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For the last three years or so, Chicago has watched a transplant from four hours south of the city created something truly special. Having gone from sleeping on an undersized couch at Classick Studios to his own place in Los Angeles, it has been fun as hell to watch Smino come up and on his latest he proves to the world why no one is messing with his upward swing. His latest collection, NOIR, hit the world a little over a week ago, and has since served to further prove why Smino isn’t going anywhere any time soon.

At a time when bars and style are being traded in for kitschy rhyme schemes, colorful hair and fade tattoos, rap has needed a new voice, an authentic voice, that could bring us at least a little closer to the tenants of the genre that get looser by the tweet. In many senses, Smino represents many degrees of this conversation, in turn serving as perhaps one of the best links between the current Soundcloud generation and the label format artists that preceded it by decades. Smino is a rapper, and he’ll tell you as much. But he might sing it to you. But he’s a rapper. Whereas insecure teenagers high off the followers find an issue with the perceived “box” of being labeled a rapper, Smino has seemed to embrace the concept while touring the country as a factual microcosm of the scenes he came from: St. Louis and Chicago. At the end of the day, that was the idea all along, right?

It’s hard not to smile while listening to Smino. His off-the-cuff, sometimes mumbly raps come delivered with an endearing signature Missouri drawl that’s become his calling card since the days as Chris Smith Junior. Seemingly perpetually tied at the hip with producer Monte Booker, the pair have evolved into what could be legendary status as a one-two punch. NOIR finds the pair once again working the man on man, while keeping the guest list to those already in the circle. That circle, which pops up here as Bari, Jay2 and Ravyn Lenae have been there from day one and add a consistent arch to this project in the larger context of his career. Adding to it is appearances by Dreezy and Valee, firmly establishing himself as someone locally who can lend a hand and collaborate with the best of them. They say the sky is the limit when someone is hitting on all cylinders, but Smino is somewhere beyond. With a nonstop offering of quality music woven with the distinct understanding of self and the world, mixed with that memorable St. Louis swing, Smino is headed beyond the stars very soon.

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