Independent (January 21, 2009)
Review by Trey Palmisano
The aptly titled The Grown Folks Table is precisely that: It’s what happens when the average listener graduates from the thumping bass lines and synthetic sounds of hip hop to the less fractious and more college radio friendly terrain of soulful easy listening. It’s also what happens when lead singers and hip hop artists break away from the identity with which they built their career, namely as band leaders. This transition evidences a maturity that even someone like Snoop Dogg or Ice Cube must face. You can do gangster rap, but eventually everyone will find out that you’re living in the suburbs with a wife and children.
While such transitions may be hard for rap gangsters who feel their age and a few more aches and pains, all of which makes it a bit less believable that they’re dodging cops on their city streets, Speech’s music was never pulled in the direction of parties, drugs, and violence, so that there isn’t much “pulling of the wool” since his persona never fit neatly into the stereotypical “rap” sound. The album is a somewhat muted expression of life despite the occasional reference to black empowerment topics. It speaks of family and friends and having all he could want. The struggle is much more about the daily operation than protesting out in front of a racist establishment or recounting the horrors of past injustices. What the album shows is a person who is very comfortable with the here and now.
The mix of singing and rapping is a staple of Speech’s unique vibe. The chill musical score is backed by rhymes that preach on issues like the celebration of virtuous women amidst a world that celebrates the one-night-stand and the trick. Speech gets some help from veteran rappers like Braille and Theory Hazit. Tracks like “Fading Away” mellow out the environment. “Heaven” is an uplifting and glorious tribute to heaven on earth and the heaven believers will one day inherit.
The biggest problem is that while I enjoy the occasional vocal accompaniment on a hip hop track, when nearly every track is laced with vocals, it becomes repetitive. Again, this is Speech’s style, and it’s not for everybody.
Nevertheless, there is so much good stuff going on here, the feel-good sound, the deep and meaningful rhymes, all come from a good place. These aren’t popular messages, but if you’re a steadfast and loyal Sphere of Hip Hop fan, you’ve come to expect more from your artists, and I’m happy to report that Speech is on this level.
For fans of: Arrested Development, jazzy hip-hop