By Mike A. Bryan, staff writer

The music festival South by Southwest (SXSW) promotes new and unknown artists to a national level, and always provides stimulating music for audiophiles. This year, one of the standouts was Smino, who happens to be from St. Louis. Before this year’s SXSW, he had two EP’s, “S!CK S!CK S!CK” and “blkjuptr,” both of which are worth a listen. His debut album, “blkswn,” dropped on March 14, to honor his 314 upbringing and support his SXSW performances. The debut album should be in any hip-hop head’s heavy rotation; it combines soul, funk, R&B, gospel, and hip-hop in an impressively refreshing manner.

Smino was born in St. Louis in 1991 to a musical family, and began playing the drums at an early age. As with many artists, his early music training came in church. His more recent music production and recording has taken place in Chicago, and you may have heard him on guest spots on the debut albums by Noname and Saba, both of whom have made it into my music rotation in the past year or so. I would highly recommend checking those artists out if you have not yet – Noname is one of a handful of female MC’s changing the face of modern hip hop, while Saba guested on Chance’s hit album.

Smino’s major influences are Chicago artists such as Kanye West and his cousin, singer Drea Smith, who was signed to Lupe Fiasco’s label and toured with Kanye. In this hip hop head’s humble opinion, I hear just as much OutKast as Kanye in his music; however, one would not confuse Smino with Kanye or OutKast. His raspy voice has some characteristics in common with Chance, making him very appealing and relatable. He describes his music as a mix of “futuristic funk and soulful rap.”

The combination of OutKast-tinged classic southern gospel, soul, funk and R&B with the more modern Kanye-influenced Chicago-style gospel, soul and R&B makes for unique but approachable and memorable music. The standout joint on the debut album “blkswn” is most definitely “Anita”, with a super catchy hook and love-fueled lyrics. “Wild Irish Roses” has a great hook as well, and serves as the opener on “blkswn,” setting the tone for the rest of the album. The majority of the songs are groovy and laid-back, combining his quick flow with sing-songy choruses. There are guest spots by his cousin, Drea Smith, and label mates Jay 2, Ravyn Lenae and Bari, and the album flows from track to track quite seamlessly. His quick flow is still decipherable, unlike so much of the recent “mumble rap” coming out of Chi-raq. That flow, mixed with some sing-songy hooks a la OutKast or Kid Cudi, forms a mixture that is at the same time refreshing and familiar. The earlier EP’s have some good tracks, with “blkjuptr” being my favorite of the two. The title song off that EP is a great introduction to his soulful style and smooth flow. “S!CK S!CK S!CK” is more sexually charged, and in comparison to “blkswn” is a bit lacking in maturity; nevertheless, it still offers catchy tunes and relatable lyrics.

Smino headlined a show here in St. Louis on May 28th, but this reporter was unable to cop tickets. You can be sure that I would not miss another opportunity to catch this supremely talented, unique and entertaining rapper, and I suggest you do the same.

Smino’s music can be found on Spotfiy, Pandora and YouTube, and is produced by Zero Fatigue Records from Chicago.