This album review is by guest writer Evan Schwartz.
“Oh my god, y’all look good. Ooo, adjust your crown”, is a sample used from a viral video that producer Childish Major uses in the energetic intro to the standout track “Pro Freak” and it’s fair to say this snippet perfectly sums up what Smino’s third album, Luv 4 Rent, is all about.
Luv 4 Rent asks us to look inwards. This message starts with the carefully chosen album art that shows the St. Louis artist doing his own hair. In an interview with Complex, Smino speaks to this: “I always had someone else taking care of my shit, or may have been putting my crown in the hands of other motherfuckers. But I can take care of my own crown too”. On the covers for his previous works, Blkswn and NOIR, the artist’s hair is being worked on, however he had someone else do it for him. Now on Luv 4 Rent, he has decided to take on the responsibility himself.
A large part of what makes a Smino album so desirable is the uniqueness that the self described ‘futuristic funk’ artist brings to all his work. Few are able to switch in and out an almost modernized Nile Rodgers type soul performance directly into a fresh sounding rap verse without missing a beat the way Smino can. This is flexed throughout the album but shines so bright on “Blu Billy”. It’s effortless how the Motown signee is able to transition from an intricate rap verse into a beautiful chorus that most of his peers would need a feature artist in order to pull off.
Smino has credited André 3000 as one of his influences. If you are listening to a ton of 3 stacks and making music, you are doing something right. It’s clear how an album such as The Love Below comes through in Smino’s music. In both Luv 4 Rent and The Love Below, themes of love are prevalent and the artists share their own experiences, but the influence goes further than that. In 2003, André was praised for pushing forward his sound when singing the hooks of his songs and combining a R&B sound with his soulful raps. I don’t need to explain anymore how much this describes Smino to a tee.
What makes this third effort in Smino’s discography so excitingly different is that its the first time he’s used samples on his albums. Some of these are used as the structure for entire songs, such as the use of “I’ll Be Sweeter Tomorrow (Than I Was Today” by The O’Jays, which gives “Lee and Lovie” the old soul touch it needs. Others are used sparingly but leave a trail of fun easter eggs for the listener. In the last 30 seconds of the track “No L’s” you can hear Frank Ocean from a distance singing “all these bitches want Nikeeees” from his 2016 fan favorite song “Nikes.” Little instances like this add to the nuanced universe Smino creates on this album and provides an exciting listening experience.
Nowadays, a strong modern hip-hop album requires feature artists to excel in their own way but also keep within the environment created. After hearing only the album’s first single, “90 Proof” it was clear Luv 4 Rent had this down pat. J. Cole definitely fits the track with his distinct voice contrasting Smino’s in a way that pushes the song forward but keeps it true to the rest of the album. On the very next song we see the up and coming star Doechii deliver a high tempo rap verse which fits just perfectly with the hectic instrumentals that calm as she takes the energy in the back and brings it to the forefront with her vocals. Near the end of the album, Smino gets a high profile feature from Lil Uzi Vert. It’s as if the two were meant to make music together because after a chorus from Smino and the expectation for him to continue sliding on the beat, Uzi steps in and keeps the flow steady until Smino gets rapping again. All three of these features stayed true to themselves but were aware of what the album artist was trying to create, keeping the amazing cohesiveness of the LP intact.
Smino’s Luv 4 Rent is a special album. Whether you are hitting the gym or lying in bed, this album is the vibe. It has anything you would look for in a 2022 rap album as well as a 1970s soul album. This LP has mass appeal as it’s ultimately a talented young man just being himself. What more can we ask for than that?