In high school, St. Louis-born rapper Smino recorded a mixtape titled HitsVille U.S.A., which paid homage to the birthplace of the legendary Motown sound. Now, over a decade later, he can call Motown Records his new home, the label tells Billboard.
The deal is in partnership with Smino’s independent label and musical collective Zero Fatigue, which began in 2014 and includes singers including Ravyn Lenae and in-house producers such as Monte Booker. Smino felt at home at Motown due to his relationship with the label’s CEO/chairman Ethiopia Habtemariam and vp A&R Lindsey Lanier, two Black female executives whom he feels understand his creative vision.
“Smino is one of the most incredible artists in music. His limitless talent, creative vision, ambition, drive and authenticity has prepared him for this new chapter,” Habtemariam tells Billboard in a statement. “He is ready to compete at the highest levels and we are grateful to be on this journey with Smino and the Zero Fatigue/EQT team to bring his music and vision to the world.”
Smino released his first single under Motown Records, “I Deserve” with NOS., last week and dropped the accompanying music video Tuesday (Nov. 16).
“I wrote this song about my little cousin who was killed in St. Louis last summer. I realized I never gave myself time to grieve and get through the emotion of a loss,” he says in a statement. “I found myself singing ‘I deserve it’ out loud till I cried and recorded it. Album No. 3 on the way, it’s all about love and how you can use/lose your heart in the process.”
Smino was previously signed to Interscope Records, which like Motown is owned by Universal Music Group, where he released his last full-length studio album, NØIR, three years ago on Nov. 8, 2018, which reached No. 191 on the Billboard 200. He also appeared on Doja Cat‘s “Won’t Bite” from her 2019 album Hot Pink, which she later explained to Apple Music head of hip-hop and R&B Ebro Darden on his Apple Music 1 radio show was “because I know he’s out-of-this-world talented.”
In the last year, the 30-year-old MC has been instrumental in other artists’ projects, doling out guest verses to Isaiah Rashad on “Claymore,” Syd on “Right Track” and Yebba on “Louie Bag.” He also recorded “Plead The .45th” alongside Saba for the Judas and the Black Messiah: The Inspired Album, which hit No. 1 on Billboard‘s Soundtracks chart in February.
The rapper is co-managed by Chris Inumerable and Henny Yegezu of the L.A.-based management company and label EQT (Equative Thinking).