Words By Patrick M.
Many an album has been ruined by a rapper’s misguided ambitions to inject his half-assed singing or shoddy production into the mix. Most MCs, producers, or singers are good at one thing and are better served sticking to it. It’s rare to find an artist that’s able to combine rhyming, rapping, and musical production at a sustained quality. But there are those that are capable of weaving these three skills together into something greater than the sum of the parts. And we can add Black Spade to that list.
What merits his inclusion is his latest joint, To Serve with Love. On this album, Black Spade builds a successful musical work by thematically combining jazzy beats, soulful singing, and a laid-back style of MCing. The album is centered on a theme of maturity, echoed in Spade’s reliance on a subtle approach, both musically and lyrically. Neither Spade’s beats nor his voice overpower, but the balance between the two keeps the listener at attention. The title track exemplifies these traits, as Spade weaves a tale of early love over a soothing piano and drum loop. The music relaxes the listener and prepares the mind for Spade’s tale of a relationship gone wrong:
“Ma You couldn’t wait after a month/Before you started turning them stunts?/Ahh shh, Ok We like officially done/I had plans to make it even by you having my son, But I was dumb/Punch-Drunk in Love stuck by your gun/shit you fuck over my feeling hope you having some fun/but you say â€˜you look way cause you’ve got nothing to say’/see you accuse me for months/ but I got you today/but you like ‘fine go ahead leave me alone then/Typical relations at least it was good bonin/you’d rather be a freak make babies like you was clonin.”
On other tracks, Spade relies more on his singing capabilities. “Love’s Right Here,” is dominated by the soulful chorus where Spade contrasts verses packed with commentary on societal ills with a message of hope. “Actioneer” is an inspirational hymn over a bouncy synth beat that gets you snapping your fingers and ready to take on the world.
If there’s a flaw to Spade’s work;’, it’s that his rapping never wows the listener in the way the true great MCs are capable of. He displays neither breakthrough lyrical trickery nor incredibly tight flowing. But he compensates by bringing in some killer guest artists who help raise the quality of the MCing. The best example of this is Wafeek and Rockwell Knuckles domination of “Her Perfume She Wore.” Spade doesn’t even rhyme on this track, but dominates in his own way by singing the bridge. Tef Poe’s performance on “Good Crazy,” where he vividly portrays St. Louis in the mid-90s, is another stand-out guest shot worth rewinding.
Quality guest shots are great, but you don’t want them to outshine the star of the show. What helps keep Black Spade in the spotlight is the unique sound he creates through his production. Tracks like “The Half that’s Never Been Told,” “Enjoy the Experience,” and “Not For The Bullshit,” all rely on different dissonant loops, from flute to tambourine to random gospel snippets. What they share is a driving rhythm that keeps the album moving, and serves as a template for Spade to rhyme over. And while his flows and rhymes aren’t complex, the lyrical content always is. He delves deeply into the complexities of relationships on songs like “She’s the One,” and offers pointed social commentary on “The Half That’s Never Been Told” and “Revolutionary Bullshit.”
For those tired of Hip-Hop that sounds the same, pick up this album. It will serve your ears, and your soul, well.
For more info, visit www.myspace.com/blackspade.