Smino Credit: Jack McKain

When rapper-singer Smino self-released She Already Decided on April 20, he added “Mixtape” in scare quotes to the title on Soundcloud. In doing so, the Saint Louis native provided a sly history lesson for young listeners who’ve only ever referred to full-lengths as “projects.” A decade ago, hip-hop mixtapes provided a way for rappers to skirt record-deal obligations, providing them an unregulated outlet where they could remake the hot tracks of the moment and flex their creative muscles. These releases weren’t strictly legal, but major-label executives largely looked the other way—not least because mixtapes allowed their artists to stoke their popularity between studio albums and remain relevant to a fickle public. This was before hip-hop mixtape sites helped transform the format, turning what used to be grab bags of unmastered recordings and raw freestyles into studio-quality music. Streaming further blurred the distinctions between mixtapes and “formal” releases—these days, collections of Drake Z sides are afforded the same importance as soul-baring albums that took years to put together. She Already Decided hits like a classic mixtape: Smino puts his stamp on contemporary hits, transforming Roddy Ricch’s “The Box” into “Jamie Boxx (Freestyle),” and raps over instrumentals that make no bones about the beloved songs they’re sampling (“Fronto Isley,” for instance, is built on a snippet of the 1975 Isley Brothers hit “For the Love of You”). He approaches each track with understated cool and his unmistakable smoothness, infusing joy into every well-rounded syllable and slip-sliding verse. Smino knows that a great mixtape has to be fun, and She Already Decided gives us a way to make our own cheer while we’re stuck indoors.   v