187 He Wrote, Spice 1

187 He Wrote, Spice 1

Jive, 1993

The 90’s seemed to be a good time for Gangsta Rap and especially the West Coast which makes its identity. After all, it is about the daily life of these gangster rappers who tell us their terrible stories, sometimes sunny with a form of fatalistic lightness, as if they could not escape, sometimes darker with a form of political awareness to escape this difficult daily life. No matter what style they choose, reality has to sound right to seem real, and these rappers are for the most of them.

While Los Angeles began to have a well-established reputation in the mid-90s, an alternative scene began to emerge further up in California, particularly around San Francisco, which would become part of the so-called Bay Area. Gangsta Rap West Coast is often attributed to Los Angeles where gangsta rappers are legion, but one of the pioneers of Gangsta Rap is indeed from Oakland in the Bay Area, I named Too Short who had already released his first album in 1983. However, it is at the beginning of the 90’s that an alternative underground scene will bloom in this region, in the shadow of its big sister Los Angeles.

Although this scene will remain mostly underground, it will develop its own identity with underground rap figures and movements of its own, and in particular the Hyphy movement which will be mainly represented by Mac Dre towards the end of the 90s. Apart from Hyphy, the identity of the bay will be made by the use of a typical slang, very synthetic rhythms and riffs, flows sometimes chewed and lyrics often tinged with a false lightness, with some exceptions.

Spice 1, and others like Celly Cel, are among his exceptions. Protégé of Too Short and member of the Dangerous Crew, Spice 1 will identify himself in a violent rap, abandoning all lightness, but keeping a form of fatalism. He resigns himself to his daily life as a gangster where violence is omnipresent and weapons are necessary for survival. For his second album, 187 He Wrote, Spice does not derogate from the wave of Gangsta Rap which falls on the Californian coasts, and this time this wave will crash on the bay of San Francisco.

The title and cover art are already enunciating, 187 being the police code for murder and Spice 1 appears menacing with a gun pointed directly at its listener. Have you ever been shot? No ? I haven’t either. Well, before listening to this album anyway. Spice 1 literally pierces with this second opus.

Trigga Happy, Spice 1

Now this 380 was a bitch who used to ho up on my block
She lived on smith-n-wesson with that pimp Mr. Glock
Now glock had many bitches, he sold pussy by the pound
And bitches jocked his trigga everytime he came around

Violence is queen in this vicious world where weapons come to life in a personified narrative, Trigger Happy. Spice 1 takes us into his stories with funk and reggae tunes. And his stories sometimes veer into horrorcore and drama, not that we are literally scared like in a horror movie, but the belligerent narratives make us feel a constant threat. With finger on the trigger, Clip & The Trigga, a bullet could go off at any moment, and you don’t want to get smoked like a blunt, Smoke ’em Like a Blunt, especially over a sweet reggae melody. Spice seems to be remorseful about his past and his actions, for example his stories of robberies, Don’t Ring the Alarm, or his shootouts between rivals, Runnin Out Da Crackhouse on a beautiful Isaac Hayes sample. His remorse leads him into a form of paranoia and despair that he confides in us on 187 He Wrote.

The production work is remarkable, typical of the bay area with recognized producers like E-A-Ski, Too Short or Ant Banks, we also find guests from Los Angeles, like Prodeje of South Central Cartel or MC Eiht. Very interesting, the reggae influence rather unusual for Gangsta Rap, mixed with elements of classic G-Funk of the Californian rap of this time make the very attractive particularity of this album. The Reggae sounds support the fatalistic philosophy of the rapper which contrasts with the hardness of the speech. The rhythms are both soft and penetrating with pianos and horns, as on Don’t Ring The Alarm, or the melodramatic melody of The Murder Show beautifully produced by MC Eiht. Finally, very few samples are used here, with only 5 samples credited on the whole album. The funky rhythms are mostly from the hand of the producers with a massive use of the synthesizer for this typical atmosphere of the bay.

Spice 1 signs here a classic of the bay, an album as ruthless and penetrating as a bullet. Violent and murderous are probably the two most appropriate qualifiers for this album. Some tracks miss the target slightly, but others blow your brains out. Once the barrel is empty, you stay on the ground.

By Grégoire Zasa

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