For the generation in and entering their thirties, self-employment is a dream. Having watched parents toil in cubicles (and factories and restaurants) during the Reagan and Clinton years was hard, not just because we didn’t get to see them, but because we knew they were so unbelievably bored as they were doing it. Today, the memories of that boredom haunt our work lives, which combined with our generation’s other merriments of more debt, more distraction, and greater income inequality, converge on us and our self-worth in some terrifying pincer move.
On Good Luck With Your Life, the fifth album by Spose, aka 31-year-old Ryan Peters, there is a palpable thrill of having escaped that fate. At many points on the album, pride surfaces as a joyful celebration of self-sufficiency, of escaping a sort of work-a-day existence Peters knew firsthand and was motivated to defeat. Only occasionally does it veer into bootstraps-y, “I-built-this-myself” rhetoric, and even then, it’s more self-consciously corny than mean-spirited.
It’s also the rapper’s first album produced entirely by Portland beatmaker God.Damn.Chan, whose work here gives Spose a depth and swagger over its 13 tracks that can make previous albums sound like a different era. On “Another Man’s Logo,” an early album track that carries a similar swagger to Drake & Future’s “Big Rings,” Spose throws down something of an origin story, telling us about how far he’s come since “bumping Odelay” and working for a boss who’d complain when he showed up for work with his clothes wrinkled. “Got no other man’s logo on my polo,” runs the chorus. On the next, “All You Need Is You,” the rapper explains to an abstract lady character who asks him for advice. “You don’t need any fuckin’ crew,” he argues. “All you need is balls to go out and risk it all.”
It’s far too much of a political point to wish for Spose to uphold some sort of class consciousness orthodoxy in his lyrics, and besides, it’s fun to hear him weave fundamental rap traditions like boasting into a genuine awareness of working class hardship. All in all, Spose does a fine job mixing the boastful with the woke. By all accounts, the dude has worked incredibly hard for this, and he deserves to revel in the success. On the other — and this doesn’t seem lost on him — not all artists face the same obstacles, of course. It’s easy to imagine a good-looking, charismatic white guy from Maine might have marketing opportunities other rappers don’t.
The album’s title track reprises the 2010 hit “I’m Awesome” maybe a bit much, with Spose rapping in lazy braggadocio. But for those radio-friendly shallownesses, other tracks can reveal a pretty remarkable amount of detail from Peters’s life. “I’m from Maine but I don’t hunt or tow guns, but if the mic’s in my hand I make it pop pop pop,” he says. In tracks like “Ayup” and “Listen Up Bub,” he connects Maine tropes and stereotypes with the specific choices artists take to get where they need to go. “I’d rather die than fry inside a cubicle. I watch the kids ‘til five, then I hit the studio.” Spose can be comically self-deprecating, boastful, and painfully sincere, often in the course of one track.
Similar to “Thanks, Obama” from 2015’s Why Am I So Happy?, “Pretty Dope” builds a song out of a jokey list of ideas, opinions, and punchlines. If Jay-Z showed up to his video, he tells us, that’d be pretty dope; ditto “if we didn’t kill the Cherokees and Seminoles.” Other rap game fantasies involve cameos by Beyonce, Wyclef Jean, and Kendrick Lamar; on the other side, world peace, fair pay for teachers, gun control. Like Buzzfeed listicles, these type of Spose tracks can seem engineered for reaching young people. But that’s also a demographic I can imagine listening hard to Peters, who is, after all, a dad, and at this point surely a role model to a lot of young Maine dudes finding their way.
On tracks like “Another Man’s Logo” and the standout “Buy Now,” it truly seems that Spose may have found his man in Chan. The producer’s one of the strongest foils for the rapper we’ve seen yet, and the latter especially shines as one of the most musically satisfying Spose tracks I’ve ever heard. Jazzy and drippy, Spose raps relaxed between an electronic bass line and several sax samples, the track’s complexity giving the rapper a ton to work with. A standout both musically and lyrically, the Spose who spat richer-than-you lines five minutes prior takes a seat for one laying out pretty solid critiques of a rigged economic system, ending with a touching interlude of (presumably) Peters and his child, who tells him “let’s get started making designs.”
As much as any other Maine artist, Peters has succeeded in creating a self-sustaining universe where his art can live. Other people make albums, but every move Spose makes feeds into the ongoing mythology of PDANK, his record label, like some modern coastal Maine rap version of Middle Earth. As someone who loves basketball and sex and money and weed, Spose is too smart not to care about hard shit too, like politics and family and how difficult people work, and so for reasons that should be clear, Good Luck With Your Life is a little more anxious and less joyful than Why Am I So Happy? The glut of boast tracks may get tired at times, but there’s no way he’s running out of ideas. And now that he’s making albums with a full-time producer, especially one this capable, it kind of feels for the first time like Spose isn’t out there working this hard all by himself.
Spose + God. Damn.Chan + Shane Reis | Good Luck With Your Life release party | June 23, 8 pm | Port City Music Hall, 504 Congress St., Portland | $15 adv, $18 day of | www.portcitymusichall.com
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