a ministry of the body: appreciating smino

November 12, 2018
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By Tirhakah Love, for AFROPUNK


Glints of sunlight that were burdening our sweating necks could hardly muck up the wine billowing through our hips at the sound of DJ duo Coco and Breezy’s inviting us into Smino’s sonic world. Brooklyn’s sistah-sirens capped a vibrant, diaspora-spanning set with a bouncy rendition Marvin Sapp’s “Never Would’ve Made It” which, as one could imagine, initially struck the AFROPUNK audience odd. But the Protestants amongst us quickly worked into a lather. By the song’s classic closing breakdown, with heads and hands lifted, Black voices loudly wailed and warbled as if the clear sky abruptly hued tangerine and split open; the sounds of horn sure to follow. But there came another kind of deliverance. One rapped in Black Midwestern bricolage and the generative shared language between R&B and gospel.

Smino, AFROPUNK Brooklyn 2018 (photo: Seher Sikander)

Smino entered the AFROPUNK Brooklyn stage gleaming. At some angles, the sun dipping into the crease of the horizon shone like a halo emanating from his immaculate, tightly-woven, zig-zagging braids. The declaration “Felt Is Love” adorned his shirt in bold print, pointing to the quiet intimacy shared between people who understand each other as whole, flawed, but deserving beings. But Smino didn’t speak of love in the abstract. He is sure to speak first to his loves, to his Black people, giving us a push to wave our hands at this part and that. (“White people, I guess y’all can wave too,” he digressed somewhere midway through the show.) Performing to a sea of Black people is still, for many artists at AFROPUNK, quite the cathartic experience — and Smino looked to respond to that energy in kind.

Smino, AFROPUNK Brooklyn 2018 (photo: Seher Sikander)

He elevated the crowd into a communion of sex and spirit, the rapturous moment when our humid bodies and the many presences within melt into one another, in ways only those groomed in the performances of rare talents like JB, Sly, early Yeezy and one or two of those Jackson kids. And like Papa Joe, and the rest of those muhfunkers, Smino is first and foremost about his payout. He breaks us off with the title joint from 2017’s thrilling blkswn, giving us his two cents on the time-wasting nuisances playing around with his bread. His chorus bursts in percussive triplets — ”An’ I’m just, thinkin bout/allada, money that/I can be, gettin right now” — making it a stumble-fuck to rap-along with, but still a shoulder-shimmying bop. In fact, even as a longtime Smino fan, it’s difficult to keep up with his tongue-tying flows in the moment.

That’s not a diss. The coldest aspect of Smino’s sonic work is his vocal control. Like the best praise-team leader, his seemingly aleatoric vocal play can both confuse and endear. After showing obligatory love to the millennial skinfolk and the Black Church that honed our musical preferences, he dives into a song dedicated to transcendent fellatio. “Spitshine” glimmers along a bracing, clapped beat, and Smino bends at the waist breathlessly squealing, “You the only one who got th- that spick and span / that clean me up, i pick you up/ you give me that / spitshiIIiiiinneee” — long-held notes complete with falsetto runs to boot. Smino plays of pleasure paramour, rolling his hips, sashaying across the stage, warbling, “uh oh I gotta dash / I, I, I gotta grab a lot of cash / before I mmm my bad you know ol dude gon fume / I hear the g-g-g-gas.” With a colorful rendition of “Chopped and Screwed” targeted for the melaninated ’90s babies in the audience, Smino carried us on a short jaunt through the influential power of modern R&B and electrified soul.

Much has been made about the relative dearth of male Black R&B acts. A look at the Billboard charts for a number of years — even in light of young crooners like Dev Hynes, Daniel Caesar, and Brent Faiyaz attempting to keep the tradition alive — shows the proof: Black male tenderness on radios and streaming platforms is dominated by a consortium of mellow melodic rappers. While Smino may not fit the category of traditional funk or R&B, the totality of genre is made altogether moot upon hearing him live. Smino makes music for the Black body — from the spitfire tongue to the juking feet — and on that day, in that half-hour deliverance, it was specifically for Black people. O’ bless.