Shane Reis: Reis & Shine

Shine on, you crazy rapper

The debut full-length from Shane Reis

Maybe you heard about Martin Manley. A long-time Kansas City sportswriter, he made the extraordinary decision to plan his own suicide 14 months in advance, all the while documenting his life on a web site that went live on the occasion of his death.

It’s interesting that he would at the same time wish to die and effectively live on forever in the annals of the Web, his every interest and familial detail articulated. He was at once documentarian and the guy who shuts off the lights at the end of the show.

There’s something similar going on in hip hop these days, as rappers increasingly create albums that document their interior monologue, hyper-personal introspections over R&B samples and bouncy snares. Further, there are often assurances that said rapper won’t forget his/her upbringing when the big-time hits, that the fire that forged the rapper in question is vital to the forward trajectory of the big hip-hop career and the music, itself.

In other words, you can’t know their music without knowing them.

Shane Reis goes so far as to ponder “what woulda happened if I had died this weekend” late in his debut full-length, Reis & Shine, a 17-track collection of indie-pop contemporary rap, with familiar nods to the soul and funk traditions. On “If Tomorrow Never Comes,” Kristina Kentigian, quickly becoming a studio pro’s pro and piling up credits on local albums (the hip-hop equivalent to a horn section with Ryan Zoidis and Dave Noyes), croons behind the first couple verses, then knocks out a beautifully executed sung verse of her own.

Like Manley and his web site, Reis declares his intentions bluntly, in a cadence like a more-deliberate Bread. “I got a lotta shit to say,” he informs us early on the title and opening track, keeping us up to speed on everything from his age (23) to his foibles: “Hear the people whispering, say I don’t belong.”

It’s not this reviewer’s place to psychoanalyze, but there’s certainly no shortage of fodder here for anyone who might like to take a swing. It’s like he’s lying on the couch laying himself bare.

Heck, in “Human Nature” we get the entire thought process behind whether he should be jealous of his significant other or not. Through one of the more progressive tracks, with back-step beats and an off-time piano cadence, he details the real reason why she decided to put her ring in her purse when out at the club: She didn’t want to lose it like he had done.

Maybe it will strike you as too intimate. Maybe you’ll relate.

The album as a whole is in some ways like De La Soul’s Plug 1 & Plug 2, which is more throwback-‘90s, but similarly delivers a consistent style of hip hop with every track, rather than mixing ballads and bangers or changing up vocal deliveries for effect. You might not have all the songs committed to memory, but every track is very listenable.

Nor do the guest spots by talented MCs like Spose, Lady Essence, Jay Caron and Syn the Shaman overpower their tracks. They mold their flows to Reis’ like a tasteful lead guitar solo.

Essence’s contribution to “Can Your Remember” is particularly sweet (as in: aw shucks), dueting with Reis on a chanted chorus that’s playful and catchy in rap harmony and then giving her side of her friendship with Reis, how the two of them related with their parents and the outside world when Eminem and others infected them while growing up with the need to MC.

Her mother read her rhymes and pronounced, “You need therapy.”

“At heart, we’re still the same kids,” Reis allows, and that’s the ultimate ingredient in making his music successful: It’s genuine. And there is a wonder about it that cuts through any bombast and boasts.

There’s a small part of Reis, maybe, that still doesn’t believe he’s made an album that you can pick up in Bull Moose or buy from iTunes just like “real” rappers. Which means he’s made it for all the right reasons.

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.”

Ouch.

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.