Smino isn’t afraid to get a little weird. The North St. Louis–bred rapper twists his voice into dizzyingly distinct harmonies. He delights in the indulgent poetics of slant rhyme. He weaves multiregional R&B into the tapestry of his rap.
The 27-year-old’s newly released sophomore album, NØIR, builds on his years of making funky, soulful music. It’s soothing, inventive, and fun. The video for “L.M.F.,” the album’s first single, begins with a phone conversation between two women. One of them relays the sight of Smino “riding around with a whole monkey on his lap,” then quickly gets to the reason for her call: “That nigga done went and got real Hollywood or whatever, but I did hear he was having a kickback tonight though.”
And so begins the charming conceit of the video: a giant dinner-turned-party, hosted at the rapper’s family home. Smino and his “monkey” (really a lemur) entertain guests with the help of a crew of aunties—and a version of Smino meant to look like his father, complete with gray hair, thick-rimmed glasses, and business-casual attire. The video’s bright yellows, reds, and greens leap off the screen. The scent of doughy dinner rolls and freshly snapped green beans and weed smoke practically wafts through the frame. It’s a delightful vignette, but the appeal of “L.M.F.” extends beyond this bite-size Soul Food. The song’s chorus is impossibly catchy—and captures Smino’s range of influences with remarkable precision:
Said she Rafiki, you a lion, Mufasa
Baby ain’t nothing ’bout me PG, rated X for extraordinary
The Mary got me merry, now I’m singing like Mary Mary
The coupe going stupid, call it Cupid it’s February
That Smino would reference both marijuana and the celebrated gospel duo Mary Mary in the same bar is just one example of the saucy, winking lyricism that characterizes his music. He excels in these moments, capturing the small rebellions of black youth without overstating any incongruence. The line also functions as a nod to his musical roots. Born Christopher Smith Jr., the young Smino began listening to rap largely at a cousin’s house because he wasn’t allowed to do it at home, where his parents insisted on “a bunch of jazz music, a bunch of soul music, so much gospel music,” as he recently told Rolling Stone.