“Not no Fame Shit, None of That”: An Interview with Smino & Monte

Luke Benjamin speaks with Smino and Monte about Chicago, ambitions, and collaboration.
By    September 13, 2016

smino monte

Attention is increasingly ephemeral. The average music fan’s ears being pulled in ten different directions at any given moment—by ten different artists who are varying shades of monochrome. In this over-saturated SoundCloud era it can be hard to pierce through the noise, which is where having a little vivid color helps: a distinctive sound and style if you will. Smino & Monte Booker have that in abundance. If your average Future retread is a dull purple, Monte & Smino’s work takes on a whole spectrum of color, conveying a sonic effervescence.

What Smino and Monte are actively creating, so-called “zero bounce,” is unquestionable. It’s a sonically ambitious sub-genre. A sound characterized by fluid, dynamic rapping and percussive, organic, production that’s an eclectic amalgamation of Hip-Hop, R&B, and melody-heavy electronic sounds. It owes debts to Flylo, Kanye, and GoldLink more than traditional analogues like Tupac, Biggie, and Jay. Call it the Soulectionizing of hip-hop, it carries the energy of house music, blended with earthy textures and syrupy hip-hop cadences. It’s warm and inviting. Smino’s inflected words contour themselves to match Monte’s progressive soundscapes.

The 24 year old Smino, the rapper of the duo, is acutely aware of the sonic potential of a word, twisting and contorting utterances into a highwire act of syllabic gymnastics. Each verb and turn of phrase a piece of the symphony, deftly chosen for its consonance or melodic character. Some words are drawn out, pronunciations tailored to fit certain sound structures. You don’t just hear his verses, you feel them—the tongue tying prosody reverberating through your bones and enlivening your spirit.

Monte, barely 21, rivals this experimentation, introducing gospel notes and imbuing a sort of living soul into the duo’s inimitable, yet slight discography. Only two EPs and one year into their partnership, the twosome has already ascended far past their Windy City home base, finding a foothold and an impassioned fan base in far off locales like London and Paris. Zero Bounce has been crossing oceans that neither Smino or Monte had ever themselves visited, until this past April. Lucky for us, both artists were willing to sit down for an interview just ahead of the opening stop of their first European tour. —Luke Benjamin


So tell me how it feels to be kicking off your first European tour?


Smino: It feels cool man, it’s definitely a cultural experience for me, being from St. Louis. It’s fun though.


How does it feel to have so much response to your music early on, especially from kids overseas?


Smino: It’s a blessing man, that people feel touched by the things I write down in my phone, you know what I’m saying? It’s crazy.


How has Chicago helped shape and influence your sound?


Smino: Chicago is a place where I really honed in on the things that I love, and got a chance to get away from, you know what I’m saying, just the crib and normal mindsets and opinions and [modes] of thinking. And I got to go around some people who had seen things through before, so it really just helped me grow in that way. Understanding the possibilities.


Do you think your hometown, St. Louis, is still playing a pivotal role in where you’re at right now?


Smino: Still. It’s still playing that role bruh. St. Louis is everything forever. That’s the crib, I lived 85% of my life in St. Louis, so definitely, I got St. Louis on my back right now.


So tell me about Zero Fatigue and what it represents, and why it’s so important to you guys.


Smino: Zero Fatigue represents, basically, being relentless in whatever it is that you do, and whatever it is that you love. It represents us, you know, the family. It represents a group of young people who’re striving to do some cold ass shit. Without limitations.


So what does a moment like this mean to you? Would you call it a real landmark moment in your career?


Smino: Hell yeah man, it’s tight. You know, we all the way in Europa, this shit cold as hell. Only time I ever thought about Europe was watching Top Boy.


Did you ever think you’d get to this point?


Smino: Yeah, for sure. That’s how you get there.


What did Pitchfork naming you hip-hop’s next visionaries mean?


Smino: Man, I don’t know, I guess they just thought we was cool. I think they cool. I guess we’ve been grinding, putting out a bunch of music, being consistent and letting people know we serious.


Did you ever aim for a publication like that?


Smino: Nah, they actually hit us up. I never really reach out to people to be on [anything], because I don’t like to do that. I know how I like to find things, I like to feel like I discovered something. It’s way cooler. Like when you can’t wait to show somebody this, it’s way cooler. You feel me, or a real close homie tell you to listen to something.


Right, but did you ever see yourself on a certain magazine, and be like, ‘When I get there that’ll be a moment?’


Smino: Yeah, I always wanted to be on Rolling Stone. Like on the cover, so that’s one of the goals.


Where do you see yourself in the Chicago music scene, and what do you think your role is?


Smino: Man, I’m not really in Chicago, I mean I be in Chicago, but I’m more in the Midwest. But in that music scene I feel like I’m just a different kind of voice, there’s a bunch of raw people, a bunch of raw voices. I feel like I bring a little more southern feel, a little more hospitality, flavor.


So you see things bigger than the Chicago scene? Do you see yourself on more of a national scale?


Smino: Definitely, I left home, so like I’m not local automatically. I’m not a regional entity.


What was that moment like when you first left home?


Smino: When I first left home it was traumatic. But I left home on some crazy shit, I just got up and left. So, it’s crazy, I left a shitty situation and went to a even, nah it wasn’t the worst. I went to a slightly less shitty situation, and just went to work.


What are the plans for the next year?


Smino: The plans for next year? We just became a real company, so we Zero Fatigue LLC and that’s going to turn into ZF ENT some day. Next year we plan on being in Greece or something like that, same thing we doing here, just continuing to work. Just trying to stay on top of making music and just letting that be our driving point. We gotta create, not no fame shit, none of that.


So what’s the ultimate goal for you? Where do you want to end up eventually?


Smino: I want to end up being an opportunity for someone else. Like, I feel like that’s the best that the you can be. Everybody I look up to, I’ve seen them work themselves into a position where they’re able to help people around them. So, those are the real goals.


Monte, how has Soulection changed your career and life, and what does that stamp, cosign, support mean to you?


Monte: I mean man, first and foremost I was just a fan of Soulection, so I just fuck with the movement. The movement they was bringing to the table, so just being a part of it, shit…I mean it’s opened up a lot of doors for me. It changed a lot for me, honestly. I guess it gave me more exposure worldwide, versus just locally. Soulection helped create that.


So tell me about finding your sound. The process that it took—was it a long journey to get to the place you’re at now? Or did it just click from the beginning?


Monte: Nah I had it from the start. I just always experimented, so I guess I had a unique sound from the get.

Smino: Definitely, I never heard someone sound like this dude ever. Since he been making beats.

Monte: I was super influenced by Timbaland, so I would always try to knock off Timbaland, but I don’t know then I found my own wave, my own niche, and just went and did that.


Why do you think you both work so well on records together?


Smino: Because we bros.

Monte: Yeah, we homies.

Smino: That’s like Lebron and Dwyane Wade’s relationship, because chemistry runs deeper than just the science, chemistry be everything else outside of the science.

Monte: You understand how dude think, you understand the…

Smino: Tendencies..

Monte: Understand him personally, then musically. You can’t make music with people you don’t know for real.

Smino: We both know for real that we never trying to make the same song over. That’s what we both know, so that alone is perfect. That’s all we need to know.

Monte: There’s never no words before we make music, there’s never no, ‘Hey we about to make this or we about to make some stuff…’

Smino: [Sarcastically] We about to hit them with some West Coast shit!


Last one. How were you two introduced?


Smino: At Classick Studios in Chicago, we met in the blue room, and since, it’s been history from there. The room we still call Zero Island to this day.