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In the 2002 movie Orange County, Jack Black plays a pudgy slacker who manages to get a gal out of her clothing by uttering, "Do you want me to get naked and start the revolution?"
Oddly enough, that line describes the arc of To Serve with Love, the debut album by 32-year-old St. Louis hip-hopper Black Spade. Much like Black's doughy stoner, Spade appears to be all about doffing your clothes, making some sweet, sweet love and then going into battle.
Released last March, Serve is basically made up of two parts: love and war. The first half sees Spade go into hopeless-romantic mode, recalling past flings and establishing new ones on tunes like the title track and "The Perfume She Wore." And after he's done sweet-talking, he goes hardcore, bringing the pain and dropping some knowledge on easily anthemic tracks like "Revolutionary Bullshit" and "Not for the Bullshit." (Notice a theme there?)
"The first part of the album, it's pretty much just straight love songs and different situations," Spade, who claims his real name is Vito Money, explains over the phone. "Some of them are actually about different women, but it's kinda all mixed in [with] talking about love in general." The second half, he says, gave him the chance to hone his "spitting skills and then [go] political a little bit."
Spade has been MCing and producing since the early '90s, and To Serve with Love is an album 11 years in the making. As he moved around different cliques and entertainment groups in the Gateway City over the past decade, Spade likewise went back and forth on his album, adding new songs and deleting old ones.
"From probably like '99 up until now, it's changed like 20 different songs or whatever," he says. "'Her Perfume She Wore' was one of the newer songs that's been changed."
Spade's album found its way to the folks over at Om Records, the San Francisco house-music label that has also released albums from such hip-hop artists as People Under the Stairs, Zion I & The Grouch and Zeph & Azeem. And then, according to Spade, more songs had to be taken off the record due to sampling issues.
"The samples that we didn't get cleared, we couldn't use, so those songs didn't go on," he says. "But the way I sample is pretty much like, maybe like horns [he goes into the horn riff from 'Not for the Bullshit'], that's not even [from] an album. It was pretty much off a VHS, I think."
As a producer and beatmaker, Spade seems to get a devious kick out of snapping up samples from wherever he can get them — samples that are so obscure, they can't be traced back to an original source.
"Some of the samples are pretty much regular artists or just some obscure tape," he says. "I tend to sample pretty much anything, or old VHS tapes from Goodwill or the 99-cent bin for some different type of stuff."
Spade picked up the desire to create music from his old man, who instilled musical curiosity in all his children. "He never played a lick of music," he says. "My old dude played all types of [records], and always brought us all types of, like, broken guitars and stuff from the Goodwill, just to take pictures of us with it around. I guess he intended for one of us to be into music."
Now Spade is all grown up, with an album he's proud of — not just because it's finally been recorded and released, he says, but because he thinks To Serve With Love showcases another, progressive side of his hometown. Guesting are fellow St. Louis alt-black musicians such as rapper Rockwell Knuckles and indie-soul singer Coultrain (whose album, The Adventures of Seymour Liberty, is out now and simply must be copped).
Spade hopes to show there is a community bristling with words and sounds that are different and more inventive than what the mainstream considers St. Louis music to be. The town may be the proud home of popular MCs like Nelly and Chingy, but it's got much more to offer than "Right Thurr."
"A lot of cats wanna do [more than] that in St. Louis, but they just don't really know the know-how," Spade says. "And then, there are some cats who think, like, once they get that one little song, then that's it, that's what it's about.
"I just wanted to show that other side," he affirms. "There are people [in St. Louis] who rap all day. But they wanna show the Nelly side or the Chingy side, and it's not enough."
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