It's not often a musical talent from the Twin Cities garners swift national attention the way that 16-year-old crooner known as Spooky Black has. It's not often that anyone does. His ascendance felt not unlike the debut of Lorde last spring: impenetrable name, infectious tracks, precocious ambitions. Though Spooky's debut single, "Without You," was not so slickly produced (nor as lyrically masterful), the mystery surrounding his talent remained—perhaps because it was tied to his physical image in the video. His slight, wan figure cast in an oversized Etnies jersey and durag belied a vulnerability that didn't match the rich tenor on the track overlaying it.
There was plenty to criticize in Spooky's early releases, including those juvenile lyrics ("Baby girl I know just what you're going through/I wanna feel your body, getting close to you") and the emotionless style in which he delivered them, but the talent remained nonetheless. As we watched him develop over the summer and eventually team up with fellow Twin Cities up-and-comers Psymun and Bobby Raps, it was watching an artist form in a very public eye. Less reverb, more affected delivery, better production values, but still the 15-year-old in a durag as people first saw him was ingrained in his audience's mind. With the addition of Allan Kingdom, officially becoming thestand4rd, the group attracted the attention of Minneapolis-raised producer Doc McKinney, who's previously collaborated with the likes of Cee Lo Green, Drake, and his current project, The Weeknd. It's officially time for things to get serious.
The question on everyone's mind remains: can Spooky deliver the goods live? Was it the work of clever audio engineering that got him where he is now? Thestand4rd's first live show (and Spooky Black's first ever—short of a choral concert) last Saturday was the testing ground, which might have been full of curious onlookers, but was instead almost exclusively attended by underage kids dressed to the '90s (windbreakers, tiny backpacks, et. al.), identified by black x-s scratched on their hands. Remember those? Also, remember K-Ci and Jo-Jo? R. Kelly's "Stuck in the Closet"? That's what the DJ was spinning to get the crowd going, though it was undeterminable if they bounced along out of irony or nostalgia.
When he appeared on stage with the same sleepy eyed look from his videos, Spooky Black was shy and reserved, letting his more experienced cohorts lead the crowd while he took cues, almost as if he wanted to hide in plain sight. But the fact remained: he could sing. The voice was less sure of itself than on its syrupy-smooth recorded delivery, but more emotional strain was a welcome sign of integrity. A mini-set of Spooky Black solo tracks forced him into the spotlight, where he loped across the stage slowly as a backdrop projection ran: scenes from woods in winter, grass in the breeze, a pair of Nike Jordans on fire. It felt like a Tumblr loop, all gritty quality and image for the sake of image, with the music the Internet launched as perfect accompaniment.
"Make some noise if he can actually sing live!" prodded Allan Kingdom, and everyone did. They were singing along with him the whole time, while half intermittently sent Snapchats of the great time they were having at an underground rap sensation show in a half-lit club in St. Paul. With a record release imminent, all we can do is listen to what this kid can do.