Movies are narrative visuals that provide a message or story to not only entertain audiences but convey feelings that can’t just be word vomited. A biopic is a film that conveys this underlying message, but also gives the audience this full bodied figure in a moment of their life. On NØIR, Smino paints his self-portrait for the audiences viewing pleasure and it’s proudly, boldy, and unforgivingly black.
On his second studio album, the St. Louis rapper is comfortable and eccentric. Smino himself described the project being “bout my life bein’ in a black ass movie,” and he does the damn thing. Taking the role of producer, writer, director, and actor, Smino articulates his youth and what it was like to be young, dumb, and black in his hometown on the 18-track project. The movie has all the twists and turns you want from a good flick and he accomplishes it with not only the beats, but with his flows. On each song, he melds himself with the music. Just when you think his bag of tricks is empty, he pulls another tool out to provide a new image to the screen.
While Smino might not be the first to paint such vivid picture with an album, he his definitely doing it differently than his contemporaries. How, you might ask? Smino uses his bottomless bag of skills at his disposal. Some artists might just use a brush to paint but Smino never limits himself to just one utensil. He brings out color pencils to create the lines, a pen to dot the lines with exclamation, a craft of water to pop the color enough so you can see things you might’ve not noticed without it. Smino makes it his mission to let you into the beautifully fun and dark picture he is painting.
A factor that lets him control this is that the team behind the boards are few; there are more songs than there are different names behind the production – Smino himself helping with three and Monte Booker doing more than half of the project. Every track/scene is episodic, but Smino is easily able to connect each one with his character. And while they are showing different sides of him, you can still identify with his character because of the energy exuded on each track. The mood changes throughout, but in the end it is just him, switching masks and giving a performance that deserves to be praised for its range.
Smino provided a rainbow of colors on this project but instead of letting them stand alone, he lets them mix into each other. While some could argue that there is too much stimulation happening, he never lets the listener get lost in the picture. There’s a clear narrative to follow along the way. This album is another solidifying point in Smino’s career as the next wave of hip-hop. After critical acclaim and notoriety, this class that started manifesting in the later half of the 2010’s are taking over internet blogs and think pieces alike. After this album, you’ll finally understand the black underneath all that color.