There is artistic risk in taking the volume approach to releases that Spose (Wells, Maine’s most famous rapper lives in Sanford now) has taken. Among his multiple hundreds of available songs released in the past dozen years, there is a larger-than-average portion of greatness, but also some experiments that potentially didn’t land as part of mixtapes and one-offs and concept albums.
While it’s not unusual for artists to get boxed into a corner of their own making, aiming for each release to be better, more polished and full of artistry than the last, Spose does not have that problem, and the psychology of it is interesting: If every song is an “important” release, listeners are set up for disappointment.
But if the releases are like slot machines, where each day brings the potential for new music, and each new release brings the potential for a banger? Well, that’s a way to keep people hitting play on the new tunes.
It helps when we are so often positively rewarded for doing so with a mix of the familiar and innovation.
With last month’s “Off Road,” a collaboration with the Mallett Brothers, we saw Spose engage in countrified rock alongside bearded bellowers and even eke out a guitar solo. It was very Maine, somehow, taking rap’s Timberlands and finding an actual use for them in the backwoods mud.
In a genre famous for MCs putting on airs, Spose has never claimed to be anything but himself, even as his aspirations have remained grandiose, and here he was happy to play a supporting role like that time Sammy Davis Jr. was on “All in the Family” (or Prince showed up in “New Girl,” but less weird).
This contrast of radical transparency and drive can be intoxicating. We see reflected in Spose’s work new definitions of success, new nomenclature for winning, that allows us to reevaluate our own wins and losses.
This dynamic is exemplified in the brand-new “Nonperishable,” a collection of seven “leftovers” Spose decided to release en masse.
In “Platinum,” we hear (along with Shane Reis) that Spose has been on the grind since eighth grade in his quest for rap immortality, and yet, on “Three Minutes,” we hear the suburban dad is busy cleaning the house and arranging babysitters with high hopes for getting lucky with his wife. Talk about everyman.
On “Game 7,” with Spose teasing out “Mary Had a Little Lamb” on the keyboards and Brian Graham riffing staccato sax, we’re assured his “only objective is coming in first,” but with “Why Not Me” we’re treated to a kid who grew up getting free lunches wondering why he couldn’t have been born with the advantages of the “orange bitch” in the White House.
“Why wasn’t I born with silver spoons,” he sings in rock anthem, “sleeping on my dad’s yacht well past noon?”
Such are not the questions our American successes ask. The song reads a bit like what happens when you’re buzzed late at night and feeling a little sorry for yourself.
And yet Spose is known for his self-satisfaction. “Why Am I So Happy?” is literally the name of one of his albums, featuring “Greatest Shit Ever.” There is much to learn from him. Even as he strives for platinum records, he rarely looks back and doesn’t let other people define his success.
Everything seems to crystallize on the resplendent “Clorox Bleach,” the new album’s “single.” In the vein of “Pop Song” or “Alternative Radio,” it’s draped in Spose’s love for alt-rock, with big guitars, a big chorus, backing vocals, guitar riffs – the works – with thanks to a collection of Portland’s finest rockers: Headstart!’s Kevin Kennie, 6gig’s Walt Craven, Rustic’s Tony McNaboe, and the American Classic’s Kenney Li. But it remains firmly hip-hop, from its cadence to its lyrical construction to its straight-rap bridge.
And that transparency? Always. In this case to the detriment of whichever rapper it was who made the mistake of putting Spose on blast and then asking if he’d like to collaborate.
“I said I’d rather drink Clorox bleach, or get bombed by North Korea,” he warbles. “I know God isn’t real cuz no God would keep you alive and kill Tupac and Aaliyah.” Ouch. How delicious it must feel to be that openly petty.
And somehow it’s this perfect capture of the zeitgeist, from Trump’s suggestion that maybe drinking bleach might cure coronavirus, to the seemingly endless assumption that we’ll all just forget about every piece of bullshit we’ve been constantly peddled, to the desperate hope so many of us carry around that karma is real. Even the uber-catchy rock chorus is an homage to Fountain of Wayne’s Adam Schlesinger, taken from us recently for no good reason.
I had to play it five times in a row right out of the gate. When the slot machine pays out like that? You’ll play again at some point.
Sam Pfeifle can be reached at email@example.com.
2 weeks 5 releases
While you’re staying at home, throw these new releases on the stereo or in the headphones:
• B. Aull (featuring Brendan Bennett and Bensbeendead), “I’m Not Tryna Smoke.” Bensbeendead’s high-register croon has been much in demand lately, and he lends his trademark malaise to B. Aull’s thoughtful R&B.
• Alejandra O’Leary, “Sunlight.” This full-length has a lot of Evan Dando, Throwing Muses, and the ’90s Boston underground to it, with sprightly vocals, acoustic guitar, and winsome love songs.
• SeepeopleS, “Blink.” Speaking of ’90s Boston, this first single off the upcoming “Field Guide for Survival in This Dying World” was recorded at Chillhouse Studios with Will Holland, who worked with the Pixies. Don’t miss the video full of quarantine and isolation.
• “And yet, softly: a Pretty Purgatory family benefit for Mano en Mano.” Twenty-seven songs from friends of the label, to benefit Mano en Mano, which works with the immigrant community Downeast. Get there quick on Bandcamp, as it’s a limited-time release.
• Bait Bag, “Rotten Eggs.” From their EP, “Consider this a Warning,” this is a newly released video, where it becomes clear the eggs in question are potentially reproductive.
— Sam Pfeifle