Live Report: Smino – KOKO, London

An artist operating with a clear sense of freedom...

Smino’s first London date, in his sold-out Louphoria tour, began at a newly-restored KOKO in Camden. The room was buzzy, expectant, fervent in anticipation of his arrival. The St. Louis native landed fashionably late, to rapturous applause, leading with the sped-up folky mandolin loops on the instant-arm-swinger ‘KLINK’ from his sophomore album, ‘NOIR’ – which immediately transformed from applause to frenzy – as Smino bounced from side to side of the stage, cajoling this excitable set of young Londoners into action.

They became a free-wheeling orchestra with Smizzy Seagal as the even freer-wheeling conductor. ‘SUMMER SALT’ followed, the hazy heater, packed with defiant quotables, like “I don’t work for no n***** / I got employees” – a sentiment all of KOKO agreed with and fired right back at Smino. There were countless moments like this all night, artist and crowd in unison. In that broad Southern drawl throughout his set, Smino reaffirmed London as his “favourite city in the world” – and it’s easy to see why because London rarely missed a syllable in any of Smino’s toppling polysyllabic rhyme schemes. Smino cut up the spacey fan-favourite ’Flea Flicka’ from his 2017 debut album ‘blkswn’ with acapella openings for us to happily fill in, alongside a mini light show, timed to Smino’s fist bumps for some megachurch-inspired theatrics. Smino’s broad musicality was nurtured through gospel, after all.

From here, Smino di Grigio veered into his new material starting with ‘Ole Ass Kendrick’ from the album he’s touring, his most accomplished yet, 2022’s ‘Luv 4 Rent’. Next came ’90 Proof’ featuring Dreamville’s sage mentor, J.Cole – which immediately set off waves of swaying arms with its catchy, Stankonia-era Outkast feel in the chorus. Ever the maverick, Smino shuffled the pack, back into ‘’Netflix and Dusse’’ from his debut album, keen to keep the party bubbling and show off the range in his impressively broad catalogue. But once the crowd heard that chopped ‘n’ screwed sample of Kanye West’s classic deep-cut ‘Improvise’ on ‘No L’s’? Pandemonium. We’d been waiting all night for this one. And rightly so, it’s a banger. Limbs, wings and mosh pits. The nu-grunge vibes of ‘Louphoria’ came next to cool the room back down again. Then, all roads lead to ‘Anita’. The bouncy, sing-a-long song that unveiled Smino’s truly singular voice to the world. 

There’s a freeing sense to Smino and his music and you could feel it in the crowd. KOKO on Monday night was a room full of good vibes and more than 1300 fans who truly feel connected to his music. That is all credit to the uniqueness of his craft. Smino roves through language and sonics, like a Bard, but he’s the sole owner of these creations – these are sentences and sounds an AI could never replicate. No less any other artist out there. Long may his ascent continue. 

Words: Damola Oladapo

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