by Charlier Gstalder, Opinions & Editorials Editor
Spillage Village, the southern hip-hop collective associated with J. Cole’s Dreamville Label, released their debut album Spilligion on Sept. 25. While an interesting and fun listen, the project lacks cohesiveness in theme and features some odd stylistic choices and unnecessary tracks.
Spillage Village was founded by hip-hop duo Earthgang and JID, and includes 6lack, (pronounced “black”), Mereba, Jurdan Bryant, Hollywood JB and Benji.
While I am not too familiar with the latter few artists, Earthgang’s projects have never failed to amaze me. 6lack’s R&B and rap synthesis is astounding, JID is arguably more talented than J. Cole and Mereba’s voice envelops you like the glaze waterfall at Krispy Kreme. It’s disappointing that an amalgam of hip-hop heavyweights occasionally devolves into an album resembling friends jockeying for position at an open mic.
Spilligion commences with a skit — a group of young men are standing on the corner outside a church, sipping liquor and plotting their revenge on the pastor who they argue has been stealing their money.
This continues until an OG arrives, asks for a swig of the liquor and shares some knowledge, arguing about how religion only divides the men to be conquered and comparing their qualms to “never opening a package that could’ve saved your life / ‘Cause you was too damn busy arguing over whether UPS or FedEx delivered it.”
Such outlines the major themes of the project — the complexities of religiousness amidst poverty, systemic racism, COVID-19 and interculturality.
These themes are first evident on “Baptize,” in which the founding members rap about police brutality and interpolate biblical references into their verses on sex, drugs and money.
The production of “Baptize” includes one of the heaviest and hard hitting subs I’ve heard in years, which lends itself beautifully to the artists’ distinctively Atlantean drawled flow.
Track three, the aptly titled “PsalmSing,” serves as the first instance of the hymnal inspired choral singing that permeates the project.
“PsalmSing” also introduces Mereba to the record who, in a slightly unusual twist, raps significantly more than she sings.
The album takes an interesting turn with track four, “Ea’alah (family).” Quite simply, it’s a really weird song, and I’m still really surprised that I like it.
The subject matter is congruent with the album’s themes; it begins with JID repeating his prayers for his family, money and peace, and it ends with a Johnny Venus verse that references COVID-19.
Thus, my surprise primarily regards the production — the track is set to a twangy guitar reminiscent of a country song. Even the artist’s flows themselves give me feelings of country rap.
It’s odd, but it really works. JID rides the beat beautifully and each listen gives me goosebumps, an emotional reaction so visceral I’m left rethinking my hatred of country rap.
“Mecca” is the first truly awful track. It concerns “spreading love around the world” and interpolates South African greetings. The rap verses are sparse and largely divorced from the theme, which would not be an issue had the chorus and bridge not been atrocious.
It sounds more like a pseudo-globalist ‘80s pop song than the work of a hip-hop supergroup — repetitive and gross. If you listen to this album, just skip the track — it’s really not worth three minutes and ten seconds of your life.
While the sixth track, “Judas,” is not worthy of much note, it features the first good Chance the Rapper verse in years.
The album concludes strongly — the last three tracks each feature the “PsalmSing” style choruses and excellent verses.
I was blown away by the penultimate “Hapi,” which features extensive psalm singing and Mereba, Johnny Venus and Big Rube rapping. The trio’s vocal tones and deliveries complement each other beautifully.
The final track, “Jupiter,” is perhaps even better. The production is sparse, consisting primarily of an acoustic guitar.
The soft strumming serves as the perfect background for the entirety of Spillage Village singing together, “So hold my hands and dance with me tonight / You know they say we’re all about to die / And maybe it’s the love we all are trying to find / Who knows what lies, it’s only by design.” It not only has a gorgeous conclusion, but also a message I’m going to carry with me through the end of this cursed year.