Smino's Sophomore Album NOIR is an Experimental, Romantic Masterpiece
Evan Dale // Nov 8, 2018
No vocalist has ever been more creative than Smino. His style is ultimately inventive, endlessly wandering, vibrantly indecisive, schizophrenically genial, and patterned beyond sense. Hip-hop’s Bob Dylan, he sounds like no one ever has and is too bizarrely poetic for anyone to ever imitate. A one-man collective of hyper-experimentalism in hip-hop and R&B merging with the conceptual vocab of history’s greatest songwriters, Smino is indefinable on every scale. And that’s exactly what makes him Smino.
When his debut album, blkswn was released last year, it changed music, bringing the brashness of jazz, the unregistered grey area of post-genrefication, and the notion that maybe – just maybe – the most individualistic and innovative artists of the world were starting to be held at higher regard than those simply chasing something already done and mastered.
Fast forward to today and the world of music has become increasingly inventive, obscured by uncategorical stylings and indescribable cadence shifts across the board, stemming from hip-hop’s modern prominence, and at its core, Smino and blkswn’s one-of-a-kind direction. In the wild lawlessness that followed his debut’s release, Smino became more myth than man and continued his vibrant takeover of music, featuring on a slew of projects and releasing more of his own.
Now, his sophomore album, NOIR, is here, and Smino once again finds himself at the pinnacle of hip-hop’s grandest stage, having arrived being the most inventive, most creative artist in his field.
Like blkswn, NOIR is a marathon album, though its 18 tracks and 58-minute run-time are better described as a lengthy Lou-Chi fairytale. Beginning with the production of his talented compositional crew, Zero Fatigue, and headed by the genius of Monte Booker, bolstered by a similar collection of talented friends and collaborators as his debut, and ending with the bold exclamation point of Smino’s ever-adjusting delivery, NOIR is a wild ride. He has seemingly mastered the approach of disallowing a track to be simply so. Each is a story, and each is a multi-part composition that shifts at an elementally musical scale as it does as a tale.
And that’s all thanks to, once again, Smino’s vocal delivery. Forget every track on NOIR, every single verse, bridge, and chorus is a complicated, shuffling exhibition of Smino’s permanently unsettled approach to his own musicality. With a series of delineations with which to approach sung vocals and rapped lyricism, Smino delivers nothing but tracks that are broken down to explosive quips, quick wordplay, short stories, and attention deficit disorder in its most poetic of forms. Yet, none of the madness comprising NOIR ever manifests into true madness.
And in that idea lies Smino’s most valuable mastery of his own stylistic independence. Unfolding like a clear-cut conversation of his jumbled subconscious and built on the maddening disorganization that accompanies our own honest internal thoughts, Smino and NOIR are somehow comprehensible where all of us would undeniably fail to be. That pseudo-consciousness has always accompanied his music – defined it in fact. But as time has progressed, as his own creative cuts into the world have become welcome in the mainstream, he further experiments within the range of his own oddity and with NOIR, it’s mastered.
Beyond the bizarre of his style, NOIR is also defined by balance. Able to pocket his moiré energy and transition it into something altogether calmer and more meditative, Smino has no problem subscribing to the tastes of R&B, hip-hop, and neo-soul while remaining truly none of the three. Aside from the high-energy and the anthemic delivery we see Smino belaying on L.M.F., KLINK, and TEQUILA MOCKINGBIRD, and the bass-heavy Southern banger he and Valee are capable of bringing with KRUSHED ICE, the majority of the album instead seems to head in two particular parallel directions: romance and sensuality. Not that the thematic discourses are anything new to Smino with tracks like Silk Pillows andNetflix & Dussecoming to fruition as some of the most popular off blkswn, but love and sex are far more prominent in NOIR. There has always been something undeniably romantic in the poetry of his music and so with good sense, he carries forward the angle. Overtop NOIR’s slower production, Smino is capable of finding a mellow pace. A listen to SPINZ points exactly at such a knack for folding a slow delivery and the slow grind into his established mood, while Z4L featuring friends Bari & Jay2 bring the slow grind to its next level as an ignorant hyper-sexualized hip-hop anthem.
From there, with really only KRUSHED ICE as an exception, Smino lets the late-night vibes run wild, recruiting Dreezy and Ravyn Lenae to bring their own romantic moods into play, until VERIZON – a particularly introspective and darkly intriguing track – closes it all out.
It’s difficult to get terribly specific about NOIR without jumping to grand assumptions of meaning and message in its storybook layout. And that’s up to each listener. What should be said however, is that Smino, above any other artist in music right now, allows for a particularly broad range of introspection and takeaway. His lyricism, like a runaway train of thought, is as confusing and unexpected as his vocal approach and allowa so much interpretation and room in which to place one’s own subconscious that no one will come away with the same feelings towards it. Like impressionist paintings and modernist architecture, that’s what makes the obscurity of Smino’s music such valuable art.
It should also be noted that more than a year since blkswn’s release, Smino is still paving the way for artists so incredibly indefinable and curiously unique that no one is yet to be as much of a bold standout as him. It could not have been easy to pull together a sophomore project living up to and surpassing his debut in uniqueness while balancing it with comprehensible and enjoyable musicality, but here we are enjoying NOIR from its brash oddity to its musical genius in the same at that we were at the beginning of the blkswn era. If there’s one thing we learned from it, that we should certainly apply to NOIR as well, it’s that Smino’s music ages like a fine merlot while the rest of the world plays catch up.
Excited to see how this one not only develops with time, but also to see what it inspires in its wake.