In August 2017, FADER shared a video of Daniel Caesar listing his favorite gospel songs. Among iconic names like Karen Clark Sheard and Kirk Franklin, there was one artist that kicked off the countdown: L. Spenser Smith. With a talent honed in the FAMU Gospel Choir and sharpened by collaborations with Twinkie Clark-Terrell and Karen Clark Sheard, L. Spenser Smith is no stranger to the gospel game. Gospel giants and R&B supernovas of the present and past shower Smith with praise for this simple reason: he understands the power of music in all of its forms.
On his new album, Hooked, Smith leans heavily into R&B to deliver a gospel album dedicated to the rapturous feeling of God’s love. Hooked features slight inflections of rock and country influences, further expanding his exploration of gospel and soul as the root of all music. Much of the album’s triumphs are housed in the first half of the tracklist. “Home” is a sparsely-produced opener that is anchored by Smith’s smooth and gut-wrenching vocals. One thing about this album: Smith’s voice is steeped in the love of God. He carries a true anointing and soulfulness that simply cannot be replicated. On “Truth About Love,” there are notes of rock and country courtesy of crisp guitars that are juxtaposed against the joyous horns in the chorus. He then jumps into jazz on The HamilTones collab, “For Me,” a track so stacked with intricate riffs that you almost get dizzy. The lounge feel of the song helps provide some edge to what is largely a traditional gospel song. The HamilTones also collaborated with Tori Kelly on “Help Us To Love” off of her last gospel album, Hiding Place. The vocal group adds so much structure and depth to every track they’re on, and nothing is different with “For Me.” One of the most pleasing moments on the record is “Love like… (Interlude).” On the brief track, Smith blends a DJ Premier-esque hip-hop production with an interpolation of the “No Air” (Jordin Sparks & Chris Brown) melody. If it’s not a direct interpolation, the melodies are definitely similar. Regardless, it’s a moment that recalls the days when gospel groups would remake popular hit songs. After all, is it really a great gospel track if there isn’t a touch of reworked secularism? The album’s main singles, “Saint’s Remorse” and “The Cross Alone,” appear towards the end of the record and maintain the modern standard of soulful R&B midtempos and ballads.
Hooked is a gorgeous and lush album. It’s a record about the unconditional love of God and how we are able to reciprocate His love and translate it across every interaction we have. The album generously draws from myriad styles of music that are connected by their innate Blackness and soulfulness.
Key Tracks: “Love like… (Interlude)” | “For Me (feat. The HamilTones)” | “Rooted”