interview by Breon Jones
illustration by Justin Hager
We spoke to Smino, 24, the Chicago by way of St. Louis rapper born Chris Smith Jr who's been featured on songs by Chance The Rapper and Noname. See him live on the "Quest For Love Tour" in St. Paul with Mick Jenkins tomorrow.
"I got my start in music by watching my dad and cousin play. I was a drummer at the church. I got really into the recording thing when my dad got me Fruity Loops when I was like 13, so I was always in the basement recording while everybody else was hooping. Eventually my friends started getting into music and they was like damn that’s the move, let’s get on that. That’s back in the St. Louis days."
How His Background in Drumming Helps Him
"I’ve been playing drums my whole life in church and in the marching band. So I’m naturally all about the showmanship. My first show I ever played was with a live band. I don’t like to half ass the live show. It’s like 'okay bet, we really gon' perform.' When I'm rapping, having my timing, and being conscious of where the pocket is, that's definitely a drummer thing."
His Chemistry with Producer Monte Booker
"My music playlist is real nostalgic, but Monte is the type of person who listens to a bunch of shit you’ve never heard before. Add me plus him and you get whatever the fuck you’re listening to. Somehow it always happens to land on the same page though."
What His City Means To Him
"I just rep it everywhere I go. It’s still Show-Me [his St. Louis crew] first every time. I’m still doing things within the scene and shit. That’s my family you know. I see a lot of people trying to raise the bar. St. Louis is becoming a real artsy place, but right now it’s weird. People are just now getting comfortable expressing themselves publicly. It’s just starting to happen so people are getting used to it and they’re actually having art events in the city. I see it becoming an art hub for the midwest, like Chicago."
Changing St. Louis Nightlife
"My bro Jarel Lawrence throws this event called Vibes. Vibes is this crackin’ ass event in St. Louis that has people who paint, do visuals, videos, live music performances and fashion shit. It’s a Grand Arts event in St. Louis. He started throwing these events and like 200 people came out, then 400 and 500, then 800. It’s just crackin’ year-by-year. Eventually it’s the niggas that just only be in the clubs, that are coming to these art shows. We are redefining what's cool to do at night."
Naming His Music
"It’s intricate funk. It’s bluesy-funk. There’s a lot of stories and emotion, but the bounce and funk are still there to underline. I call it futuristic funk."
Words To Live By
"My Dad said “stay exclusive, don’t be running around with everybody. Do your own thing.” That’s exactly how I move my campaign. We only with the family, we don’t be hanging out with everybody. We cool with everybody but we just be focusing on us. Quality over quantity."
Hope For Post-Ferguson St. Louis
"I’m hopeful to see the next era of kids coming from St. Louis, a scene where the world can hear our voice. The night before Mike Brown died, I played that Vibes show and it was one of the most successful shows. The next morning, everybody woke up and got on Twitter, talking about Mike Brown. One of the dudes involved with an artist from Vibes posted a picture from his window of Mike Brown dead in the street. That’s how we found out about it, because they weren’t reporting it on the news. Nobody knew about it so we had to spread the news ourselves, through Twitter and Facebook. Like we for real, spread that shit out on the streets. They immediately called the National Guard in. [Media outlets] weren’t talking about what was really going on so we had to do it ourselves. I want to see shit like that happen with positive shit, too. I see it happen in other places, I just want to see it happen where I’m from."