Smino Slays in Emo’s Sell-Out

St. Louis rapper gave the Nikes off his feet

As Smino, Christopher Smith Jr. wowed a sold-out Emo’s for 78 memorable minutes on Friday night. East Riverside’s big box transformed into a colorful, harmonious auto shop as he controlled the proceedings with a simple wave of his hand.

Smino at Emo’s, 4.26.19 (Photo by David Brendan Hall)

EarthGang (Photo by David Brendan Hall)

Dubbed the Hoopti Tour after a song off his second studio LP, November’s Nøir, the St. Louis native brought with him dual support: Chicago producer Phoelix (Michael E. Neil) and Atlanta rap duo EarthGang. The latter proclaimed a special place in their hearts for Austin.

“We came down here with Ab-Soul, so many South by Southwests, 15 deep in a van just trying to make it,” Johnny Venus (Olu Fann) recalled, while Doctur Dot (Eian Parker) gave thanks for being back down South. The two rhymed rapidly and with precision for 40 minutes as a surprisingly punctual, boisterous crowd showed appreciation from the moment they appeared onstage.

After a 20-minute intermission, Dayton-born R&B futurist and Windy City hustler Schenay Mosley brought out the headliner. Flagbearer for the Chicago/St.Louis collective Zero Fatigue, which includes singer Ravyn Lenae, Smino emerged in a black shirt and bedazzled grey Nike AF1s and defined his cooperative’s name from the outset. No drunken-mumble karaoke, no outstretched microphone to manufacture energy, and no cheesy auto shop slogans emerged from in front of the stage’s pink, car-themed designs.

Flanked by live musicians, he brought his funky, soulful music to life, demonstrating an effortless ability to alternate between a soothing falsetto and energetic, witty rapping. Outkast’s Andre 3000 has doubtlessly cosigned a toothy seal of approval. Meantime, Mosley made her presence felt to the point that calling her a backing singer constitutes malpractice, especially when she intoned in tandem with Smino for parts of “Anita,” a slightly remixed version of the cut from his 2017 bow Blkswn.

That’s a theme that remained throughout the evening: Material gained vibrance due to the live instrumentation. Leveling up on keyboards, Kameron Lowe and Jeffrey Thompson turned “Coupe Se’ Yern” into an Atari loading screen. Drummer Ralph Gene provided kick on the drums, while Jae Basser manned the bass to riveting effect.

The band dropped an acoustic rendition of “We Got the Biscuits” as Smino smoothly and rhythmically enunciated the hook: “W-W-W dot / We got the biscuits.” “Z4L” received a notable alteration, from “I’m too fuckin’ grown to teach you how to ride a dick” to “I’m too fuckin’ grown to teach you how to find a clit” and notable laughter. Even Yung Joc’s 13-year-old hit “It’s Going Down” got a slightly Auto-Tuned, band-backed reincarnation.

The evening’s host toyed with spectators by continuously reverting to his book of spells. Though flanked by his talented band, the Columbia College Chicago alum dominated the atmosphere’s energy.

“If I didn’t know any better, ya’ll trying to be one of the loudest motherfuckin’ cities,” he exclaimed as the full house thundered once again and hands liberated from cellular captivity swayed tirelessly.

Even the sound engineers danced.

After receiving a convincing plea from the 1,700 strong crowd to perform an encore, Smino obliged. Shirt now off akin to a Nineties D’Angelo, the rapper returned to perform the upbeat, onomatopoeic, catchy clinks from “Klink.” To end the night, he took the shoes off his feet, signed them, and gave them to a random audience member.

Various Smino merchandise had the term “Lowkey Decent Auto Shop” imprinted on it, but this performance ran like the Indianapolis 500.

No tuneup needed: Smino at the body shop (Photo by David Brendan Hall)

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Smino, Christopher Smith, Jr., Phoelix, Michael E. Neil, Earthgang, Johnny Venus, Olu Fann, Doctur Dot, Eian Parker, Schenay Mosley, Ravyn Lenae, Zero Fatigue, Yung Joc

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