Review: Vic Spencer and SonnyJim take listeners back to basics in ‘Spencer for Higher 3’

By Ryan Rosenberger, Staff Reporter

With the release of “Spencer for Higher 3,” Vic Spencer reinforces his place in Chicago’s hip-hop and rap scene. Courtesy/Vic Spencer

For years Vic Spencer has been a mainstay in Chicago’s hip-hop scene due to his colorful lyricism, diverse array of instrumentals and aggressive attitude toward musical output.

Despite not having the same name recognition as some of the contemporaries he came up with like Chance the Rapper or Vic Mensa, Spencer’s work ethic and penchant for consistency have garnered him a steady stream of fans, which has allowed him to establish his spot in hip-hop culture.

Spencer released the latest installment to his “Spencer For Higher” series in collaboration with UK rapper/producer SonnyJim, “Spencer For Higher 3,” on Aug. 24. SonnyJim produced the album in its entirety, which is the fourth project to come out under Spencer’s name this year.

Without any grandiose overarching concepts or a centered lyrical focus, Spencer and SonnyJim take listeners back to the basics. Over the course of 15 tracks—43 minutes in length—Spencer delivers quality rap verses and soothing vocal deliveries over SonnyJim’s jazzy, sample-based instrumentals, creating a rich ambiance throughout.

“Spencer For Higher 3” kicks off with “I Ain’t Got No Weed Stash.” SonnyJim provides a stripped-back feel with an array of distant jazz cymbal hits and a piercing synth motif reminiscent of something that would land on an old Odd Future album. Spencer comes in with cartoonish bars and facetious musings on just about anything that can get a laugh out of a listener.

“They know my bars cold as Klondike, invite all the slow rappers to the bull fight,” Spencer jokes in the album’s opening verse.

The intro is the perfect tone-setter for the rest of the album as SonnyJim’s production is consistently thick and slow paced, teeming with throwback soul samples and nifty jazz percussion work.

The album’s sixth track, “Caressing Diamond Swishers,” is a dreamy weed anthem, featuring a string section and off-kilter bass drum hits that create an intoxicating vibe further driven home by murky guitar chord progressions.

Lyrically, Spencer and SonnyJim make for a perfect pairing on the album, as both exhibit a relaxed demeanor perfect for the instrumentation.

“Eloquent Listening,” the album’s second track, displays the lyrical chemistry between the two. Spencer kicks it off with a witty verse about work ethic and his infatuation with weed, and SonnyJim rolls in with unique humor of his own, comparing getting high in a Corvette to a “nuclear warhead.”

When Spencer isn’t rapping about his love of weed, his work ethic or spitting funny one-liners, he gives listeners a glimpse into the more intimate aspects of his life, showing off his love for the city he calls home.

On “The Soul of Harold Washington,” which might be the album’s finest moment, Spencer pens an ode to his home city, lining his verses with his experiences in Chicago, which include days spent at Lake Michigan, trips to Harold’s Chicken with his uncle and proudly calling the Willis Tower by its former name, the Sears Tower.

“Spencer for Higher 3” is absent of trap beats or club bangers, filled strictly with relaxed, sample-based production rooted in hip-hop tradition and countless songs with quality bars for hip-hop purists to rewind and fall in love with.

For two veteran artists who have been around the block once or twice, it is clear at this point in their careers they will likely never have mainstream name recognition or a number one hit, but that doesn’t seem to matter much.

Spencer and SonnyJim are simply focused on sticking around in the rap game as long as it will have them. As long as they keep churning out records like this release, they should have no problem achieving that goal.