Lil Spank sits in his 5-by-11 cell
One thing that really sucks about being a rap fan is that you lose too many artists to death or prison. Of course, icons Tupac and the Notorious B.I.G. became martyrs after their murders in the mid-'90s. Producer-rapper J Dilla passed away just three days after releasing Donuts, one of the greatest instrumental hip-hop albums ever. Mystikal, the explosion in the form of a rapper, went to jail at the height of his career and is only now trying to rebuild himself eight years later. Currently, Rick Ross's secret weapon, rapper Gunplay, is facing the possibility of life in prison for aggravated assault. The list goes on and on.
When you listen to music from any of these artists, you always start wondering what could have been. Would Biggie have taken over the game? Would J Dilla have made as large an impact if he were still alive? Would Lil Wayne exist if Mystikal was still around? But mostly you wonder what amazing music they would've dropped.
Listening to Lil Spank Booty's music gives you those same feelings. Lil Spanky Booty -- his real name is Maurice League -- is a rapper from "Southeast" San Diego currently serving a 37-year sentence in Salina Valley State Prison, according to SD CityBeat's profile last year. Down with SD rapper Mitchy Slick and Wrongkind Records, Spank had been working on an album, Concrete Conspiracy, to be produced by established Bay Area producer DJ Fresh. That was supposed to drop early this year but never did. In lieu of that project, Spank has just dropped a wholly different album entitled Early Release (check it out here).
Spank may not be on the same level as Tupac or Biggie. But the dude can still rap well. Spank spins tales of street life with sharp insight, a stubborn allegiance to a street code of ethics and a bone to pick with fakes who would violate that code. On album highlight "5 by 11," he raps:
"To rep this gangster way of reasoning is my decision
My credibility speaks to my position -- in California prison
With interracial prism, the mind of militant thrive on
Vicious beatings and stickings
When pigs enlist their secret agents, we all know the snitches
To help them topple those that stick to the script like religion
The school of hard knocks
I feel it every stage, mental war, catching fades, Spanksta gets the passing grade"
He shows similar talent on songs like "Loot Hungry," "Stay G About It" and "Life Long," spitting with anger while dropping street knowledge. To put it bluntly, it's gangsta rapping done well.
But, seeing as how he's been incarcerated since 2007, the majority of this album was recorded in prison via cell phone. As such, the sound quality on much of the vocals is pretty rough. But the problem isn't so much the quality -- it's that this album is treated like a regular album at all. The low fidelity is like an elephant in the room that we're trying to ignore but that's just not happening. Instead, I would've liked if they could've turned the low fidelity into an asset somehow. Hell, there's a whole subgenre of experimental hip-hop and electronic music that's very much focused on exploring low fidelity (just ask Gonjasufi). Surely there's gotta be something in there that Spank can use to craft a new sound specifically to fit his muddled vocals.
As it is, this is an album that shows a ton of talent held back by a situation that's unfortunately too common in hip-hop. It's pretty good and the album's highs are solid. But you can't help wondering what would've happened if Spank wasn't in prison, if he could get into a proper studio, if he could really work with DJ Fresh in the flesh. Hopefully one day that can still happen.
Quan Vu Quan Vu is the founder and editor of local music blog sdRAPS.com. He has also written about local and national hip-hop acts for San Diego CityBeat and the San Diego Reader. You can nerd out on rap trivia by becoming BFF's on Facebook or e-mailing him directly.