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Don’t Call It A Concept: The Legend of Spark Master Tape

I recently wrote about my experience at Jay-Z’s “Picasso Baby” video shoot. As contrived as his approach may have seemed, in the end, his performance art video hinted towards something more — the artist-to-fan relationship and how it’s changed. It’s not enough to have fans and followers anymore. It’s about engagement. Artists need to connect with fans more than ever before, which means coming up with creative new ways to do so. Enter Spark Master Tape.

In a time when the appeal of #SADBOY rap is spreading like that nasty bedbug infestation in your first shi*tty NYC apartment, the appeal for rappers to elicit emotion in their tracks is on the rise. But not everyone believes the hype. The line between emotional and troll has been severely blurred. I’m not saying everyone is going to buy into Spark Master Tape’s brand, because at the end of the day, his latest work, The #Swoup Serengeti, is a concept album made by an anonymous rapper with pitched down vocals and instantly familiar samples ranging from Tupac to The Pharcyde. No one is disputing that. But you shouldn’t write him off based on those facts either. When you place the mysterious rapper’s syrupy sound and cerebral lyrics among the bloated sea of internet rappers, an artist’s ability to give listeners more than just flows and beats seems so much more enticing.

Instead of going into a drawn out diatribe that involves far too many synonyms for “dope,” I’ve decided to break down the genius mystique surrounding SMT. In just over a year, he’s released two cohesive bodies of work, Syrup Splash and The #Swoup Serengeti, a number of brilliant videos and one bullshit interview with Passion of the Weiss. With just those facts, his Twitter account and working to piece together the legend of SMT, it becomes apparent there are a few things the rapper is doing really well: creating, keeping his anonymity and executing.

Executing: Simply put, Spark Master Tape’s music is scary as sh*t, extremely well-produced and it’s got style for days. His handful of videos are thought provoking without being overdone. They have this kind of vintage horror film aspect to their aesthetic. It’s masked psychopaths wreaking havoc on quiet towns across America. “We got the guns, guns, guns, guns, we slangin’.” His videos are edgy and visually appealing.

Often music videos are just a PR tool to get more buzz for an album or single. Spark Master Tape doesn’t seem to give a f*ck about buzz. His execution paints a picture. Filtering through endless flashes of pop culture, from Mike Tyson interviews to vintage Mickey Mouse cartoons, these visual accompaniments provide a vivid picture of the MC’s graphic take on the world. Grim as it may be, it’s one you’ll want to watch again and again. Think “Alice in Wonderland” on acid, and the viewer is Alice, and SMT’s version of the story probably won’t let her make it out alive.

Anonymity: The idea behind Spark Master Tape is like the terrifying spawn of Captain Murphy, Shabazz Palaces and Too Much TV dragged through the muddy fields of the South’s less hospitable history. Then there are rumors of Houston and Memphis origins, ties to Cleveland and Hamilton Ontario. The more you peel back the layers of his (or her, for that matter) music, the more you start to conspire about who SMT really is. I’ve never been a fan of the whole anonymity thing as a way to force listeners to focus solely on the art. If your stuff is really dope, your aesthetic is always secondary, to me at least. But where other faceless acts fall short, Spark Master Tape excels. He carves out a meticulously detailed character using images, words and beats — leaving no room for biographical details to take shape. A master at drawing you into his world, he then swallows you whole with one puff of thick cloudy smoke.

Creating: Spark Master’s right hand man and producer, Paper Platoon, slithers through the internet like a snake in the thickly matted digital weeds. You only see the tops of of those weeds rustling. Sparking a nostalgic excitement by sampling the classics, Paper Platoon’s trap-splashed world of violent artillery samples and air horns, jumpy hi-hats and playful theatrics lend themselves perfectly to SMT’s storied verses. He places SMT’s woozy pitched down words against a backdrop of stitched instances of pop culture and he digs. Using  Sun Araw’s “Deep Cover,” as the basis for “Castles & Towers,” you have to respect his ability to seek out samples and rework them in endlessly creative ways. If you’re on that obscure L.A. indie electronic let’s-drop-acid-and-hang-out-in-the-dark-for-twelve-hours-during-the-day-on-a-Wednesday psychedelia tip, you’ll know about Sun Araw. Respect.

When it comes to lyrics, Spark Master Tape takes on the interwebs head first, and there’s a good chance that he’s winning. Husky drawls barrel through beats with an intensity, telling tales of sex, drugs and the everyday struggle to stay atop. His southern slur mops up distorted basslines and fragmented pieces of police car sirens with the slightest of ease. The more you listen, the more the outlines of this dark, masked character begin to fill.

For as much as SMT is the conjured up idea of some bruh in his bedroom, the deeper you get into his flows, the more his vocal effects begins to fade away. Truth is his words take on a life of their own and his world becomes tangible. Then you look around and realize you’re bobbing your head, googling, downloading, linking and sharing, taking all of him in — sending the message that Spark Master Tape is more than just myth.

Download Spark Master Tape’s The #SWOUP Serengeti Mixtape HERE.

@itsadredogg met all of her friends on Twitter

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