Two of the best summers I ever had were spent at Kids Across America (KAA). I was a counselor at the Christian sports camp, and it was a joy to share the gospel with inner city teens. It was also some of the most fun I’ve ever had. The camp had a strong hip-hop influence, so my days were filled with all the things I love to do. The main focus was sharing the gospel with kids and trying to impact their lives. There was also a strong focus on developing the counselors.
With all of the counselors being college students, development (both spiritually and as adults) is very important. One of the tools that were used at KAA for our development was something they called “Pros and Grows.” It’s an oft-used concept just with a more positive spin. We would have meetings on the days in between new campers arriving. During these meeting we would have these sections where leadership would talk with us about the things we’ve done well (Pros) and the areas where we struggled and could improve in (Grows).
This was a very affective strategy to help me because it was a great way to deliver constructive criticism. As an album reviewer it is something I’ve used time and time again. It came in handy again when I sat down and listened to Spoken’s new album Smoke: Don’t Blow It. I was immediately blown away (get it) by Spoken. This was the artist’s sophomore album but my first experience with him so I didn’t have any real expectations, but I was pleasantly surprised with the project. Which led me to think about “Pros and Grows,” because I want to give fans the clear picture of Spoken, the artist and his album Smoke: Don’t Blow It.
This is one of the most overlooked aspects of hip-hop. There are plenty of great rappers, and plenty of creative guys. There are few emcees’ that make great songs. There is a lot that goes into this skill. The artist has to couple the right production with the right flow. Find the right hook and features, and that’s just to name a few. This is a skill that trips up some long time veterans, talented lyricists and young emcees. Spoken showed some flashes of great song making all over Smoke: Don’t Blow It.
This was the first thing that stood out and grabbed my attention on this project. It stood out cause I was surprised to see some really good song making. It wasn’t that I didn’t think Spoken was capable of it, but it was more of an excitement that I was getting it. : Don’t Blow It opened up strong with two of the best cuts on the whole album; “The Spark” and “Carpe Diem.” Not only does this set the stage for the listener, these are just really good songs. They have all the elements great songs need to have, and most importantly they have great replay value. These are just a few examples of the flashes of good song making by Spoken. It was a very impressive part of Smoke: Don’t Blow It.
This skill was another surprise that Spoken had waiting for me on Smoke: Don’t Blow It. Being that he is a younger artist and still relatively new: I wasn’t expecting to see much versatility if any at all. This is a skill that some artists never pick up, but it is important to have in the arsenal. Being able to switch sounds and styles on an album makes that album much easier to listen too. It creates a slightly unpredictable listening experience and it enhances the playback value greatly.
Spoken did a great job of leaving the listener off balance on Smoke: Don’t Blow It. The production varied just enough so every song didn’t sound the same or like a continuation of the prior song. His versatility didn’t just come in the production but it also came in his individual performance. He switched up his flow and tone like a true veteran. He also changed the pace of his flow on different tracks, and more impressively, he did it throughout some tracks. Spoken did a great job of matching his flow with the song and sound that he wanted. All of that created an overall versatile listening experience.
Smoke; Don’t Blow It is a solid album, but it is far from a perfect record. Most of my issues lie in one bigger issue, and that would be his inconsistency. This wasn’t at all surprising for me. This is an area that younger artists usually struggle with. It is very difficult to make a solid record from beginning to end. A lot veteran emcee’s struggle in this area.
After listening to Smoke: Don’t Blow It, you can see the talent that Spoken possess. He is able to do some tougher things really well. He is also a solid lyricist. The struggle is to continually do those things throughout a full album. Most albums have holes in them, even really good ones. So I wasn’t expecting perfection. I was, however, looking for Spoken to do the things he does well consistently; and he didn’t.
Some of the things I loved about the album became problems on the album. His song making was great at times, but it was also bad at times. “Make It Last” is a good example of this. The song was a bit awkward and didn’t fit into the album well. It wasn’t set up very well, and seemed forced. Spoken stepped out the norm for this record but the gamble didn’t pay off because the track didn’t work. This is just one example of the inconsistencies that Smoke: Don’t Blow It had.
Spokens’ inconsistencies, though troublesome, weren’t terrible and didn’t change my opinion of him as an artist. I was still impressed with what he did and what he’s capable of doing. I think time and experience will be Spoken’s best aide going forward, and that will turn his inconsistencies around.
Overall, I think Spoken did a really good job on his sophomore project. It was solid and at it’s peak had plenty of playback value. He had good features and solid production. Smoke: Don’t Blow It had a lot of really good things on it, and it is worth a listen for fans of CHH. It will feed you spiritually and give you some good tracks to listen to again and again.