A film about Northwest hip-hop from

Street Smartz

Dropping a second album is a difficult hurdle for many musicians, especially if their first one was well received. The challenge is to give fans enough of the same vibe that initially hooked them, but then to also introduce some new components, which allows the artist’s identity to evolve. Laura “Piece” Kelley set a high bar for herself with her complex, self-titled debut Piece in 2003. Piece was an album which drew from both the rap and poetry worlds. Hip hop tracks like “Caution,” and “Once Upon A Dream,” coexisted happily with poetic volleys such as “Gray,” or possibly her best known track “Central District.” Four years later, Piece released her second album Street Smartz in 2007. Luckily for the listeners, the energy is just as high and the quality of the tracks is equally stunning.

Street Smartz has something for everyone, and it shows Piece’s range as a performer. The snappy “We Do This,” for instance, defines inclusivity with its repeated mantra, “this movement is we.” It reminds me of the 1995 Seattle classic “Come With We,” by Source Of Labor. The expert scratching by DJ DV One on title track “Street Smartz” adds to the four-elements affirmation in the lyrics. “Street smarts, master your craft, DJs, MCs, breakdance and graf,” goes her rousing chorus. Two conscious cuts, “Peace Keepers” and “Weapens,” are calls to action and social awareness that can’t be ignored.

I found the technique of “Letters 2 Life” very compelling. In the lyrics, Piece writes letters to “Fear,” “Time,” and “Truth,” and by treating these abstract concepts as if they were people, she opens up an intensely philosophical correspondence. The vulnerability found in “Letters 2 Life” shows that Piece is not afraid to reveal her deepest personal feelings on the microphone. “Rap Star” has an easily understood, anti-materialism message. “I don’t wanna be a rap star talking about my cash flow or my dope car,” she sings defiantly. Because there are very few words on “My Precinct,” and “Keep It Moving,” the music does the heavy lifting on those two tracks, putting them in the same neighborhood as Madonna’s “Justify My Love.”

While the album bursts with creative compositions, I will say that there is not a ton of spontaneity. Similar to a live theater production, Piece’s raps and songs sound well-rehearsed. We never hear any bloopers, coughs, or off-beat rhymes that might serve to humanize the artist a little. Piece is no accidental musician, she clearly inhabits her music one thousand percent. Plus, her love of language is evident in the way that she writes. Street Smartz is impeccable and important, so let’s consider the ‘sophomore slump’ averted. Written by Novocaine132

Did we get it wrong? It happens. Send us an email and let's get it corrected right away!