Smino's She Already Decided is an Ode to the Timelessness of the Mixtape Tradition
Evan Dale // April 21, 2020
The early 2000’s were defined by mixtapes. Much thanks to a lack of technology and the then nonexistent presence of streaming, prolific artists of the day had no choice but to deal in the unmixed, unmastered texture of the mixtape, distributing discs in local shops, by hand, or out the trunk of a car, hoping its contents were potent enough to get it moving far from of its origin. Through the medium which accounted for the vast majority of any rapper’s canon, something intangible and perhaps accidental was born. It’s hard to express without using the word mixtape itself, and it’s easiest to know it by listening to a modern hip-hop spectrum that is largely without it and its elusive aesthetic altogether. But there was a hustle to it and something about the rawness of any mixtape’s sound reflected that hustle; made us hear that grit. Modern technology has opened the door for more producers to exist with only the necessity for a laptop; for more artists to collaborate with only a smartphone and social media; for projects to get largely turned into something beyond the imperfect realm of a mixtape, and into an EP or an album without jumping through the rings the grueling process once required. Subsequently, the world has a lot more refined, perfected release. Subsequently, no one is slinging mixtapes out the trunk of their car anymore; and nearly all of the few mixtapes that do exist, released to SoundCloud, Spotify, and Apple Music alike, are really just mastered albums trying to gain notoriety through a delineation their aesthetic can’t match.
Young hip-hop artists of today are largely born from the influence of the early 2000’s mixtape generation, and though many wish they could make something as raw and fluid as Lil Wayne’s Droughts and Dedications or as notorious as Official White Labels, the process has changed and thus, too, has the product. There are of course exceptions. Kendrick Lamar’s jazz-soaked untitled unmastered, Clairmont the Second’s Mixtape Golden Era inspired Do You Drive, and now Smino’s She Already Decided capture the indefinable and abstract particularities of a hip-hop era come and gone. The success of those projects in replicating a texture largely lost is mainly thanks to the unique aesthetics that each of those artists carry with them, and the nonchalant prowess each boast that make an imperfectproject perfect, though in a different way from most other artists in music.
It’s hard to travel back in time unless you already don’t belong to this day, age, or maybe even dimension.
For Smino, whose sound is rooted nowhere but the fantastical world of wordplay of his own making, She Already Decided is as mixtape as mixtapes have ever been. Born from the desire to release a project at a time when releasing a new, mastered album seems superfluous; at a time when making music is most artist’s only escape from the bizarre moment in history; at a time when listening to music is our most centering daily ritual; She Already Decided is glistening with the rawness never escaping even Smino’s most acclaimed albums and exhibiting of the risk-taking nature he never goes without. No one in hip-hop’s upper ranks is more suited to the release of the mixtape by its traditional sense than the hip-hop artist whose sound, roots, inspirations, and era no one can quite pinpoint. Smino is a master of the unpredictable and blasé realm where mixtapes used to shine. So, Blckswn & NOIR already felt a lot like mixtapes by unteachable standards, and She Already Decided may as well be an album by the standard of Smino’s existing canon. A lot of what makes his albums albums and what makes his mixtape a mixtape also makes the two interchangeable – vibrant changes of pace, stylistic meandering, irreplicable flow, transcendence.
From the moment an Isley Brothers sample greets listeners on the project’s opening track, to the Baby Keem sampled Blac Soda freestyle, to the impeccable early 2000’s design of his linked mixtape website, Smino’s knack at not only existing, but thriving in whatever creative epoch he pleases is apparent. And in that inadherence to time, adheres a timeless flow, as fitting for the St. Louis hip-hop anthem, Cabbage as it is for the funk-embedded sensual crooning of O’HighO – perhaps Smi’s most vulnerable vocal release to date – as it is to the track’s understatedly deep closing monologue especially adept to the moment in history from which it was released:
Straight up, that’s my favorite form of self-care is not carin’ too much about things that don’t fulfill my spirit, ya dig?
Through just one listen to She Already Decided, Smino’s stance on self-care seems obvious enough. And through several more, those tenants unavoidably become adopted by the listener. Smino doesn’t make music like anyone else ever has or likely ever could. And since his sound is so unobtainably unique, his knack at squeezing into an 80’s soul ballad, a modern hyphy banger, and a mellow transcendent track all the while tethering them together underneath the banner of a project that could have thrived during the Mixtape Golden Era means it will shine even brighter in the post-genre, transcendent era we live in today. She Already Decided is certainly not his cleanest, most refined release to date, but it is the rawest, riskiest, and most subsequently successful rendition of a modern, transcendent mixtape in recent memory. And for that, it’s bound to become a timeless bit of Smino’s seemingly always expanding canon, proving that the boundlessness with which he’s been measured from the jump, was still an underestimate of what it is that Smino is ultimately capable of.