Hip-hop Family Man Spins Positive Personal Values on Vibe-Abundant Debut Solo LP 'Identity'
After more than a decade of making music and playing live shows with his band The Dudes, OKC emcee Spence Browne released his official full-length debut Identity this year. Featuring songs about marriage (“Holy Matrimony”), family (“Wake Up”) and faith (“Life Is But a Vapor”) and production by TonyToneBeatz, the album consciously differs from most of the hip-hop you’re likely to hear this year in sound and subject matter.
“Being 40, I never want to tell young folks how to hip-hop,” Browne said. “As a young person, they’re going through whatever they’re going through. They probably can’t even fathom marriage right now, or fathom having children, so they’re going to talk about what they want to talk about. That’s what I love about hip-hop, too. It’s your freedom of expression. Hip-hop, to me, shouldn’t have an age.
“I was born in ‘81. Prior to that, hip hop was almost … I don’t want to say it was an infant, but it was kind of still young, so it was harder to see your grandpa rapping, your dad rapping, but us ‘80s babies, we’re becoming fathers. Some of us are grandpas. But does that mean that we don’t do this music that we’ve loved and that has gotten us through everything, because there’s an age limit we got to stop, or if we’re still doing it we have to be cool like the young kids? … Look at Willie Nelson, he’s still rocking out. … And now we’re seeing Jay-Z, Nas just dropped something not too long ago.
“As we just get older, and we keep living life, hip-hop is still here, and I think it’s going to be, I guess, more acceptable for us older folks to do this, as long as you’re being true to yourself and true to the art form, as well.”
As he gets older, Browne feels more responsibility to master his artistry in a way that inspires others.
“Identity is really an album about self-actualization,” Browne said. “It takes you through that journey in hopes of helping the listener find their journey to self love.”
When a friend described the album as therapy for the soul, Browne felt he’d accomplished what he set out to do. Recording Identity while working from home during the pandemic offered Browne his own therapeutic outlet during the chaos and uncertainty of last year.
“I was able to just go and find my comfort in writing songs,” Browne said. “When have I ever really had a lot of time to just sit and listen to beats, to just scream at the top of my lungs in the house with no kids and no wife or nothing, just rapping? … That was also a feeling of connecting with my younger self.”
Though he recorded them during the pandemic, meeting with TonyToneBeatz about once a month to record tracks — and occasionally helping guide the backing vocals provided by Grace Davis, Michala Davis and Phillip Davis II on speaker phone — Browne said he wanted the songs on Identity to work well with a live band when concerts returned.
“I wanted it to be melodic,” Browne said. “Kids these days like to vibe out, and I hate saying ‘kids these days.’ It makes it sound like I’m old. … I don’t want the music to sound dated, but I also don’t want to sound like an older person trying to sound young. … I really felt like I was definitely being me in 2020, or 2021.”
Beatz, who began playing with The Dudes before he was old enough to get into some of the bars they performed at on his own, was an obvious choice for capturing Browne’s live vibe in the studio.
“We’ve had that chemistry,” Browne said, “so when we got back together it was like we never fell off.”
Browne said he was inspired to put meaningful lyrics over danceable grooves by the music of Bob Marley.
“When you actually listen to the words of a lot of Bob Marley songs you’re like, ‘Man, he’s really speaking about something,” Browne said. “He never swayed from the message. … Musically, you’re going to vibe, you’re going to feel this, but I always want to make sure that my message is getting across and I’m resonating. And in order for me to resonate, I can only speak my truth, which is I am a father. I am a husband. I do believe in certain things that help me be the best person that I could possibly be.”
As the father of a 23-year-old, a 10-year-old and a 3-year-old, Browne was also inspired by the way Marley’s music “touches all generations.”
“You can listen to it with your grandma, and you can listen to it with your child,” Browne said.
While some artists might find it limiting to make music appropriate for grandparents and children, Browne has always strived to be family friendly.
“I’ve always wanted a family,” Browne said. “Seeing my dad, how much he loved us and my mom, I just always wanted to have kids, and I always envisioned myself having kids. So even when I was a young adult, I always wrote with it in mind, ‘Is this something that I would like my children to hear?’ — even before I had my children. So, ‘How am I talking about women? … Heartbreak, how do I talk about that? What teaching moments am I putting into these lyrics?’
“I’m not knocking anyone else who doesn’t, but that’s just my truth. … That’s where I’m comfortable with my artistry. I would not be comfortable calling females that other name or explicitly talking about what we’re doing in the bedroom. I’m not comfortable talking about abusing substances, and I’m sure people don’t care about what I’m wearing.”
Browne said he knows his style isn’t for everyone, but some listeners may come to appreciate his music more over time.
“I’m all about just just resonating with the audience, and if it touches you, it does,” Browne said. “If not, I’ll just move on and maybe catch you later.”