Shaping and shifting cultural norms at his will, Speak represents a number of ideas and images that make it next to impossible to categorize his brand. His nationalities are Mexican and Jewish and he’s a wrestling and boxing aficionado/cultural critic for Myspace, who happened to ghost-write one hit wonder Kreayshawn’s “Gucci Gucci;” a background running contrary to his progressive style of Hip Hop. His first full-length effort since 2011’s Inside Out Boy, Speak’s adventure continues with Gnarly Davidson vs. The Marlboro Men.
Speak attempts a brave form of heroism with his latest release, its title derived from the concept of him fighting society’s cancerous conditions. Setting few limitations on himself, his violin and drum hobbies have taken a backseat to rapping that can’t be compromised by way of record label boardroom machinations. Determined to remain an industry outlier despite being on the fringe of greater stardom, Speak does what he wants with absolute disregard for standard operating procedures.
Evidence of his rebellion, the album’s opener “Mouth” details the (possibly exaggerated) urban myth of him trashing Universal Music Group’s office. Exercising power over listeners here, a hypnotic trance is induced by the song’s catchy hook, with strong sequencing repeating the same vibe on the trash talking “Capsule” which follows.
As is often the case with creatives aspiring to become iconic, beneath Speak’s turned up façade lies a somber reality. The jazzy “ITT Tech” tries to find the silver lining in one being an artist near rock bottom, taking a Zen-like, playfully self-deprecating stance towards his woes, as he says, “It’s all good, I still flex.” This gives a voice to the complex dilemma faced almost daily by those who prefer to have less rather than settle for the low wages of a day job. Sinking deeper into sorrow, the somber yet commercially accessible “Let Downs” finds him questioning his future and examining the glitz of Los Angeles, as he muses, “Everyone is famous, but no one is important / And everyone is plastic, but we are so gorgeous.”
One of Speak’s most notable traits is his ability to provide perspective tied into his drug-addled thoughts. He and songstress Jack Davey seek to escape life through the haze of addiction on “Web” (produced by Speak’s close friends The Internet, the project’s only well-known collaborators). Creating art out of dysfunction, the mellow “Death By Misadventure” is another example of what makes this his most fully developed work to date. Chanting, “I don’t practice no religion, I ain’t gotta go to church / I just drink away my pain, but that whiskey makes it worse,” Speak has mastered the fine art of multilayered messages that could otherwise go missed over melodic rhythms.
Somewhere between abstract and comprehensible, Speak thrives as an enigma and an effortless leader conveying a wide range of emotion and energy on Gnarly Davidson vs. The Marlboro Men. Coming into his own confidence, he chooses self-empowerment for the sake of his sanity, rather than uncomfortably forcing himself to participate in nerve-wracking reindeer games (noting, “They ask me why I’m rapping still / Well, Sony owes me half a mill” on “Bulletproof Denali”). On less inspired moments like “Seville, Spain,” his good intentions still shine through as his primary flaw is being overly ambitious at times. Though quite an anomaly at first glance, his presence fits in just fine on understanding his role as a fun-loving, attention commanding hippie, of sorts.