It can’t be easy being Smino. He first hailed from the St. Louis and moved to Chicago a few years ago to pursue a rap career in what was quickly becoming a hot bed for new music, especially rap and R&B. In almost no time at all, his Zero Fatigue crew started picking up some serious recognition, complete with a feature in Pitchfork’s rising artist series. Keep in mind, all of this hype surrounding his fresh career was based off only a few massive singles, a smattering of EPs, and a couple of feature verses like the one on Noname’s “Shadow Man”. With all of that pressure, it must have been tough to finally release a full-length LP, especially one that spans over 18 tracks and clocks in at just over one hour in length.
Smino turned all of this pressure into musical gems, creating one of the most exciting local record debuts in years. It will likely go down in the history books with projects such as Noname’s “Telefone”, Mick Jenkin’s “The Water[s]”, and Chance’s “Acid Rap” though he is a St. Louis rapper through-and-through. Smino completely exceeded the expectations of me and many other hack music journalists, it’s amazing. In creating a completely unique sound and then shaping, wielding, and progressing that signature drawl on every track, Smino and his team, have turned each song into a unique listening experience. With this nearly flawless LP, he has delivered an extremely cohesive debut project, despite the fact that each track sounds completely different. The album has great sense of movement, in the literary world it would be considered a page-turner.
The first thing to keep in mind about this record is that it is long. Although there is an overwhelming amount of content to digest, take note that every song is jam-packed with substance. Being that there is so much going on throughout this record, it is going to take even the most experienced listener at least several listens to fully appreciate everything going on here. Not unlike some of the current kings of rap, i.e. Kendrick Lamar, Smino has a way with words that truly astounds listeners. Most of the punchlines heard on these tracks are worth rewinding, as they actually push beyond the clever double entendre into many-layered realms of meaning.
Smino has an endless supply of delivery methods, excelling in sing-song formats and in sporadic stanza. Lyrically, the things he says are so nuanced, it’s easy to miss what he says because the non-lyrical aspect of the music is so well-crafted. The production on the record is so consistent to the point that each track flows into the next, creating a ephemeral atmosphere of positive energy behind his effective vocabulary. This is one of those records where it is more difficult to figure out its flaws than it is to point out what the artist did right.
On the final track “Amphetamine” is perhaps some of the strongest work on an already phenomenal record. It begins with Smino questioning his place in life and where his career is headed, it rapidly changes halfway through into a mean lyrical piece, featuring verses from Noname, Zero Fatigue member Bari, and Jean Deaux, all of whom compliment each other generously. This song is not only one of the most ebullient tracks on the project, but also the perfect way to close “blkswn”. It begins with a reflection of Smino’s identity and ends with him flexing with his friends, a beautiful dichotomy. It’s impossible to classify this song as a touch-n-go buddy rap track, or a deeper intellectual rap song—because that’s the thing about Smi, he covers all of the bases.