St. Louis artists Coultrain and Black Spade.
If two things are synonymous with St. Louis--besides Nelly and the practice of replacing "er" with "urr" so words like "here" and "there" are pronounced "hurr" and "thurr"--it's spirit and pride. And right now there are two artists coming out of the Louis that personify both.
This month rapper/producer/sometimes clothing designer Black Spade released his debut album To Serve With Love on Om's hip-hop imprint. Back in November R&B vocalist Coultrain dropped his debut The Adventures of Seymour Liberty on his own label JuJu Dust Music.
Serve has been a labor of love in every sense for Spade. According to him, it's taken more than a decade to complete the album. Spade (whose real name, he says, is Vito Money) blames joining and leaving many St. Louis-based entertainment groups over the years for Serve never getting, well, served.
"St. Louis is kind of small," says Spade. "As far as really trying to get out, you have to really kinda leave St. Louis to make it happen and do different crews and groups, entertainment companies. I always was thinking of putting that album out, but it always fell wayside."
After years of putting songs in and taking songs out, Serve was finally completed, eventually landing in the hands of someone at Om. With half of the album consisting of Spade riffing on past loves and the other half seeing him go into revolutionary ride-or-die mode, Serve is a fascinating album that shows an MC making love and war.
"I guess you can kinda say it like that," he says. "I didn't want it to actually be scattered. I just wanted to pop off doing the love songs and then go into, like, the little war-type part and then just do hip-hop skills and stuff like that. So yeah, I mean, I totally had planned on the album being set up that way."
Spade is very eloquent.
And unlike him, it took only a couple of years for Coultrain (30-year-old Aaron Frison) to complete Liberty, a concept album he says is "about 60 percent factual."
"The whole story is kind of about completion," Coultrain says of the soulful, insightful album. "How a woman completes a man, to a certain extent. And how she can expose certain pieces of life you don't really see and introduce you to pieces of spirituality you wouldn't have experienced without her."
It's taken a long time for both men to get to this point. Back in St. Louis they've been performing either individually or in groups since the early to mid-'90s. They didn't start collaborating until they met up in 1999, when they joined a multimember group called Soul Tyde.
Coultrain prefers to not mention his experiences with the group, citing "a lot of different misunderstandings." He says, "I mean, it was a time that I loved, and I still love everybody that was involved. But it's definitely a piece of my past and I'm trying to definitely look forward."
There's still a whole lotta love between Spade and Coultrain. "Spade and I will continue to work together for the rest of our lives hopefully," says Coultrain. Each appears on the other's album. Spade does background vocals on Coultrain's "Lost in Translation," while 'Train guests on Spade's "Not for the Bullshit" (my new anthem, by the way).
But they're also keeping their productions all in the family by working with fellow St. Louis artists, as a way to keep their scene's blood flowing. Both Serve and Liberty feature production work by Chicago-born St. Louis producer Kenautis Smith, and Serve also includes appearances from such Gateway City MCs as Rockwell Knuckles.
"It's just a group of us that know the same people and we tend to just keep it alive," says Spade. "St. Louis is very conservative in culture. It's like the little scene is barely hanging on, just because of politics in general. Hopefully, that's telling you a little bit about it."
It looks like these two men are keeping their pride and spirit in check--even when it seems their town isn't doing the same. Hopefully things will get sorted out thurr.