Evan Dale // Dec 31, 2019
Credited features on 2019’s most important projects alone would make a strong case for Smino to be the most influential artist in music. Dreamville’s Revenge of the Dreamers lll? Smino was there. Cousin Stizz’s Tying to Find My Next Thrill? Smino was there. Chance the Rapper’s Big Day? Smino was there. Pivot Gang’s You Can’t Sit With Us, Kemba’s Gilda, Femdot’s 94 Camry Music, SiR’s Chasing Summer, Jay2’s 4 Tha Wait? Obviously, he was there. And though partial to collaborations revolving around the Chicago hip-hop scene that he – as an honorary citizen of the windy city – is such an instrumental piece of, the St. Louis-repping enigma’s range both geographically and stylistically is perhaps the most telling thing about his aesthetic. No one has ever sounded like Smino. And there’s good odds that no one ever will again.
His music is built on impossibly effortless transitions between variations of his sing-songy rap delivery. And beneath the foggy mire of his Southern twang and endlessly creative wordplay is a lyricist as clever and poetic as any in music. Put him on a hip-hop track and he has the hardest verse. Put him on an R&B ballad and his unique and honest vocal delivery makes his the most emotive and memorable. Put Smino anywhere and he shines.
He’s shined so much this year that it’s easy to forget that amongst all the features and videos across hip-hop and R&B, he’s put out two singles of his own, not to mention an A-Side / B-Side Chistmas Special, High 4 Da Highladays. Summertime banger, Reverend was a reaffirmation of his growth as a solo artist – one of the best in hip-hop. And with his second single of 2019, Trina and its accompanying visuals, the world was reminded yet again of why everyone in music wants a piece of Smino.
The necessary sense of humor required for any hip-hop star is there. Just watch the outrageous Trina video where he bounces around a yard full of bikini-clad women and fancies himself victor of the first Underwater Player’s Ball. Just listen to the absurdity of the High 4 Da HIghladays holiday two-pack produced by Monte Booker and featuring Masego. Catch him live at a show where his friendly demeanor and addicting individuality draw the entire crowd together in waves of laughter, shouted lyrics, and funky dancing.
Yet, the sense of light-heartedness doesn’t define Smino’s overarching artistry. In fact, nothing about his artistry does. Instead, balance and unending individuality do. And few traits are held at higher regard in music these days.
As an artist, there are few who define their deliveries – whether they be full-length projects, EP’s, singles, feature verses, or videos – with a more well-rounded approach. His delivery as a rapper is steeped in his vocalism, and his tracks and verses that are more heavily founded in his vocal delivery are rounded out by his inescapable tendency to burst with off-cadence bars at the drop of a melodic -hat. 2017 album, blkswn and 2018 album, NOIR are theses on his top-shelf ability to walk the line, if not to simply ignore the fact that a line should exist altogether. And even in the first year since 2015 where he has gone without a full-length release, his raw commitment to existing anywhere and everywhere else in music is untouched.
Especially when one takes into account that Smino refuses to do collaborative work in any circumstance but the booth. No IG messages. No emailing demos. Simply raw, first-person collab joints. There were so many projects, singles, and videos this year made all the better with the aid Smino’s touch. And though that touch has been a presence in the mainstream scene and the underground since his debut project, blkjptr in 2016, two phenomena have ensured that in 2019, his sound has become a necessary imprint on hip-hop at large.
First, Smino has worked tirelessly since the beginning of his career to make music at a pace rarely matched in the modern era. With a collaborative resumé that matches the prolificity of peak Lil Wayne and a personal canon that parallels the perfectionist spirit of Kendrick Lamar, Smino has emerged from years of hard work as an unendingly refined version of himself. His verse is often difficult to understand and always impossible to predict, and that’s the combination that makes him such a force. He’s mastered his cadence play, his lyricism, his vocalism, and his flow, combining them all to sound like no one ever has ever possessed.
Second, Smino’s tireless effort to work with as many artists as possible and imprint his ever-refined sound on as many projects as possible has in itself sped up music’s affinity for the unique, bizarre, and incomparable. Smino has been a part of so much music and been so individualistic with so many creative pursuits, that in 2019, he’s become the standard for differentiation and bold experimentalism. There is no foundation from any other artist that has paved the way for Smino. And if there has ever been an artist like him, they – the Ol’ Dirt Bastards, the Busta Rhymes – of hip-hop’s hall of fame are only comparable by the fact that they and Smino have been completely incomparable to any else in hip-hop’s long and storied past, present, and future.
2019 has been a year of being different. And Smino has been the most different. He’s made the different necessary and had a strong hand in making hip-hop the most experimental lane in all of music.
See our Comprehensive List of 2019's Best Artists here: