If you think Smith just woke up one day with an out-of-the-blue urge to headbang with the best of them, you’re missing a major piece of the story. “This album came from a deep desire that I’ve always had because I grew up on tour with my mom’s metal band when I was 5, 6, 7 [years old],” Smith says. “The band was called Wicked Wisdom, and I always just loved how powerful my mom was on stage and how she would growl and she would scream and she would sing in such a passionate way.” If your mouth is slightly ajar at this tidbit, you aren’t alone. “I always thought I could never do that because I was trained specifically to sing R&B/pop. And so then when I was 12 and I started getting into Blink-182 and My Chemical Romance and Avril Lavigne, I was like, ‘Oh, this is so fire, and I’m loving this angsty energy,’” Smith goes on. “But again, I still felt like I couldn’t do it. That same mindset was like, ‘Oh, well, you’re in this lane and not in that lane.’ You would think that me seeing my mom do that made me go, ‘Shit, I could do it, too, then. Who cares?’ But seeing her do that made me realize just how strong she was and just how hard it actually is to contend with real racism and real sexism together.” Smith recounts instances where her mother even received death threats during her musical tenure. “But on the flip side, seeing my mom do that made me realize that it’s natural for a Black woman to do whatever she wants. So to me, it wasn’t an internal struggle. It was more of an external worry like, ‘Oh, I’m afraid of what they’re going to say about me.’”
The entire aesthetic and persona around Smith’s new music are somewhat of a departure from how we typically see the singer express herself through fashion and beauty. On the one hand, the vibe she’s looking to embody now is deeply rooted in a desire for pure, free-form exploration. “I wanted to bring a psychedelic, abstract, almost Björk vibe to a Black, Afro-punk feel,” she explains. Smith even took an active role in the creative direction for her Who What Wear cover shoot, sharing her own curated mood boards and communicating the visual cues she wanted to bring forth to mirror the aesthetic of her latest project. But on the other hand, Smith admits that she’s pretty boring about this stuff on a day-to-day basis. “I’m the kind of person who never really gets dressed up unless it’s a part of my work, which I kind of like because I’m such a simple person that I like my work being the place I go for these things,” she says. That might come as a surprise since she never seems to shy away from bold fashion, hair, or makeup statements, whether it’s sporting an open-back Seen Users blazer-dress on a red carpet, fashioning her dreadlocks into pointy space buns, or being photographed in rich cerulean or golden eye shadow. On a random off-duty day, though? You’ll catch her chilling makeup-free, wearing a Cool Tape Vol. 3 or Existential Crisis Club sweatsuit. “I’m honestly such a bum in my real life. I literally wear the same five things,” she chuckles.