Smino wants you to love yourself

"Luv 4 Rent" rated 4/5 stars.

Smino might be singing in a falsetto, but he’s speaking truth, and he really wants you to listen. 

After four long years without a full-length project, the St. Louis rapper returned with his third studio album, “Luv 4 Rent,” Oct. 28, and it was worth each bated breath.

The 15-track record is just over 50 minutes of absolute sonic beauty. Each of the rapper’s projects is more expansive than the last, but this album in particular points to a certain longevity that can only be accomplished through consistency and patience. 

Rather than changing up his style and feel with each of his albums, Smino is as an artist who continues to hone in and deepen his own sound with every release and pushes himself beyond bounds of expectation. 

Smino’s voice and unparalleled wordplay alone, which particularly stands out on “Garden Lady,” reasserts the artist as one of the best in the game. 

On the opening song “No L’s,” Smino immediately flexes his lyricism as he sings, “Don’t got what you see, I’m connected like seam / Cards that they dealt made a king out of him.” The rapper’s ability to draw the two lines together with a him/hem homophone showcases his natural bravado to shapeshift words and take ownership of what he’s saying. 

Producer Monte Booker, a longtime fruitful collaborator of the “blkswn” artist, has his hands all over this project yet again. Groove, Kal Banx, Childish Major and others also contribute to one of the most intricate productions we’ve gotten from Smi — nearly every song uses such a collage of samples, chords and vocals, crafted in deliberate, quick succession without becoming overwhelming or muddied.  

What truly sets this project apart, though, is Smino’s value for tempo.

In a time where most radio hits are at least 150 bpm, Smino’s slower and melodic tracks dig their feet into the ground and maintain that they’re right where they need to be. “Louphoria” is one of the most beautiful songs on the album and features Cruza, a three-piece band hailing from Orlando that pushes Smino’s sound in a almost psych-rock direction. 

While Smino continues to reign as one of music’s most infectious voices, he unearths his innermost thoughts, feelings and fears. “Luv 4 Rent” reflects the world that the “Wild Irish Roses” singer has found himself in — one that is still hotboxed with smoke, but is more notably saturated and sustained by love.

On “Pudgy,” he sings one of the best lines on the album: “Reason number one is I’m the son of trees and moons and martyrs, authors.” 

Smino might be providing us with a gospel worthy album, but he doesn’t want to seem as though he is all-knowing. He surrenders himself to the people he has learned from and loved, and lets those intricate relationships shine through each double entendre or detailed metonymy. 

Addressing love in all of its many forms, from familial to intimate relations, this album is an overwhelmingly invasive look into the trials and tribulations of it all, and reminds us to not take it (or Smi) for granted. And yet, the rapper told Complex that his greatest hope is that listeners understand the importance of self-assurance and looking inward. 

“I always had someone else taking care of my shit, or may have been putting my crown in the hands of other motherfuckers. But I can take care of my own crown too,” he said on the eve of his release. 

One line on the opening song, “sometimes, you gotta move when the spirit say so,” captures this organic sensation that is natural only to an artist that is sure of themselves. There is no evidence of rushed artistry on this album; there is rather an effortlessness in its cadence that is only possible when you’re just that good. 

“Luv 4 Rent” is Smino’s home and each of his impressive guests fall into his world of hip-hop, soul and funk in such a way that asserts that the rapper is in control, and everyone is along for the ride with utter respect and grace. His commanding mix of rapping and singing create a soundscape that even the likes of Lil Uzi Vert find themselves shapeshifting to immerse themselves into – and it sounds really good. 

The only time Smino releases the reins of control is on “Pro Freak,” where TDE-signed artist Doechii definitely carries the song with her incredible flow after an underwhelming chorus. 

“Blu Billy” is a track filled with honorable hip-hop sentiments that remind critics that Smino’s just as strong in that sonic realm as he is in the more soulful sounds. Lucky Daye and Phoelix transcend on “Modennaminute” and it’s one of the dreamiest outros on the album. 

“Ole Ass Kendrick” is the song you should be adding to your smoke sesh playlist. Though the rapper’s entire discography is worth that sentiment, this track particularly notes the transformation of rap and hip-hop over recent history. This and the second single, “Matinee,” reflect the epitome of the Smino we have come to know and love, feeling like they’re tracks that fell through the cracks of his 2018 album “NOIR.” 

When considered in its totality, the intro, “4rm Da Source,” and acting closer, “Curtains,” are probably the most notable components of this emotional album. Arguments can definitely be made for the latter to be considered song of the year. 

The bookend tracks show the growth of understanding that the most important “fruit from the source” will always be the love you find within yourself. 

After the beautiful mixing of the outro of “Curtains,” the final track, “Lee & Lovie,” acts as almost an encore, accompanying the end credits as the beloved rapper and Houston singer reggie, rolls off into the setting sun of self-assured love. 

Smino closes this album reminding listeners to put it all on the line. It’s worth it when you do.

To celebrate the release, Smino will be co-headlining a joint tour with Dreamville rapper JID in 2023. The “Luv is 4Ever” Tour will grace Los Angeles at the end of January.