The last time we heard from K. Sparks was his previous Jazz Hip-Hop infused release Urban Couture. Deemed an underground classic due to its content and live instrumentation, Sparks further lamented his legacy as an underground mainstay. Fast forward to 2018 he releases his latest anthology Note to Self. Packed with powerful content tackling various issues such as depression, religion, social injustice, and self-awareness. Sonically pushing Hip-Hop forward with explosive production from French producer Kurser, seamlessly combining classic rap music with a modern sound. If Urban Couture was one of the best underground rap albums in 2017, Note to Self raises the bar. Sparks is able to simultaneously display his skills, consciousness, self-reflection, aggressive presentation, and solid production while keeping the listener intrigued. But here he raises the bar while raising the bar even further with his rhyme schemes and various flow patterns. The rhymes on songs like “Say Less,” “April In Paris,” “Standoffish,” “Systematic” and “Autumn in New York” come fast, furious and almost purist in approach. In an era where lyricism is often regarded as a thing of the past, Sparks is bridging the gap.
On Already Gone, he presents as a therapist openly discussing the mess in his mind with multiple introspective thoughts. Whether his problems are external (the death of his mother from breast cancer, or identifying his brother’s dead body), internal (pride, arrogance) or something indifferent. His content remains consistent and razor sharp, pulling back the curtain of success while exposing the harsh realities of self-introspection “I pray, I may just stay away to keep my sanity”. Production from Kurser is a perfect marriage with Sparks artistic direction. The sonic landscape provided elevates the content and hooks to a different level.
Of course, this is K. Sparks, so he makes it a point to put on a rap clinic. Particularly the song Standoffish. Taking a bold stance while putting musicians on notice they have an obligation to elevate their lyrical stance when competing, “Black people bigger chains, Jews bigger bank accounts”. He’s well thought out, complex, intricate, multifaceted, and a walking contradiction. However, it is that contradiction that makes him human, thus making his content relatable. Combining elements of self-realization while combating his inner demons ultimately allows the listener to celebrate Sparks’s biggest triumphs in conjunction with his biggest failures.
That’s the eclectic part about Note to Self. This album appears to be crafted as mental thoughts highlighting individual facets of daily life. Those thoughts constantly shift with situations that cause emotional reactions from anger, happiness, love, hate, and etc. Once that concept is understood it’s easier to comprehend as the album shifts from topic to topic. It plays as visual sound, a sonic masterpiece of sorts shifting characters in multiple scenes.
The overall theme here is happiness while crafting several experiences in between. On Systematic, he discusses love from the perspective of a realist, “This ain’t no fairy tale nah.” Delving deeper into the depths of relationships he boasts, “It’s an us thing, that’s a trust thing.” Then, on “Strip 4 Me,” he discusses the inner dealings of his community in Queens New York. Drug dealing, murder, and public housing encompassing the scenery for his storytelling abilities. And even then, you can correlate that all of these experiences translate into the pursuit of happiness.
Spark’s gift is not just that he can rap, but he is able to inject realism. The song Side Effects hits hard with “I’m just conversating about’ my life, I don’t make rap”. The simplistic guitar loop combined with whistling crafted by Kurser provide the perfect landscape for his conversational introspective raps. He has the ability to intrigue the listener combining strength and pain with the same intensity, and it’s that ability that makes him such a massive force. Listening to Note to Self is like watching a game at the Rucker in Harlem. You quickly recognize this is a talent meant to compete on the big stage. Every line from Sparks is like Curry and Harden, he misses nothing. “Underground or mainstream they loving this, I got a harder job than Donald Trump publicist,” he raps with ease.
Note to Self is a brilliant combination of the timeless and the modern, the old school and the new school combined. A talented rapper that continues to display his greatness while mastering his mental notes to self.