You never know what may spawn out of a conversation with N.O. Joe.
Last September, weeks before Scarface’s Deeply Rooted became a full-fledged and visible album, I sat inside Joe’s studio in Stafford, a tucked-away hideout where most of his plaques from years producing hits for ‘Face, UGK & others still hadn’t even touched the walls. It wasn’t the first conversation I had with him, but it felt like a stronger introduction. The first time we spoke was about Scarface’s The Diary album's celebrating its 20th anniversary. The second time was breaking down his career as a producer and Deeply Rooted; that was when he introduced me to Spuf Don.
“He got next,” Joe told me of his protégé. “Face gave him the word.”
It’s not a co-sign you hear too often, especially from Scarface, but the New Orleans-born, Houston-raised Spuf kept his composure about it. Spuf wore black, kept his Afro picked out and toyed behind the boards, just feet away from Joe. People knew Spuf from selling sneakers and clothes, not outright producing records and definitely not the three records on Deeply Rooted. The relationship between the two men felt more like big brother/little brother in regards to creating music. Joe, a legend in the South strictly from the way he combines the sounds of the Baptist church with deep, rugged organs and slick guitar work, had earned his stripes. He worked in New York producing R&B records before switching to hip-hop in the early ‘90s, a New Orleans producer who may have been born to brass instruments and Second Lines but had his own spin on music. Maybe it was the Louisiana connection that brought Joe and Spuf Don together. But he saw something in Spuf, and Spuf returned the favor in spades.
“I’ve been around music and legends since I was a child,” Spuf says. To wit, there are photos of him in the studio with Ice Cube, E-40, Pimp C and Lil Wayne, almost as if his sponge-like attitude for music was fostered and incubated. “As far as a higher. deeper understanding of things, I think far out,” he affirms.
Today, Spuf is connecting the dots on his brand-new project, Element of Surprise. An 18-track effort, it bends bubbly lyrics and loads of personality along production both he and Joe worked on. And it contains the one wild card Spuf probably wouldn’t have counted on a few years ago — Travis Scott.
“We had a history,” Spuf told me inside the Stafford studio a year ago. “We went to school together, formed a group with me, him and OG Che$$ called The Classmates. There’s some video out of me being in front of a computer cranking beats and then you’d see him appear out of a closet where we set up a microphone.”
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True enough. Scott and Spuf had recorded enough material between their dorm rooms at the University of Texas at San Antonio to fully become a group. Then Scott left UTSA and ventured up to New York, beginning his now-infamous rise to becoming one of Houston’s more noted acts. Though he may never be considered along the same lines as other Houston acts, Scott remains one of the more immediate names a stranger recognizes with modern Houston. In a recent feature with Billboard, Scott came back to Houston and pointed out his favorite spots and roots, particularly in Missouri City.
Spuf's hyperactive moments on Element of Surprise occur with Scott in the background. There’s no outright dominance when the two are joined together on the piano and horn-driven “My House,” yet in that minute and 50 seconds, the chemistry forged by the old UTSA friends is still evident. There should be zero confusion, though: Element of Surprise is a Spuf Don project; a mostly self-produced work with little hits of N.O. Joe attached. Sampling Joe Chambers's "Mind Rain" piano loop, the same one used for Nas' "NY State of Mind" for "Shit Friday"? Spuf's idea. “I’m Suppa Good," the EP’s lead track, highlights high fashion and elevated living with Scott attributing to the chorus. His voice sounds loose, light enough to dribble and feel as if it belongs to everybody and no one at once.
“I’m Suppa Good," the EP’s lead track, highlights high fashion and elevated living with Scott attributing to the chorus. His voice sounds loose, light enough to dribble and feel as if it belongs to everybody and no one at once.“I don’t know y’all, got me feelin’ like I’m in a new town,” he raps on the bouncy “Hi So Hi” while breaking down blunts and laughing about the next steps. It immediately bleeds into the retro guitar riffs and neck-chopping 808s of “25th & Leon," a track based on true events according to Spuf. Events that definitely would assert he’s figured out his home planet — embracing darkness and a rap monster all at once.
Stream Element of Surprise via DatPiff below.