Album Review: Spose – “Why Am I So Happy?”

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The King of Maine released an album a couple weeks ago and the hard copy hit shelves worldwide last Friday.  For those of you who are unfamiliar with him, he goes by the name of Spose (real name Ryan Peters) and he is hands down the greatest emcee to come out of the easternmost, northernmost state (and a die-hard Celtics fan).  That might not sound all that impressive at first, but Spose has actually been one of the more original and under appreciated artists in all of hip-hop for the last few years.

He grew up in Wells, Maine and began rapping in the 8th grade but didn’t start to pursue it as a career until he graduated from high school in 2004.  In 2008, he released his debut album “Preposterously Dank”, which contains my all-time favorite Spose song, “God Damn”.  I actually didn’t hear about Spose until his hit single “I’m Awesome” in 2010, but I immediately jumped on the bandwagon and caught up on all of his previous material.  “I’m Awesome” (his biggest song yet and the one that catapulted his career) drew me in because of it’s hilarious mockery of mainstream hip hop.  For those of you who still listen to the radio, you know that 90% of popular rappers think that people care how much money they make or how nice their car is.  Spose is for the rap fans who are just just interested in hearing quality music and couldn’t care less about what brand of clothes their favorite rapper wears or what type of overpriced liquor they prefer to drink.  In “I’m Awesome”, instead of bragging about material things, he “brags” about being mediocre by exaggerating his flaws with clever lines like “Find me whipped by my wifey/ My neck’s not icy/ Eating at McDonald’s because Subway’s pricey”.  As a fairly idealistic rap fan, songs like this one and “We Hate Money” (also released in 2010), which is basically an anthem for broke people, were like a breath of fresh air.  Of course I was also intrigued by the fact that there was actually someone from Maine who was making a living as a rapper.  I continued to be an avid fan of Spizzy through the release of his second and third albums, “Happy Medium” and “The Audacity!” and his mixtapes, “We Smoked It All”, We Smoked It All, Vol. 2″, The Peter Sparker Mixtape”, and “Dankonia”, where he continued to display his honesty and portray himself as a shamelessly average man who happens to have superb rhyming skills.

The funny thing about a lot of underground rap artists, especially someone as humble as Spose, is that the overwhelming majority of people who listen to materialistic mainstream hip-hop could relate to the lyrics of someone like Spose or Slug from Atmosphere or Geologic from Blue Scholars much more than they can relate to the lyrics of Rick Ross or 2 Chainz.  I guess they just like to escape from reality and pretend that they’re filthy rich and they spend every night at a strip club throwing money around.  Spose doesn’t escape from reality, he embraces it and he faces it head on.  He knows that the number of people struggling to make ends meet far outweighs the number of people who can afford to drop half a million dollars to put diamonds in their teeth.  He also probably understands that anyone who isn’t a self-absorbed asshole would have absolutely no interest in putting diamonds in their teeth even if they had half a million dollars to do so because it looks ridiculous.  Don’t get me wrong, I thoroughly enjoy getting rowdy to some Waka Flocka or Chief Keef after a few beers with my boys and one of my all-time favorite rappers is Lil Wayne (pre-2009), but there’s a time and place for everything.  If you ever want to sit back with some headphones and actually listen to some music, Spose makes songs that regular people can relate to and, in some cases, benefit from.

His most recent project is no exception.  The album is titled “Why Am I So Happy?” and it is definitely his best work yet.

First, some background on the album.  Back in October of last year, Spose and his crew were on tour in St. Louis when their tour van was robbed.  Everything you need to know about what happened is in this tweet that Spose wrote shortly after the incident.

So, our tour van was just robbed around 12:30 pm today in St. Louis in broad daylight outside of Pappy’s Smokehouse. We lost everything. Multiple laptops, all our musical equipment, my canon 5d mark ii camera and lenses, everything I use to record my music, my mic, my apogee duet, my ipad, clothes, phones, my friend GodDamnChan lost every beat he’s ever made, all my external hard drives containing all the music I had made for my next album(s). We filed a police report and changed passwords and called State Farm but nothing can replace what we lost. We were in the restaurant for 30 minutes. And they essentially took my job, all the work I had done for the past two years building up to 2015. Gone. There’s no amount of likes or comments that’ll bring anything back, I just wanted to let the people who robbed us know FUCK YOU and let our fans know I’ll be performing the next few shows with limited resources on this tour (and I will be a little late to the show tonight). So please know I normally would have a more organized set than whatever I’ll have to scrounge together here on my way to Kansas. I’m done with St Louis, if you wanna see me perform in the future come to Chicago or something cuz St Louis is dead to me. Just took all the work I had to done to support and feed my family in 2015 away from me.

If you know me, however, you know I’m not all doom and gloom and pessimistic. So, I would be remiss to not point out that my family is safe, nobody got hurt, I am healthy, I’ve lived a good, relatively painful, peaceful life and the sun is still shining. BUT SERIOUSLY FUCK WHOEVER STOLE MY SHIT!!!

Lawrence, Kansas tonight at the Grenada with MC Chris and MC Lars.

– Ryan / Spose

Obviously this was a major setback for Spose and his crew, but the support of his loyal fans helped to get him back on track thanks to a GoFundMe page set up by Adam Fishman, head of the official Spose fan network, Spose Army.  He set out a goal to raise $15,000 and achieved that goal in just a day.

Of course that doesn’t replace all of the work that was lost, but Spose completely re-did the whole album (minus a couple songs) and, to his credit, was able to produce a masterpiece.  Spose is one of the few emcees who records over live instrumentation, and he and his band are on point with this project.  There’s a fair amount of alternative rock included as well, and not just in the song “Alternative Radio”.  Most importantly, Spose remains the funny, down-to-earth misfit that he’s always been and at age 29 his punchlines, delivery, flow, and lyrical content are without a doubt the best they’ve ever been.

I was curious as to which songs, if any, were recorded before the van robbery so I recently contacted Adam Fishman in hopes that he could find an answer for me.  He contacted Spose and was able to get me an answer:

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Features on the album include highly acclaimed rappers Wax and Watsky, as well as various absurdly talented musicians from Maine who you probably haven’t heard of.

Here is analysis of each track including my favorite line:

1.) Prologue: Work In Progress (feat. KGFREEZE)

KGFREEZE is one of those talented artists from Maine that I was talking about.  His name is Kyle Gervais, he’s from Portland, and he performs Rock, Pop, & R&B.  His 27 second intro to the album is effective in setting the premise for the story that Spose is about to tell.  Anyone who listens to Spose knows that he’s an optimist and he’s shown it in his lyrics (see “Knocking On Wood”) and KGFREEZE projects that same mind set in this prologue.

Favorite line:

“I’m a work in progress, I might just work forever
I know the sun is shining behind this cloudy weather”

2.) Happy Right Now (feat. Renee Coolbrith)

Spose’s opening verse on the album is nothing short of genius.  He starts by saying “Let’s talk about the shit that we don’t talk about” and goes on to tackle the issue of lies pertaining to history as well as lies that are sold to us in the media and in pop culture.  He intertwines these two realities by describing historical events but using words that reference today’s pop culture.  His next two verses are strong as well and he continues to expose truths about society by using clever word play.  Renee Coolbrith, another artist from Portland, contributes to the hook which is perfectly executed and is effective in getting you excited to listen to the rest of the album.

Favorite line:

“Bodies floating with the jellyfish (He might be alive), quick, poke him with the selfie stick
For that long we read the map wrong, history lies like a rap song”

3.) Feel Alright (feat. Kristina Kentigian)

“Feel Alright” is a nice laid back, feel good track in which Spose spits four verses about being happy no matter your current situation.  The hook is sung by yet another Portland native, Kristina Kentigian.  The outro includes a creative analogy that that I won’t go into detail about so the listener can have the satisfaction of deciphering it on their own.

Favorite line:

“People live their whole life in the rat race
Fast paced, never get the cheese, come in last place”

4.) Lies Song (feat. Wax & Shane Reis)

As the title states, this song is full of lies.  Some of them are funny and some of them are a little fucked up (but still pretty funny).  Spose killed it as always but Wax had the most impressive verse on this song.  The fourth verse came from a Portland rapper named Shane Reis, who is definitely worth a search on youtube.

Favorite lines:

“Fat people look awesome in Spandex
Nobody’s ever got killed by Aaron Hernandez” – Spose

“The people in charge are all anti-war
The economy’s run by the disenfranchised poor” – Wax

“I’m public with my personal
It doesn’t bug me when people rhyme “hearse” with “verse” and then act versatile”            – Shane Reis

5.) Greatest Shit Ever

This is basically the Average Joe’s version of Ice Cube’s “It Was A Good Day”.  Only instead of seeing a blimp that read “Spose is a pimp”, Spizzy is just happy that there isn’t a raccoon in his trash can.  The hook (“see I’m usually broke but today man I just got paid”) makes it the ultimate payday anthem.

Favorite line:

“No mosquitoes when I’m sittin on the lawn
Avery Bradley game winner on LeBron” (being a Boston Sports blog, I felt obligated to choose this one)

6.) Thanks Obama (feat. Lyle & Phil Divinsky)

This song is downright hilarious.  Spose takes a phrase that has been made famous by Obama critics and turned into an object of satire for people to make fun of critics of Obama who use him as a scapegoat.  He blames everything on Obama, from blowing all of his money at the bar to getting gonorrhea from a prostitute.

Favorite line:

“Man I should be a rap star, it ain’t up for debate
But I’m never working on music, always taking a break
And I don’t get why I’m not as famous as Drake
I have twelve followers, thanks Obama”

7.) Gesundheit

On a serious note, Spose tackles issues such as domestic violence and child abuse through some hard hitting stories.

Favorite line:

“Tonight her victim had a Miller on his breath
Played a villain, didn’t know the killer on his deck”

8.) Little Different / Obituary (feat. KGFREEZE)

In this song Spose talks about being the “parallelogram that didn’t fit into the circle”.  In other words he’s always felt a little different, but he’s proud of that.  He starts the song by saying, “I was too rap for my rock friends and too rock for my rap friends back then” which is funny because this song is a perfect blend of both rock and rap.  KGFREEZE makes his second appearance on the album in the second portion of the song called “Obituary”, which plays off of the same concept of being different.  He starts his verse by saying “hang me if I’m ordinary, go write my obituary.”

Favorite line:

“I was undefined like the slope of a vertical line
I’m who they doubted when they heard he could rhyme” – Spose

“I  just want to be remembered as that spark, that burning ember” – KGFREEZE

9.) Kanye Go (feat. Dave Gutter)

This song probably has the most radio potential of any on the album, but it’s still lyrical.  The concept for the hook is quite creative and includes a sample of Rick Ross, Jay-Z, and Kanye West all doing their signature ad libs along with vocals from Dave Gutter.  Gutter is from Gorham, Maine and was formerly a member of a couple well-known bands by the name of Rustic Overtones and Paranoid Social Club.  His catchy hook draws you in as do Spose’s truthful lyrics about his humble beginnings.

Favorite line:

“I think I made a difference with the mic now
I’m making suicidal kids put the knife down”

10.) Work In Progress (feat. Shane Reis)

This is a continuation of KGFREEZE’s prologue, with Spose and Shane Reis singing the lyrics instead of Kyle Gervais.  The two Maine emcees also each spit one impressive verse.

Favorite line:

“I’m a bright spark in a dark room, I’ll persevere, that’s how I’m built
I won’t wait, I will work till I’m great, I made more mistakes than my grammy made quilts” – Spose

“They told me we work in the cold and the snow and the rain, welcome to Maine
Fresh out of grade twelve, not getting paid well, walking on eggshells” – Shane Reis

11.) The G.O.A.T.

A couple weeks ago Spose gave his fans the opportunity to ask him anything on Facebook.  One fan asked him what his favorite song on the album was, and to my surprise he said “The G.O.A.T.”.  I guess the only reason I was surprised was because it’s not exactly one of the more serious tracks on the album, but it’s definitely fun to listen to.  Spose’s reasoning for choosing this one as his favorite was the fact that he had just returned home to Maine from a nationwide tour and he felt like a champion while he was recording it.

Favorite line:

“Now people I admire wanna pound it up
I’m gonna die nasty, better sound the gong                                                                                   Turning letters into numbers like Algebra                                                                                      While I’m chasing cheese like I’m Algernon”

12.) Why Am I So Happy? (feat. Renee Coolbrith)

The realest song on the album (and one of the realest Spose has ever written) and the best beat on the album.  He puts things into perspective by comparing the comfortable lives of himself and others to the lives of people in third world countries.  Renee Coolbrith makes another appearance, displaying her phenomenal voice on the hook.  Lines like this opening one are reminders to never take anything for granted: “You should see these Nike SB’s that I copped online, turned the AC on and I wrote a hot rhyme.  The girl who made my sneakers sobbin all the time, Indonesian sweat shop making pennies and she’s nine.”

Favorite line:

“I saw a tweet a girl wrote
It said, “I hate school, I’d rather skip it, party, take body shots, and break rules”
School girl got her body shot by the Taliban
Women die to be educated out in Pakistan”

13.) Alternative Radio

Spose has always been a big fan of alternative music and in this song he talks about how it “saved his life.”  He references instances that he had to endure as a child and how he used alternative music to escape from reality.  He makes various band references including Nirvana and Weezer.  This is definitely the most rock sounding song on the album.

Favorite line:

“I never quit getting lit like my own worst enemy
Eddie Vedder-y flannels til I’m seventy
And now i’m an aging fool, I played in school
But rage and tool made me cool”

14.) Nobody (feat. Watsky)

This is my personal favorite.  Fans of both Spose and Watsky have been asking for a collaboration from these two for a while now and it wasn’t a disappointment.  This is one of those songs that makes you feel like you can accomplish anything.  Listening to Spose talk about how he went from being nobody to being sold out on stages is certainly inspiring, and you could feel Watsky’s excitement to have finally done a song with Spizzy.  He ends his verse by shouting out the Wells native and making a reference to Maine.  “You can bring the lobster, me and Spose will bring the pain, it’s Watsky and the fucking King of Maine!”  The hook samples “Nobody” by Chicago band “The Right Now”.

Favorite line:

“The way I carry a mic, I’m gonna end up with some flowers on my burial site
I’m still moving, ascending on my aerial flight
Breaking every radio, smashing stereotypes” – Spose

“It takes smart choices and dumb luck
That’s why there’s billionaire dumbfucks
Geniuses driving dump trucks
Suckers with Lexuses, experts who won’t make one buck” – Watsky

15.) Good and You? (Bonus Track)

I never know what to expect with bonus tracks but this one is just as great as the rest of the album.  Spose finishes this project strong as his rhymes are as tight as ever in this track.

Favorite line:

“If you, if you, if you, if you like sleeping at night
Then you probably couldn’t even eat a piece of the life
So break weed and take heed of my beleaguered advice
Cause I’m the pilot and the passenger, the beacon of light”

All in all I’d say this is easily one of the top three albums in hip-hop this year.  Obviously not everyone is going to agree, but when you consider the authenticity of Spose’s lyrics as well as the fact that he records with a live band, it’s hard to think of a more organic project that has been released recently.  Spose may not be signed to a major label and he may not be one of the most famous, highly marketed, well-payed rappers, but the quality of his music alone was able to propel this album to #9 on the iTunes charts after it was released.

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