If Kribmas were a school homecoming, Smino would be king.
The St. Louis native, now based in Chicago, returns every year to give back and celebrate his city. He capped off the weekend-long St. Louis tribute earlier this month by performing a sold-out show at the Pageant — and welcoming his 'Lou ancestor Nelly to the stage.
There's no argument: Kribmas is the most authentic representation of St. Louis since Nelly danced with a bandage on his face under the Arch. And rightfully so. The name Kribmas is an extension of the beloved nickname natives have for St. Louis: "The Crib." At the show, pairs of Air Force 1s adorned a Kribmas tree off to the side of the stage, while fans munched on Old Vienna chips and the DJ spun a St. Louis-influenced playlist.
The Air Force 1 is Smino's Bat Symbol — with Nelly and the St. Lunatics as the OGs — carrying on the sneaker culture that cemented Nike's design as the unofficial-official shoe of the city.
A day before the show, fans packed into the salon-themed meet-and-greet with Smino in what the rapper affectionately referred to as "Smi J. Walker," a play on Madame C.J. Walker, the pioneer in black hair care. The pop-up let fans get personal with Smino, donate to charity and try to snag one of the coveted, silk-lined hoodies from Smi's music collective, Zero Fatigue. The charitable aspect is an annual tradition for the artist, and this year's event offered fans free hair services in exchange for cash donations, coats and toys for area charities.
On the night of the show, Smino told the crowd he hadn't been home all year. And why should he? The rapper has had a big year. In November, he was nominated for a Grammy for Best Rap Album for contributions to Dreamville's Revenge of the Dreamers III, on which he has two songs. His other work included a feature on Chance the Rapper's release The Big Day, and Doja Cat's Hot Pink. In October, Smino joined the supergroup Ghetto Sage, alongside rappers Noname and Saba. That followed a breakout 2018, when his LP Noir made its way onto the Billboard 200, a first for the rapper. Next year, he'll take on a European tour across eight cities.
Since his first release of S!ck S!ck S!ck, Smino's discography keeps getting groovier, sexier, more clever and more distinct than many artists out right now. For Kribmas, Smino played a little old, some new and everything in between. Known for his sound that is hip hop meets funk and soul, the artist did not disappoint, performing hits for nearly two hours. What makes his sound so distinct is the combination of his country drawl and redesigned word pronunciation, mixed with soulful crooning, romancing and clever punchlines.
Kribmas is more than just Smino's homecoming weekend; the rapper's team employs local photographers, videographers, stylists, businesses and artists to put each element of the show together. Possibly the most St. Louis shit to come from the show was Smino popping out of a larger-than-life Air Force 1 shoe that was hand painted by local artist Brock Seals just before the show.
"He Facetimed me an hour before the show and was like 'I got this big-ass Air Force 1 shoe — what you trying to do?'" Seals says. In a video on the artist's Instagram profile, Seals documented his race to paint the shoe before fans arrived.
It wasn't the first time Seals has done work for Smino, either. He's painted countless pairs of Air Force 1s for the rapper, each design unique. He's received commissions from people across the country asking for special pieces and has created designs for professional athletes, such as Cardinals outfielder Harrison Bader and former St. Louis Rams cornerback Janoris Jenkins.
"Seeing Smi on stage, and then he brought Nelly out — and then they did [the song] 'Air Force Ones' with my shoe on the stage — man that's surreal," Seals says.
As Smino has become famous, many fans in St. Louis have waited for him to get the cosign from Nelly. During the show, Smino brought out the Country Grammar veteran, who performed snippets from "Air Force One" and "E.I." — Nelly's still got it, proving that St. Louis tap water is the best in the country.
"I'm here for you, nephew," he said to Smino as the pair shared the stage.
Just that affectionate nickname gave fans all they needed to know. By doing the math, if we're all Nelly's cousin, then Smino is now the city's cousin as well.
As the show reached its final moments, Smino acknowledged the year he's had and promised his recent Grammy nomination wouldn't change his loyalty to St. Louis.
"No matter how big this gets," he said, "I'm bringing this shit back home."