John Lewis Bing III came into the world ass first.
“I think they call it a love baby, because you collapse like a heart?” he says.
The birth rendered his mother extremely ill. While she lay in a hospital in Liberia, a civil war broke out. His grandfather was killed. His grandmother and father packed up the infant Bing and fled to Washington D.C., then Columbus, Ohio, where he lived until he got a call that would change his life.
It came from Minnesota, and his mother was on the other end. She was alive and living in Minneapolis.
“It was surreal,” he tells me.
He became so connected to his mom and to this place that he now goes by the name “Sota."
The “Smoov” comes from his laidback vibe. “It’s like people just get lost in my words.”
“I feel like when you’re choosing an artist’s name, it should embody a story of where you’re from, and where you’re headed.”
He’s lived a rough life by any standard. His father was a pastor. "He would beat me hard core.” Still, Smoov exudes positivity.
It comes in handy, because while he’s a musician in a “punk-pop-hip-hop” band by night, he mans the counters at the popular Lowry Hill Liquors by day. And he doesn’t drink.
“I feel like I have to compensate for my lack of alcohol knowledge by making people feel good. Hopefully, if you walk in sad, you won’t leave sad.”
He says he sees a lot of people who come in every day, and some of them do seem sad. And a lot of them come in just to talk to him.
I first noticed Smoov after I went in with a mission to buy a case of wine with a gift certificate. I asked if he could help me out with my somewhat unwieldy set of inquiries.
“Of course. Anything,” he replied.
He’s unmistakable with chiseled brown biceps, a bike chain for a necklace, and a taped up pair of glasses out of Revenge of The Nerds.
“I just want to be the most ‘me’ I can be. As much as I hate putting on clothes, if I have to do it, I want to feel like myself when I do. We forget the art of dress and presenting yourself.”
The patrons of Lowry Hill Liquors aren’t the only ones who’ve noticed this punk with a heart of gold. He has a sandwich named after him at the adjacent butcher shop, Lowry Hill Meats. It’s aptly called “The Sota.”
“I gave them step-by-step directions. It’s roast beef that they simmer down with green peppers and Mozzarella cheese and let it marinate. Then I take it back to the [liquor] store and throw on some of my super special barbeque sauce. I’m really into barbeque sauce.”
Apparently, it’s a blend of Sweet Baby Ray’s, Famous Dave’s, and something one of his liquor store patrons made. After the sandwich, six chocolate chip cookies.
“It’s important for me to be in a really soothing, relaxed place when I eat, so this is all I eat every day. What else do you need?”
“There’s onions and green peppers on there.”
But it’s not all cookies and fashion. Smoov says he worries for the state he loves.
“Everybody in Minnesota is so humble. We’re very talented, but when you’re talented and you’re so humble, it gets conflicted. In Minnesota, they want everybody to like them.”
He adds that he’s a perfectionist too, but he knows that no matter how perfect he may strive to be, he can’t please everybody all the time.
“Maybe if people see me, eventually you will learn, it’s cool to be different too. We’re so beautiful in Minnesota. There’s no other place like it. I don’t know if it’s the air we breathe or what, but we don’t have to be afraid to be ourselves.”
You can find Sota Smoov being himself and making people happy at Lowry Hill Liquors, playing with his band Los Pinche Weys, or listening to his music on SoundCloud at soundcloud.com/phlawjcity.
Lowry Hill Liquors
1922 Hennepin Ave., Minneapolis