Dr. Demento's reigning king of hip-hop humor is Devo Spice, also known as the front man of the rap parody band Sudden Death. Over time it became obvious that Devo Spice is to Sudden Death as KRS-One is to Boogie Down Productions - the latter simply doesn't exist without the former. This led to a low-key rebranding where Spice put himself at the forefront, which honestly makes perfect sense when looking at the liner notes to his latest CD "Gnome Sane?" Spice, also known as Tom Rockwell, is large and in charge on the majority of this 19 song CD handling lyrics, music and vocals all in one fell swoop. That's not to say there aren't cameo appearances and a few guest producers (we'll get to that) but it's pretty clear here that Spice isn't taking over the name as an ego thing. In fact if any rappers have puffed up egos about their importance in hip-hop, Spice's parodies are bound to take them down a peg or two. Take for example "I Hate Mondays," Spice's response to Asher Roth:
"I only got college for another three weeks
Trying to pass, I cheat off the geeks
For that to work I have to get to class
Which means, I really have to move my ass
So fill up my cup, coffee straight up
I drive in a daze like huh, who, what?
I make it to class but don't feel great
A one hour class, I'm fifty minutes late
Got a pop quiz, don't know what the topic is
Gonna have to take it, guess I'll just fake it
I see the worried faces, all over the places
Pray to three gods just to cover all the bases"
"I Hate Mondays" is the perfect antithesis to the college frat boy party life that Roth espouses, showing the consequences of being hungover, graduating with a low GPA, and winding up in an unsatisfying dead-end job. It's not really intended as a morality play though - just a humorous send-up of Roth's carefree lifestyle. Spice takes after Weird Al Yankovic in that his parodies aren't spiteful or mean-spirited - they just take three decades of hip-hop for a spin on the merry-go-round. Where it stops is not a mystery though - the song titles are your guide. "The Geeks Come Out at Night" featuring The Great Luke Ski flips Whodini into a tale of a comic book con gone wrong, but Spice could only be intimately familiar with the foibles from having been to a few himself. That's also why "Nothin' But a Geek Thang" featuring Worm Quarter works so well: he's making fun of himself and the occasionally pretentious nerdcore rap set at the same time. Like most Yankovic parodies, the beat is just different enough to get away with it but just familiar enough to get the point across. Oh, but did I tell you "Weird Al Didn't Write This Song" or any of the others? Maybe Spice is a little tired of the comparisons:
"I've got all the porn I can get, so now I'm searchin 'round the net
for some Metallica albums I haven't downloaded yet
They've had more misses than hits lately and greatly gone soft
But I do it just because I know it pisses them off
I go on another hunt and check another locale
for stuff I want and find a folder titled OLDER WEIRD AL
It's news to me but here's an early Billy Joel parody about buggary
called "It's Still Just a Hole to Me"
Believe me when I tell you the shock value astounds
It's a catchy little tune using crappy MIDI sounds
Recorded by a teen working in a machine shop
And the singer sounds like William Hung gargling a mop
How could anyone think Al had this done?
Oh right, the average IQ online is 81
So I give up, I don't even try to understand why
these songs are written by this WIRED Al YANKOVICH guy!"
Devo Spice isn't bothered by the comparisons to Weird Al at all - he's bothered by all the songs that get mislabeled as Al parodies that aren't. He's not exaggerating - there are thousands and thousands of mislabeled songs on the internet the Al-ster never did. The song serves another good point though - Spice's original material can be just as good and in some cases funnier than his parodies. His duet with Luke Ski called "Platform Wars" was the #4 most requested song on the Dr. Demento show in all of 2009, and it's a send up of all those "I'm a Mac - and I'm a PC" TV commercials that seem to have mercifully come to an end. It's among the non self-produced tracks on the album, as T. Uliasz steps in for a spell. Although Luke and Spice have fun taking potshots at each other in their respective roles, Linux REALLY gets taken to task by both when he tries to jump in (as played by Dual Core). I won't spoil it for you - you can check out the song's music video for yourself.
To this point we've clearly established that Devo Spice is a funny dude, whether as part of Sudden Death or on his own, and that "Gnome Sane?" is some of his best work to date. To be fair though there are a few caveats. Since Spice is a really nice guy, the barbs that might sting the sharpest are never really fired out of the quill. He's happy making fun of Twitter and of being broke on Christmas, but there's no song about Lindsay Lohan being a Hollywood lush or Perez Hilton being a self-absorbed pop culture blogger, and so on. He's almost too nice for his own good. And then there is the production - which most of the time is just fine and occasionally falls a little flat. That's why even though I could see where he was going with his parody of Drake's "Fancy" on "Enhanced," I didn't dig it much. His send-up of Eminem on "Not Amused" fares a little better but still doesn't quite go as far as it could have if the bite were JUST an iota tighter.
The point is that those who are into parody, humor and a lighthearted take on nerdy subjects will appreciate "Gnome Sane?" a great deal, and Sudden Death fans will be 100% on board. For those hearing Spice for the first time, starting at random could be a disaster, so it's best to hit them with "I Hate Mondays" right off the top - the album's best parody. Gradually you can get them on board with the rest of what this CD has to offer. There are more hits than misses, and the stumbling blocks are not trainwrecks or utter disasters, so overall "Gnome Sane?" is a great album for people who take hip-hop too seriously that could use a little break from the same old thuggin' and buggin'.
Music Vibes: 6 of 10 Lyric Vibes: 7.5 of 10 TOTAL Vibes: 7 of 10
Originally posted: May 17th, 2011