Album Reviews by Mark Bayross and EDF
Review by Mark Bayross
Having supported Fun Lovin’ Criminals, Spooks and Nelly Furtado, not to mention his membership of the Dream Warriors and US3, Canadian-born Hussain Yoosuf – known to the rest of us as Spek – has now released his debut album.
Produced for the most part in conjunction with Brian Rose, DON’T SWEAT THE SMALL STUFF is a supremely mellow collection of beat-backed acoustic strums that Spek admits comes close to being the hip hop soundtrack to his “own episode of The Wonder Years”.
The layers of production are certainly impressive – SMELL THE COFFEE fuses playful whistling to a shuffling beat and then throws in bursts of electric guitar, scratches and, towards the end, some suitably spacey wailing. As with much of this album, the song’s teenage angst is heavily autobiographical – “I was in love, she was in home economics” – and it’s this personal glasnost that gives the music much of its charm.
When you add to this touches like sampling his Dad enthusing over Leonard Cohen and his friend Katia delivering “sporadic mumblings in her cool Greek accent”, you have an album that feels not just personal, but universal. We can all relate to these stories of unrequited love and trying to make sense of new surroundings.
On DON’T SWEAT THE SMALL STUFF, Spek demonstrates an ability to produce a seamless blend of musical ideas that, much like his own background, can’t help but add spice to the mix.
Review by EDF
Riding on a wave of autobiographical hip-hop tunes is Canada’s own Spek.
Spek, real name Hussain Yoosuf, was born in Montreal and at the age of fourteen, his family had to move to the little Italy district of the city due to the collapse of the family business. Teaming up with new school chum Sean Merrigan, he asked Spek to join his hip-hop group the BLIZZARDZ OF POETRY when he noticed Spek writing poetry. Not knowing too much about the genre, Merrigan schooled Spec into all that was hip-hop and rap, from past to present day. Upon hearing about another Canadian band that were breaking it big internationally, Spec and Merrigan went to investigate the DREAM WARRIORS when they came to Montreal.
Quickly becoming friends, they are both invited to the gig. Unfortunately as Spec was under-age and could not attend the gig due to the alcohol licensing laws, the DREAM WARRIORS invite them down to the sound check and sneaked them in to the gig. Later on the DREAM WARRIORS DJ Luv acts as producer to the BLIZZARDZ’s demos. Three years later Spec and Merrigan go their separate ways and Spec joins the DREAM WARRIORS.
Two albums later, Spec leaves the group to pursue his own musical direction and is called up by the British Jazz Rap act US 3 to help them out on tour. When the tour finished, Spec stayed in London and in 1997 got signed up on a publishing deal with Warner Chapel, bought himself some equipment and taught himself how to create his own music. His references to his unique style of music include Simon and Garfunkel, Soundgarden, Joni Mitchell, Mazzy Star and De La Soul.
Sounding like it’s ten years too late with its DE LA SOUL influence, it is hard not to like this album. Tracks like SMELL THE COFFEE and BACK HOME are fun in an honest sort of way and you can relate to some of the things mentioned in the songs. It is difficult to guess but most of the songs here could be released as a single. There is enough space within the songs that allow them to breathe without overproducing them to death. With its complex beats and effective guitar riffs, whether it’s the electric DON’T WANNA DANCE or the acoustic HEY JONI, there is enough hear to grab your attention.