Urthboy’s latest offering since the critical and commercial success he enjoyed with his breakthrough album The Signal is another ambitious attempt to push the boundaries of Australian hip hop. Spitshine is a fitting title for an album that can boast some of the cleanest, most polished production you will hear in Australian music.
The MC’s hip hop lineage on this album can be drawn right back to his first band Explanetary, which included Angus Stuart (Elgusto) and Luke Dubber (Luke Dubs) who became hugely talented producers, meaning Urthboy has never been left wanting for production help. Their lasting work in Hermitude as writers and producers has always had a particular sound and approach but never a stagnant style. Elgusto tends to slower beats with massive bass and dirtier, darker effects while Dubs can be recognised by his laid back keyboard-driven funk melodies. Count Bounce (TZU) also features on the production roster, whose work on The Signal carries over to this record well. He serves up a crisper, more conventional hip hop production-style that can be heard on the second single ‘Ready to Go’.
While the music is typical of Urthboy’s dynamite production collaborations and the songwriting at the top of his game, the lyrics have taken a huge leap towards the artistic. Where his previous records blasted out songs with straightforward themes and ideas, Spitshine hides his thoughts in metaphor and airy choruses that leave you wondering exactly what is trying to be said. Perhaps this is a good thing but in a fickle music that relies very much on hard-hitting first impressions, you throw in some thoughtful complications or misdirection and you might just lose a segment of the audience. Urthboy has always been an artist who puts his message first, as arguably one of the most articulate Australian rappers when it comes to social issues, but the deeper subtexts here may confuse listeners.
Most tracks on Spitshine feature collaborations with different singers and MC’s, which makes the album even more diverse without subtracting from Urthboy’s sound or make it feel like a compilation. The Herd crooner Jane Tyrrell typically offers a blues sound to the sentimental ‘Strugglin’ and ‘Them Shackles’. Lior’s vocal addition is genius, disarming Urthboy’s unrelenting vocal attacks in ‘Don’t Sideline Me’. Also featured is underappreciated vocalist Mark Pearl of The Commas, who belts out some powerful motown sounds in the epic ‘Usher in the Cool’, a standout track if you can get past the MTV feel of it.
Spitshine is an example of what can be done with the right collaborations, an intelligent and diverse album that somehow walks a careful line between accessibility and risky experimentation. Urthboy has again proved that he is not just another MC or even another songwriter; he is part of a company of masters who each inject their own ingenuity to create something exceptional. This album stands out in a relatively emerging hip hop scene in Australia that should be old enough to know when to take things to the next level. Great to see it happening.