Speed on the Beat Retrospective: The SOTB!(!!) Discography 2012-2016

Yep, it’s about that time for someone (anyone, really) to talk about the namesake of this here site’s musical “career.” Spawned from a combination of a mental breakdown and a desire to spit “dat hot fiyahhhh” once more, meek producer Mister Speed on the Beat decided to get back into the “booth,” create some no-fidelity art rap detailing his feels, and go from there. Little did he know, those feels would help bring SpeedontheBeat.com into fruition and further his career as a writer and contributor for sites such as Boi-1da.com, the Team DAR site, and more.

…ok, the ego jerk-off is over (mostly). Let’s talk some SOTB!(!!), straight from the mouth and mind from the (Former) No-Fi “King” himself, your’s truly (man, that was one hell of a weird sentence). First up, let’s take a look at 2012/3’s One Year Later (f/k/a RAQUEL RELOADED…or was it RAQUEL R3:Lo@Ded? Whatever the fuck it was, let’s just call it One Year Later).

This is an often-overlooked piece in the SOTB!(!!) discography, even though it’s the first part of the Songs For… trilogy that spanned from 2012 through 2014. Why? Well, simply put, it’s a fucking mess. And that’s coming from the creator of it, so I can imagine how people listening felt.

One Year Later is, essentially, a piecemeal of loosies I decided to throw together with the overarching theme of “oh crap! My life’s all fucked up now. But, I’m not taking full responsibility for my role in it going down the way it did. So, here’s a track sampling David Ruffin’s ‘Love Can Be Hazardous to Your Health’ because sadness.” Why? Well, Songs For… was originally supposed to be the first album I put out. However, I’d recorded a ton of stuff prior to S4. Because of this, I decided to add it all to the discography and make the S4 trilogy (The Devolution and Death, Rebirth and Evolution, and Ascension of the Modern Male). I mean, for fuck’s sake! I originally had a remix to a Miley Cyrus-sampling track on this album that was completely out of place for the theme. I also dropped “Truthful Revelations…” with OYL.

While the theme (not dealing with mental issues properly and eventually having to deal with the consequences of one’s actions, sober or otherwise) is an overarching theme in the Songs For… trilogy, One Year Later, for me, always falls flat. I feel that it had some moments on it. But, it fell way short of what I really wanted to put out for a debut as Speed on the Beat–and as the first part of the S4 trilogy.

It was way too no-fi, even for what I was going for. I liken it to some of Danny Swain’s first projects, specifically The College Kicked-Out. It had moments of great execution, but the mixing and overly no-fi-ness of it all keeps me from really rocking with it–even if it’s, in some ways, my first-born (and even if I loved The College Kicked-Out). At least it wasn’t Thursday Daemons. That shit will never be acknowledged by me–and for good reason(s). Plain and simple, it sucked.

Next, let us look at the album some people call my magnum opus (I guess), Songs For… : The Rebirth and Evolution of the Modern Male.

The namesake of the S4 trilogy, Songs For… was a fun album to finish. I got to work with True God, post-The End is Coming, on “Kings (Edited Into the Echelon).” That track’s always going to have a spot in my heart. It was a quirky track, with its intentional edits and subversions. Plus, it was the track that initially got me noticed by Al Shipley, which was a musical life goal since I looked up to his work with Government Names, Baltimore City Paper, and elsewhere. To get noticed by him on this project was an accomplishment that I’m proud of. He even took time to review S4.

Songs For… was, for me, that breakthrough. It didn’t straight-up run the gamut on anything at all. But, for a brief period in time, I had more streams on the album via the late Rdio service than Nelly’s M.O. album.

This ultimately led to the album being removed from Rdio (guess someone thought I was cheating the system or something). Was it the best from the S4 trilogy? Nah. That’s later.

But, for the first time in years, I was firing on all cylinders. I’d put out an album I was proud to say “hey world! This is that new SOTB!!!. It’s a good, cohesive project” about. The beats and whatnot showed a drastic shift from OYL. I wasn’t relying solely on samples and flips and was beginning to branch out my sound.

I just wish the release went smoother (in the weeks prior and after the release of S4, I found myself dealing with a wide variety of issues–including being hospitalized for panic attacks and, ultimately, a manic breakdown. Yay bipolar disorder, amirite?).

In the aftermath of the Aftermath of S4, I began working on 2014’s Death of the King.

Originally slated as my swan song to hip-hop (look at how that turned out), the finale to the S4 trilogy was a big project. Tying up loose ends from the previous albums (mainly coming to terms with–and dealing with–my diagnosis as bipolar), DOTK featured more of a shift from “No-Fi” to a sound I called “lo-fi art rap,” as a nod to Open Mike Eagle.

Teaming up with artists Dugee F. Buller and my DAR brother True God, I crafted a twelve-song album that hit a lot of notes–and hit them pretty hard. If you ever want to hear what it sounds like for a person to go through a bipolar episode on wax, you could do a lot worse than DOTK. For me, it was an epic presented in a Pulp Fiction-like timeline, as the intro takes place, in reality, months after most of the album. DOTK featured songs such as “Thanatos (Stories Through Music),” “Redemption’s Reprise,” and more. Because of this, it felt more complete than my previous efforts.

There was a story told, it wasn’t exclusive to me, and I had some dopeness on the project. Was it perfect? Nah. There were remnants of the “no-fi” sound on important songs such as “Dreaming (The Breakthrough)” that I wish I could’ve avoided. But, it was my favorite project out of the S4 trilogy and I ended the trilogy on a high note, that was pretty conceptual as well.

This, of course, brings us to my final works: the trilogy I retroactively refer to as the Baltimore Trilogy. The B3 is composed of 2015’s Baltimore Commercial Break and Unhinged (The Case Study of Speed on the Beat) and my final album, The Sorest Loser. First, let’s talk BCB.

BCB was slated to be my last album, under the name From Juke Joints to Greatness (which, ultimately, became the album’s subtitle). By this point, I’d made it abundantly clear that I was retiring from releasing albums and such after I turned 27. I was going to “kill” the SOTB!!! character as an artist before it fully consumed me and killed me as a, you know, human being and such. Mental illness is a bitch with a spike-lined vagina and tits made of fire and formaldehyde.

But, I originally wanted to release a concept EP of songs centered around my upbringing in Baltimore–and the kooky commercials/news themes I’d heard growing up entitled Baltimore Commercial Break. It was a concept I’d played around with for years, but never went full-tilt with it until 2015. I don’t know. Maybe I sensed something big was about to go down and I wanted to give my hometown and the family I have in it a shoutout before shit got real. Maybe I just wanted to expand my musical repertoire. Whatever the case was, when the initial funk-centric news theme from “Take You There” hits, it really did feel “good to be home again.”

The rest was history. I set up the mobile studio, cranked out a love letter to my city and family, and rode with it. I, for the first time in a while, actually had fun with recording. Sure, there were moments with DAR where I enjoyed myself. But, since the beginning of S4, music felt more like a chore than a love. That free-spirited nature shone through, with songs such as “WBFF,” “Oriole Magic,” and “Late Night Movie Show.” It even led to a collaboration with fellow UMD alumni Lex Rush on the “title track.”

Originally, “FJJTG” was supposed to be a posse cut, featuring Ikey, Eyedeal Bayano, Lex and DK aka Wayne Watts. However, I couldn’t get all the pieces in play, mainly because I was dealing with another episode. So, when Lex sent me her verse, I loved it and ran with it. Around the time I finished the album, however, things crashed and burned pretty harshly.

For starters, I ended up having to get reevaluated and rediagnosed as bipolar in order to get treatment. I also, for the most part, credit this Come to Jesus Moment as, well, my Come to Jesus Moment. I stopped the heavy drinking. I got myself into therapy. I became properly medicated. All in all, things were looking up. Hell, even my sons’ mom and I began to start picking up the pieces after our bad breakup. And then, my mom died in front of me.

March 28th, 2015. To quote another David Ruffin song, that was the day my whole world ended. While I’d been around death, seen death, and experienced death over the years, watching your mother’s last breaths is enough to just straight up wreck a person. I don’t care how strong you are. Seeing that sort of thing, it fucking hurts. Instead of coping by drinking and stuff, I decided to turn my focus to the music.

This focus on music birthed my darkest album, Unhinged (The Case Study of Speed on the Beat).

Recorded in the aftermath of my mother’s death, Unhinged was pretty much the result of a man losing one of the few people who gave a damn about him in front of his own eyes. Nothing more, nothing less. There wasn’t any concept to it really, outside of taking listeners through uncomfortable moments of loss and despair. There wasn’t really a silver lining to the project. Even the “hopeful” tracks, such as “Promised Land” (a throwback track featuring DK aka Wayne Watts which I remixed for the album) and “Remember the Name,” they still had an air of desolation to them.

When making Unhinged, I was incredibly depressed. Borderline suicidal. The music, my team, and the impending birth of my second son, those were really the only things that kept me going. Everything else? I was numb to it. People came in and out of my life during this time, not really knowing my mindset. Some stuck around and wanted to help me through it, others dipped out and left me high and dry. Can’t really fault them.

Talking about Unhinged is confusing in some ways. It felt like I grew, but chunks of the album really regressed to proto-no-fi standards. I didn’t even bother mixing down tracks aside from a few. It wasn’t me being lazy, but more of a choice. I wanted, like with DOTK, people to feel what I felt. Did it work? Eh, I don’t know. Since I call this album a “black sheep” in my discography because it’s so dark and personal, I wouldn’t be surprised if people didn’t mesh with it as well as they could’ve. That choice to go back to proto-no-fi, it hurts the album. Yeah, I got people to feel my pain, but there were some solid tracks on the album that could’ve used some more love.

After taking a good chunk of late 2015 to early 2016 off to work on building up my writing portfolio, I felt that itch to start recording again. And that’s how we got The Sorest Loser.

I’ve already talked about this album in depth. So, I’ll keep my thoughts brief this time around. It was the first time I felt free recording. Truly free, I mean, not just free to play with news themes free. It’s the first project I’ve worked on where I was happy, medicated properly, and just able to see through the fog of confusion my life sometimes becomes. It was the first album of mine where I actually stepped into a more legit studio aside from my personal lo-fi set-up. It was the first album to feature my former rap persona, J dot Speed. It was my TLOP mixed with a bit of Coloring Book and a splash of Purple Rain IDGAF-ness for good measure.

Is it a classic album like those albums are/may become in some eyes? Depends on your definition of “classic.” I think it’s my best album and my first “fully happy” album. I feel it’s a collection of all the things that made me cool as an artist (risk taking, lo-fi art rap, family bars, incredibly personal stories, revolutionary bars mixed with some tongue-in-cheekiness, etc) put on a bigger display than they’d been before. It was personal without being exclusive to me, fun without being cheesy, sing-songy without using over-the-top Auto Tune, and concise in its message. And what was that message?

Since the album was called The Sorest Loser, it was more of a “don’t give up” message. Earl Weaver, the person from which the title originated, never gave up as manager of the Orioles. He hated losing, as do I. Since Unhinged was an album where I lost myself in a way I had never done before, I wanted to get myself back to a happy, good place…or die tryin’. And, I think that the buzz that the project has seen online and elsewhere showcases that people like this message.

So, there you have it. A discography check on Speed on the Beat, by Speed on the Beat, for your reading pleasure. Feel free to disagree and call my albums ass. I’d hope you wouldn’t, but you’re entitled to your (probably slightly wrong) opinion. 

Speed on the Beat

Whatever you need to know about me, you can find out on speedonthebeat.com. Dad of two, cat dad (of two), mental health advocate, Team Support Dope Music in All Its Forms.

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