Prompt, showing up at noon, Smino walks through the doors of the Brooklyn Museum, where he says he can put his mind at ease and observe. “I like art. I fuck with art.” Smino’s latest, Luv 4 Rent, made its debut almost two weeks before our time together, and it only took a few minutes for people in the museum to notice him. A few made comments about their love for the new album. “It feels good to hear that,” says Smino. However, he hasn’t yet seen the outpouring of love the album receives on social media. “I haven’t been living my life on the net like I used to.”
Luv 4 Rent marks Smino’s first studio album since his 2018 release Noir. The album’s title reflects how love is not permanent in some cases is what Smino describes as more “seasonal.” He has reached a point where he is content with a love that is not forever. This is not always what he felt but a mindset he attained recently. “I used to think I was going to be with a girl forever,” Smino says. “I thought somebody was gonna be on gang-gang forever with me.”
In 15 tracks, Luv 4 Rent showcases an array of skills he mastered over time. Like the single “90 Proof” featuring J. Cole, which he says was made in 20 minutes. The inspiration came from a girl he was seeing at the time. Not knowing how to emotionally deal with the fact that their relationship could be over, he headed to the studio. “I told the guys I am about to get sad right quick and make this song,” he recalls. “Then, I just start singing that shit and drinking. Singing and drinking. I made it so fast.”
On “90 Proof,” he uses a stacked vocal method so that it sounds as if a choir of Sminos is all singing at once in the background. Even the vocals on the intro, “4rm Da Source,” is not his actual little cousin, but his voice pitched up. “I cracked the code,” says Smino. “I found my way to stack that shit for sure.”
The exceptionally clever “Ole Ass Kendrick” came out of a session with J. Cole. “He was like, ‘man, you ever sat down and tried to make a hit before?’ I was like fuck nah, I don’t care about that shit,” Smino says. “He was like, ‘I feel you, but just see what’s up cause you’re the hitmaker out of your peers.'” Smino then recorded two tracks that night, one on a beat from Toronto producer T-Minus that was never released and the other turned into “Ole Ass Kendrick.” As far as the title, he named it that because he was “listening to some old ass Kendrick.” Noting that most of his song titles have always been the most random line in the song.
Dressed in a camo puffer, blue pants, and beads draping in his braids, Smino is ready for our first exhibit in the museum; Virgil Abloh’s “Figures of Speech.” Before entering, we’re told that we can’t bring in beverages. Hence, Smino takes this as an opportunity to kill two birds with one stone, taking a smoke break outside to finish his matcha latte tea. Upon entering, one of the first things we bring our attention to is the display of Virgil’s Off-White Nike collaborations. Smino, his bodyguard Tone, and I glance over the show, go back and forth about the shoes we want from the collection, and converse about some of the shoes they already have. Smino’s attention to detail is apparent, like noticing that everyone working in the museum has a pair of Off-White Nike’s on their feet and pointing out the array of colors in the unlikeliest places. “This blue ladder hard as fuck,” he says.
As we walk past a display of Virgil’s custom Louis Vuitton suits, we approach a light blue model displaying the city of Chicago. We stop and spend more time here than any of the other pieces in the exhibit. Smino explains why his chemistry with Chicago producer Monte Booker continues to evolve. Booker is now known as Smino’s right-hand producer. “It’s easy because I feel like we both just understand that we ain’t here to be normal,” said Smino. Booker gave Smino the boost he needed with music and making “raw ass creative decisions,” as he would call it. “I’m walking around the Virgil exhibit right now. This nigga was doing what he wanted to do,” said Smino. “He was a Chicago nigga, but I am from St. Louis, midwest. “But you doing what you want, somebody is going to feel that.”
After bringing up his St. Louis roots, I couldn’t help but notice his play on words in his raps like changing entrepreneur into “entreprenigga” on “Blu Billy,” or “broccoli Lesnar” instead of Brock Lesnar (a reference to the professional wrestler), on “Matinee.” As we make our way to the museum gift shop I notice that the world play is not just in his raps but in his way of life. Like when he calls himself a “probiotic soda papi,” or when he walked past the book section yelling out, “a meme book, mean what you say.” Of course, he gives much of that credit to the city he is from. “I’m from St. Louis, bruh, we always got some kind of lingo popping,” he says. “The lingo change, you gotta be up with lingo, and if you ain’t you gon be left in the dark when niggas laughing.” Before leaving the gift shop, Smino makes sure to grab a few things. First, we spot Virgil’s infamous “pyrex” shorts. “See you from Chicago, so you know about these.”
We stopped in an all-white auditorium with high ceilings before our next move. As we sit down, another fan greets Smino and tells him how much they enjoyed the album. Whenever a fan stopped him, he always asked for their name and thanked them. “It’s going to hit you ’cause it’s good music,” he says. “I am just trying to make some shit that is going to last. I’m trying to make some shit for me. As long as it is for me, niggas gon feel me. You feel me?” He shares some of the music he is listening to now like Doechii, who is featured on “Pro Freak,” and a lot of Lil Wayne because that recharges his “hood chakras.” Smino credits Young Thug as one of his favorite rappers ever. We spend another 15 minutes talking about how music is received nowadays, with Smino quipping that he “had somebody tell me my album aged well… My shit just came out.” After a short intermission, we head to our final exhibit, featuring work by Nellie Mae Rowe, an African-American artist from Fayette County, Georgia. “I like stuff that makes me feel black,” Smino says. As we walk out, he utters, “I feel inspired.”