The Secret to Self-Love, As Told by Smino

Following the release of his heavily anticipated third studio album, Smino breaks down the samples, features, and hidden meanings behind 'Luv 4 Rent.'


Image via Motown Records


Smino wants us to look inward.

The 31-year-old St. Louis artist’s third studio album, Luv 4 Rent, is here to remind us of the importance of self-love.

“One big thing I like about my fans is they always tell me that I make them want to be themselves,” Smino tells Complex from a sunny hillside manor on the eve of his album’s release. “That’s the best type of inspiration I think I can leave. I want to make niggas want to look inward instead of outward to other shit.”

Smino has spent his near-decade-long career preaching about the importance of being comfortable in your own skin. Each of his albums has offered a unique way to perceive the world through the lens of love and authentic Blackness. 

His 2017 debut studio album, blkswn, offered a glimpse into the Black experience from the purview of a Chicago-by-way-of-St.-Louis rapper who held onto his midwestern culture as tightly as the Bantu knots on his head. A year later, its follow-up, NOIR, illustrated how Smino’s life had become a “black ass movie” since gaining more notoriety with his art. Now, Luv 4 Rent zones in on love and analyzes it from every angle—from the familial love that can be felt in the album’s intro and outro led by Smino’s little cousin, to stories of intimate love on “Matinee,” and self-love as he shares he’s the “best version” of himself on “Blu Billy.”

The multi-hyphenate creates a world with his vivid wordplay and attracts exciting collaborators into his orbit over the course of 15 tracks. “Pro Freak” featuring Fatman Scoop and an impressive verse delivered by Doechii is sonically lush, and the Tampa rapper uses some of the most entertaining wordplay on the album (e.g. her waist on “Ms. Incredible). “Pudgy,” which includes a soulful performance from Lil Uzi Vert is also a standout because of the way Uzi makes himself at home in Smino’s universe and changes his entire cadence to fit the track. And, on previously released single “90 Proof,” the commander-in-chief of Zero Fatigue links up with Dreamville’s head honcho J. Cole for a song that is equal parts melodic and lyrical. Smino reveals to Complex that Cole is working on a new album and initially wanted the track on his project, instead. 

“I thought about it and the whole time I knew it would be great for me, being on J. Cole’s album,” Smino explained. “When I was wrapping up the tracklist, though, I just felt like something was missing, and I put ‘90 Proof’ right after my intro and it just sounded like they were meant for each other.”

Below, we dive into Luv 4 Rent headfirst with Smino as our guide, as he breaks down the ideation, intention, and creation of his third studio album.

Here’s what Smino had to say about:

The Art: 

There were a few things that inspired this cover art. First, I always get my hair done on my [album] covers. It damn near became a joke, like, “This nigga ain’t drop the album because he’s still getting his hair done.” But I do feel like I started a bunch of cool trends amongst Black men with hair on some G shit. So one thing I wanted the cover to represent was how not only am I doing my hair, but everybody is doing their hair now.

And then the second part of it is, I wanted to show that I’m doing my own [hair] on this cover because it’s supposed to represent self-care and self-love. I always had someone else taking care of my shit, or may have been putting my crown in the hands of other motherfuckers. But I can take care of my own crown too. Self-love is definitely a big theme on this album, and I also think another way to interpret it is I was leading other people to self-love, too. One big thing I like about my fans is they always tell me that I make them want to be themselves. That’s the best type of inspiration I think I can leave. I want to make niggas want to look inward instead of outward to other shit.

smino luv 4 rent album cover art shoot

The Content:

We never sampled on any of my previous albums, so this is my first album with samples and that shit is hectic, but it was worth it. I’ve been working with Monte Booker, Cruza, Phoelix, Childish Major. Cory Henry is on the album too, but ain’t no sample when he’s involved because he is the sample. I really work with some of the coldest producers in the world. I was very into tempos on this album. I wanted to try new tempos because a lot of the music that comes out is 150 bpm, so I just wanted to try something different. I told my producers I want different tempos and different drums. The samples just came about because of different taste levels. My nigga Groove, for the “Lee & Lovie” sample, he was out in L.A. and saw a video of those motorcycles with big ass speakers on the back, and they were playing that sample on a Sunday morning. Groove just woke up inspired and made that beat and sent that shit. 

Re: Standouts—

“90 Proof”

For “90 Proof,” Cole just liked the song, and he asked to have it on his album. I was like, “Shit, I don’t know. This song crazy.” And I never thought about being a songwriter, but he was like, “You keep yourself on the song, and I’ll be on it too. But I want to put it on my album.” And I was like, “aigh.” I thought about it and the whole time I knew it would be great for me, being on J. Cole’s album. When I was wrapping up the tracklist, though, I just felt like something was missing, and I put “90 Proof” right after my intro and it just sounded like they were meant for each other. So I just called Cole and asked him if I could get the song back and he let me. Then he was like, “Yo, go crazy,’” and I asked if he wanted to do a video. I flew to his house to finish the track and he was just finishing his verse. Then after we finished, I went home, stacked some vocals on it, and boom it was done.

smino and j cole on set of music video shoot

“Pro Freak”

With “Pro Freak,” it had a whole other sample at first. We actually sampled J. Cole’s song “January 28th” at first. We sampled that with the same drums, but the band that owned the sample wasn’t fuckin with us. They said I was too vulgar, and I was like, “‘Damn!” I didn’t think we were being that vulgar. So we had to figure out something else, and Monte had some homies that he had been working on some shit with and they sent us some cool samples. I think DJ Dahi and someone else played the music for “Pro Freak,” so “Pro Freak” isn’t a sample at all. The coolest thing about that song is there’s this lady named Tracey, and I think she’s a dance teacher. My boy Childish Major sampled this viral video where she was just like, “Oh my god, y’all look good. Ooo, adjust your crown.” I told you the album was about holding your own crown and taking joy into your own hands and not let another situation dictate how happy you are. So her saying that was perfect, and we were all in Malibu done with the album, and Major came through and gave me “Pro Freak” and “Pudgy” at the very end when we were pretty much done. I hated that song at first, but all my friends thought it was amazing and I knew I needed something else, so I sent it to Doechii. She sent it back, and I loved it. 


What was crazy about making “Pudgy” was, I was in the studio with Saba and No I.D., and I went outside to smoke because we couldn’t smoke in the studio. This nigga [Lil] Uzi [Vert] just hopped out of a black truck and said what’s up. He had just posted my song “I Deserve,” so we had a little exchange and were already cool. So I go back into the studio and tell Saba I had just seen Uzi, and that I have this song where I say his name on the hook. Saba was like, “So what’s gon happen is, you’re going to go in there and Uzi is going to do the verse right now.” I just got up, walked in there, and Uzi and I ended up having a long ass convo. Then I told him I had this song where I say his name in the hook, and he really wanted to hear it. I start playing it, and he starts turning up to it. I left the studio because I had a dinner to go to and I gave him the file. The restaurant was about 30 minutes away, and as I’m getting out of the car after leaving the studio and getting to dinner, Uzi calls me and plays his verse for me. I didn’t even make it to my meal before he sent me that verse. 

The Repeat:

I have two favorite tracks for two different reasons. One of them is “Louphoria” because I’m just in a space where I’m exploring new sounds again. I like trying shit, and I haven’t heard anything like ‘Louphoria’ out right now. It sounds real alternative on some indie shit, but I’m talking some real nigga shit on there. I think it’s a cool juxtaposition song. My other one is “Curtains.” I like performing that song, I’ve been rehearsing it. That shit is going to be crazy live.


I started working on pt. 1 of Luv 4 Rent the day I got off the bus from the Hoopti tour. That day, I made a song called “Luv 4 Rent” that’s still coming out, but that was on pt. 1. But on this version that’s coming out right now, we started working on this probably in 2021. The whole concept has just been brewing for so long, I think that’s why the rollout has been coming across so clearly. I’m about to rollout some crazy shit. I’ve really been cooling and trying to slowly but surely get niggas used to seeing Smino again, but I’m doing some pretty cool things with this shit. It’s been a while for sure though. 

Pt. 1 is like a B-side, but I didn’t like it as much because it’s more like a movie. It’s mad cinematic, so instead of the deluxe, I’m going to drop pt. 1 like the prequel. It’s going to explain what happened that led me up to this. 

The Release:

I have zero expectations as far as how people feel because I know there’s going to be so many different feelings. It’s always like that with my albums, some people love it, some people live by it, some people hate it, and some people don’t understand the type of music it is. Some people even listen to a new type of music because of it, but I personally feel like I just want niggas to know that I’m back in this bitch. That’s it, and there’s a lot more to come. Don’t get comfortable, but I hope everybody likes it for sure. As much as we enjoyed making it.

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