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Where do you turn at the end of the world? It’s a question that seems to become more pressing by the day. As the world we inhabit begins to look more and more apocalyptic by the day, it seems all the more urgent to find an answer as well. How does one stave off the sense of impending doom and get on with the process of just living through this hell on Earth?
It’s a question that also seems to have weighed heavily on the recording for Atlanta super crew Spillage Village’s new album Spilligion. Yes, that is a play on the word “religion,” an institution that factors heavily into the equation. In dire times, some turn to hedonism, some to nihilism, and many, to God — or at least to the instruments that purport to bring us closer to whichever deity we think can get us out of our current predicaments.
It’s no secret that we are collectively living through some dire times. All of the things we normally put our faith into — our leaders, our institutions, our sense of common decency, even our certainty in a shared reality — have been letting us down for months. It seems like it’ll take an act of divine intervention to slow the slide into chaos, but even our demiurges seem to no longer be taking our calls. Either that or to quote the film, the gods must be crazy.
So, it’s telling that Spilligion couches its themes in the language and style of one of society’s most reliable pillars to spread a different kind of gospel. Evoking a quasi-religious tone and content to ensure their message reaches deep into listeners’ bones, Spillage Village argues that while we distance ourselves from society to save our lives, only a sense of community and a deeper belief in each other can save our souls.
To that end, the music on the 12-track set draws from across Americana, especially Black traditions like jazz and gospel, fusing them with folksy banjo and out-of-tune pianos to suggest simpler times and echo the sentimental rhapsodizing of the group’s members. The result is a huge musical evolution from the group’s last outing, 2016’s Bears Like This Too Much. Where that album was obviously inspired by Atlanta’s hip-hop history, including Organized Noise and Dungeon Family, Spilligion is richer, more expansive, and more surprising than its predecessor.
For instance, on “Jupiter,” none of the rappers actually rap, despite the band’s membership boasting of lyrical machines like JID and Earthgang. Instead, they sing together as one (minus 6lack), expressing the closest thing the album has to a thesis: “So hold my hands and dance with me tonight / You know, they say we’re all about to die / And maybe it’s the love we all are tryna find / Who knows what lies, it’s only by design.” If this isn’t the essence of faith, what is?
The departure from their prior obsession with having the nicest bars is intentional, too. As Earthgang’s Doctor Dot (aka Wowgr8) says, “I’ve been over my lyrical phase, I’d rather be potent.” Even with that mission in mind, the bars fly fast and furiously, stacking syllables and slithering serpentine through tongue-twisting rhyme schemes. On “Judas,” guest Chance The Rapper obliquely demands an apology for the way you’ve all treated him with a verse that dispels the past year worth of criticisms with tantalizingly quotable gems like “I know my freedom papers ain’t my payment stubs / But how could you blame a n*** just for chasin’ Tubs?”
Chance’s presence here — and slight departure from the topic at hand — is ironic in light of his enthusiasm for the subject, but it’s clear that Spill Vil’s faith isn’t without its skepticism. On “End Of Daze,” the group ponders Armageddon and questions the will of a supposedly benevolent God who would let things get so bad that it really does feel like the end of the world. They also suggest solutions that would make any “turn the other cheek” Christian clutch their rosary a little tighter. “When the poor people run out of food,” snarks JID, “They can eat the rich.”
By the time “Jupiter” rolls around to close the album, the group has called on gods from across cultures, from “Cupid” to “Shiva” to “Hapi,” arriving at the conclusions the final song offers: Nobody knows what’s going to happen, but we’re all in this together, no matter who we pray to. The use of its broad range of musical traditions ties this sentiment uniquely to America and its diversity of histories and beliefs, all woven together to form one distinctive harmony, and a new religion — one that binds us rather than divides. Spilligion may be one group of Atlanta kids’ reactions to feeling like the world’s gone to hell, but its message is one of hope, reminding us all to look to each other and keep the faith.
Spilligion is out now via Dreamville / Spillage Village. Listen to it here.