To be honest it's hard to know where to start with this review since realistically it's about ten years too late. Don't get it confused, this is a brand new album, but South Park Mexican has been ignored on this website as both a popular rap artist and underground cultural phenomenon despite over a decade of albums and I'm personally ashamed of that. No one's actually accused me of this but I feel like I disrespected LA RAZA by never reviewing one of his CD's before now. South Park Mexican is not without his share of controversy though, and it's not just for the sometimes violent and negative lifestyle of guns, drugs and money he portrays on his albums. SPM and his brother own their own record label Dope House and had a chance to make a difference for a lot of people when the rising popularity of hispanic rap landed them a major distribution deal with Universal; unfortunately SPM landed in jail on a charge of sexual assault in 2002 and flushed all of that success down the drain. I don't pretend to know all the facts on whether he's guilty or innocent, but I do know that if you're considered to be a "minority" (even though hispanic people will outnumber gringos in this country in 10-20 years) the system already has one strike against you and a background as a rap artist is gonna be strike two, so SPM was nearly out for the count before he even got to trial.
Rather than dwelling on a lot more legal shit you probably don't give a fuck about, let's get down to the nitty gritty. You may be wondering how South Park Mexican recorded a new album when he's been in jail the last four years. History has proven there are a lot of different ways to make this happen: you can record several years worth of new material before being incarcerated, you can record your raps right over a phone in the pen (provided the warden doesn't put a stop to it), or you can even hit up a studio if you're let out on a limited basis for work release. The producers of this album are refusing to say which of these methods he used, particularly since it appears to be specifically against Texas law to record a rap album while in the pen (you would think targetting a law that specifically at one genre or group would be a civil rights violation), but nonetheless "When Devils Strike" hit stores in October 2006 after a long-time absence from the scene that was little explained outside his core constituency. Some of the album does give the appearance of being done in advance, such as the album's opening track "At Shetoro's Crib (A Poem)":
"As I read this letter and as you listen
I know right now I'm either dead or in prison
I'm writing these words as my daughter sleeps
I pray this is something I never have to read
The year is two thousand and I've signed with Universal
All the hate can't stop me but it still hurts though
The smoke in my blunt can only hide my pain
My security is outside but I still sleep in the rain
They say that my lyrics destroy and kill
But I'm only trying to tell them that I know how they feel
I never had both of my parents
I was three when he left, and ended the marriage
Most things I rap about, I no longer do
Tomorrow is church and after that is the zoo
Diamonds and cars don't make a man happy
Your jewels in life are your friends and family"
There's little doubt listening to his somber spoken word delivery that SPM realizes that despite a rough childhood and a loco lifestyle that he's made mistakes which would (and have) cause him to lose the most important thing in his life - familia. It's a prevalent theme on "When Devils Strike," showing that SPM has a newfound maturity gained through adversity and that he wants so share some of the wisdom he has gained with the rest of the world. "The Day of Unity" is a slightly deceptive title though, because even though the sung chorus and certain lyrics reference the theme the song is mostly about his desire for redemption:
"I know the parent should never have a favorite child
But my Carley just so crazy and wild
My only daughter shes daddy's girl
And for her I'll buy the whole Astroworld
But she don't want money, she just wants me there
To watch her play piano or bush her hair
And I know is a million kids
That feel the same pain that my children's in
Forty five years cause they hate a G
To break loose from this modern day slavery
They want us in a cage and makin minimum wage
That's how this motherfuckin system was made
I lift weights, I play handball
I write Carley, I write my grandma
I'm writin a movie, and I'm sendin a copy
to Edward James Olmos, these hoes can't stop me"
Long-time SPM fans may be wondering if he spits any hardcore raps on the album, and will probably be pleased to know that despite his contrition on his condition he hasn't entirely abandoned his G ways. On "Garza West" he still claims to be "the rocker Betty Crocker cookin cookies and cakes" while liking to "ride horses like Mustangs and Porsches." He also shows his unique sensibility about pride in his heritage on "SPM Diaries" with the words "I can't stand a hoe, on a TV show/That say I'm hispanic around latino/Bitch you a Mexican, say that shit/Why the fuck is you actin scared to represent." It's the cajones he shows with his verbiage that has earned him such a loyal fanbase despite limited exposure outside the South and Southwest. And even though it may not do him any favors with the parole board, you can tell on "Real Gangsta" that SPM still feels his upbringing made him into a thug for life:
"There's a knock on his door it's his homeboy
Your mom's gone? He pulls out a chrome toy
Where'd you get that from? The kid asked
We broke into a house we got a bunch of shit stashed
It was the first time he ever held a real gun
To get one of these you gotta steal one
We too young they won't let us buy a gat
Now if they shoot at us we can fiya back
Who is they and why would they blast at me?
Cause you from the hood fool, this is family"
Almost every rap album these days seems to have at least one song designed to crossover no matter how hard the artist, and South Park Mexican is no exception. "Something About Mary" features guest vocals by Baby Bash, singing by Russell Lee, and a smooth strummed guitar by a musician simply named Wally - all self-produced by SPM. That amount of self-reliance has always been both a blessing and a curse, because even if you have an ear for a good hit they can't all be "Something About Mary" when you have to simultaneously write and produce your own shit. A lot of the beats on "When Devils Strike" fall flat as a result, which is really surprising when you consider SPM's brother could have hired outside producers to spice up this album and keep his name buzzing in the streets while he's locked up. "S.P. So Bastardly" is a good example - there's nothing incompetent about the song musically, but there's nothing memorable about the beat either. It doesn't help to have unmemorable beats when you have SPM's rap style, which is not your traditional hardcore flow. Even when talking about the darkest of imagery, SPM's low and smoky vocal tone combined with a slow delivery makes him sound incredibly mellow, like a dude that somehow stays naturally high 24/7.
"When Devils Strike" is ultimately an album only for hardcore SPM fans, but that argument can be made for every album in his career going all the way back to "Hillwood." As a narrator and storyteller he's as visual as any in the rap game but his verbal style is take it or leave it, and his production is unapologetically his own with very few other people ever getting a slice of that pie. This results in some songs that are mediocre and some that are outstanding, but all being uniquely SPM even when he does let somebody else behind the boards or share the vocal booth with a guest. The one thing that has changed the most on this latest release is that SPM seems more determined than ever to overcome the obstacles in his life to succeed, and to hopefully help uplift people around him in the process - not just his family but the whole family of Mexican and latino people everywhere. Those are noble goals but they can be hard to achieve in the state pen, so hopefully SPM can be acquitted at re-trial and go about living a righteous lifestyle after release that will enable him to live out the vision.
Music Vibes: 5 of 10 Lyric Vibes: 7.5 of 10 TOTAL Vibes: 6 of 10
Originally posted: November 7, 2006