December 1, 2023

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Smino: Luv 4 Rent Album Review

An echo of the poet Warsan Shire’s warning runs through Smino’s latest album: “You can’t make homes out of human beings, someone should have already told you that.” Written at a time when the 31-year-old discovered that all the love he gave out was not making its way back to him, Luv 4 Rent is a meditation on the mind maze of romantic, platonic, self, and familial intimacy. Across two studio albums, Smino has mastered sultry falsettos, funkafied productions, and clever wordplay. His third album is an invitation into his domestic sphere in all of its messiness, controversies, and communal joy. It’s not particularly diaristic, but more of a scrapbook of mementos collected as he looks for and hides from love.

Coming from a long line of musical church folk—his grandfather played bass for Muddy Waters—the former Sunday service drummer is on his “bluesy shit” on Luv 4 Rent. Gospel was Smino’s entry point into music but the voices of Busta Rhymes, Lil Wayne, Stevie Wonder, and Aaliyah coming from the rooms of different family members diversified his palette as a youngster. These early influences pop up in Smino’s limber voice which can sound like many different people on one track, sometimes adopting the percussive cadences and contemplative delivery of André 3000 (“Pudgy”), hazy caramel vocals of George Clinton (“Settle Down”), and the rap-singing croons of Nelly (“Lee & Lovie”). On “90 Proof,” he tipsily confesses as a one-man choir over a Bola Johnson & His Easy Life Top Beats sample: “Not too great at relationships, at least I tryyyyyy.”

Smino’s playboy aloofness is central to his appeal, but at certain moments the album is best enjoyed when you’re bobbing your head without listening to the actual content of the lyrics. They can be humorously random (“Up in the woods, I feel like Clinton”) but also eyeroll-worthy (“Eat her with a spoon/Call her Reese”) and maybe offensive (“The people come greet me, my eyes on Konnichiwa”). He pulls together T.I.-level unnecessary vocab gymnastics to seemingly remind us that he’s a worthy MC (“get it?” he asks us in “Matinee”). On uncharacteristically somber tracks like “Louphoria” and “Modennaminute,” his seduction often reads as a thinly veiled attempt at human connection, especially on an outro skit when he tries to seduce a Kroger clerk after spending three minutes reminiscing on the mistakes he made with a past lover.

Moments of vulnerability are almost swept under his rapid-fire punchlines. There’s a tension of wanting a woman to hold him down, while grappling with the fleeting nature of romance and realizing that a human is not something that you can or should own. Still, he’s self-interrogative on this album: “Don’t blame yourself for all the shit you see me do/I’m gettin’ used to bein’ loved, girl, the right way.” Revealing his discomfort with this level of emotional availability, lines like this one slip out in his slurred speech. In the music video for “90 Proof,” Smino grimaces after downing a shot of alcohol after his partner begs him for transparency. Alcohol and marijuana are his vices and his muses.

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