Spida Lee boasts on his MySpace profile that he’s “got that mad old skool 94-96 sound” and it’s with a deep sense of ambivalence that I report that he’s telling the gospel truth. Hailing from Huddersfield, Spida’s take on the street experience is so deeply influenced by his heroes – Black Moon and the Wu being obvious reference points – that it threatens to overwhelm his own perspective.
This is a shame, because on the best tracks on this album – for example the haunting “Guns, Drugs, Money & Cars“, he seems to draw on emotion and experience that go beyond apeing Ghostface, Raekwon et al.
Although I’ve no way of knowing how “real” Spida may be, the words spilt on this album seem genuine and heartfelt. Equally, his skills, flow and delivery are well above average and production by names such as Braintax collaborator Beat Butcha are never less than listenable and often touch sublime. The problem is that the deserved awe he feels towards the past masters of reality rap does more than just motivate him – it informs the sound and structure of his work to the point where his talent is stifled as much as it is stimulated.
I’m hugely in favour of respecting the pioneers of the art of Hip-Hop and love nothing more than a finely chopped sample “like they used to play”, but I can’t help feeling that Spida’s ability and energy could be used better were he to do something which would (musically at least) be less safe and more challenging.
To be fair, highlights aren’t too hard to find; all-points weak-MC call-out “U Can’t Rap” is simultaneously hilarious and potent – sometimes it’s all about ripping it on the standards, improvising around a familiar theme like a jazz player. I was also impressed by the integration of non-cheesy R&B hooks on “Make Money” and “Getting Worse“.
Minus a few slightly duff skits, this is a still a good album and one that will provide some new angles on old themes if one bothers to listen carefully. It’s frustrating only in that it could have been a lot more if it wasn’t so obviously eager-to-please… if it only had the confidence to be itself, rather than trying to chase after the cool kids of ten years ago.