Album Review: Spice - 10
by Steve Topple
One of the more anticipated albums of 2021 is finally here. Spice’s long-awaited debut has been hyped, hyped, and hyped again (and the release date pushed back to her birthday). But – does it live up to the expectation that’s been brewing for around ten years?
10, released via VP Records, is an impressive debut – not least because Shaggy is the contributing producer across the majority of the album, in collaboration with other talents. Most of the high-quality engineering comes from Grant Valentine, with the majority of the mixing by Robert Orton. This has created a sound across 10 which is both rich and detailed, allowing the compositions and vocals to soar while being sympathetic to each genre. Spice wrote all the tracks in collaboration with the producers – plus Grammy-winning songwriter Angela Hunte on three songs, too. And everything has, of course, paid off – because the album is a slick, efficient and engagingly in-your-face project.
It opens with S.P.I.C.E. co-produced by Grammy nominated Shane Hoosong. Hard AfroDancehall hits you in the face, with that broken clave beat and resonant bass. But the imposing, elongated military-style buzz rolls on the snare and their Trap counterparts on the hi-hats hit your senses hard – as does Spice’s forthright and pointed delivery. Lyrically, she has created a potted life story, including a dig at VP Records historical intransigence to her. Her reference to meeting Baby Cham is telling – as S.P.I.C.E. has a Ghetto Story feel about it. It’s powerful stuff – and sets the tone for the entire project.
Send It Up sees Hoosong back again on the co-production but here the style reverts to that traditional Dancehall clave-focused beat (‘oneeeeee’twooo’and’ x2) coupled with old skool chord progressions (root-seventh), giving the track a throwback feel. But the production brings in modern elements, like Trap buzz rolls and a grimy, distorted bass along with some nice vocoder across Spice’s chorus – away from this she shows he ability to merge straight vocal and singjay with skill. Meanwhile, the Costantin "Costi" Ionita co-produced global smash Go Down Deh featuring Shaggy and Sean Paul (together on a record for the first time) needs little introduction. Spice neatly drops her vocal down its register to fit with Paul and Shaggy’s – and it’s easy to see why the track was a smash.
Another huge hit was 2013’s So Mi Like. It is wholly produced by Ainsley “Notnice” Morris, who delivers stripped-back, EDM-percussion-heavy Dancehall. It’s laced with intricate rhythmic variations on the clave but interestingly very little deep bass (despite Spice’s lyrical reference to it). Then, Hoosong is back for Size Matters – a Reggaeton-laced track with that dominant four-to-the-floor kick coupled with the syncopated snare and hi-hats across a near tresillo rhythm along with a swopping bass line. But the EDM influences are present again with some dank engineering tricks – and Spice’s wry, emasculating delivery is on-point once more.
Po-Po featuring Nicho (14, Spice’s son) sees Hoosong switch things up, reverting back to that military-influenced style of the album’s opening along with some forthright, African djembe-like drums and choral vocals nodding to the Motherland. But the track is neither Dancehall nor a Reggae-derivative (although both are nodded to – check the keys brief bubble rhythm for the latter). It’s almost Hip Hop-meets-Dub-meets-Dancehall (note the use of barely one chord progression). Both Spice and Nicho are urgent and engaging, hitting the furious yet unrepenting lyrics about police corruption, brutality and racism hard. Nicho in particular clearly has a bright future as he’s got natural talent. It’s powerful and haunting work – being a veritable protest cry for the 21st century.
Don't Care, co-produced by Ruff Ryders legend Sheldon “Teflon” Harris, is straight-up anti-Lover’s Rock with some touches of Dub in the breaks, Reggaeton with a mashed tresillo rhythm on the percussion along with some flourishes of something more Pop – with a great, bass key melodic line on the piano. Spice is on top form, here – showing she can carry a Reggae-based track across both vocal and singjay extremely.
On Your Mind featuring Olaf Blackwood switches things up. It’s rich, classy affair with Hoosong honing-in on Blackwood’s EDM credentials with the haunting, stabbing strings; bringing in RnB across the piano line but with a rhythm section and overall arrangement more at home in Dancehall-meets-AfroPop. Spice once more surprises - here delivering a rich, strong vocal down the lower end of her register filled with light and shade. Blackwood is equally impressive, performing both main and backing vocal lines across his impressive range. An instant hit – and once more, shows the exceptional versatility of Spice as an artist.
Hitmaker Tony “CD” Kelly comes on board to co-produce Top – a franticly-moving mashing-up of Dancehall, EDM (with some gorgeous strings) and something Soca in the stuttering, incessant percussive rhythm and the synth horns on a relentless riff. Spice is again fearless – as she builds a narrative around humble self-confidence in the face of detractors (again, throwing some shade music executive’s way). Love Her takes 10 back to something more AfroDancehall flavours via Hoosong once more, with nice use of a balafon synth and a distorted bass couple with low-down strings. Spice has crafted an ingenious narrative here, assuming the role of a man spouting either BS to bed a woman – or geniune love. Make your own mind up which.
The previously released Frenz smooths the album out, with production from SupaDups and Stephen McGregor. It’s smooth, almost 21st century Neo Soul – as it takes RnB sensibilities (like the chord progressions and dampened keys), combined it with Trap percussive tricks (check the hi-hat’s buzz rolls and swooping bass) but an overriding yet slowed-down AfroDancehall clave beat. Spice shows her full singing prowess for the first time on 10 – giving a straight vocal which is highly impressive and controlled. There’s elements of a vulnerable Spice here, as she laments those back-stabbers and how we all have to “learn the hard way” about them. It’s pure class all round and one of 10’s strongest tracks.
Different Shit featuring Melissa Musique sees Teetimus arrive for production, assisted by Musical Masquerade. It’s pure Afrobeats-RnB, with that stuttering, rim-clicked snare rhythm and wandering bass line. Musique is an attractive vocalist, smokily gliding across the track while Spice delivers a clever, almost spoken word performance on the verses – lyrically providing yet more humble self-confidence and maintenance of the path you’re on in life, even in the face of critics and detractors. The Hoosong co-produced FIT is another high-paced affair – almost feeling like sped-up Amapiano with its traditional African percussive lines, the kick on a four-to-the-floor, inventive selection of synths and frantic bass. Spice’s singjay is extremely impressive here – hitting 10 syllables a second at one point while maintaining crystal-clear enunciation and perform melodic tricks all over the place. Impressively breath-stopping.
Bad Girl featuring Shaggy sees Kelly return on production – once more merging genres to create a sound that peaks and troughs throughout. The opening has that Dancehall clave across the instruments. It then moves into something Electro-Hip Hop with the relentless drums and eerie strings. But the track then flips again as the Dancehall clave is re-introduced across the bass and balafon – and so on. Spice is once more vocally solid – singing high up her register on the chorus with perfect clarity and tone. 10 closes with Nitey, co-produced by Tessellated. It’s a curious, hybrid affair that mashes traditional African percussion and instrumentation (balafon, an atenteben or similar) but with a grimy, distorted Trap bass and a sultry, seductive performance from Spice.
Across 10, there’s also an overriding message from its musical author. After Spice’s searing and thought-provoking 2018 song Black Hypocrisy and the equally message-led (and critical of her label) Captured Mixtape from which it originated, she continues to address specific political/social issues on tracks like Po-Po and Frenz. But as a project, 10 is full-on, female empowerment (admittedly along with a heavy dose of slackness and raw lyrics, too - not that that detracts). The album’s other feeling is one of unity in Dancehall culture and Jamaica more broadly – smashing the system’s stereotypes of both. This focus on female emancipation and cultural togetherness creates a stirring experience. But you can’t help but feel that Spice’s issues with VP Records over the years have influenced this, too. Her own personal Black, independent female empowerment here is stratospheric. Spice has gone full-throttle, in-your-face artistic matriarchy; so independent, it’s almost to the point of flipping the bird to VP in the process.
10 is an artistically and musically superb album. The production is all top-class; Spice is vocally and lyrically at the peak of her powers and the overriding self-assertiveness and emboldened feeling of Black, female power is head-spinning. But moreover, it has cemented her as one of the driving forces of modern Dancehall – and smashed the boundaries of what it means to be a woman in the industry. All hail the Queen – because Spice’s throne comes out of this positively glistening.
Spice - 10
DIGITAL RELEASE / CD [VP Records]
Release date: 08/06/2021
02. Send It Up
03. Go Down Deh feat. Shaggy & Sean Paul
04. So Mi Like It
05. Size Matters
06. Po-Po feat. Nicho
07. Don't Care
08. On Your Mind feat. Olaf Blackwood
10. Love Her
12. Different Sh*t feat. Melissa Musique
14. Bad Girl feat. Shaggy