SPEK I'm A Hippie (Echo)
Canadian rapper Spek once did time with comedy rhyming crew Dream Warriors (you look a little foggy there Gramps surely you remember their so-so 1990 hit paraders "Wash Your Face In My Sink" and "My Definition Of A Boombastic Jazz Style"?) and British jazz-rap conglomerate Us 3 before winding up in London battling dead-end jobs in his struggle to become recognised as a singer-songwriter. "I'm A Hippie" is his debut solo single and it's well, it's how can I put this? It's a low-budget reconstruction of Primal Scream's "Loaded" (remember those "Top Of The Pops" albums that featured anonymous session hacks bludgeoning the popular tunes of the day? That's the level we're working at here) over which Spek raps paradoxically along the lines of "I'm a hippie but I've got a tattoo/I'm a rasta but I got short hair/I'm a businessmen but I love to smoke joints", a paean to cultural diversity everywhere, no doubt.
A few points. Firstly, given that this promo CD arrived without artwork and there are no such credits on the press release, you have to wonder whether this tribute occurred with or without Bobby Gillespie's approval. After all, his last album commenced with a screaming tirade entitled "Kill All Hippies". And secondly, does the fact that "I'm A Hippie" is basically a low-budget reconstruction of "Primal etc. etc. make it a good or bad thing? I honestly can't tell, and as this single has yet to clog the airwaves and the public's consciousness I'm not sure it actually matters that much.
SPEK Don't Sweat The Small Stuff (Echo)
SPEK Look Me Up EP (Echo)
Spek's debut single, "I'm A Hippie", may have got my gander up by having the affront to be little more than an uncredited rip-off of Primal Scream's "Loaded", and the booklet notes to his first album, "Don't Sweat The Small Stuff", might compound the insult with the credit "based on an original idea by Utah Saints" (what original idea was that? The concept of thieving other people's, perhaps?), but there's enough humour, personality and cool-dripping tunes on here to suggest that the sometime Dream Warriors associate deserves at least to be discussed in terms of being this year's Finlay Quaye. (Talk about damning with faint praise!)
But really, "Don't Sweat The Small Stuff" is fun, rambling, folky, psychedelic hip-hop that's obviously hugely indebted to the easygoing likes of De La Soul and Arrested Development, but all the more welcome for shedding a little light on a corner of rap history that has become a little forgotten amidst the waves of gangster chic hysteria that have followed it. And there's some lovely music on here: "Lady Chiropractor", for example, is a sweet, yearning tale of attraction between doctor and patient ("If you can fix my broken back then I will mend your broken heart"). "Hey Joni" (not the Sonic Youth song, unfortunately) is an equally fine acoustic guitar-driven thing, and "Moving To N.Y.C" is a poignant big town/small girl thing. And through the entirety of "Don't Sweat The Small Stuff" runs a thread of maverick experimentation and elegant, easy melody that you might expect from a musician who lists Joni Mitchell and Simon & Garfunkel amongst his influences.
The title track of the "Look Me Up" EP is also taken from "Don't Sweat The Small Stuff", although it's one of the more robotic, formulaic tunes on the album. Compensation arrives swiftly, though, in the form of a repeat airing for the divine, swinging "Hey Joni". Two new tracks fill out the release: "She Thinks She's Beautiful" is an acceptable, laid-back stroll through a mismatched almost-relationship, but "Soho" is another charmer, with a rolling acoustic guitar line and asthmatic angel backing vocals by Tina Grace, who ghosts Spek's material just as Martine hovered behind Tricky like his conscience during his first three albums. It's a mystery not to be solved why "Soho" failed to make the album, especially as it contains references to the long player's title; it would have made a perfectly acceptable release just that bit better.SPEK Smell The Coffee (Echo)
Although Spek might be starting to look commercially more like the new Mishka than the new Finlay Quaye, he continues to churn out enjoyable hip-hop lite, and "Smell The Coffee", the third single to be extracted from his perfectly passable debut album "Don't Sweat The Small Stuff" is no exception. It's a zinging happy face almost perfectly tailored for radio play (that's meant as a compliment, if such a phrase can still have complimentary connotations these days). A gaggle of remixes toughen it up (courtesy of Spooks, one of whom sounds, scarily, almost exactly like Eminem on the line "My mentality just gets worse and worse and worse") and strip it down (a sparse electro workout by The Millionaires), only the efforts of labelmates Utah Saints outstaying their welcome.