Smino is not your regular rapper, but he might be your favorite. Born Christopher Smith Jr., Smino is the same St. Louis kid he was back in ‘08, before the money started picking up. Starting out as a drummer, music has always been ingrained in his DNA. Off the cuff, Smi found himself through music. At the impressionable age of 18, he left home and moved out to Chicago, where he ultimately grew as one with his sound.
“You could be out on your own in your city, but when you’re out on your own in another city, it feels different,” he says over the phone from Chicago. “I had to make a new family up here, trust my own instincts, learn who to trust, learn how to trust, learn how to let motherf**kers go and sh*t like that. I had to learn how to still be passionate, I had to learn how to do something with that passion, and I had to be doin’ this on my own all in the same time.”
Now, almost 10 years later, Smino has found his niche. A prince of eccentric flows and funk-infused beats, Smi relies on his spontaneity to keep him grinding. “I’m a drummer, so I just make music,” he says. “It could be anything, anything, anything. (Laughs) It can come from anything.” And that’s exactly how we like it.
Smino doesn’t stress the process. A super chill and laid back dude, the “LMF” rapper is a Chicagoan at heart–– and way too real for the industry he’s in. “L.A. hella industry as f**k,” he says. “It’s not really home, so I’m just like sh*t, I’ma just fly out there to work with people, but I can’t stay there. Plus they don’t even got the wintertime, I was missing the cold and sh*t.”
This past November, Smino released his sophomore album NOIR in all its crooked and playful perfection. Boasting a run time of a little under an hour, NOIR features verses from some of ZERO FATIGUE’s finest, including Bari, Ravyn Lenae and Jay2.
Lighter than blkswan, his previous release, NOIR captures the 27-year-old at his happiest and most carefree state. Standout track “Z4L’ describes Smi to the T, as it captures his quirky ingenuity and play on words in lyricizing the horror of Smi realizing his girl got makeup on his brand new ACNE tee.
“make up on my acne like I’m tryna hide a zit” – Z4L (tru story) pic.twitter.com/uv7EaYc524
— Smi (@smino) November 15, 2018
“My life has always been a movie,” Smino says, giving us some insight behind his album title. “I say that my life is a black a** movie with this album because all the funniest things I can imagine are from black films and different things I find a way to relate to my life.”
An album that speaks truly to him, NOIR gives fans something fun to sit back and vibe to, which is exactly what Smino was aiming for. “I think I did what I wanted and came to do,” he admits. “I listen to my own music a lot, so I’m always waiting on new me and I kind of wanted to hear some more bright music. Happier, you know what I’m saying? Just vibes and lighter artist sh*t.”
Both an open book and grounded soul, Smino gave us an animated rundown on his album’s cinematic title (despite not considering himself a movie buff), how he envisions a biopic of his life and the role Soulja Boy would play on the imagined movie’s soundtrack.
VIBE: You said that NOIR was about your life being “a black a** movie,” so how would you say your life has changed since your career really took off?
Smino: Sometimes sh*t be hella raw. Like sometimes I be over in Japan and other times I wish it was still me not having sh*t in the basement, just making music and having nowhere to be, you feel me? It’s definitely a lot more business goin’ on these days, but it’s definitely dope. It’s a blessing. I guess a lot more people notice me or recognize me when I’m out now, but it’s all the same. I’m still the same motherf**ker, same friends, same all that sh*t. I tried to move to L.A., but I moved right back in like two weeks.
Would you say your life felt like a movie before everything started with music?
Mhm. My life has always been a movie. I’m just always into some sh*t. (Laughs) I always got either some cool sh*t or some wild sh*t goin on in my life. Even when I was a lil’ ni**a I was making money over motherf**kin’ music. Drums, producing, doin that sh*t.
In this sense, I say that my life is a black a** movie with this album because all the funniest things I can imagine are from black films and just different things I find a way to relate to my life. That’s why we did them posters ‘cause I feel like we did a lot of funny a** sh*t. Like the whole “Z4L” song—one time I had makeup on my shirt and I made a track out of it, you know what I’m saying? (Laughs) A lot of the Bill Bellamy a** sh*t that happened in How To Be A Player happens to me, so it’s like a really just like funny ass movie.
NØIR is bout my life bein a black ass movie. So I reimagined some if my favorite covers with da homies . ALBUM out errwhere. pic.twitter.com/NptqtRhLdL
— Smi (@smino) November 9, 2018
Are you a big movie person?
Hell naw I ain’t no big movie person, I just like my movies. I’m not like a big anything person, I just make music. But if I like something, I super like it. I go all the way with it.
Well since you went all the way with the posters, have you ever thought what a biopic about your life would be like?
If I had a biopic I’d say it’d look like The Wood, (Laughs) ’cause the ni**a from that movie moved from where he from to somewhere else and it made for a whole different experience, but the n***a ended up feelin’ it way more than he thought he would and was way cooler than what everybody thought was cool already. That’s damn near me. And he got the shawty he wanted, you know what I’m sayin’? The OG blood ni**as was f**kin’ with him. (Laughs) It was some funny sh*t but it was just really ironic. I feel like the movie really reminded me of myself.
We’re gonna get really hypothetical now, but where would you set the movie? Would you set it in St. Louis and then move to Chicago? Or would you keep it in one place.
If it was a biopic of my life I’d probably make it some whole wild sh*t and put it in outer space, but make the outer space like damn near alien ni***s. Like they doin’ ni**a sh*t, but they just aliens. So it’d be like the alien St. Louis, the alien Chicago, my alien ni**as, you know what I’m sayin’? I wouldn’t want it to be no regular ni***s playin’ me, so it’ll have to be like some kind of wild sh*t, or a cartoon or something.
Who would you want to play you?
Uh, nobody for real (Laughs) but if I had to pick somebody… What’s that n***a name that was Shaolin Fantastic dude a**?
Shameik Moore from The Get Down?
Yeah, The Get Down! Shaolin Fantastic. Either him or my ni**a Dushane [Ashley Walters] from Top Boy. One of them. They’d be me, they just have to get some hair.
I was about to say they gotta have the hair to keep it authentic.
Nah, but people grow hair. Ni**s be growin’ muscles all type of sh*t for movies, man.
Well, people grow hair, but it’s hard to maintain it. You do a good job, but other people don’t know about that.
They gotta throw a wig on that ni**a or somethin’ man. Who they threw them braids wig on? What’s that lightskin ni**as name? That ni**a that used to wear that braid toupee?
Shemar Moore? (Laughs)
Yeah, Shemar Moore and Shameik Moore. You gotta get the Shemar Moore hair and put it on a Shameik Moore and then you good.
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You listen to your own music a lot, but aside from that, what artist would you include on the soundtrack in order to capture the different eras in your life?
Let me see. Alright. I’d say like—damn, it’s a lot. I’d say at the beginning of the movie it would start off with goddamn Herbie Hancock or some f**kin’ Al Green. I used to listen to a lot of jazz and soul music when I was a little kid, so it’d start off with a lot of that sh*t. Then it’d go into like Braxton Cook type jazz. Then it’ll start turning into like Ludacris sh*t, then it’d turn into––
Okay, so my early life, like 1-10 would be all the jazz sh*t. Then from 10-16 I’d say a couple gospel artists like Tye Tribbett, Hezekiah Walker, Kirk Franklin. I don’t know actually who wrote a lot of the songs with Kirk Franklin, but whoever was doin’ that music. Then it’d go to rap sh*t from 16-22. I’m 27, so I’m tryna like scale it out for you. But from 16-22 it’s Wiz Khalifa and Drake, ‘cause that’s when I started really, really, really, really smoking weed. Fourteen was my first time finishing a blunt, but by the time I was 16 I was like ‘yeah, I got this down.’ I was hella like Wiz age and all that sh*t.
Then from 22 to now, it’d be just everybody that I listen to from Chicago. Right now I’m stuck on the Mick [Jenkins] album and Jean Deaux sh*t. It’s all saucy a** smooth sh*t. It’s a lot of people, cuz. It’s a soundtrack, so it’ll be a bunch of people. Kendrick have to be on there somewhere but he’d have to come on like a custom song and sh*t. And then Soulja Boy would have to be in there, too, though. I used to love Soulja Boy, bruh.
Soulja Boy just recently signed a new deal so he’s bouta put out music again.
Oh yeah. I just thought Soulja Boy hella hype. When he started doin’ what he was doin’ I peeped, I’m like damn this ni**a damn near like me. When he used to have his vlogs and sh*t, you would see artists that you f**k with—‘cause Soulja Boy be around hella people—and you would see artists that you f**k with in the way that you never really get to see ’em ‘cause he was just pullin’ up on they a** with like a camera on some vlogging sh*t. But yeah, you also gotta have Noname, Ravyn, Monte, all them [Zero Fatigue] ni***s.
Of all those years you broke down for me, which ones would you say was most important?
Eighteen to 23 is the most important.
That was when you moved, right?
Yeah, I mean in a way. You talking about most important to you actually being on the phone with me right now? Then yeah, 18-23.
What do you mean by that?
You’re talking to me right now because of what I was doing between the ages of 18-23 years old. Like all of this discussion sh*t was me grinding from 18-23 in Chicago. It was damn near dead out there, but when I turned 23 sh*t started lookin’ up, then I turned 24 and I was just gettin’ hella money.
So that was the most important for your career, but what would you say was the most important for yourself in terms of character development?
Eighteen to 23. That’s when I really got out on my own for real. You could be out on your own in your city, but when you out on your own in another city, it’s feels different. You really just feel dolo. I had to make a new family up here, trust my own instincts, learn who to trust, learn how to trust, learn how to let motherf**kers go and sh*t like that. I had to learn how to still be passionate, I had to learn how to do something with that passion, and I had to be doin’ this on my own all in the same time. I had help from people, but I really didn’t have a choice on whether or not to take it. You gotta take the help and all these different things, you know?
It sounds like music really drove you to figuring that part of your life out. With music being such an important part in your life, do you have a specific way you go about laying down a track?
That’s an impossible question. I don’t even know. I cannot answer that.
So it just happens organically?
I’m a drummer, so I just make music. It could be anything, anything, anything. (Laughs) It can come from anything. That’s why I’m so sporadically creative in the way I say sh*t in my songs. It’s because it kind of just comes from something as simple as like, you know, f**kin’ pourin’ water out in the cup and the ice crackin’ and that’s a bar, you know what I’m sayin’?
Okay so let’s picture a cut to the studio. When you’re in the studio, what’s essential to that process?
To get me going at the studio?
Yeah. For a session to be productive for you, who or what do you need to have there?
Just Dylan. All I need is Dylan, Dylan, Dylan and Dylan, dassit. You know Dylan?
(Laughs) Should I?
(Laughs) You don’t know who Dylan is? Where you from?
Jersey, but I stay in New York.
You should know this. It’s from Makin’ Da Band– it’s some other sh*t, but anyway it was this ni**a named Dylan from Makin’ Da Band and he was like “all I need is Dylan, Dylan, Dylan, Dylan.” So yeah, all I need is Dylan in the studio, and all the engineers, of course. All that sh*t.
I love having all my homies in the studio, but I actually make better sh*t when I’m alone in the studio. I think I make my best sh*t in solitude. Little weed, little bit of trees, you know what I’m sayin’? I’ma need it. Little brain food, like some herbs or some chicken. Sh*t, just a f**kin’ mic. Not to be heada** (Laughs) but I don’t really need much to get goin’ in the studio.
What do you think is your best project to date?
It’s NOIR. That’s my favorite sh*t right now, but it changes by the day. My favorite song that I’ve made is probably not on that album, though. It’s a song called “Red Velvet.” I love that song cause I wrote it on a notebook and I don’t ever write on notebooks.
So this how sh*t like that go: it’s our song, because it’s 50/50 if somebody produces it, but he just released it—that’s it. It’s my song, though. I wrote the song and he made the beat, so it just depends on who’s talking. He’d say it’s his song, I say it’s my song. It’s cool.
Do you ever produce?
Hell yeah I produce hella sh*t. I produced “Krushed Ice,” I produced the intro to “Kovert” and I produced “MF Groove” with Ravyn.
• @smino really sampled his own voice for “MF GROOVE” .
— —- (@saucyfbaby) November 21, 2018
You work within your crew at Zero Fatigue a lot. Who over at Zero Fatigue would you say is essential to telling and/or making the best Smi stories?
My ni**a Bari.
You have any idea what he would say?
Off the top of my head? Nah, no clue. That ni**a got a million stories about me. Oh damn. I don’t even wanna know. We did hella sh*t together.
Like what? Take me through a day in your life.
Oh sh*t. It depends on the day man, (Laughs) I don’t know, that’s what I’m sayin’.
Let’s start with a regular day.
When I’m not on some rapper sh*t and I’m just chillin? Alright. I wake up, I take a sh*t, tell my shawty roll up– hopefully she do it by the time I’m done sh*ting, if not then I’m probably gon’ roll up– then I muhf**kin’ smoke, order some food, sit on the couch play Spiderman or watch hella T.V. and not do sh*t. Then I’d probably call one of my managers and be like “What the f**k, what the f**k, what the f**k,” you know what I’m saying? (Laughs) That’s how I talk to my managers. Not to lie like that but, “What the f**k, what we doin’ bro? What the f**k.” All that sh*t. Then I’d probably see some of the homies. All the homies always pull up on me, so some of them probably pull up on me, you know what I’m sayin’. Do something’ with my partner, then sh*t, go to sleep.
How would that be different if you were working?
I’d wake up in the morning, take a sh*t, ask my shawty to roll up—hopefully she do before I’m done takin’ a sh*t, if not I’ma come out and roll up—then my manager gon’ call me, and I’ma be like “F**k, we gotta go. What the f**k!” Then I’ma find a ‘fit—that’s gon’ take me three hours ‘cause I’m very indecisive—Before I leave I’ma change about four times. Then I’ma go where I’m goin’ and realize I ain’t ate all day, and I’ll get on a plane and be mad ‘cause I ate the plane food, but I’ma be happy ‘cause I got first class. When I land I’ma go rap and then be like damn, I still ain’t ate. By the time the show over I’ma eat like three pieces of chicken, go to sleep, smoke some weed probably, just live that unhealthy rap lifestyle, you dig? That’s all. Unhealthy sh*t, man. But I’m tryna get better, I’m finna get on my meal prep sh*t. It’s lit.
That’ll take mad time, though.
Nah, I got an assistant that’s helping me.
That’s that rapper sh*t. (Laughs) You got the privilege of having people do stuff for you.
Yeah, yeah, yeah! You gotta have people do sh*t for you as a rapper, ‘cause you gotta rap, what the f**k? The world is dependent on these raps. I gotta get these rap songs, I need someone to help me get my food together and all that sh*t. (Laughs) But on some real life sh*t, the way some people say the music helps them and sh*t has me feelin’ like– it makes me wanna stay in it and kinda like help motherf**ker through some sh*t. That’s how I really be feelin’. I like to be a quick motherf**kin’ lil’ blip, quick lil’ blip in some motherf**king time and sh*t.
Stream NOIR below.