Our subject for Episode 2 is Chicago-based producer Spectacular Diagnostics. We talk about how a 3 song EP evolved into one of the most unique producer albums we’ve experienced.
RD: You have backgrounds in both music and graphic art fields?
SD: Yep, I went to art school. After toiling in some odd jobs in my 20’s, I stumbled upon the job I’m currently at which is in graphic design and creative director. In my free time I make beats, its something I’ve been doing forever.
RD: Your first release as Spec was Raw Exotic, a 3 piece EP that featured Vic Spencer, LongLiveCarl and Jeremiah Jae. What sparked the flame to get this series of work going?
SD: I had been producing music under Earmint from the early 2000’s until about 08, 09. I just got burned out after awhile, but when you make music the itch never really goes away. After a few years passed I said to myself I’m not dealing with a label to put something out, let me invest in myself, self-release something and see where it goes.
Jeremiah was the first person I reached out to, I had heard his work on Warp Records and thought he was a perfect fit for what I was trying to do. Vic was someone who was becoming active in the Chicago scene, his name was popping up more and more. Once I got more familiar with his stuff, I felt the same, that he was a fit and could be fun to make some music with him.
RD: Raw Game was the next release in August 2015. You added what would become some big names in underground hip hop, including Westside Gunn, Conway, Smoovth, Pyramid Vritra (Odd Future) and Quelle Chris. Pyramid is someone usually associated with production, whether with OF or his side group The Jet Age of Tomorrow. What made you want to get him on as a vocal guest?
SD: Pyramid was on Stones Throw at the time, and I was into what he was doing and thought it would be a unique voice to add to the record. I wanted to blend some different worlds of hip hop together, so I reached out to a myriad of rappers with different styles and see who would get back to me. I first heard Gunn on The Purist’s Pyrex Scholar album and immediately said to myself I had to get this man on a song.
RD: How was the response on the whole?
SD: Great, thanks to Paypal Credit and just talking to people it went very well. When I told the artists my background, and that there was no label behind it I think that was key. Everyone was really cool about it, and worked for rates lower than what it normally takes to collab with them. They were into it, and worked with me on the financial tip. The response was amazing, everyone involved in the record was easy and very cool to work with.
RD: Does Raw Game happen on a label?
SD: Probably not, because when there’s a label behind it there’s more money involved. And then rates go up, I still could have dropped a number of these on a label but it would have never been the project that it became.
RD: Avant Raw came next, this added a few more lesser-known rappers and much more instrumentals.
SD: The name says it all, this was showcasing more experimental vocals and instrumentals. Some of it was some work I had done as Earmint, just showing a different side of my production. A more abstract wordsmith like Milo would not have fit on Raw Game, Nolan the Ninja probably would have, he spits hard but in an artful way, so he was a fit for this as well. It was a tougher sell than Raw, but the feedback I got for it was very positive. With Raw you had fans of The Winners buy it for Smoovth and GxFR buy it for WSG and Conway, I didn’t have those affiliations with the additions on that one
RD: Raw Game and Avant Raw both have really interesting artwork, take us through it
SD: Before I started working on Raw Game I was working on an app with a friend that I was really into. So it just kind of evolved from that, that side-scroller game look where a character finds himself in these odd worlds. For Avant I wanted to push it further, and reached out to some cartoonists and graf artists. Matt Furie worked with me on a lot of the characters, he’s actually the creator of Pepe the Frog
RD: Oh shit, that really took a turn as time went on
SD: Yea, it just started out as this funny meme character, and then the alt-right weirdos made it this mascot of hatred.
RD: That had to been a really odd experience for Matt
SD: Sure, there was a lawsuit against him and everything. He didn’t have anything to do with it taking a racist turn, once something is on the internet it becomes public domain, people alter things and take it in a totally different direction. It’s not like you can just knock on some 14 year old racist asshole’s door and tell him to stop, its just out there.
RD: Those 3 releases led to your most popular release, The Spec Tape. You add even more special guests to your growing list of work
SD: It started with Rambo Bars, Conway was doing a special on features on IG, happened to see it that morning and thought I’d treat myself for my birthday. Added Nolan The Ninja and Chris Crack and knew it would be a killer single. At the time I was shopping all my work compiled as a physical release, and after a few other conversations I ended up speaking with Justin at Loretta Records. He told me in order to do that, we needed a few more new cuts. I had 90-100 minutes of material on deck at that point for the comp, so it just needed some final pieces to complete The Spec Tape.
RD: One of those is my fav Spec D song, Stack The Cabbage ft. Al Divino/Crimeapple/Smoovth and Flashius Clayton
SD: For that I wanted some up-and-comers, Crimeapple is a guy that is going to blow up, loved his stuff the minute I heard it, he spits very precisely. A lot of today’s newer guys are all about the vibe, the bars take a backseat. Not the case with him, his music already has a vibe and the detail in his lyrics is incredible. Divino is a beast, not only great bars but that voice! Dude sounds like hes been smoking since he was 6, his stuff is powerful and gritty. Smoovth is smooth, hes a very cool guy to work with. Very lyrical, very responsive, you send him some stuff and he gets busy right away. It’s very refreshing to work with people like that. Flashius is a guy that’s going to have a much higher profile as time goes on, I had heard some stuff and thought he’d be a perfect 4th piece to the puzzle. He’s a talented guy with a ton of potential, very dedicated to the craft. The response to the track has been nuts
RD: Smoovth is the guy you have the most work with thus far, with him being on the Spec Tape twice and also having 2 Soundcloud exclusives in ‘Cobra Clutch’ and ‘Sauerkraut’.
SD: We both loved the Ketchup record, so I thought I’d reach out to him again. He did really well on the tracks I sent him, looking back I probably should have sent him some different stuff. If you look at what he’s doing with the H.N.I.C. album with Hus, SS96J and Medellin hes really coming into his own, making some of the best music in the underground.
Editors Note: All 4 tracks with Smoovth are bangin, we feel Spec is being a bit hard on himself here. Check those 2 exclusives out on his cloud.
RD: Grandmilly and Koncept Jackson were the other additions
SD: Mutant Academy is everywhere now, after hearing some of his stuff his voice it stands out so much. Felt like him and Grand would be great additions and it completed the newer body of work.
RD: Describe the feeling of getting Spec Tape pressed up, its available on disc and cassette.
SD: Excited. It’s cool to see these collector pieces come back in style, and be apart of that. It feels like a bigger deal now for a lot of UG releases, if your project gains enough steam it has the potential to get pressed, and that’s big. That means someone got out the streaming/digital world and actually copped your shit. The stuff coming out of Loretta and FXCK RAP is getting better all the time, so to be a part of it is very cool.
RD: Let’s talk about 2018 plans
SD:There’s a lot in the works, I’m just unsure of when everything is coming out. Kid Acne is an artist from the UK that I’ve been working extensively with. It started out as 1 or 2 joints, then as time went on he got more and more joints from me and its looking like a full project. It will have a Def Jux/Stones Throw type vibe to it, Kid has a really unique style. This was something I couldn’t have made as Earmint, the technology wasn’t there to work with artists overseas. Now I have the ability to do that, and Kid could really take some of my work to the next level with the way he writes.
I’m going to put out a beat tape on Loretta, just haven’t decided what to use for that. There’s some Spec solo stuff coming, just have to plan it out out but yea there’s quite a bit of material in the pipeline.
We thank Spec for coming on, and wish him well for whats shaping up to be a big 2018 for him.
Loretta Bandcamp : (Spec Tape digi): https://lorettarecordsusa.bandcamp.com/album/the-spec-tape
FXCK RAP Spec Tape disc: http://www.fxckrxp.com/product/spectacular-diagnostics-the-spec-tape-cd