At some point we went overboard with “breathtaking.” Alexander Spit’s debut album, A Breathtaking Trip To That Otherside, follows a string of dense, playful mixtapes, and with its allusion to science fiction, Hunter S. Thompson and psychedelic mushrooms, it’s obvious that the Filipino rapper and producer is looking to blow some minds and provide a type of aesthetic asphyxiation that leaves you, well, breathless. But when was the last time something earned that title and truly took your breath away? It’s easier said (or typed) than done.
So where exactly does this ambitious 25-year-old come from? Spit is a Bay Area native, but he’s relatively untethered to geography, a stranger in a familiar land. Unlike a taste-chasing contemporary like A$AP Rocky, Spit doesn’t seem interested in curating anything, and he’s not exactly fashionable, unless bucket hats are making some comeback that no one told me about. And unlike Kendrick Lamar, he’s not interrogating his own past for moral insights and historical perspective. Sure, E-40 shows up at one point, and “Ride (Chicken Wit The Odds)” makes some nice nods to the hyphy movement, but Spit’s warped vision of the Bay Area is so sun-scorched and faded that it resembles a bleak dystopia—a la Children Of Men, which gets referenced on “GREAT SCOTT!!!”—and he’s our friendly tour guide. The crumbling, hollowed-out sonic world he’s constructed can be so enticing that Spit, the rapper, starts to feel like an afterthought on his own album when compared to Spit, the producer.
And yet, Spit does have a persona, even if it’s often better expressed through his twisting, labyrinth-like beats instead of his verses. There’s a reason a visionary producer like Alchemist has jumped on one of Spit’s beats: He crafts sneaky, noir-ish psych rap that knows when to let a beat knock (“Lakes” or “Getaway Car”) and when to stretch an instrumental out into a dripping, surrealistic vista (“Honeymoon In A Motel Room”). His work as a producer can be so enchanting and idiosyncratic that it makes you wish he were a more distinct rapper, capable of constructing a narrative or painting a picture instead of just maintaining a mood. It’s not surprising that many of the album’s best moments come when Spit cedes the floor to other artists, like when Mr. MFN Exquire shows up to crack jokes about unicorns on “B.N.E. Remix” and Action Bronson lends his gruff wiseacre routine to “Artesia.” Similarly, when Southern California singer BAGO provides the hooks to “A Breathtaking Trip” and “Sluts Kiss French,” Spit comes alive, uncorking visceral verses filled with free-associative musings.
Besides the ability to get off a few witty punchlines each song, Spit’s real gift as a lyricist is his ability to meld the mundane with the supernatural or the otherworldly. Over a trembling bass tone, a spaghetti-western horn and the wailing sample of a siren-like singer, Spit shows off the elasticity of his mind on the the album’s opening track, “Black Magic On Blue Magic,” when he connects chem-trails, drones and partying without sounding like a paranoid conspiracy theorist or a buzzkill. The album’s longest and perhaps strongest track, “That’s Spit/Space Echoes,” finds him putting an intergalactic spin on completely boring activities like getting a phone call (“My mobile be blowing up/Yeah, I’m a supernova”). Later on the same track he gleefully raps, “I’m Roswell/I’m high as hell/I’m begging the drummer for cowbell.” There’s a smart, working-class naturalism at work here, the casual flip-side to Future’s more baroque Space Camp fantasies or a less frenzied take on Ab-Soul’s all-encompassing doom-rap.
Still, despite his bouts of neurosis, his death-obsessed Cobain fixation and his reliance on pitch-altering vocal effects that make him sound like a stoned alien, Spit is ultimately a centered, Zen-like figure, the axis around which his hermetic, smoke-filled world spins. At one point he says there’s a sniper aiming at him, but he’s just chilling on his couch, and that pretty much encapsulates his oddly comforting appeal: He’s always able to find the sliver of serenity in the midst of chaos. At 17 tracks, Breathtaking Trip feels like the product of a confident and relaxed mind. It’s leisurely paced, packed with interludes and extended outros, and so in control of tone and ambiance that it occasionally forgets about hooks and momentum. You may leave the album with a cloudy sense of who Spit is, but you’ll have lots of hopes about what he might become.