influenced debut album Blkswn, Smino’s cut an impressively charismatic figure, equal parts Dungeon Family and St. Lunatics, as likely to indulge in a four-bar run of falsetto crooning as he is to deliver a tongue-twisting lyrical soliloquy full of witty wordplay and devilish double entendre. With five years, a new label deal, and a wealth of new industry connections under his belt, he employs these tools to great effect on his latest.
This tendency is highlighted best, ironically enough, not through any of the lyrics on the new album – although, don’t get it twisted, those are typically great – but in the interlude at the end of “Curtains,” which features the voice of (presumably) an older male relative of Smino’s, telling him why he’s so compelling a performer. “You engage with people,” he says. “You move them. You direct them. They hear you, and they move with you. But it’s like he’s got that aura about him that he can take people places.”
Indeed, Smino exudes a confidence that runs so contrary to anything in hip-hop today. He’s not trying to be a trendsetter. He’s not trying to be a follower either. He’s not even trying to be a contrarian or iconoclast, going against the grain as if to prove a point. He’s one of the very few artists who seems so utterly self-possessed that he genuinely does not care what’s going on in “the streets” at any given moment. He’s too busy exploring his own galaxy, expanding on his own capabilities, telling his own story, his own way.
That might not be entirely fair to say, though. Of course, he’s aware of what’s going on in hip-hop; he nods to his influences constantly throughout Luv 4 Rent, such as on “Ole Ass Kendrick,” when he employs a quirky vocal trick reminiscent of the Compton wunderkind’s earliest works. “No L’s” prominently features a sample of Monica’s 2003 single “Knock Knock” right down to the Missy Elliott ad-libs and repeated loop of The Masqueraders’ 1976 song “It’s a Terrible Thing to Waste Your Love.”
In a similar vein, “Pro Freak,” featuring TDE newcomer Doechii (in the midst of a standout year in her own right), taps into Southern Miami influences including 2 Live Crew’s “Hoochie Mama” and Trick Daddy’s “In Da Wind,” blended smoothly with his own Midwestern twang. When he needs to introspect, as he does on “Defibrillator,” he invokes his incarcerated uncle’s proud words from behind bars, not just to flex, but to send an encouraging wavelength out into the universe.
The guests on the album range from the A-list (J. Cole, Lil Uzi Vert) to close friends and longtime collaborators (Kal Banx, Phoelix) but the star of the show remains resolutely Smino himself. For all the allusions to his musical heroes and lascivious posturing, the album is about growth and self-love. Even the cover is committed to this concept; in an interview with Complex, Smino explained, “I always get my hair done on my [album] covers. I wanted to show that I’m doing my own [hair] on this cover because it’s supposed to represent self-care and self-love. I always had someone else taking care of my shit, or may have been putting my crown in the hands of other motherfuckers. But I can take care of my own crown too.” In that respect,Luv 4 Rent isn’t just about borrowing love and support from other sources, although that can be a temporary refuge. It’s about making a home in your own skin, and understanding that that’s where charity truly begins – and ends.