Hype! Hype! Hype! Hype! Hype! Like winning the trifecta of tennis tournaments, Clinton Sparks hit each of his marketing marks this past year. Releasing the mixtape that made year-end charts, crafting the mash-up that almost saved Duets and producing the satellite radio show that led the pack (okay, so it’s not a very large pack) in guest appearances and exclusives, the Beantown native continues to make impressive strides into the industry. No surprise, then, that he titles his latest work Touch the Sky, even aside from the Kanye nod. An ambitious blend of bridezilla bombast, the mixtape also functions as the launch pad for the main event: his debut, Get Familiar, Vol. 1. Appropriately echoing to the tune of his signature refrain, “get familiar,” Sparks beats your memory with a bat to ensure you (a) know the name, and (b) cop that shit … whenever it actually comes out … which no one seems to know exactly … yet.
Of course, the bulletin-blaring approach works when the material leads the way. Sparks, known for lacing his tapes with his own productions, breaks rank here to produce most of the mix (twenty-two of the twenty-six music tracks) and lend the blend a sense of musical coherence. The first half takes the title literally: pipe organs, fat synthesizers and eardrum-crushing bass have a tantrum atop a Dance Dance Revolution pad. He draws mixed results from such hackneyed ideas of largesse. Hard pianos successfully bridge Busta Rhymes’ Dr. Dre collabo “Look Who” with D-Block’s “Take Everything,” mostly because the latter flips Tony Carey’s M.O.R. “We Wanna Live” in the same manner M.O.P. flipped Foreigner’s “Cold as Ice,” pulling aggression out of the unlikeliest source. Similarly, Sparks lays out Notorious B.I.G.’s well-worked “Rap Phenomenon” over a soft string arrangement that floats his throaty delivery in a new fashion. However, this bloated sense of drama tires quickly, as in P.Diddy and Biggie’s “Welcome to Bad Boy,” which flails about over gothic organs and emo Eminem bass.
Fortunately, Sparks uses the second half of Touch the Sky to work out new arrangements and stretch the format. Former Infamous Syndicate emcee and current DTP member Shawnna returns with Ludacris for a little “He Said, She Said” over pipe organs, 808s and pure slump. N.O.R.E. reunites surprisingly with Pharrell for a grindin’ J.B./O.D.B. burner “Watch Me Now.” Other highlights include a shticky jaw session with Alicia Keys (how many jokes about Unbreakable can you make?) and a freestyle from Q-Tip over “Golddigger” about peeling posters, jokes about Tribe and a stripper. The remainder of the material admittedly garners intrigue for exclusivity more than quality: Nas and Jay “unite” for another Frankenmix, “Twin Towers”; Kardinall Offishall gets a nod for his Scram Jones-produced “GFN”; Kanye and Busta ride Billy Garner’s “I Got Some” (used on Gang Starr’s “B.Y.S.” and during Shadow and Cut Chemist’s Brainfreeze session) break; and Young Chris and Peedi represent that Crakk and, uh, Hove.
While the relatively poor production value of a mixtape makes for a questionable ad campaign – the entire tape sounds like it was run through a digital wash, so you can hear every byte attempting to coagulate – Sparks still makes the point that he will have some goodies … soon. And, of course, who better to boost your project than the leader in self-boosters, the Louis Vitton Don himself.
Click here for sound sample from Clinton Sparks’ website (mp3).
‘Touch the Sky’ preview MP3 (Right Click Save As)
‘Smash Time Radio’ preview MP3 (Right Click Save As)