The children of Dreamville came together for the creation of a greater good in 2014, and in that same year, ‘Bears Like This’ came to light as the first-born mixtape belonging to a trilogy. Four years since their last project, the supergroup composed of EARTHGANG, JID, Mereba, 6lack, Hollywood BJ, JurdanBryant, and last but certainly not least, producer Benji., deliver their chef-d’oeuvre, namely their debut album ‘Spilligion.’ The album itself seems predestined: the supergroup bound to create such a body of work during a global pandemic, forcing such disparate talents into one space to create.
The 12-track project is, in essence, an amalgamation of the events that marked the latest months of 2020, turning itself to religion while dealing with the brutality of the ongoing violence in the U.S., and a rampaging virus that knows no hierarchies or status. It accounts for each of these individuals’ feelings and the struggle that is to be black and see your brothers and sisters suffer, but it’s in each other’s company that they find solace.
‘Spilligion’ rounds at around 50 minutes, with skits and interventions that lift the atmosphere when needed. Atlanta natives Desi Banks, Kountry Wayne, and Big Rube open up the album with an incredible skit, while Chance The Rapper, Masego, Lucky Daye, Ant Clemons, and Christo redeem their presence throughout the tracks that follow. ‘Spill Vill’ sets a religious tone, repeatedly directing their inquests toward God in the hope of ascertaining its intentions and its role in the lives of African Americans. Further on in the skit, Rube delivers a comparison between Shaka Zulu and Jesus being equally as black, concluding that any argument about which will only serve to divide people, rendering them easy prey.
The dialogue is followed by the first song on the album, ‘Baptize’ with album invitee Ant Clemons, which continues to explore the album’s religious themes, while encapsulating some of what was occurring in the world as the record was being created. Christo, Hollywood BJ and Olu set the perfect atmosphere for a track that intertwines biblical references with the testimonies of police brutality over an ominous beat; “Police, they beat me / We storm the same streets / We storm the same block / Won’t stop ’til we free / […] White on white tracksuit, ’cause you know who run it.” It’s in situations that Spillage Village’s baptism rite entails educating the youth lyrically, and Hip Hop has proved itself as being a powerful tool for proliferating awareness on important matters.
Introducing a new sonic approach, vocalist Mereba affects a shift in tone thanks to her sweet and tender voice, to which JID, Johny Venus, and Benji completely surrender. ‘PsalmSing”s sonic palette is filled with airy vocals, with squad members singing in unison at the top of their lungs, while Mereba effortlessly slides through the effects of weed usage; a high that pales in significance compared to how her lover makes her feel.
If by now, Spillage Village hasn’t given enough out on to their bond and sense of connection within the group, ‘Ea’lah’ might make you come to terms with it. Meaning ‘family’ in Arabic, the track carries the same sweetness and Neo-praise feeling from ‘PsalmSing’, while assuming a more serious narrative. JID reveals his family, money, love, but mostly peace, as the subject of his prayers during these turbulent times. It’s never been a secret that the born and raised East ATLien shows no fear in contemplating life, wearing his heart decidedly on his sleeve. Each MC follows suit; addressing the conflicts the Black community have to deal with on the daily; systemic racism and consequent deaths at the hands of a brutal police force. Without losing a sense of hope, Hollywood JB delivers righteous words of encouragement and recognition to his brothers and sisters: “This one for the people in my corner, yo, we finna own a buildin’ / And stand on the corner, with our children / Teachin’ them the angles, so they no stranger / To the shape of a million shinin’ cause we are brilliant”. Venus closes the track addressing the current pandemic, as a reminder that this virus knows no social stratification, affecting the poor, but inevitably the rich too.
Whether it’s Hinduism, Christianism, or Islam, religion regularly makes its comeback into the full-rounded narrative, either to give context for each track or giving a literal heads-up of what we’re about to hear. ‘Mecca’ is no excuse, being both a tribute to Africa and to the community itself. The birthplace of Muhammad and the holiest city within Islam, located in Saudi Arabia, Mecca is “a center for a specified group, activity or interest”. In the United States, there are cities referred to as “black Meccas,” since those are places with harmonious black-white race relationships, and where the black community finds superior economic opportunities due to the establishment of middle and upper-class families, plus the success and investment in black businesses. The grand majority of the group easily associates their childhood to the Black Mecca that has seen them grow, namely Atlanta, which taught them to “spread love all around the world.”
‘Judas’ sees the clan reunite with the rest of the Dreamville signees; opening space for Chance The Rapper and Masego. Ari Lennox gives a beautiful soulful twist to the R&B track through interpolation of Ray Charles’ ‘Hit The Road Jack.’ While there’s a loose discussion of racism history with an emphasis on the United States, the narrative quickly shifts towards betrayal and how many artists seemed to turn their back on family members and close friends after reaching a certain level of success and attaining wealth, with Chance adding: “I know my freedom papers ain’t my payment stubs / But how could you blame a n*gga just for chasin’ tubs”. Masego finishes off with year another tribute to Charles, with a flow that resembles verses from ‘I’ve Got A Woman.’
The seventh track, which marks more than half of the album, reintroduces love and admiration, namely towards a female significant other. Following the thread of songs named after religious figures or events, ‘Oshun’ is named after the homonymous goddess of divinity, femininity, fertility, beauty and love. Producers Christo, Benji., Hollywood BJ, Chelsey Ova, and even Olu laid the perfect structure for an enticing atmosphere, whereas 6lack makes the most out of it with his signature mellow flow. The way these young men feel about their ladies is truly admirable: “Never kiss and tell ‘bout you / Never say the things you do / My love is the deepest”. Fellas, note that down.
While ‘Oshun’ revels into warmth and softness, ‘Cupid’ brings back the swing with remarkable energy. Lucky Daye finally makes his debut, giving voice to a chorus that’s reminiscent of ’50s & 60’s love songs of old. The track pays tribute to the women in Spill Vill’s lives: “She her own woman, man, I can’t control her / And that’s why I love her and bend her over / Tell me who you call when your dress ain’t dropped / And your shit don’t knock, and you’re walkin’ through the mall / And the J’s just dropped, but you’re late for the line / And you don’t want pops and you’re wasting your time / Call me, I put the sweetness back in your line.”
Next up on the tracklist is ‘Shiva’, which entitles Benji. and Jurdan Bryant to deliver their lyrical content as true multidisciplinary artists. Also known as Mahadeva, Shiva is the supreme being within Shaivism, one of the major traditions within contemporary Hinduism. Known as the ‘The Destroyer’ within the Hindu trinity Trimurti, Shiva is one who creates, protects, and transforms the universe, destroying and regenerating paths and affecting changes into our lives. Carrying a sense of nostalgia and melancholy, Doctur Dot sings about living on the down-low lately, which I’m sure a lot can relate to: “I got more than fifty shades of grey (…) / Livin’ in a house of blues (…) / Takin’ it day by day”. Venus, later on, opens up about how he truly feels, delivering the kind of vulnerability that lets the listener know their struggle is shared: “Now that we’re sittin’ here reminiscin’ / I just picked a pen up to mention / Maybe illustrate my tears on construction paper (…) / (…) I need me someone to talk to / I need me someone to lean on / All on the floor, I’m a mess.” These men have spent their time dropping hints on their mental health state, reminiscing on the weight and constant dread of having to fight between systemic racism and the social injustices practiced within their own country and ruling government, so it comes to no surprise that they too need time to process their emotions: “(…) if Black lives matter, it feel good to be black / But you know where we at.”
‘End of Daze’ is Spilligion’s lead single, exploring a doomsday scenario which sees each member letting the world know what their life would be like if the world was coming to an end.
‘Hapi’, on the other end, guides us towards the ending of a ride. Mereba and Big Rube lead the vocals over a preachy and piano-driven production, where destiny seems to be bound: “I met a man playin’ in the woods, his piano was off-key /He sang to me softly, I bet he wouldn’t change it if he could / Gunshots ringin’ in my hood, they sound so off-beat / I’m prayin’ they don’t off me / I promise I’d change it if I could.” Rube goes on with some enlightening verses: “Your freedom is beyond anyone outside of yourself’s controllin’ / It can’t be bought and sold, given away, or even stolen / It’s a divine entitlement, vital to the nourishment of the soul.”
The album comes to an end with the folk conclusion of ‘Jupiter’, featuring all members of Spillage Village singing in unison, not fearing what’s in store for them. There’s also space for some final acknowledgments: “Hopefully, you find what you need / Searchin’ through the birdies and the mollies and the weed / We fall down, sometimes, on our knees / So hold my hands and dance with me tonight.”
‘Spilligion’ is much-needed act of defiance within its context; an over-saturated industry obsessed with lust and excess. ‘Spilligion’ provides an alternative to this inertia, making their truth heard during such a politically and socially unstable time. Stream below via Spotify.