Updated: Nov 7
Smiff is an independent artist hailing from Roanoke, VA. Actually, he started an independent label called Heaven's Kids where he signed himself and is now showing off his "east coast sounding music with a southern twist."
This week I will be reviewing Smiff's latest album titled Virginia Native which dropped last month on October 13th. The project itself consists of 10 songs and is approximately a 32 minute listen.
Genre wise, I would say that this album falls under lo-fi hip-hop which relies heavily on samples to create that nostalgic feeling. This project really just sounds like a sunset drive to me, with raw and melodic bars over perfectly layered beats. The lyrics and atmospheric textures behind each song really lets listeners get a glimpse into Smiff's hometown of Roanoke, as the cover suggests.
"Coming off the heels of my last project 'Flowers', I was challenged artistically to take the music to another level, and I think 'Virginia Native' does that. I think it gives an insight on what it's like coming from a small city on the southwest side of VA. A demographic that's often overlooked when Virginia is being mentioned. I think this project is my way of telling the rest of the world, "we got something to say."" - Smiff
Keep reading to hear more about my breakdown and analysis of each song as well as some more words from Smiff himself!
Purgatory propels us into our listening experience as Smiff really jumps right into it, barely an intro or anything! Honestly I'm already at a loss for words. The song itself reminds me of a nice little sunset drive, just an overall calm and ethereal feeling. This song was so cleanly mixed, and Smiff did not disappoint with his crisp diction and flow.
I enjoyed how "big" this song sounds -- if that makes sense. The backup vocals and harmonies are perfectly layered over Smiff's vocals. Smiff is literally floating over this beat as he's casually spitting bar after bar. Every layer of this song complimented each other perfectly, especially the drums that introduce the hook/chorus. My expectations are definitely high for the rest of the project!
Vy: If the audience could only listen to one song off the album, which would it be and why?
Smiff: I would say Purgatory because it gives you the best description of the plight coming from an inner city.
Smiff picked up his pen for profit and didn't look back in Fallin'. I'm beginning to understand Smiff's artistry more and more after this song. I love how Smiff sets the tone/atmosphere at the beginning of each song before snapping you back in with his poetic rhythm. The lyricism in this one is unmatched. I personally love lyrics that make you think, such as metaphors, similes, and analogies. They go by quick, so this is surely a track that you'll have to replay a couple times!
"Divine intervention / Refine my intentions / Now I'm pinning images together like Pinterest."
The choir sampling is back in Early Morning and I am here for it! It gives such a wholesome feel behind the track, like his city is literally behind him! Lyrically, this song is more vulnerable. Smiff maintains a similar delivery for each song so far, but you can literally feel the change in emotion. It's something so subtle.
"I been focused on my own lately / Cut these h*es off / I'm focused on my home lately."
Side note -- I've never heard someone rhyme anything with "Paul Revere" before. Options like an RPO?! Smiff is undoubtedly a clever lyricist that is educated in variety!
After some swift hard hitting intros, Back In That Mode allows for a brief breather with a mellow intro consisting of samples and simple chords that smoothly builds up to Smiff's verse. Smiff's blunt lyrics radiate that arrogance that is evident through his delivery. In my opinion this is the catchiest hook so far, and for that reason I'll put this one as my second favorite song!
"I'm tryna get back in that mode / I've been refining my goals / Tryna stay light on my toes / I can't give up on my soul."
The vibe has slowly shifted away from lo-fi and leaned more towards 90s hip-hop in Hazard Pay.
Beat wise, the transitions are so clean and the samples/vocalizations in this one are perfect. Although Smiff raps about serious topics in this song, the beat transforms this sad song into a relatively upbeat one.
Richie Rich is a great complementary feature for this track with his low and raspy voice. His flow catches your attention by slowing down the song, and it reminds me a bit of Snoop Dogg. I actually really enjoyed how well these two sounded together. I haven't heard a "perfect match" in terms of features lately, but this takes the cake! I think this song will be a favorite among the general public. It has a solid hook, intentional lyrics, and the right touch of musical contrast between each artist.
Vy: What was the inspiration behind this project, and what message did you want to convey to listeners?
Smiff: This project was meant to give people insight on where I’m from. A lot of times when Virginia is mentioned, people leave out Roanoke. So Virginia Native was my reminder/introduction all in one.
We're fully in our hip-hop playground for Hell Raiser, which is a bit boom-bap reminiscent. After some upbeat and mellow songs there's finally a night listen! 4LO Drilla creates a more lazy and laidback feel that is then assisted by Smiff's tough and energetic delivery. This is such a refreshing listen that is truly a hidden gem in this project. This song is drastically different from the rest in the best way possible, and for this reason it has to be my overall favorite song and top pick!
Something unusual is that 4LO Drilla, the feature, actually takes up more song time than Smiff himself. I thought this was very interesting as this is not found in many other songs!
"Life sour keep a lemon squeeze / Cuz shit ain't sweet like grenadine."
In every project, there's always that one song that perfectly captures the essence of the artist. I'm not talking about the concept or meaning of the album, but the artist themselves and who they are as a person. I normally describe it as the song where the artist feels the most comfortable, and Find My Way is definitely that song for Smiff.
His lyrics are the most raw and vulnerable in Find My Way. Rather than having an upbeat ambience like in Hazard Pay, this track has a beat that matches the vibe of the song, further plucking at your heartstrings. One major thing I'd like to note is that he isn't rapping about anyone else or anything else in this song. This song is solely focused on Smiff's story as he lays down all of his worries onto the beat, and I think that's what made it so relatable and emotional for me.
"Thoughts rushing like a train, still I can't express / Only time I get it off is when I make a song / Only time I feel heard is when y'all sing along."
All that I'm going to say is that I had another song in mind for my top pick beat wise, but I Promise trumped it and took the cake as the best beat off this album. I can't even explain it, but the intro literally comes in hot and is so groovy. The bass line is what initially caught my attention, but the diversity of instruments meshing together was the finishing touch for me.
In the other songs, Smiff comfortably inserts himself into the song by riding out the flow of the beat. Rather than riding out this remarkable beat, Smiff and Jabb add another element of complexity by commanding the beat and flowing around it. It's hard to explain, but you'll hear it immediately when that hook drops and when that feature comes in. Catchiest song in my opinion. There was one line that stood out to me that I think fully encapsulates this entire album:
"I promise I know it's a classic."
Smiff changes his vibe up completely and shows out for his city in Ode To My City! Whoever mixed this song did an amazing job. This feels like that one "victory song" that I always have to point out in every album review, and you know it's the one because of the brass instruments sprinkled within the beat.
Smiff's confident and boastful aura takes over the song and his ad-libs help to maintain the flow. This is overall such a high energy and and hard hitting listen. Definitely a song that will get you pumped up!
"I'm from the star city / Get to know me."
We've finally reached the last song of our listening experience and it is definitely fitting. Having the same title as the album,Virginia Native is a great wrap up that highlights all of the messages that Smiff talked about in the previous songs.
This song is so nostalgic and reminiscent as Smiff is literally recounting his experiences that got him to where he is today. Smiff's dialogue at the end is the cherry on top as he shows love to everyone in his close circle as well as his own city, Roanoke, VA!
"...And you wondering why I called it Virginia Native / It's cause no matter where I go in the world / I'm still a reflection of back home."
A major point I'd like to talk about after listening to this album is Smiff's signature sound. The way he is able to effortlessly switch between hard hitting verses to melodic hooks is something that is not easy to accomplish. You only get that kind of flow when you really feel the music!
It is evident that Smiff is an artist with years of experience under his belt. The sound that he is putting out isn't something that can be curated and crafted. Smiff's sound is so effortless that it literally feels like he just stepped up to the mic and let loose.
Vy: Describe your album in one sentence!
Smiff: One of the most well put together albums out of Virginia, since Push T’s dropped ‘Daytona’ in 2018.
I personally really enjoy lo-fi hip-hop simply because it's an easy listening experience on the ears. It's versatile and really the best of both worlds. It's great for all types of listeners, ranging from the ones who need background noise to the ones who like to dive into the text and meaning of each line.
There's always something so nostalgic about your hometown, especially once you've grown up and had to leave for better opportunities. I think that essence of nostalgia was perfectly captured throughout this whole album. There's just some things you can't fake, and it was clear that Smiff wrote every line from the heart.
As Smiff said, this is one of the most well put together albums out of Virginia, and I can totally agree! Rather than being a single seamless listen, this album handpicks various elements from different genres that makes you to want to go back for more. In short, this is a timeless listen that will definitely stay in your playlist for multiple seasons!
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Written by Vy Truong, @avocavy on IG