MGF Reviews Black Spade – To Serve With Love

Black Spade – To Serve With Love
Om Hip Hop (3/4/08)
Hip-Hop / Rap

What’s the first thing you think of when someone says “St. Louis rapper”? Up until now, the top three answers were probably Nelly, Chingy and “run the other way”. Understandable, considering how many acts from the Arch took it upon themselves to dumb down hip-hop and hasten its descent into bubblegum materialism and fad dances.

It might be too late for Black Spade to offer up much in the way of hope, but you certainly won’t find any “Holidae Inn” or “Hot in Herre” on To Serve With Love.

Black Spade’s debut album (fittingly dropped on eclectic independent Bay Area label, Om Records) is a densely produced and lyrically driven attempt to bring substance back to the game. As you might expect when words like “eclectic” are dropped so early in a review, this one won’t be for everyone. Hell, I’m not sure the target audience will appreciate everything here, but say this much for Black Spade—he’s not afraid to take a sonic risk or two.

Under various aliases, Black Spade wrote, produced and performed the entire album. On the two-and-a-half minute intro, we get a taste of what’s in store with a quick verse over a beat that’s an effective car crash of old synths mixed with new bass. That bleeds into the title track, a well-blended bit of storytelling that’s reminiscent of Common before Mr. Sense got all whiny on us.

The internal conflict on “Love’s Right Here” brilliantly lays out the consequences of self-destructive behavior and its effects on everything and everyone else around. Similarly, the fractured relationship hashed out on “She’s the One” is at one moment described as “a fly love song”, while in the next, a sad horn wails in the background.

The lyrical IQ dips a bit on tracks like “Her Perfume She Wore”, which sounds an awful lot like something Tupac might’ve recorded if he weren’t currently in seclusion down in Cuba—right down to the “thug rhythm in her hips” and “I ain’t mad at’cha” lines.

Things pick up again, though, with socially conscious tracks like the pro-black “Revolutionary Bullsh*t” and, the highlight of the album, “Good Crazy”. The latter is like a walk through the wayback machine with early ’90s references to everything from the Wu-Tang Clan to the infamous Missouri floods.

Black Spade might have a hard time getting heard in a world where Hurricane Chris and Soulja Boy are the “it” artists at the moment, but To Serve With Love is a fine first salvo in the war to reclaim St. Louis’ good name in the music industry. Not every beat works, not every guest star shines and Black Spade could use more focus and cohesion as an artist, but this an easy recommendation for those looking for a break from whatever the radio is forcing into your ear right now.