"Battles With Self," the first song on Supernatural's first studio album, S.P.I.T., attacks the widespread notion that freestyle-happy battle-rappers are the rap equivalent of sideshow freaks, novelty acts who amuse live audiences but are fatally unable to write lyrics or put together a tight album. It's far from the album's best track, but its savvy conceit—Supernatural battles a skeptic who sounds suspiciously like himself in silly-voice mode—establishes Supernatural as a recording artist while trafficking in two of his avowed strengths: battle-rapping and trying on brash new voices and personas.

Supernatural ranks as one of rap's most revered live performers, a road-tested rhyme desperado whose battles and freestyles are the stuff of rap legend. But that kind of reputation can be hard to translate into album sales. Just ask Supernatural's arch-nemeses J.U.I.C.E. and Craig G, both of whom released long-awaited debuts that failed to make much of an impact with critics and fans.

Advertisement

With that in mind, S.P.I.T. goes out of the way to establish Supernatural as a lyricist and songwriter. His intentions are never less than admirable, but they aren't always matched by a commensurate level of eloquence. On "Who's The Greatest," for example, Supernatural praises, among others, Huey Newton, Harriet Tubman, Sojourner Truth, Marcus Garvey, Bob Marley, and the Black Panther Party and says that if they were rappers, "they'd be a supergroup / And Supernat would sign up to be the new recruit." Of course, his plea for black pride and unity would sound more convincing if it weren't accompanied by hapless yelping that suggests someone doing a bad impersonation of Pharrell Williams impersonating Curtis Mayfield. Otherwise, the album is much more accomplished, both lyrically and musically. "Black Opera," for one, finds Supernatural and Raekwon The Chef crossing liquid swords and spitting verbal darts over DJ Muggs' grittily cinematic production.

For a guy who earned his stripes taking down MCs, Supernatural has a voice that radiates cartoonish affability rather than aggression, and that easygoing, comic-book-loving likeability permeates S.P.I.T. It remains to be seen whether Supernatural's studio debut will escape his nemeses' fates. But it's a solid, smartly conceived, substantive disc that's much more than a live-show souvenir purchase, or something to tide fiends over until the release of the Supernatural/Harriet Tubman/Sojourner Truth/Black Panther Party posse album.