“A gimmick, a sonic choice, or something in between.” It’s difficult to categorise Spark Master Tape, an anonymous rapper of undisclosed origin. Nor is it difficult to imagine a cult following developing around such a figure, especially in the wake of two fantastic, if abstruse and recondite mixtapes.
In spite of his enigmatic personality, there are a few things we do know about Spark. Active since 2012, he released his first mixtape, Syrup Splash in 2012, and followed it up the next year with The #SWOUP Serengeti. The support of tastemaking Hip-Hop blogs Mishka NYC and PassionWeiss were instrumental in bringing Spark to the forefront of the underground scene. Both tapes were produced by Paper Platoon, who is every bit as enigmatic a personality. Regardless, we don’t know who he is either. Other affiliated artists include DJ Charlie Chikken Soup, Kai Skywalker, and Dat Nigga NuG. Additionally, Paper Platoon is the name of the visual and musical collective that these figures operate under. Spark also operates a YouTube and Facebook account, but manages to retain an aura of obscurity. The only confusing thing that doesn’t add to fans’ enjoyment, however, is the fact that we haven’t heard any music or any social media updates for the best part of a year.
Syrup Splash and The #SWOUP Serengeti are extremely good tapes. While the comparison with legendary producer Lil Ugly Mane is ineluctable, anyone but the most casual observer will argue with brio that both Spark Master Tape and Paper Platoon bring something entirely new and inventive to experimental hip-hop. His voice pitched down low, Spark’s vocals fluctuate over both projects, morphing to the body of each Paper Platoon instrumental, every one more eclectic and banging than the last. Thumping, ludicrous basslines and drums permeate the musical makeup of both projects, with far-flung and often hilarious samples and DJ tags filling the gaps, from Goodfellas to Hotline Miami.
Spark’s persona is something else entirely. It’s been speculated that Spark is actually a white teenage boy, and that his anonymity is a ploy to make sure he’s taken seriously, à la Lil Ugly Mane. Many people believe Spark, Paper Platoon, and DJ Charlie Chikken Soup to be the same person, a bedroom rapper involved in Kai Skywalker’s local music scene. While those remain theories, what we can divulge from Spark’s music gives the impression of a debauched, profligate street kingpin, running drug supplies and racing Ferraris in an apocalyptic environment characterised by urban decay. Whilst that’s scarcely believable, we must also leave it open to possibility, and it’s certainly an image backed up by the few music videos we’ve been blessed with. Speaking of those music videos, there is serious production value, leaving me to wonder if Spark is the alter-ago of another rapper? All of this leads us to a strange quandary: we know who Spark is without actually knowing who he is. Maybe that’s the point?
Spark’s strange image compliments the quality of his music exceptionally well, and these two features in tandem create something unlike anything I’ve heard. Spark’s particular flow – which consists of him absolutely going in for about 30 seconds before abruptly slowing it down, both blueballs fans and satisfies them. One thing that impresses me the most, however, is the versatility on both projects and indeed all the singles released so far. ‘Propeica’, ‘Tina Tuna’ and ‘Syrup Splash’ all sound completely different, and Spark fits in perfectly to each of these distinctly varied sounds. Indeed, a lesser level of diversity can also be observed even when looking at a single album. Such a feat is even more awe-inspiring when one considers there is only one producer/producer collective throughout Spark’s discography, with the exception of Juyen Sebulba and AstorBeats on Syrup Splash.
Projects that deviate significantly from archetypal Hip-Hop production and lyrical performance are often celebrated because of their going against the grain, but upon deeper reflection display a lack of true talent or long-term relevance. This leads to them being considered gimmicky, such as in the case of Lil B or Yung Lean. Spark Master Tape and Paper Platoon don’t fall into this moribund category however, and I cringe at the thought of mentioning them in the same breath as artists of that type. Everything about the duo is utterly mental, and the extremely wide variety of sounds only helps spread the insanity over the experimental Hip-Hop spectrum. Both Syrup Splash and The #SWOUP Serengeti will doubtless become cult classics over time, such is their artistic impact.
But what of Silhouette Of A Sunkken City, Spark’s rumoured third project? Five tracks (Propeica, GASINMYLUNG, KKKaptain Baseball Bat Boi, Picture On My Coffin and S.T.W.N.C.W.B.) have been released so far by Paper Platoon, though there is no certainty which will find their way to the album tracklist, if any. Needless to say, Spark and Paper Platoon bring their aforementioned aesthetic to new heights, with loud, banging instrumentals replete with beat switches of the highest quality. There has been no news regarding the album in the last year however, and fans have begun to question if Spark Master Tape himself has stopped releasing music. We can only hope he hasn’t.