An echo of the poet Warsan Shire’s warning can be found in Smino’s latest album: “You can’t make homes of human beings, someone should have told you that by now. Written at a time when the 31-year-old discovered that all the love he had given was not coming back to him, Luv 4 Rent is a meditation on the mental labyrinth of romantic, platonic, personal and familial intimacy. Across two studio albums, Smino has mastered sultry falsetto vocals, funky productions and clever puns. Her third album is an invitation into her domestic sphere in all its disorder, controversy and communal joy. It’s not particularly a diary, but rather an album of memories collected as he searches and hides from love.
Coming from a long line of church musicians – his grandfather played bass for Muddy Waters – the former Sunday Service drummer is on his ‘bluesy shit’ on Luv 4 Rent. Gospel was Smino’s entry point into music, but the voices of Busta Rhymes, Lil Wayne, Stevie Wonder and Aaliyah from the bedrooms of different family members diversified his palette as a youngster. These early influences show in Smino’s supple voice that can sound like many different people on a track, sometimes adopting the percussive cadences and contemplative delivery of André 3000 (“Pudgy”), the hazy caramel voice of George Clinton (” Settle Down”), and Nelly’s rap croons (“Lee & Lovie”). On “90 Proof,” he confesses tipsy like a one-man choir on a Bola Johnson & His Easy Life Top Beats sample: “Not too good at relationships, at least I try.
Smino’s playboy distance is at the heart of its appeal, but at times the album is best enjoyed when you move your head without listening to the actual content of the lyrics. They can be humorously random (“In the woods, I feel like Clinton”), but also newsworthy (“Eat her with a spoon/Call her Reese”) and possibly offensive (“People come greet me, my eyes on Konnichiwa”). He pulls together unnecessary TI-level vocabulary gymnastics to seemingly remind us that he is a worthy MC (“understood?” he asks us in “Matinée”). On unusually dark tracks like “Louphoria” and “Modennaminute,” his seduction often reads like a thinly veiled attempt at human connection, especially on an outro skit when he attempts to seduce a Kroger employee after spending three minutes remembering the mistakes he made with a former lover.
Moments of vulnerability are all but swept away under his rapid-fire punchlines. There’s a tension to wanting a woman to hold him back, while grappling with the fleeting nature of romance and realizing that a human isn’t something you can or should possess. Still, he questions himself on this album: “Don’t blame yourself for all the bullshit you see me do / I’m getting used to being loved, girl, the right way.” Revealing his discomfort with this level of emotional availability, lines like this creep into his speech. In the “90 Proof” music video, Smino winces after downing a glass of alcohol after his partner begged him to be transparent. Alcohol and marijuana are his vices and muses.