Last updated: 02/23/2009 11:00:00 AM
The dictionary defines a spook as a ghost: a specter. A secret agent or aspy. To spook someone is to haunt them, to startle them in some way as to cause momentary disturbance and shock. It's a word loaded with hidden meanings, one that can be derogatory and celebratory. Spooks is a word that holds numerous connotations: a word that refuses to be limited to just one definition.
With the release of their of their Antra/Artemis debut Spooks takes on a whole new meaning. Spooks are 4 MCs, (Mr Booka-T aka Bookaso, Water Water aka Aqua Dinero, Hypno, J.D. aka Vengeance) one vocalist(Ming-Xia) and a live band on a lyrical and musical mission to boldly take hip hop where it damn well oughta be by now. On stage and on wax, Spooks come armed with intelligence, insight, inspiration and the desire to shake the status quo up with a sound and a fury that is unmistakably their own. As Water Water somewhat enigmatically puts it, "We're making music that comes from the shadows."
That murky mysterious essence extends to not only the Spooks' groove but their vibe and background as well. Ask the members of the group from whence they hail and the normally chatty fivesome grow quiet, only allowing that they all met in 1994(through friends and co conspirators) and that they all are from the eastern half of the US. The Spooks reticence to divulge information is based not on some coy need for privacy but is part of their M.O. All of the members are huge fans of spy novels; hence the aliases and sotto voce underground steelo.In fact part of the inspiration behind the name comes from the cult novel and subsequent movie "The Spook Who Sat By the Door."
As far as disclosing their individual native zip codes? Method to the madness. "If you hear that someone's from so and so place then you immediately categorize them and listen to them as oh, he's from Atlanta, or she's from Jersey,"explains Mr. Booka-T ."If we were truly representing some region, we'd say that. But we know that our sound is more diverse than just that." "Each of the MCs comes from a different place and so you hear that in the way they flow," Water Water says."It's not like with some hip hop groups where the slang is the same and the style is the same. We're all over the map because we're hard to pin down.. literally."
That freewheeling, yet true to the fundamentals of hip hop, attitude is abundant throughout Spooks' debut. As one might expect from hip hop heads that site everyone from Bjork, U2, Cold Crush Brothers, Portishead, James Brown, Earth Wind and Fire and Radiohead as sonic influences, Spooks is one group that willfully throws out the play book and definitely and creatively colors outside of the so called urban music lines. Case in point the soulful first salvo, "Things I've Seen".
Laced with Ming-Xia's stunning vocals and spiced by the rapid fire word play of the other members of Spooks, "Things I've Seen" is from the heart and down to earth: reality set to a banging beat. "Things I've Seen" really deals with duality, "Mr. Booka-T explains."It tells a story and then offers the flip side of that story." The song's inspiration came from viewing a rough cut of Once In The Life, a gritty slice of life film which marks the directorial debut of Laurence Fishburne. Spooks was asked by the film's producers to come up with a track that matched the movie's tale of two brothers headed on divergent paths." We took that basic theme, and just made it bigger," Water Water says." Like things I've seen, "interjects Ming-Xia." I've seen chaos and beauty at the same time, those contradictions that seeing the movie brought out in us as writers."
It's not just with their words or themes that Spooks do their own thing. From the beats to the live instrumentation to the samples, every note andbnuance that goes into a Spooks track like the playful "Something Fresh" is constructed with the express hope of avoiding the obvious and the trendy. As Ming-Xia puts it "We tend to be attracted to the beats that are a little bit off." "The beats that are spooky, " laughs Water Water. "We don't go into the studio with a premeditated idea, "continues Mr Booker-T, "and we don't just smoke a blunt and sit in front of the console waiting for the light bulb to go off. The one rule we do have is that every one is this group is equal and that anyone's idea, no matter how crazy it might sound, gets a shot. And sometimes it's that craziest idea that ends up being the one we use."
Crazy perhaps but ideas that spring from a deep seated love of the culture and the art form. Much of the Spooks debut deals with the joy of making the music: the give and take and ebb and flow that comes from gathering in a circle and creating. As such the songs serve as an introduction to the Spooks and a chance to peep their philosophies about life, love the streets the skies and everything in between. "We try and show the different sides of things," Ming-Xia says. "We try and touch on every aspect of a situation, without being too preachy or overtly political we try and get people to hear something from a new perspective."
From chance meetings in back alleys and night clubs, to throwing it down on the mike to recording on tape to taking it to the stage, Spooks have gone for theirs their own way. Finding the balance between entertainment and enlightenment. Giving the heads something they can feel and yet being brave enough to reach out to an audience you'd least expect to get it.
'Ultimately if you are who you are, people will recognize that. Spooks are who we are, we aren't trying to be something we're not. We know we are something different. We know what we're doing and what we can bring the people," Water Water says.
Adds Ming-Xia,"The best thing I could hope for when people hear our music is that they will walk away and say damn! Hip hop can be everything. Hip hop is limitless and there are no boundaries on what hip hop can say or think or feel or the ways it can sound."
Spooks: A new definition for a new era in hip hop.