Welcome to “New Music with Nick.” In this column, I will be reviewing some of the most notable new album releases across various genres, focusing on hip-hop, R&B and pop music. Join me in exploring the ever-shifting landscape of the streaming era.
Smino: “Luv 4 Rent” (Oct. 28)
Smino is truly one of a kind. The St. Louis rapper has carved his own lane in music with his distinct voice and style. His particular southern drawl, infinite flows and world-class smoothness give his music a feel that few other artists could ever recreate. Something so deeply soulful is always present in every syllable that Smino delivers — one of many things helping to set him apart from the majority of mainstream artists.
Smino put himself on the map of hip-hop and R&B with 2017’s “blkswn,” a phenomenal debut album and an incredibly melodic and smooth listen from front to back. Tracks like “Wild Irish Roses” and “Amphetamine” became hits and helped establish his identity as an artist.
2018 saw the arrival of his sophomore album with “NOIR,” an eclectic but slightly scattered and inconsistent collection. It was fun and exciting at times, but significantly lacked the cohesiveness and the overall artistic value of his debut effort.
In 2020, Smino came back and released a quality mixtape titled “She Already Decided.” Unfortunately, the project was only briefly released on streaming services as an organized compilation, and can now be found in scattered locations across the Internet.
For somebody who has so much vocal versatility and such a natural feel and smoothness for music, there are always high expectations. “Luv 4 Rent” arrives nearly four years since Smino’s last studio album. Smino’s newest effort is coming at a pivotal time for his overall artistry and certainly provides the opportunity to highlight everything that he has been working on over the past four years. With a sophomore album that didn’t properly follow up the masterful “blkswn,” his third full-length project stands a chance to put the direction of his discography back on the right track.
Thankfully, Smino came through and delivered an album to the caliber of his talent. From the production to the delivery to the overall sound of the album, all of the necessary components came together to make this one of the better albums of the year.
First, Smino and his team executed every aspect of the album rollout flawlessly. Few hip-hop albums (and few albums in general) in the modern day really get the rollout that they deserve, and it’s a shame. The rollout is such a critical time to build fan excitement, widespread anticipation and an aesthetic and sonic foundation for what is to come.
Obviously, everybody involved with “Luv 4 Rent” understood this and knew what needed to be done. With a great lead single featuring J. Cole, creative pop-ups and listening parties for dedicated fans and a multitude of social media posts, videos and photoshoots around the album’s aesthetic, there was no piece missing from the rollout. The visuals were fantastic, authentic and all so true to the picture that the album was trying to paint. Smino’s rollout for “Luv 4 Rent” should serve as a blueprint for any artist trying to create a captivating campaign to build anticipation and excitement for their release.
Getting into the actual music, the project starts on such a high note. Following a very apt intro, “No L’s” comes bursting with personality, soul and fun. Kal Banx, one of the best current producers in hip-hop and R&B, pairs Smino with the perfect beat and helps to give the album one of its highlights.
Following this was “90 Proof,” the album’s lead single. With the predictably great feature from J. Cole complimenting alluring vocals and a quality verse from Smino, this song keeps the album engaging with a slightly more melodic track and a rather mellow energy.
After “90 Proof,” the energy escalates again with “Pro Freak,” an extremely fun track with an infectious hook and a remarkable verse from Doechii.
My main critique of the album would be the lack of extraordinary moments that really blew me away. Unfortunately, it mellowed out for a little bit too long in the middle. After “Pro Freak,” the project really declines in energy and dives into a relaxed sound for the next seven tracks. There are certainly no bad songs on the album, but there are also very few moments where I would really consider the music amazing. The presence of consistently solid songs still made for a very good album. With an artist with the potential of Smino, I’m just always going to be hoping for those moments that leave me in disbelief.
There are a few songs in the middle of the tracklist that I very much enjoyed, such as “Blu Billy” and “Modennaminute,” but it wasn’t until the outro of the album that I felt the quality reached the same level as songs two through four.
Still, I loved the transitions between songs, and I really thought that all of the placements were very well thought out. Sequencing is an underrated aspect of an album’s construction, and this project really executed in that area. “No L’s” fit its role as the first full track, and “Lee & Lovie” was the absolutely perfect outro for this album. Everything in between was carefully connected with effective sonic developments in different areas of the tracklist, building cohesive energies and emotions as the album progressed.
“Lee & Lovie” might just be the best song on the whole project. A soulful, beautiful and emotional love song, the vocal layering and harmonies are just so flawless and moving. The production is marvelous and gives the album a warm and personal feel — something that Smino’s music excels at. It really highlights his potential for greatness, and I couldn’t have imagined a better way to close out “Luv 4 Rent.”
I’m happy with the final result of the album, and I think it’s very much a project that helps to cement Smino into the upper tier of talent in hip-hop and R&B. It’s a really beautiful and melodic compilation that shows somebody so naturally in touch with music. Effortlessly pushing boundaries and innovating the sounds at the intersection of hip-hop and R&B, his music will be foundational to so many artists that will try to follow in his footsteps.
Favorite Songs: “Lee & Lovie,” “No L’s,” “Pro Freak,” “90 Proof,” “Blu Billy,” “Modennaminute”
Album Score: 83/100
Check out this Spotify Playlist and like it to follow along with some of some of my favorite songs of 2022 as the year progresses!
Editor’s Note: This article is a review and includes subjective opinions, thoughts and critiques.