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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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‘Entergalactic’: A taste of happiness

On Sept. 30, Kid Cudi released his eighth solo album, “Entergalactic,” alongside a Netflix animated rom-com of the same name.

A Cudi fan since middle school, I’m glad to be afforded the opportunity to check in on my fellow Clevelander while carrying out research for this review.

Out of the album’s 15 tracks, “Livin’ My Truth” and “My Drug” best capture the polar themes of independence and love that Cudi develops in this work. You hear Cudi latching onto these two avenues toward happiness from within the structure of loneliness and alienation that underlies all of his music.

I am thrilled to see Cudi, a man who has struggled like the best of us with mental health troubles and addiction through most of his life, finding that elusive fulfillment inside himself. Right off the bat, tracks two and three of the album, “New Mode” and “Do What I Want,” acclaim the joys of a humbly confident worldview. One hesitation Cudi’s new mindset may warrant is its predisposition toward carelessness. I’m not saying that the guy shouldn’t party, but only warning about the piled-up mental burden that unrestrained indulgence in freedom lends itself to. All I hope for is Cudi’s happiness, that this newfound independence is grounded in Cudi’s recognition of his worth as a human being rather than in others’ perception of him as a celebrity.

The second theme, love, is the more dominant thread of the work. It’s a win for Cudi fans that this love seems to be for an actual human being in contrast to the love of marijuana that so dominates Cudi’s earlier discography. As heard in the songs “Angel” and “Can’t Shake Her,” the love Cudi has for a presumed girlfriend takes on a messianic component. Amidst the throngs of perhaps decades-long depression, Cudi has regained his will to live life to its fullest thanks to the deliverance by the hand of some lucky woman. Again here, I see a danger in Cudi’s music that possibly stems more from my own aversion to the virtues lauded by the 2022 music industry than something Cudi has done personally. Due to the sensual nature in which Cudi describes his love, I’m worried that Cudi may become too dependent on his love for his girlfriend and that he might even be conflating love with a chemical drug. I wish Cudi’s love life as much success as I would any man.I just hope that he found a well-ordered type of love that’s good for him down to the soul.

The animated movie is worth a watch for Cudi fans, but I wouldn’t recommend it to the standard Netflix viewer. The themes from the album — love and independence — play out in a colorfully animated New York City. A street artist and a photographer, neighbors, fall in love despite the best efforts of that toxic ex-girlfriend. A good dose of the new album, former Cudi music and kaleidoscope visuals makes the film more of a psychedelic musical more than anything else.

Though I don’t imagine myself blaring any of Cudi’s new music on repeat as I still do today with songs like “Soundtrack 2 My Life,” “Just What I Am” and “Erase Me,” I’m so happy that Cudi put out this multimedia project. I think it’s got to be hard for an artist like Cudi, who has founded his career on themes like sadness, to break out with a positive ideology both personally and professionally. Cudi’s creativity will forever be his greatest appeal, and that the reason why I have always resonated with his music. In “Entergalactic,” this hallmark shines brilliantly through.

Artist: Kid Cudi

Album: “Entergalactic”

Label: Republic Records

Shamrocks: 4 out of 5

Contact Peter at pbreen2@nd.edu.