Steve Wallace - Street Symphony (2012)

Steve Wallace
Steve Wallace Symphone.jpg
Click on CD cover
to listen or purchase

Listening to Street Symphony, the latest project from “Studio” Steve Wallace, definitely qualifies as an educational experience. Nearly all of the song titles are in Italian, which would have sent me scurrying to find my copy of Berlitz or Rosetta Stone – if I had studied Italian in high school or college. Nope, I studied the romance language that I knew I’d actually have to use, Spanish. So, I wound up Googling words such as “Dannato,” “Piangi” and “Perdona” to connect the song titles to the topics Wallace addressed in each tune.

Why did Wallace title most of the tunes of Street Symphony in Italian while singing or rapping in English?  Italian is a language used by some of the world’s great opera composers, and Wallace samples snippets from opera and classical music in all of the songs heard on Street Symphony.  

Listening to Street Symphony, the latest project from “Studio” Steve Wallace, definitely qualifies as an educational experience. Nearly all of the song titles are in Italian, which would have sent me scurrying to find my copy of Berlitz or Rosetta Stone – if I had studied Italian in high school or college. Nope, I studied the romance language that I knew I’d actually have to use, Spanish. So, I wound up Googling words such as “Dannato,” “Piangi” and “Perdona” to connect the song titles to the topics Wallace addressed in each tune.

Why did Wallace title most of the tunes of Street Symphony in Italian while singing or rapping in English?  Italian is a language used by some of the world’s great opera composers, and Wallace samples snippets from opera and classical music in all of the songs heard on Street Symphony.  

Wallace is not the first artist to fuse hip-hop (or R&B) and opera. Nas, Ludacris, Kelis and (most famously) Coolio are among the artists who have sampled the classical canon. None of them went in as deeply or creatively as Wallace does on Street Symphony. Wallace, like his fellow artists, understands that hip-hop and opera often tread on the same topical territory. The great operas are often about fallen women, unrequited love, regret and real or perceived slights to one’s honor. Operas often address these themes because they are the stuff of life, and the blood flows freely and hearts open wide and break hard in operas.

Those Italian titles hold clues to the stories that fill Street Symphony. That’s the case with the aforementioned “Dannato,” and it works that way with Wallace’s romantic tunes as well.  “Piangi” means to weep or cry and the title becomes the artist’s spring board to tell the story of breaking up with a woman who unsuccessfully uses her tears as a tool of manipulation. “Maledizione” translates to “curse,” and on this tune Wallace sings about the voodoo like powers of his woman.

The allure and hazards of the street remain primary topics of hip-hop, and Wallace explores them on Street Symphony. “Dannato” takes on the subject of racial profiling and stereotyping. The song’s title translates to “the damned,” and in light of the tragic recent story of the 17-year old black kid shot to death by a neighborhood watch volunteer while returning to his father’s house armed with a bag of Skittles, the cut is tragically timely. “Fight” and “Conceit and Sneakers” both take on the kind of black on black violence that is unfortunately commonplace in many of our communities. “Conceit and Sneakers” looks at how the threat of violence or actual violence lurks behind something as mundane as stepping on a guy’s shoes.

Sometimes it appears that Wallace is on a mission to show just how creative he can be. He was a modern soul and hip-hop impresario on Urban Soul; he embraced the blues on Justified; and on Street Symphony he sings and raps over samples of orchestras. Wallace says he planned to write songs using the opera samples for other artists, but none of the other rappers seemed to know what to do with these beats. Steve Wallace had no such problem, and he (again) turns his ambition into an effective and impressive reality. Recommended

By Howard Dukes

 

 

Leave a comment!