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V/A - The Spice

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Artist: V/A

Album: The Spice

Label: Arrakis

Review date: Oct. 17, 2002

A Mélange of Styles

I was pleased to hear a sample from David Lynch’s movie Dune in the prelude track (over a catchy little piano loop, very nice) to Arrakis Records' 2002 compilation The Spice, if only because Frank Herbert’s book is one of the best Science Fiction novels ever written. “We will kill until no Harkonnen breathes Arrakis air…” (One wonders, if these Illadelph kids are the Atreides clan, who exactly the Harkonnen are… But anyway…) I was hoping as well to sees ome direct parallels drawn between Philly, where the Arrakis camp is based, and the fictional Arrakis, the desert planet that is home to the precious spice around which the novel centers. Other than being the source of this particular Spice, however, it became clear as the disc progressed that Digs Darklighter, Briz, Uncle T and the others weren’t going to indulge me there. Despite claims towards getting “spaced out,” the whole compilation is pure Philly rippity-rap: gritty, urban, dark and, at moments, beautiful.

Overall, The Spice has an energy that transcends the sum of its parts. The first song, Dept. of Rec.’s “Thinking Outside the Box” is an excellent example here: though neither the lyrics nor the production would be standout on their own, they work together perfectly, giving the song that certain something that makes a track dope (memories of Tribe Called Quest are quite relevant here…). Kenneth Masters’s track “Iain” is another example, where the production and emcee compliment each other quite well. In general, this is the tone of the album – cuts that are just dope, in ways that aren’t entirely clear.

That doesn’t mean, however, that there aren’t a few moments where some stars shine brighter than others. Digs Darklighter, by far the most impressive emcee overall on the compilation, puts together an absolute gem of a track on “Spacewalking (Remix)”, with the help of Briz and Breez Evahflowin’, and Kendal, Zana, Chubby on production. The song had (and still has, as I write this) me hitting rewind repeatedly. A simple piano loop, reminiscent of “Still Dre,” and some genius production on the hook make for very easy listening. Briz’s solo cut, “Balance Your Life (Remix)”, is another particularly nice cut, as is Dept. of Rec.’s “Scum.”

There are also, unfortunately, tracks on the compilation that range from boring to hardly listenable, for various reasons. Whether it’s mediocre verses from the emcees (“Codename: Fuckyall”), rather poor mixing (“The Sickest”), or uninspired production (“Money Dunn”), there are a few too many skipable tracks for the disc to be called great. I also feel the need to point out “Da Cypha,” produced by DJ Bizness, who comes across as a poor man’s El-P, overcrowding the track with noise and distortion to the point that I couldn’t bear to listen to it.

Despite these few issues, however, The Spice compilation is more than solid, and far exceeds the expectations I had of it. I’ll be on the lookout particularly for upcoming 12-inchers from Briz, Dept. of Rec., and Digs. And, it seems fitting, in closing: “Arrakis teaches the attitude of the knife--chopping off what's incomplete and saying: ‘Now, it's compete because it's ended here.’” – from Collected Sayings of Muad'Dib by the Princess Irulan.

By Daniel Thomas-Glass

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