As winter turns to spring, an uptick in higher-quality performances start to roll through Madison — including Smino, a.k.a. Christopher Smith Jr., the dynamic talent from St. Louis who sold out the Majestic Theatre for his “Hoopti” tour Wednesday night.
The versatile vocalist brought Phoelix, a rising Chicago artist, and EARTHGANG, the J. Cole signee’s duo, before he took the stage at the downtown venue.
Phoelix performed tracks off his debut EP, GSPL, and debut album, TEMPO. The slightly auto-tuned vocals didn’t take away from the blatant talent Phoelix possesses. Many in the Majestic crowd found themselves turning to strangers to ask who the artist was, only to find out he’s collaborated with and produced albums for fellow Chicago powerhouses like Noname and Saba.
The budding vocalist then passed the mic to Johnny Venus and WowGr8, who make up the EARTHGANG tandem discovered by and now label members of J. Cole’s Dreamville.
The skilled pair of rappers played their new single featuring Young Thug “Proud of U,” a wholesome anthem that stands out among most records in the rap and hip-hop genres.
Fans hoped for more from EARTHGANG’s upcoming debut album, Mirrorland. Instead, they got Johnny Venus drunkenly mistaking what city and state he was performing in.
“Let’s get it Michigan!” he exclaimed with confidence.
The crowd exclaimed different things, leading to WowGr8 jokingly mediating the misunderstanding before the high school pals transitioned to their final song. After shredding Smino’s “Hoopti” journey in the states, Venus should learn his geography before he and WowGr8 open for Billie Eilish on her Europe tour.
After what seemed like a fake display of an equipment malfunction, a dark stage revealed the cornrowed crooner. To Smino’s left stood the uber-talented Ravyn Lenae, who was clearly relieved to have the headliner finally take the stage after several awkward minutes of standing alone before an impatient crowd.
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It was almost immediately apparent that Smino had surpassed even the highest of expectations set in anticipation of his Madison arrival. Performing predominantly from his 2018 release, NOIR, the fun and impressive mix of going back and forth between rapping and singing on almost every song was to the crowd’s satisfaction. The audience found themselves casually bouncing to “PIZANO” and forming a mosh pit for “KRUSHED ICE.” The pit didn’t form without a genuine warning from the Missouri performer.
“Only get in if you’re about it, we don’t let ladies get hurt. Make sure of it,” Smino said with the same slick speed as his lyrics.
Performing with members of the Zero Fatigue collective, Smino didn’t require any hype man or groupie to accompany him at the forefront of the stage. Backed with extremely underrated counterpart Monte Booker, Smino never missed a note at the Majestic Theatre. With a solid team behind him, Smino could focus on his drastic changes in key and pitch between verses and hooks without worry.
Tales of substance abuse became introductions to records like “TEQUILA MOCKINGBIRD” and “Blkoscars,” yet nothing was more enjoyable then a T-Pain cover of “Can’t Believe It” — with all the focus on the legendary lyric, “put you in a mansion, somewhere in Wisconsin.” Smino sounded just like Tallahassee Pain himself, but went right back to his true form less than 15 minutes later by asking the entire crowd to swag surf.
Intriguing tracks like “Coupe Se’ Yern” and “LMF” captivated those who have more of an interest toward rap lyrics than vocal runs. Yet, Smino can do it all, showing off his pipes on the hit off his 2017 record blkswn, “Netflix & Dusse.”
At the conclusion of his set, an eager Madison crowd demanded a Smino encore, but only on one condition.
“First off, don’t tell me what to do,” Smino joked with a straight face.
You can’t tell Smino to stick to just rapping or singing, and you can’t tell me the St. Louis star isn’t the new Nelly either.