September 2, 2010

It’s rarely discussed today, but re-visiting Spice 1 (and Celly Cel) I’m struck by how pervasive the G-Funk influence was on mid-90s Bay Area production. Dre’s snake eater synths were everywhere. Obviously, the Bay had its own distinct identity, and these sort of generalizations are dangerous — inasmuch as theorizing to the web void can be “dangerous.” Souls of Mischief, Saafir, Digital Underground and the Whoridas all had their own singular sound, let alone in terms of contrast to E-40 or Spice 1 or Mac Dre or Too Short, or RBL Posse.

Viewing rap through the prism of regionalism is an important way to analyze the genre, but it’s not the only way. Though it’s easy to do, hip-hop has never been neatly cleaved along East-West-Midwest-South boundaries. 2Pac gets remembered as an LA standard bearer, but he was from Baltimore, once used the name MC New York, and claimed that “Grip it! On that Other Level” was his favorite record. The D.O.C. was from Texas. So was DJ Premier. People on the East Coast may not have been bumping Andre Nickatina, but people in Kansas City certainly were. Yukmouth from Luniz ended up on Rap-A-Lot. Etc.

Spice 1 was from Hayward, but his biggest hit came on the Menace II Society soundtrack, a record that was standard issue in the ‘burbs circa ’93. UGK may not have been anything close to a household name on the West Coast, but most people were at least familiar with “Pocket Full of Stones.” Like most of the great largely forgotten soundtracks of the early 90s (save for maybe New Jersey Drive,) Menace wasn’t restricted to one style or region. Things were reasonably fluid. In hindsight, battle lines are demarcated around regions or styles, but there was little to no consternation about Pete Rock & CL Smooth coexisting with Ant Banks, nor  Brand Nubian and Too Short sharing the same tracklisting.

Spice 1 gets branded a Bay Area legend by the few interested in remembering him. He certainly had his 15 minutes, he made the Source 100 Best Albums list, he was on Yo! MTV Raps, but ask the average rap fan under 25 about him and you’ll mostly get quizzical looks. But he embodied what I’m trying to get at. He worked with both Battlecat and obscure Bay producers. His style was heavily indebted to Death Row, but he was put on by Too Short. He worked with Rick Rock and MC Eiht. And among other notable contributions, his collaborations with 2Pac and Method Man reveal why “Got My Mind Made Up,” wasn’t as earth shattering as we remember it (at least not conceptually).

MP3: Spice 1 ft. Method Man-“Hard To Kill”

MP3: Spice 1 ft. 2Pac-“Jealous Got Me Strapped”

MP3: Spice 1-“Trigga Gots No Heart”

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