Spose: Dankonia

Welcome to Dankonia

Spose writes an album for Outkasts everywhere

Musical costumes are nothing new in Portland. Just ask the folks doing Clash of the Titans, who don a couple of new bands every week.

This Halloween, though, Spose wears a costume only to subsume it into the Preposterously Dank empire with the release of Dankonia, whereby Wells, Maine’s most famous rapper lays it down on top of production originally used by Outkast, though not only Stankonia.

Which gives him something of a headstart. Obviously, he’s got some great stuff to work with (he’ll tell you all about CeeLo’s contributions), and Spose is a lyricist and rapper who shines even when there isn’t much to work with at all.

Just don’t tell him he sounds like Coolio, as did his booking agent, Peter Schwartz, when Spose finally told him things weren’t working out. “Coolio,” out for just about a year as a preview of the second free album to be released by Spose this year thanks to a successful Kickstarter campaign, is everything he does well: tight rhymes, personally oriented and self-effacing, breaking down at the finish into what essentially becomes an intimate conversation.

“Three albums, two mixtapes, dense-ass verses and I sound like Coolio? C’mon.” No, not hardly.

Spose does his best over the 20 tracks here, actually, to sound like no one else, succeeding most when he’s residing squarely within the Maine we all know and love. “16 Counties”  is tremendous, incorporating not only a chorus of voices singing the Maine counties song, scratched and crabbed, but also more smart references to Maine political figures and celebrities than should reasonably fit into less than four minutes.

My favorite? “They didn’t think the kid he could flow/ Now I look like a man, like Olympia Snowe.” Or maybe: “Fuck Paul LePage / There’s no way he could be from where we’ve all been raised / He needs to shut his fast face and lick the balls for days / While I’m robbing every Marden’s until we all get paid.”

But even a very selective list of great rhymes from Dankonia would take up too much space to undertake. The record is a clinic in simile. If it weren’t that so many were on the order of “This is second coming, like redoing a porn take,” from “Twerking at a Funeral,” I’d recommend it for high school English. 

As it is, “Bombs over Syria” is a must-listen for just about anyone. With early electro-clash production, and a chorus that’s impossible to shake, this is Spose at his most dead serious even in a concise 1:20. “Cure for cancer, cure for AIDS, you know they got that shit locked away,” he clips, nearly breathless, “they’ll give it to you man, just not today / Pharmaceutical companies say you got to pay.”

And it’s hard to argue with this: “Every time they make a bomb you know they’re getting paid / Let me sell you fear, cuz money’s made when you’re afraid.”

Money, and how it’s made, is a recurring theme here. If you’re interested in Spose’s journey to major-label-land and back, there’s plenty to gnaw on, including “Elevators,” where he delineates the moment he found out he’d been dropped, while grabbing an iced coffee at Dunkin’ Donuts, and “Broke as Me,” where you learn all you need to know about the cutthroat nature of the business: “They don’t give a fuck if eat lunch or tonight I die.”


But Spose never really comes close to wallowing. In fact, “Get Up Get Out” is the closest to the PDank ethos. A rallying cry to himself, it’s the Spose credo from “Can’t Get There from Here” – “doesn’t matter what your zip code is, just do work” – poked, prodded, and explored. “There’s a race going on and you’re out of it,” he drawls with disgust, “You’re lazy as fuck / You couldn’t pay me enough to live the life your live buddy / You got so much free time you make me think time isn’t money.”

It is, though, and no one knows it better. And no one is doing more to squeeze the most out of every minute than Spose. Thirty-four tracks released this year, every one of them demanding to be heard.

Spose: Happy Medium

C’Mon get Happy

Reveling in Spose’s Medium for the masses

Spose will soon release a new album on a major label, Universal Republic [actually, that didn’t happen]. Happy Medium is not it. The answer to the question, “Why,” is the subject of another story.

Regardless, it comprises 12 tracks that were apparently not major label material. Or maybe they were, but there’s an idea Spose can do even better. Most likely it doesn’t matter.

If “Pop Song” and “Can’t Get There from Here” and “Into Spose” are major-label wrong, I don’t want to hear what’s major-label right.

Click Me


The greatness of Spose is that he’s exactly the guy who made “I’m Awesome” and so much more than that. He can revel in the ridiculous without being a clown. He’s aggressive, passive-aggressive, silly, sarcastic, dead-serious, a chameleon, staying the same shape (a smirk) internally as his outside flutters through the veneers he layers on the window through which you view him.

Or, to quote “Into Spose,” which features a magnificent guest turn on the chorus from Space Vs. Speed, “all the gangster rappers want me dead / The artsy rappers want me dead from a zombie plague.”

Ultimately, the irony of “I’m Awesome” only works if Spose, indeed, is awesome. Just imagine the ego necessary to pull this whole persona off. To self-identify as a weed smoker as tightly as a predicate nominative, to refer to yourself as Peter Sparker (you know, like the secret identity of the weed-smokin’est super hero?), to be the absolute best at self-denigration and self-slander (the remix of “I’m Awesome” here with Mac Lethal has even more verses in the same vein), and still manage to come off sounding smarter and more impressive than just about everyone else.

That kind of complete lack of self-doubt is contagious. Somehow, he’s created for himself a secret identity in plain sight.

I’ve written about the brilliance of “Pop Song” in the review of this year’s GFAC 207 disc, but it needs restating. Not only does it have two choruses of impeccable quality, one Weezer rock, the other Dr. Luke dance hit. Not only does Spose elegantly walk the fine line between pompous high-minded dick and completely sympathetic and lovable tortured-artist-type. Not only is it just a blast to listen to. But it’s also the truth.

Every fan you have that attracted the label in the first place loves you for what you are and you hear, “Spose, you’re not fucking Rick Ross / We want something more like Ke$ha, ‘Tik Tok’ … Really Spose, would it be that cataclysmic / To make a couple songs for top 40 and rhythmic?”

“If you’re not up to the task / Grab your bags / Call a cab / It’s too bad, b / Because we want you to write a pop song.”

And I just love that form of address, “b,” that he inserts, so perfectly encapsulating the exec who tells himself he “gets it,” while not having a fucking clue about the way people are exposed to music nowadays and consume it, yet it’s his exact job to know that.

But does anyone in the real world care about this shit? Does it only play to music nerds like me? Is this the “substance” he claims to need in this album’s title track? Or is it just more rapping about rapping, the empty, intellectually bankrupt crap that Spose is supposedly railing against?

Sometimes, it really doesn’t matter. The way the sultry, gal-vocal “You can’t get there from here” line [actually, it’s a guy: Sicky-1 aka Doctor Astronaut] is delivered in the midst of that song’s chorus is the perfect capper to a track that’s undeniably catchy, even if the entire substance is “look at me: I ‘made it’ from Maine. Isn’t that crazy?”

How long does the bloom last on that juxtapositional rose? You can’t play the underdog card when you’re on top. And Spose likes to remind people he’s on top on Happy Medium, that he “made it,” which I think he basically did, but I don’t think even he thinks he’s made it a quarter far enough.

And there is substance there. Get from where? “From where teenage moms and their babies dwell / Where people downgrade from cocaine to oxy pills.” Anybody see the cover of the Press Herald last week? Well, of course you didn’t. But they reported that Maine is first in painkiller addiction. And people acted like they were shocked!

Like A-Frame’s recent record, and as he’s done all along, Spose looks at the Maine underbelly and is neither surprised nor impressed by what he sees there.

People talk about Maine being poor like it’s funny. But there’s nothing funny about true poverty right under your nose. Poverty comes with violence and despair and inhumanity, and we don’t like to either talk about those things in our cities and towns or hear about them in our pop songs.

“Christmas Song” is thoughtful, too, with a narrative too hard to sum up here that’s at least half true. Just know that retired WCSH newscaster Susan Kimball does a cameo. And “Sketchball” is actually genuinely inspirational, I think, Spose reaching out to those Mainers who are going exactly nowhere: “It’s never too late to get your groove back … it is alright if you suck at life.” But most of the disc is summed up by the battle-like “In This Bitch”: “I can tell you about Israel and Palestine / But I’d rather show these sucker rappers how to rhyme.”

There’s just enough substance to make you a believer while you’re singing along to some very fun shit. Because he can definitely rhyme, influenced by and comfortable in the company of Snoop and Del and De La Soul and the Live Poets and Aesop Rock and Atmosphere. Or, as he puts it, “I’m a mix of John Steinbeck and Biggie Smalls.”

Yeah, I like that. Or a mix of Mark Twain and Grand Puba. Or…