Beginning six minutes late Saturday at ACL 2018’s Miller Lite stage, St. Louis rapper Smino worked out the onstage audio levels on the fly. When you can harmonize like a balladeer while double-time rapping at a breathless pace, no one will complain.

“All right; let’s get in to it,” he said two songs in. “I can hear myself now.”

The subsequent “Anita” was a hands-side-to-side affair; Smino’s band, made up of players from his Zero Fatigue crew and seven-strong, filled up Zilker Park with sound.

The soulful noise worked almost too well, and Smino was tickled by the young fans who began to mosh. “Who started it?” he asked the front rows until he found a culprit. “You the man, bro.”

Rocking crisp white Nikes, cornrows and a glistening chain over his dark clothes, the rapper twirled his microphone like a color guard member. He was marching in step.


PHOTOS: Day 2 of ACL Fest 2018

In March during South by Southwest, the “Black Swan” rapper proved at Cheer Up Charlie’s that all he needs is a microphone and a DJ — his charisma handles the rest. With two backup singers and a fill-happy drummer at ACL, his voice meshed well with the instrumentation. It’s a rare feat in rap; two years ago at ACL, even the blazing Kendrick Lamar got lost in the live band’s noodling.

Smino asked fans to sing “Wild Irish Roses” on his behalf. It worked, a crossover win onto itself. His hip-hop fuses earthy neo-soul with Andre 3000 philosophizing and was here livened up by a Roots-esque sound team. Like loose and jam-laden Roots sets, Smino’s backing band dropped a radio cover, N.O.R.E.’s 2002 banger “Nothin’.” But the focus was on short pop blasts, and the concentrated effort moved things along.

He was audacious enough to leave the stage and return for an encore, a rare power move from a mid-afternoon festival set.

“Austin, Texas, I swear to God I appreciate y’all,” Smino said while wrapping up mixtape indie hit “Father Son Holy Smoke.” Back atcha, dude.