Atlanta-Maryland based rap collective Spillage Village have been gradually building the ground for a breakthrough over the past years. Following their superb “Bears Like This…” compilation trilogy, and with each member building their solo profiles, the group started to take off in 2019 after key members EARTHGANG and JID were signed to A-list rapper J. Cole’s Dreamville label. Several Spillage members featuring on his hit album Revenge of the Dreamers III where the recent signees proved their worth, supplying many of the album’s standout moments. Now reuniting for the first time since their respective breakthroughs for their major-label debut, Spilligion, Spillage Village have marked themselves out as a force to be reckoned with in hip hop.
Spilligion is the latest album to be released that was recorded during the Coronavirus lockdown, with six key members isolating together, sharing a single house in Atlanta for the duration of recording. As one might hope and possibly expect from such a setup, the synergy between the artists is magnificent on the record, and the circumstances that led to such an unorthodox recording setup naturally bleed into the record’s four corners, inflecting its emotional highs and lows.
The collective is comprised of the aforementioned EARTHGANG, themselves a duo, Johnny Venus and Doctur Dot and JID, as well as Jurdan Bryant and producer Hollywood JB, who together form the backbone of the group. On Spilligion, they are joined by more recent recruits rapper 6LACK and singer Mereba, as well as guest artists such as Ant Clemons, Ari Lennox and Chance the Rapper, who last year went from rising star to corniest man in hip hop overnight, following the release of his critically panned album The Big Day.
The release of Spilligion was teased by one of the best singles of 2020, “End of Daze” featuring a haunting and psychedelic beat, eerie hook featuring the group’s combined vocals and phenomenal performances from all 6 core members. JID and EARTHGANG are such a perfect fit it’s often hard not to imagine them as a trio, with extremely complementary and similar styles of vocal delivery and flow. Their voices are often harmonised seamlessly to produce many of the album’s skin prickling choruses that are alternately uplifting and sinister. True to its title, the track envisages the end of the world, with the kind of religious and apocalyptic imagery woven throughout the record.
Each of the song’s 6 verses takes a different approach to this same imagery. The opening verse sees Doctur Dot profess his intentions to die the way he lived, lackadaisically continuing the gangster hustle as the rapture unfolds around him: “nonchalant on most occasions, apocalypse no different.” While JID humorously plans for his ascendance: “When I make it to the heavens, what’s the code? Do I call a phone? Security at the gate, no plus one, come all alone?” Hollywood JB also delivers a standout verse, the one most directly linked to global events in its commentary: “mask on, mask off, face the future like high noon, the news keep on sayin’ we’ll die soon.” Mereba and Jurdan Bryant deliver solid verses too and Johnny Venus provides a wistful sung outro to the track.
The album proper opens with a more grounded approach to the same themes, with an extended skit dramatizing a confrontation with a pastor and words of wisdom passing in front of a church. The group’s meditation on religion, Spilligion, then kicks off with another highlight, the second single, “Baptize”, where JID and EARTHGANG again mix biblical and pagan references with allusions to street life and contemporary police violence.
Other moments have less of a doomsday vibe, with tracks like “Mecca” calling back to the Afrocentric sounds of Atlanta forebears such as Arrested Development, singing “spread the love all ‘round the world”. The inspiring group vocals of “PsalmSing” on which singer Mereba takes centre stage, provide an almost gospel interlude, although Mereba’s grating vocal performance on the outro is rather hard to swallow.
The swooning guitars of “Ea’alah (Family)” are another graceful moment, although it’s Hollywood JB who steals the show on this track with a fantastic verse tributing his significant other standing by him at trial. JB’s bars on this verse are as clever as they are heart-warming, describing how she’ll break up his time in prison: “judge throw a sent’ and she gon’ be a comma”, and referring to her hourglass figure making time go faster.
Johnny Venus delivers on his verse too, delivering some very relatable and angry observations on the current pandemic and the way it has affected his family. The hook on this track is also an uncharacteristically sentimental moment from JID, who typically provides some of the most offhand and callous lyrics, as on one moment where he hilariously tells a homeless man to rob a bank and gives him money to buy a gun with.
The Ray Charles interpolations and twittering electronic beat on “Judas” are a winning moment and Chance the Rapper does somewhat redeem himself with his conscious verse featuring an excellent rhyme scheme and brilliant wordplay: “I know many moochers like Cab, they like to use us like movers in Ubers and cabs, Uncle Sam is the one that really could use a hijab. It’s hard to face it when you used to usin’ ghostfaces.” His flow and delivery still leave something to be desired, though; he almost sounds off-beat to me.
The closing leg delivers some softer and more romantically themed tracks, “Oshun”, “Cupid” and “Shiva”, before closing with a return to the more psychedelic and wittily portentous mood of “End of Daze”. The chorus on “Oshun”, an otherwise fairly standard love song, has an almost Grizzly Bear sound to it, with the slowly weeping guitars and strong kicks. Meanwhile “Shiva” has a lush, soulful RnB hook from Doctur Dot, “Cupid” a rich, vintage jazz instrumental outro and “Hapi” delivers the most euphoric moments of the album with a blissful piano and Johnny Venus’s stunning vocals.
As diverse as it is, Spilligion is a cohesive, confident and frequently stunning blend of sounds of jazz rap and RnB and of Biblical light and darkness. Certain key members JID, Hollywood JB, Johnny Venus and Doctur Dot do often outshine those they share the stage with, but the chemistry between the members is always stellar and the production is superb. Every beat is rich, enveloping and intoxicating, whatever effect it is aiming for.