Spree Wilson Talks Road to 'Life in Technicolor' Album & 'All I Need' Controversy
Spree Wilson is reintroducing Atlanta's beloved bass sub-genre on his upcoming project, "Life in Technicolor," slated to debut on May 1. "I hope people get another idea of what Atlanta music is about and Atlanta in general," the Atlanta-based artist tells The Juice. "You know, people have a perception of what Atlanta is: [Young] Jeezy, Future, T.I., Trinidad James…"
"It is that but Atlanta is also Spree Wilson, Forte Bowie and a lot of people who are more eclectic -- the artsy side of Atlanta. Atlanta encompasses so much," Spree says.
The quadruple-threat (guitar-playing, singer-songwriter, rapper) hopes "Life in Technicolor" strikes a certain chord with music fans that grew up like him in the 1990s, idolizing groups like OutKast. As a kid, Spree divided his time between his hometown of Nashville and Atlanta, so he's always been exposed to the music coming out of the Peach State. It wasn't until years later when the emcee would step out on faith and move to New York City with a small duffel bag and huge dreams.
He wound up desolate, sleeping in the 34th Street train station for a while before finding a couch to crash on. As the story goes, Spree was on his friend's couch for a week before receiving a call from hip-hop legend Q-Tip. They discussed inking a deal and in 2010 Spree was signed to Jive preparing an LP with production from Tip.
The deal, however, didn't prove fruitful. The dissolution of Jive left Spree sitting on his "Plastic Dreams" debut and disillusioned by major record labels. Since then though, he's made peace with his place in music."When you do a lot of different things, it's just a harder road and you have to understand that," he shares. "But in the long run, you'd rather do things this way because you'll be happier with yourself rather than taking the path that everyone else is on."
Since his humble start, Spree has built a solid fan base that he says he'll never take for granted. He remembers every stage of his grind all too well. "I don't think I was naive enough to think that my first project, a five-song EP..." he says before a brief pause, "I mean, I know stuff like that where people put out something and it blows up overnight but I always felt that there would be some kind of work and struggle involved especially when dealing with the artistic craft of music. There are a lot of peaks and valleys."
The great thing about valleys though, is that peaks follow. Spree was in a low place fairly recently, just before recording "Life in Technicolor." While dealing with label and personal relationship issues, the rapper found himself in a funk. He headed to Los Angeles and while on the west coast found inspiration in a childhood love.
"I just needed a break so my friend took me out to a club in L.A. and they had this Atlanta bass music playing," he says incredulously, "I was so surprised they had bass music out there and the reaction I saw from these kids was crazy."
That night out on the town birthed the idea of making his next project a '90s-inspired, bass-heavy, modernized version of the sub-genre the Atlanta music industry introduced to the world twenty years ago. "I wanted to make a modern version of that," Spree explains, "I didn't want to make anything retro. I just wanted to take that energy and that style and make it fit today's standard. All I did to make it modern was put structure to it- I'm a songwriter by nature so the songs aren't different from my usual material, it's just a different rhythm."
Jeron Ward and Rick Wallkk of the production team, The Flush, immediately flew out to L.A. to start working on the fresh ideas Wilson had floating around in his head. They knocked out four songs in three days. "Life in Technicolor" started to become a reality. While The Flush is at the helm of the project's production, Spree also worked with Malay, the producer responsible for Frank Ocean's "Channel Orange."
"Here's why I wanted to do bass music," he reveals, "Because nobody's fucking doing it. And modern day bass music? Nobody."
"And if they are," he continues, "They aren't doing it as good as I am. No fucking way. And if they are doing it as good as I am, they don't have the people that actually made the [original] record behind them."
Spree has a point; how many musicians can say that they're friends with the legends that inspired them? Having grown up on sounds from the Dungeon Family and Organized Noize, Spree is still in awe of the fact that he's formed a friendship with legends of Southern hip-hop although he says he tries not to ask for any favors. "Rico Wade and Ray Murray are my heroes," he says, "We've been making music together but they're almost like big brothers. I remember once Rico asked me, 'What you need? You need anything?' And I'm like, 'Nah.' Because I just want to prove myself, you know?"
"It's easy for me to try and get something from them or try and talk to Big Boi and try and get a verse but it's just like, man I'm super talented," he continues, "I believe in myself and that I can make a name for myself without them. Not to say I don't need them but it's like that 'big brother/little brother' thing. They respect you more when they see that I did it on my own."
His latest single "All I Need" is a track sure to impress his big brothers. The song samples the Ghost Town DJs hit, "My Boo," and over booming production Spree speaks on a familiar situation. "It's just a great song. Who can't relate to meeting the right one at the wrong time? It's universal," he says.
But the song, including the sample, stirred up controversy within the Atlanta music industry. A month before Spree Wilson premiered "All I Need," the rapper heard his idea behind the song -- of revamping bass music while incorporating the spirit of the genre into a brand new project -- on the radio in the form of Ciara's "Body Party." After "Body Party" premiered in March, via Billboard, the same circle of Atlanta industry insiders knew exactly where the idea came from. Spree refrains from saying names but he details the event that led to the whispers around the city.
According to Spree, his friend shared a bit of the "All I Need" instrumental with one of the producers behind "Body Party."
"The producer said, 'Man, we really need this for her. You should give this song to her…'" he recalls. "I was like, 'Cool. If she hops on my record.' But I never heard anything back for a while. Then, I get a phone call from one of my good friends who's friends with her A&R and they're like, 'Yo, she's about to come out with some new music. She's got this bass music song though.'"
Once Spree heard the song, he knew that the idea had come directly from him and his team. After all, when was the last time any artist dropped a single with bass music inspirations? "I was like, 'Man, they really took the idea,'" he says, "I don't know that she was in the room because my friend played it for her team. Shit was fucking crazy though. It was a good lesson. Don't ever play your music for people."
Despite that small snafu, Spree's just as excited as he ever was for the release of his next project. In fact, at the screening of the "Right One Wrong Time" video a few weeks ago at Atlanta's Stankonia Studios, the rapper got emotional. "You know how you'll throw a party and people will say they're coming," he starts. "But in the back of your mind you don't know that anyone's coming to this thing. It's like, 'I could walk up to an empty house right now,'" he says with a laugh.
"There's always that trepidation around putting something together," he adds, "But when I saw the number of people that came to show love and support. A lot of them didn't even know me or even met me... Man, I almost cried up there. I felt so overwhelmed by the support from people that I didn't even know."