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Smino’s Guide To St Louis

SMINO is making damn sure people remember where he comes from.

“I make sure I do certain events, I do my Christmas event and I make sure I put my billboards in St Louis as well. I want to make it known that I’m from there. I want to inspire people.”

For many hip-hop fans who grew up with the genre as the 2000s beckoned, the St Louis area of the American midwest was pioneered by rappers like Sylk Smoov and further dictated by artists including Nelly and St. Lunatics, Chingy, Murphy Lee, and J-Kwon.

The introduction of St Louis Bounce – a melodic sing-song style of rapping over bluesy chords and beat production – in the early-2000s became the sound of the city.

“St Louis is a city where, we don’t have a lot, but the people make the city what it is.”

To look at the city now, the diversity of the St Louis sound is notable. Smino himself is a prime example of how the current generation of Missouri-born rappers are changing up the game.

Fusing slick hip-hop with neo-soul and R&B influences, the 27-year-old put out two critically acclaimed albums in just two years: 2017’s blkswn and 2018’s NØIR.

NØIR ups the ante on his own game, deftly switching between frustrated/punchy rap energy and an almost honeyed singing voice that he became renowned for on blkswn.

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BORN into a family of musicians – a keyboardist father, a vocalist mother, and a bassist grandfather who played with Muddy Waters – the young Christopher Smith Jr learned drums as part of his church’s band before he found his calling with rapping.

As Smino, he found his groove in Chicago, where early EP releases found him falling into the same league as other breakthrough young acts including Mick Jenkins, SABA, Noname, and Ravyn Lenae.

These artists shared the same hunger to make music that not only broke them out of the underground, but also brought wider attention towards young acts creating art in some of America’s roughest cities.

“I had a whole bunch of people being like, ‘Yeah man, you inspire me to actually go forward and do whatever I want to do’,” he says about connecting with young artists in St Louis. “A lot of people feel like reaching into St Louis and trying to help.”

“St Louis is a city where, we don’t have a lot, but the people make the city what it is.”

Ahead of his visit for Laneway, plus sideshows, Smino gave us a musical guide to his hometown via the artists he expects to blow up in 2019.

My homie Bari is the shit. The world don’t even know the half of it.

How would you describe the creative dynamic between the two of you?

We’ve been making music together since we were 14, since we were in high school. It’s familiar, it’s comfortable; I don’t have to worry about anything. I can just sit in studio and he’ll play a beat, and not even talk about what we’re going to write about. I’ll record and he’ll record, and it all just makes sense, without even having to speak.

What I love about pinkcaravan! Is how much she’s struck out on her own in the music she’s making.

Definitely, her music is so dope.

She’s got that cool-girl vibe warped in with some really intelligent, witty lyricism. What do you love about her?

She’s just so good at cultivating. Whenever she does shows in St Louis, I always see heaps of people showing out for her, she’s does so well at controlling her crowds. You know what I’m sayin’? The fact you know about pinkcaravan! is so dope, she’s doing her own thing out here. I’m excited, man.

I’ve been hearing a bit about this guy, he’s developed quite a bit of underground buzz. I didn’t realise he was from St Louis though.

He’s dope. He’s a soulful dude. The music that I have heard has been really soulful and I’ve been like, ‘Oh shit!’.

It’s definitely not that sort of St Louis sound that you would’ve associated with the city 10 years ago.

I’ve been seeing a lot of artists come out who aren’t on some street shit, and I think the biggest way St Louis is changing. A lot of people from St Louis and through a lot of this new generation, there’s been this cool arts scene coming out of it. In the same spot where a lot of these motherfuckers will be on some hood shit, you have next door to it a big old art show going on. A bunch of painters and rappers and writers. It’s a little renaissance in St Louis I haven’t seen in a minute. It’s cool.

RAHLI

Rahli definitely produces a different sound from the other artists you’ve mentioned. Have you noticed the contrast in new artists coming up?

He’s been on some street shit, I love it. He’s hard. The energy in his voice, he just sounds like the North Side.

He’s pretty representative of the harder side of the city?

There’s this stigma about St Louis and this is what St Louis is: If you’re from St Louis, you’re from the hood. It don’t matter what fucking part of St Louis you’re from – if you’re from the city, You’re from the hood, no matter where you’re [actually] from. It’s everywhere. Everybody embodied that shit. We’ve still got a lot of street rappers from St Louis who still sound hard, they sound good.

What have you been enjoying the most about being involved in this wave of musicians doing their thing, and in that, threading this buzzing energy into your own live shows?

It’s probably the most fun part about doing the album, putting it on stage. I just left rehearsal for my Christmas show [in 2018] that I have every year. I’m doing it in my hometown, so it’s actually the first time I’m playing my album live with my band here. It’s cool, it’s tight. There is a lot of work though that goes into the live show. I’m just looking forward to seeing how it is going to evolve live. It’s an ever-evolving thing with the music; every night you find something new to do.

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