Our recurring column ‘Lest We Forget’ is devoted to revisiting albums that have been unfairly overlooked or marginalized within the broader critical and commercial context of our favorite artists’ discographies. We hope that our recollections shine a newfound light on these underappreciated gems from the past, and as always, we encourage you, our readers, to weigh in with your own perspectives and memories in the comments below.
When Dwight “Count Bass D” Farrell dropped his debut album Pre-Life Crisis in 1995, it was noted for its live instrumentation-based production, his mix of rap and singing vocalisms, and his quirky sense of humor. The Count was a gifted musician and singer (he played three instruments and sang in his church choir), and it showed. Seven years later, when he released Dwight Spitz, the Count still made use of his quirky humor and singing ability, but also began to favor sample-based production. Part of this decision was artistic, but it was also out of necessity: Count had lost his record deal with Sony, so recording using only live instrumentation would be cost-prohibitive.
When preparing to put together Dwight Spitz, his third full-length album, Count purchased an AKAI S-300 and an MPC-2000 sampler. The Ohio-native/then Tennessee-resident worked extensively with MF DOOM, who he’d known since the early ’90s, to hone his production skills. Eventually, the self-described “Fender Rhodes Scholar” gained some level of mastery over the equipment and created music that had a creative mix of sample-based material and live instrumentation. Dwight Spitz was one of the better albums of 2002, and it’s as lyrically and musically interesting as anything released in the early ’00s.
Not many albums released in 2002 were like Dwight Spitz. Few songs follow the “verse/chorus/verse/chorus” route. The closest Count gets to a conventional hip-hop song is the title track. But a more representative offering is the opening track, “Aural S(ECT)s.” Like many of the songs on the album, it’s under two minutes (a minute and thirty-one seconds, to be precise), and like much of the album, it only features a single verse from the Count. Fortunately, Count packs a lot of lyrical skill into the brief running time, rapping, “Quite frankly, I’m still beneath the table DOOM drank me under / What God has joined together let no man put asunder.”
Count is able to say a lot with less throughout Dwight Spitz. On “Sanctuary,” Count uses a slow and deliberate flow over a loop of the intro piano and vocals from The Doors’ “Soft Parade.” Songs like “Subwoofer (Dumile)” (as in DOOM’s last name) and “Blues for Percy Carey” (a.k.a. MF Grimm) both salute the lesser known and underappreciated rappers of the ’80s and ’90s. The former name-checks groups like Funkytown Pros and Black, Rock, & Ron, while the latter features an expert chopping and re-sequencing of the theme to Hill Street Blues. “Ohio Playas” features the only outside production on the album, as Count teams with J. Rawls for a stripped-down yet delicate track, where Count delivers a lengthy stream-of-consciousness verse over spare keys, drums, and distant vocals.
About a third of the 24 tracks on Dwight Spitz are either an interlude or an instrumental (or an instrumental interlude). Count shows a lot of creativity on songs like “August 25, 2001,” where he melds vibraphones from Gary Burton’s “Dreams So Real,” vocal snippets from Bone Thugs-n-Harmony’s “First of the Month,” and live instrumentation into a beautiful musical arrangement. With “Real Music Vs. Bullshit,” Count creates three separate instrumental “movements” in the space of a minute and half, each with own distinct mood and feel.
Other songs on Dwight Spitz don’t even feature Count at all. The most notable is “Quite Buttery,” which features MF DOOM on a bouncy keyboard driven-track, dropping a sole very MF DOOM-like verse. He declares that “MCs need Aveeno, okay the fun’s over / One time, while I give the track a once over.” The always dope Edan appears on “How We Met,” crafting a verse where he bends both time and space; he would later re-purpose this verse into “Promised Land” and his sophomore album, Beauty and the Beat. The slow and warped “Black Man’s Dreams,” featuring Lil’ D, is another stand-out song. But I’m fairly certain that “Lil’ D” is just Count rapping with an extremely exaggerated Southern accent.
Dwight Spitz is also a family affair, as two of Count’s young children make appearances throughout the album, while his wife, Oriana Lee, recorded the spoken word track, “My First Piece.” There’s also “Seven Years,” Count’s heartfelt dedication to said wife and their marriage. Joined by soul songstress Dionne Farris, Count extols the virtues of his partner of, well, seven years, and her commitment to their marriage, sticking together through all sorts of adversity, rapping, “I wrestle night and day about decisions I have made / I should have made better choices and avoided shame / But hindsight is a magnifying glass / I can analyze all day but it won’t change the past / Even still, you support me like a superstar / I sport my wedding band in honor of how real you are.”
Count has said that even though he didn’t make much money from Dwight Spitz, he’s aware that many of his current fans first found out about him through the album. And it continues to have an impact on his career musically. Count used the format for Dwight Spitz for his subsequent album, and has built a dedicated fanbase. The album reflects that Count had to learn to adapt and improve as his career progressed, and his music is better for it.