Supastition – Chain Letters

Supastition - Chain Letters Artist: Supastition
Album: Chain Letters
Label: Soulspazm
Rating: 4/5

The term “concept album”
is rarely applied to hip-hop albums. The idea – an album dedicated
specifically to one narrative or subject – was initially both an example
of the maturity of LPs as selling items instead of singles, and as an
attempt to appeal to a more mature crowd, as increasingly older listeners
grew to expect more intelligence from their preferred artists. The aesthetics
of hip-hop, however, almost dictate the consistency of concepts within
albums: the emphasis on the real and on the artists not fronting forces
artists to maintain an honesty – or a perceived honesty – that makes
for identifiable themes running through albums. Faking to sell might
sell, but doesn’t earn respect. Unfortunately, all too often artists
become trapped in presenting a persona that isn’t reality, exaggerating
acts of violence, drug-dealing, sex episodes, etc. It can make for great
music, but increasingly runs the risk of boring listeners. That’s
why Chain Letters, the latest album by until-now overlooked North
Carolina MC Supastition, is so good: it’s presents an honest depiction
of a whole human being, completely believable and accessible, while
blessing listeners with great lyrics and great beats.

Supastition is a dope MC, and
he deserves to be heard. The predecessor to this full-length, the 2004
EP The Deadline, acted as a teaser follow-up to what has become
a breakout hit, “The Williams,” from that year’s OkayPlayer
True Notes, Vol. 1 compilation. The Deadline proved that
“The Williams” – a song essentially about the struggles to maintain
financial stability – was no happy accident. The Deadline spoke
on getting older and wiser and attempts to break into the mainstream.
That ethos – of making good music about hard work and honesty – continues
with Chain Letrers, and successfully as well.

Hailing from North Carolina,
part of Supa’s mission is to counter the notion that all hip-hop from
the South is Crunk. Chain Letters is completely lyrically crisp
and not screaming, and it’s the treble, not the bass, that gets emphasized.
Supa’s rhymes are so pronounced, so enunciated, and so in sync with
the balanced, textured production that there is never any struggle to
understand his words. He doesn’t just want you to enjoy the music,
he wants you to understand. He wants you to know that trapping artists
into stereotypes limits the careers of artists with good music to offer
(check “That Ain’t Me”). Both Supa and his friends in the North
Carolina-hailing Little Brother are artists that show that underground,
Golden Age-influenced artists can both emerge from the South and establish
significant draw. Supa and the LB’s jam it up on “Soul Control,”
one of the better songs on the albums (so good Supa had to include a
solo version as well as the collaboration), and shows that soul doesn’t
mean “play it loud” – it means something on the inside. And the
braggadocio isn’t about how lyrically good these folks are, it’s
about how much soul they have, how much effort they put in their work.

Relentlessly self-aware, Supastition
offers his confidence as a viable alternative to the possibility of
quitting the music business a long time ago, when he found himself encumbered
by label trouble with no good deal in sight. That confidence is addictive.
“The Intro,” “Don’t Stop,” “Rise,” and “100%” are
the more complete collections of self-touting on the album, and all
celebrate his emergence as a professional who finally doesn’t have
to worry about the next check. In a very distinct way, this album is
about the American Dream, about how hard work pays off eventually. Supa
doesn’t care for yes-men or people who don’t take this work seriously;
they’re an insult to his chosen art form (see the album’s “Hate
My Face” and “Ain’t Going Out (Like That)”). He loves this music
(and its history, as “Nickeled Needles V2” is one of the best nostalgia
songs to come out in a while), he loves working hard to get better at
it, and he loves getting the respect and appreciation he receives from
his listeners (check “Appreciation”). He loves creative control.
He doesn’t care about material shit, and that’s refreshing. He wants
the respect more than the cars, to the extent that he brags about choosing
to wear white T-shirts because he doesn’t like spending money. He’d
rather spend that dough on the music. Those values, and just listening
to his crisp lyrical flow he so ably presents throughout the album,
is worth getting the album.

Lyrically, Supa switches from
long stanzas to short, often switching styles within each song – at
once rhyme couplets separated by punchlines, then a few inner-rhymes
inside lines, then suddenly he’s rhyming every syllable in a rapid
string of six-syllable rhymes. Complementing that dexterity, the album
also has some of the best, cohesive, and understated production to be
heard in a long time. The musicality of the production – including tracks
by ILLMIND, M-Phazes, Jake One, Nicolay – is a testament to the jazziness
of Supa’s lyrical ability. Supa makes slight changes in his vocal
delivery to match the keys of the production behind him, and the latter’s
textured, low-key style perfectly complements the strength of Supa’s
voice. There are no bells and whistles, and any shiny electronic sounds
are way in the background. The most pronounced sounds come from guitars,
horns, keyboards, well-placed vocal samples, and some low bass. The
production resembles be-bop approach – nothing wasted, minimalist
at its best, designed to not give you a workout unless you’re really
paying attention. The lyrical structures of Supa’s songs – usually
a few lyrics constitute a chorus – also constitute an effective, minimalist,
functional, back-to-basics approach.

One of the best things about
this album is how apparently personal it is. In a telling line from
“100%,” Supa declares “So pardon me if you think I’m too deep
and serious / I just write what I feel and speak from experience.”
During the course of this album, we learn of the MC’s struggles with
growing out of adolescence, of dedication to his woman, of his struggles
with the music industry, of nostalgia, of loneliness. Together, the
emotions he communicates through the album lets us in to who Supa is
as a person, but it also sets a very high standard that some songs just
don’t satisfy. Supa’s strengths seem most pronounced when he concentrates
on himself than when he assumes a different personality, tells cautionary
tales, or speaks about women who aren’t his main squeeze. References
to his wife/partner populate the album, so a song about a relationship
gone awry due to cheating (“Split Decisions”) is inconsistent, as
is a song largely about attempts to find a fuck for a night (“Special
Treatment”) that become disappointing when the women he pursues are
revealed to be less-than-advertised. The stories are hard to believe
as episodes in Supa’s life. In “A Baby Story,” he tells a cautionary
tale of how a man’s love for his car ends in tragedy. The album doesn’t
need a song about how material love made someone else’s life hell;
that Supa chooses to love the nonmaterial things in life is evident
in a host of other songs. “Yesterday Everyday” is simply a song
about the value of keeping platonic friendship, and a great one at that.
Even “Blood Brothers,” his pounding, family-touting, braggadocio
duet with fellow Lost Colony family member Seven, better proves what
real love can do.

But really, there are three
misfires, and that’s it. The rest of the album is damn near perfect.
Supa is a relative newcomer to record sales, but he speaks with a wisdom,
wit, and generosity that one wouldn’t expect from an artist who’s
been hungry for this long. That makes this a special album.

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