Introducing ‘Notes from Mr. Sandman‘ – a column slapping a spotlight on lyricists overlooked, under appreciated, or just plain criminally slept on. Or like a man named Nas once said, “I never sleep, cause sleep is the cousin of death.” Enter Mr. Sandman with what y’all missed while chasing the REM dragon. 

Spice 1 is a lyricist from California who was a key figure in the gangster rap scene. He was a Too $hort protégé and penned the type of narratives that would offer insight into what it was like to walk the streets of some of the most dangerous neighborhoods in the country.

Spice 1’s style is draped in flash, charisma and bravado; the type of persona needed to propel himself out of the streets and into the limelight. Spice 1 capitalized off the sounds of future-funk pioneers like Parliament and Roger Troutman, and he helped usher in the famed g-funk era; an ambassador for one of the most popular factions of rap.

Spice 1’s self-titled debut helped put gangster rap on the map. Spice 1 along with Dr. Dre, Ice Cube, Eazy-E and a handful of others embraced the sound and used it as a way to promote the lifestyle that they grew up and thrived under. Spice 1 is an introduction to the west coast through the eyes of a certified gangster. It’s uncut, funky, raw and crass; a series of stories that repped the creativity and turbulence coming out of the west.

Welcome to the Ghetto” helped propel Spice 1 into the spotlight. It dropped during the L.A. Riots, and showed some of the dire circumstances that people in the ghetto were facing. By today’s standards it may seem mild, but back then it sent shock waves into the system; a wake up call that reinvigorated hip-hop: [LISTEN]

Spice 1 would follow up his debut with an equally explosive album in 187 He Wrote. The formula remained largely the same, but he was able to give his narratives a deeper polish; the beats and lyrics grew more menacing, capturing the grave nature of life in the streets.

The style emulated that of Iceberg Slim, relentless stories of the hood that were as captivating as they were disturbing. For Spice 1 it was second nature and the ease in which he rapped about the horrors he faced added a new dimension to rap culture.

During this time the mainstream media was coming down hard on gangster rap, accusing lyricists of glorifying violence and promoting criminal activity. Racial tension was at a boiling point, and Spice 1 was unapologetic about promoting what he thought was an accurate portrayal of his life. He was capturing the growing rage towards injustice and even touched upon personal issues like loyalty and mental health.

The title cut “187 He Wrote” spells it out in plain English. Spice 1 was born into this, and it goes back generations. It’s in his blood and whether the critics agree with it or not is secondary to the untold truth: [LISTEN]

Spice 1 would release albums at a steady clip, and all the while he’d maintain the same philosophy. Little had changed in his world and he saw no need to shift his point of view despite pressure from his label. His refusal to budge gave credence to the idea of keeping it real and never loosing sight of what matters most.

Spice 1 has released over 20 albums with each capturing a different side of street life. Spice 1 gave a voice to those who didn’t have one, and his tales are authentic snapshots of what it’s like to live day to day knowing that tomorrow isn’t promised. He had to fight for everything and challenged authority the only way he knew how which was to share his experience with the world and show people that equal opportunity is an ideal not a guarantee.

Trigga Gots No Heart” is one of Spice 1’s most popular songs. It captures the urgency of what’s going on around him, and how dangerous life in the hood is. A reminder that what is the American Dream to some is a nightmare to others: [LISTEN]