January 18, 2022

Spooks - Faster Than You Know… (Special Edition) (2003)

*U.K. special edition. 
Contains 18 tracks total.
Country: U.S.A.
Genre: Hip-Hop
Label Number: 981 156-2

© 2003 Koch Records
When Philadelphia's Spooks debuted in 2000 with S.I.O.S.O.S., their left-of-center sound found legs in Europe, but stumbled stateside. Beyond some broad comparisons to the Fugees and a few spins of the jazzy single "Things I've Seen," the States largely ignored the Spooks. Over the next few years however, hip-hop became a bit more receptive to less obvious sounds. Neo-soul and the alternative, backpacker cats made real inroads, even as the mainstream's creative window continued to narrow. On one hand there was BlackaliciousIndia.Arie, and the Roots; on the other everything else, featuring Ja Rule. Into this climate came Spooks' sophomore release, Faster Than You Know... (In the Paint). One MC lighter (Water Water departed), and not as stylistically schizophrenic, it's more cohesive than the debut, which often had too many cooks stirring its stew of shifting sounds. The crew makes its recognition of the shift immediately clear -- the introductory title track and lead single grooves on a multiharmony vocal from Ming, while Booka THypnoJoe Davis, and guest Chali 2na (Jurassic 5) trade off on raps reaffirming Spooks' quest to expose the stereotypes and ill will that typify the genre. An accompanying interlude pokes fun at hip-hop's tendency to pad albums with skits. "Shallow is the way to go...we'll thug it out and get 'em high...who gives a sh*t? -- we have to make a hit!" Hip-hop's flirtation with the almighty dollar becomes a theme throughout Faster Than You Know.... But while the Spooks' streamlined approach makes them sound more succinct, it also aligns them with the very stereotypes they want to lampoon. Ming's vocals are smooth throughout, and play off the MC's raps well. But at times, the communication is too smooth, suggesting the ubiquitous MC trick of hiring a singer like Ashanti to sing your single's hook. Likewise, the production -- handled largely in-house, barring the fruitful Evil Dee collabo, "Still Gonna Do It" -- is often too tame, even when it's flirting with drum'n'bass ("Deadbeat") or a vintage soul vibe ("Part of the Game"). There's no question that, lyrically, the Spooks are ahead of the mainstream game. But Faster Than You Know...'s refined beats and straightforward song structures are a big nod to that camp. The album isn't a failure by any means. But it doesn't necessarily clear up what the Spooks are all about, either, suggesting that the group might have missed its chance again.

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tags: spooks, faster than you know, special edition, 2003, flac,