Finding proper motivation to attack a verse has never been an issue for Amadeus the Stampede. Nearly every performance in his extensive catalog, whether solo material or with one of his several group projects like Greater Good or Born Losers, has a single constant: an unflinching ferocity, with a flow that, true to his name, barrels forward like a force unleashed. That energy has helped to establish him as a respected underground lyricist. With his new album, “Spilling Blood on the Dance Floor,” he’s gambling that with the right production, it could also work commercially.
On a Monday night shortly before “Spilling Blood” hits stores worldwide through a distribution deal Amadeus signed for his burgeoning company, Stampede Media, he is eager to hear how audiences react to his latest work. Eight years in the making, the album is a conceptual piece that loosely tells the story of his cousin Gino’s murder outside a dance club in 2004, framed against a backdrop of pulsing bass and glossy synths that are unlike anything he’s rhymed over before.
“I challenge myself all the time, and this was the biggest challenge I’ve had in my career,” says Amadeus, born Jonlee Mendes, over a beer at a bar near his home in Everett. “It’s a different sound, something you wouldn’t expect to hear from me, but I didn’t change my core audience.”
The album’s radio-friendly production stands in stark contrast to the gravity of its inspiration: the sudden death of Amadeus’s cousin, a close relation since childhood. Without explicitly referencing the incident, the LP echoes its feeling, starting in a celebratory mode and gradually exploring more serious themes.
“The story that the album tells is similar to what happened to Gino,” says Amadeus, who will celebrate the album’s release with a performance at the South Shore Music Hall on June 27. “He started off doing good, having a good time. Then he gets a feeling, somebody looks at him a certain way. He looks back, words are exchanged, and then he’s killed outside the nightclub.”
He adds: “Sometimes I think about my cousin when I listen to the album, because if I had been there that night, it probably wouldn’t have gone down the way it did. It probably would have been both of us. So this album took me eight years, but it took me longer to deal with the fact that my cousin died like that. So now that this album is coming out, I feel like I can face the world with this past me.”
The process began when Amadeus recorded the title track. From then, he worked on the album piecemeal, the songs having been tied up in negotiations for the release of his last contract, and finished it over the last two years with help from longtime producer Matty Trump, plus Teddy Roxpin, Dirty Werk, M-Phazes, and others.
“I didn’t know what he was planning to do with it when I made the beat,” says Dirty Werk, who played tracks for Amadeus for nearly three hours before he chose the instrumental that eventually became “What Did You Say.” “I just really wanted to do something different. There’s a dubstep element that I inserted into the chorus and just laced it up.”
“I was surprised that this is what people want to hear,” says Amadeus, who also produced three tracks for “Spilling Blood” himself. “I figured I’d do a commercially viable record, but do it my way. It’s using a lot of major chords. The production is more what drives me to put songs on this album.”
The album’s greatest test is finding the right balance between beats and rhymes; when it does, the results are exciting. “Boston, Massachusetts, USA,” produced by Nox Beatz, wraps hardcore lyrics around a quotable chorus like vintage 50 Cent, while Teddy Roxpin’s “Handsome Shooter” is the album’s most obvious choice as a single, with beefy organ stabs fueling Amadeus’s verbal aggression.
Amadeus is clear about his goals for “Spilling Blood”: He hopes it can generate sales, that his physical and digital distribution deal proves worthwhile, and that it can help build his audience. But no matter how bright and club-ready the production, at heart he remains a pure lyricist.
“There’s no lack of intention with anything that I do,” he says. “I tell people all the time, what I want people to concentrate on when I sell the album is the intellectual side. It’s more than just beats and rhymes; there’s a very intellectual side to it. These lyrics can be broken down, these songs need to be listened to and interpreted for what they are.”
After playing to around 12,000 people at Summer Jam last week, Michael Christmas takes the stage at Brighton Music Hall on June 15 as the headline act on a marquee that includes Cousin Stizz (of Pilot Nation) and Gio Dee, whose recently released video for “Come Clean” (produced by Humbeats) has the look of an early summer hit. On the same night in Allston, you can find critically acclaimed New York crew Ratking playing at Great Scott, where the intimate atmosphere should be fertile ground for the noisy and fantastically grimy tracks from their new LP, “So It Goes.”Martín Caballero can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @_el_caballero.