Richie Spice tried a few different vocal styles before hitting on a winner—the post-Sizzla fire ‘n’ brimstone chanting that motored his 2000 breakthrough single, “Earth a Run Red.” Its lurid evocation of our planet soaked in blood opened from the veins of the unjust isn’t the tune’s main appeal, though—his crackling jazzman sensibilities always distinguished him from reggae’s pack. Though some of Richie’s post-“Earth” tunes tried too hard,
In The Streets showcases his distinctively Spicey sound: straight and unaffected, yet well within the parameters of the preference in these uneasy times for keening singjays warning of “armagedeon.”
Streets is the rare reggae CD in that almost every track is a standout, with Spice modulating his rough tunefulness and urgent delivery to suit the hard-nosed roots journalism of “Open the Door” and “Youth Dem Cold” as well as the delicacy of “Sunny Day.” But the set’s most satisfying achievement is Culture’s “Digital Days,” a wonderfully ironic and oh-so-right pairing with that group’s late, great Joseph Hill.
Even in his low-profile early days, Spice was his own man, eschewing dancehall’s latest flavas and avoiding toolbox stage monikers to signal he wouldn’t be crooning nicely rounded notes like his big brothers, Pliers and Spanner Banner. Reggae’s always liked to serve up juicy riddims to make fiery moral rhetoric go down easier. Spice is no exception, but his freshness is—a triumph of essence over mannerism.