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Smino’s ‘Luv 4 Rent’ and the soul of modern hip-hop

St. Louis rapper and neo-soul artist Smino’s third studio album, “Luv 4 Rent,” presents some of the smoothest and most entertaining music of the entire year. While this has been the case for most of the music he’s released, Smino’s latest effort builds beautifully on his previous work. In “Luv 4 Rent,” he improves both his production and vocal compositions while broadening his horizons in terms of influence and song structure. 

Smino’s first two records, “blkswn” and “NOIR,” released in 2017 and 2018 respectively, are two of the most melodic and unique-sounding pieces of hip-hop I’ve heard in the last decade. His soft yet distinct voice floats across both the hard-hitting and romantic production. While “blkswn” opted for a slower and relatively soul-centric record and “NOIR” was more influenced by modern hip-hop, “Luv 4 Rent” is Smino at his most diverse. 

The two core players on “Luv 4 Rent” are Smino himself (obviously) and Monte Booker, a labelmate on Smino’s own “Zero Fatigue” and producer/co-producer on 10 of the 15 tracks on the album. Booker’s production meshes so well with Smino’s style by formatting the song around the artist as opposed to the other way around. It is clear in “Luv 4 Rent” how well these two artists know each other and their aspirations for the music just by listening to the songs. Even though the album bounces around between song structures, lengths and styles, Booker’s production provides a through line by keeping the record’s crisp and refreshing quality consistent.    

“Luv 4 Rent” thematically focuses primarily on love as an object. Whether it’s a love of other people, of yourself, of music or of money, the album is all about love. While I’ve had a difficult time actually paying attention to the lyrics on some of Smino’s music because of how crazy his vocal compositions are, he takes a lot more time to say what he wants to say in this album. In this way, “Luv 4 Rent” is much more patient than his other work and presents a final product that allows itself to breathe. However, a number of fantastic “radio hits” still pop up throughout the album, including “90 Proof” with J. Cole, “Pro Freak” with Doechii and Fatman Scoop and “Pudgy” with Lil Uzi Vert. These are also some of the most high-profile features Smino has had on any of his music. With his labelmates and other up-and-coming artists rounding out the album, “Luv 4 Rent” feels almost like a family-produced project. While Smino is the star of the show, he continues to return the love for his friends and those who have supported him. 

Overall, this album is a continuation of the soulful and out-of-this-world vocals Smino is known for. Yet his sound has risen to new heights: at times chill, relaxed and soulful production and at others, beats sound like they could turn a subwoofer into a bomb. The diversity of sound and everything in between holistically represents Smino as an artist. Despite “Luv 4 Rent” not being a totally perfect album, it shows plenty of promise, and anyone who enjoys rap or soul-adjacent music should give it a listen.

Artist: Smino

Album: Luv 4 Rent

Label: Motown

Favorite tracks: “Curtains,” “Pro Freak (with Doechii & Fatman Scoop),” “Pudgy (with Lil Uzi Vert)” 

If you like: Chance the Rapper, EARTHGANG, Saba, Young Thug

Shamrocks: 4 out of 5

You can contact Brendan Nolte a bnolte2@nd.edu.

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