Among most hardcore hip-hop fans, St. Louis has gotten a bad rep. The city to produce Nelly and the St. Lunatics, Da Lou has become synonymous with candy rap -- the most radio-friendly, poppy version of the genre -- as well as the feverish strip-club anthems offered by the likes of Chingy. Black Spade is out to change all that. A former member of Soul Tyde, a St. Louis-based collective whose only release, Hip-Hop and Soulful...Ish, generated a local buzz due to its eclectic incorporation of neo-soul, R&B melodies, and hardcore lyricism in 2003, Black Spade emerged from the ashes (the group disbanded due to contractual disagreements) a well-rounded solo MC producer. After contributing to fellow Gateway City-native Rockwell Knuckles' 2007 LP Northside Phenomenon, Spade comes out strong with his own solo release on the West Coast label Om Records. Sonically, To Serve with Love is equal parts nostalgia and ultramodern, as Spade blends a wide array of samples and arrangements that range from early jazz, big band, and swing to '60s soul, '70s pre-disco funk, groovy acid jazz, and techno-pop. Vocally, Black Spade works his suave voice and stutter-step flow, capably breaking into melodic crooning nearly as often as he rhymes, and taking cues from Anita Baker and Marvin Gaye, among others. On the lyrical side, he covers a lot of ground; nursing heartache on earnest but decidedly unromantic ghetto ballads (the title track, "Love's Right Here," "She's the One (20s Love Song)," and "Evil Love"), turning his eye toward the club scene ("Lavish Life," "The Half That's Never Been Told"), and taking a walk down memory lane with Tef Poe as they speak of their '90s-era adolescence ("Good Crazy"). Black Spade also nods to the old-school with the original hip-hop throwback "The Ship Has Sailed," as he lets his flow loose over heavy, reverb-tinged drums and Bambaataa-esque synth arrangements. Overall, To Serve with Love strikes a perfect balance between hardcore hip-hop and heartfelt soul, and stands as one of the most extraordinary debuts of 2008.
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AllMusic Review by Matt Rinaldi