S’morez is a young rapper from New Jersey with an all but exclusively online presence, and in June last year he put out one of the strangest mixtapes of 2016, The Recipe. But despite being his first and only official release to date, it represents only the most minor fraction in an immense and teeming body of work stretching way back to 2011.
To understand S’morez you have to first understand him relation to Lil B. S’morez is patently a bad rapper: He’s sloppy, offbeat, formless, often impossibly slow. But it’s a distinctly Lil B approach to “bad rapping,” an erratic stream-of-consciousness approach, one where having immediate access to the fullest range of themes and concepts takes ultimate precedence over and above anything like learnt technical skill. It’s clear he also shares in Lil B’s notorious ethic of unfiltered and almost mythical levels hyper-productivity, as a direct means of experimentation and discovery. S’morez has uploaded literally hundreds of videos onto his YouTube channel; it’s an obsessive outflow of content, a process of endless recycling and reproduction, one that seems to strike more of a common connection with forms of Internet art than it does with contemporary rap music.
For Lil B the Internet is both muse and canvas; it’s also the freedom to radically disrupt old binaries—our narrow, prescriptive ideas about form and representation. It’s rarely clear what’s true and what’s fake in Lil B’s music. And it’s irrelevant; the point—or at last part of the point—seems to be that it provokes and frustrates precisely this line of enquiry. S’morez’s end goals, on the other hand, are far less palpable: the line between authenticity and irony, parody, and pure abstraction is practically disappeared in his videos. In other words, if the process of actively distorting these contentious lines of distinction is precisely what fuels Lil B’s art, then S’morez exists in one of the many peculiar enclaves carved out by the likes of Lil B, where the narrow scrutiny of traditional categorization and definition has no real currency. Veteran rap writer Andrew Nosnitsky wrote that he liked to think of S’morez as “the Lil B to Lil B—doing to Lil B what Lil B did to all rap songs ever: Destroying them, making them sloppy without a wink or a reveal and just producing endlessly in the process.” It’s an apt description. However, truly liberated, its strangeness is entirely its own.
As with all the most interesting Internet rappers the place to start with S’morez is to watch S’morez. Go back to the vague beginnings, anywhere between 2012–2013, and plunge furiously through the YouTube sidebar. And really watch. Where are all the people in S’morez’s videos? The woods in the backdrop, notice they have a mysterious kind of pull, or how the light seems to obey all sorts of questionable laws, or how the camera slips sporadically in and out of focus, shifting on and off balance. What on the surface appear to be relatively simple visuals actually reveal themselves to be fastidiously constructed, consistently rich in all sorts of minute peculiarities, tinged with a range of delectable effects and surreal edits, flicking mechanically between these sparse and oddly arresting backdrops of cottages, barns, deciduous woodland, shrubbery, fields, suburban lawns, shady country lanes, acres of forlorn empty space. It’s uniquely beguiling and, in its own way, every now and then, kind of beautiful. The palette is sepia or florescent, or yellowing, purpling or deep red, or sometimes just preternaturally bright (almost “impossible window”-bright, from The Shining documentary Room 237.) It’s an otherwise ordinary postcard picture of suburbia as seen (remapped) through the eyes of its bored youth—a suspicious kind of dislocation.
At his most accessible, there’s an endearing simplicity, an innocent sentimentality, to S’morez’s work, rapping about crushes, breakups, loneliness, anxiety, and yearning. And he does an impressive job of conveying that dull point when a gnawing sadness becomes commonplace and unremarkable: the numb repetitiveness, the frivolous going-round-in-circles, the obsessive fantasizing, the malaise, his delivery all languid and dysfunctional. It could just as easily be boredom or restlessness masquerading as melancholy: when you need a change of scenery (cut to shot of empty parking lot, leafy cul-de-sac, park bench, tidy tree-lined street) except everywhere looks the same: there’s no escape when you’re stuck in one place with your thoughts stuck on repeat: “Dream about me in my dreams / Dream about me when I dream / Dream about me in my dreams / Dream about me when I dream.” As love songs go they’re patently awkward, bordering on ridiculous, and for this reason precisely relatable. Somewhere underneath this monotonous, everyday sadness there is however something weightier and more cosmic at work, and numerous producers working with S’morez have managed to get close to its churning surface, an atmosphere something akin to Lil B’s Rain in England and the Twin Peaks soundtrack: a whole series of sparse shimmering effects tending towards a kind of dreamy, but potentially deceptive, lo-fi ambience, moody pianos, New Age-y synths, etc.
When he’s not shuffling in a field rapping about heartbreaks and heartaches, S’morez clatters gracelessly into the domain of overblown rapper cliché, boasting an assembly of well-worn tropes and deadpan references, ludicrous lifestyle brags (“I’m gone get ice that’s yellow, like an omelette” would make Gucci Mane proud), violent threats, disses, and drug references. None of this yields to a tidy subversive reading, though. It’s screwing with the form, of course, but a “critique” it isn’t. Much like Viper—another obscure Internet rapper—S’morez tunnels right through the most absurd and egregious rapper stereotypes and out the other end, idiosyncrasies and ambiguities intact: he sends for haters and formulates death threats in the same sleepy drawn-out cadence he raps about missing girlfriends or obsesses over a crush. What energy there is, lands in the hooks. And they’re pretty decent hooks, too—listen to “History,” for example. They’re even better, and more infectious, if you watch them, with S’morez’s manager and director Jewlz (the mute, bobbing sidekick seen in nearly every video) miming the words and staring directly into the camera sporting a faultless straight-faced gaze and nodding in near-perfect syncopation.
In between these points, which indicate the most—broadly speaking—“listenable” moments in S’morez’s oeuvre, there’s a whole swamp of content that’s even more disjointed and challenging in its own right; things like “Appreciate,” “Revenge,” “Falling,” and “Security.” It’s less about throwing out the instruction manual than cutting it up, rearranging the steps, and performing the results: the naked foregrounding of process over end product. It’s a method of mining for beautiful accidents: anti-edit and pro-error, doing things in reverse, or in the “right” order “wrongly.” At times in the production you can sense multiple ideas all overlapping or crisscrossing paths simultaneously, either clattering like magnets towards a central core or splaying outwards into total obscurity. At others, it’s like listening to a man who’s read a bad mistranslation of a definition of “rap music” and trained himself accordingly; for instance, the track “Regrets” is almost inhumanely slow and almost impossibly out of sync.
The Recipe came out in June last year, hosted by Datpiff.com, and as a body of work it serves as a nice entry point for newcomers who might be daunted by S’morez’s sprawling online presence. It’s S’morez at his most manageable, most digestible, lightly synthesizing all the disparate parts in his cluttered repertoire. “All It Takes featuring Boogz Boogetz” might be the most conventional-sounding thing in S’morez’s entire back catalogue. Of course, it’s only right and necessary then that S’morez jumps in to mangle it beyond all recognition in the last minute. It’s the musical equivalent of a painter jamming a knife into a completed painting and splicing the canvas right down the middle. On “Be Quiet”—which inspired this remix—”Drive-by,” and “Al Pacino,” S’morez is at his muddled best, hammering the same couple of lines over and over again until they’re etched permanently into the back of your eyelids. But the most immersive and pleasurable moments on this odd mixtape reveal S’morez at his most curious and introspective: “Days A Week,” “Lost My Mind,” “Where Did You Go,” and “Daydream” are all so sad and listless. S’morez makes his best work in this ontological gray area, dangling somewhere in between melancholic and tragicomic, the mundane and the magical, regenerating endlessly in the rare unplumbed depths of YouTube. There’s something inherently amusing about S’morez, obviously; and it would be funnier, if it weren’t so genuinely mesmerizing.