Droppin’ Knowledge: Behind The Boards With Spectacular Diagnostics

Producer and creator of instrumental hip hop, Spectacular Diagnostics, just dropped his latest instrumental LP, thebeautifulmusic. Backseat Mafia is fortunate to host him for this week’s episode of Behind the Boards. The Chicago-based artist mixes and mashes a variety of sounds for the new record, to create a jazzy and dusty collection of songs that crackle and pop with vitality. Piano loops and vocal snippets waft in and out, and it’s music that you can crack your neck to, as the beat carries you along on a headspace journey to musical nirvana. Spec’s inventive cutting and pasting always spark the pleasure receptors in the ears and the brain, and the new album is no exception.

Spectacular Diagnostics leans towards the jazz end of the musical production spectrum, but also adds funk, R & B and classic hip hop into the mix. thebeautifulmusic is a stellar collection of instrumental hip hop, but don’t stop your exploration of the Spectacular Diagnostics oeuvre there. Spec’s whole catalogue is filled with genre-bending sounds, that always surprise and delight.

Raw Game, from 2016, features a diverse group of emcees, including the guys from Griselda, Chicago favorite Vic Spencer and the stream of consciousness Quelle Chris, a frequent collaborator. On Raw Unknowns, his album from 2019, Spec mans the boards for billy woods, Rome Streetz, LORD JAH-MONTE OGBON and Generalbackpain, among others. The music booms and baps, perfect for blasting from your ride, on a hot summer day. Or, shut the lights, turn on the lava lamp, light the incense, hug your shorty and listen to thebeautifulmusic. I know. You’re welcome.

Can you guess the sample used on this cut from thebeautifulmusic, “routines?”

This interview has been lightly edited for publication.

Backseat Mafia: What inspired you to create music? What inspires you every day?

Spectacular Diagnostics: I feel like I’m inspired to make music by everything. Music I hear, what I read, TV or videos I watch, it all ties back into the music I make. Society at large inspires me, for better or worse. I work on music for some amount of time every day. Sometimes it’s out of a need to stay busy from stressful events, and sometimes it’s from just from a need to create. It’s my daily operation, to plug into music for a bit.

BSM: Where is your favorite or usual place to work/create?

SD: I create in my home studio. It’s just a basic setup of my records and gear.

BSM: Are you a crate digger? Where is your favorite place to dig? Favorite shop? What was your greatest find?

SD: Absolutely, I’ve been digging for records since the late 90’s when I started to try out producing. Digging today has changed and with COVID, I’ve taken to digging on Discogs. My favorite physical shop is Dusty Groove (https://www.dustygroove.com) in Chicago, and I’m eager to get back to shopping in the store and being around other collectors. It’s tough to pick the greatest find I’ve ever had digging, and I’ve been digging so long I honestly can’t think of one particular record I cherish over the others. I’m excited anytime I find something I wasn’t expecting, even if it’s an old break record for a $1.

BSM: What is your preferred music production software?

SD: I produce with [Apple] Logic Audio and have been for years, so it’s not just a preference, but feels like a necessity.

BSM: What is your favorite piece of audio gear/instrument and why?

SD: My Technics turntable. It’s the first instrument I use to find a sound to loop or manipulate.

BSM: What is the one-non-musical item that you must have with you when you are working?

SD: I’m pretty flexible and feel like I can work without any particular item. But, I prefer to work while drinking coffee.

BSM: What track or album are you most proud of? Why?

SD: Kid Acne’s HAVE A WORD LP. It took a long time to create, and I even went overseas to mix the LP with Kid on a vacation/work trip with my wife. Kid and I set a goal to release it with Lex Records (who he released with previously), and that label was kind of a bucket list label I wanted to work with. They have such a great history, so to be permanently in that catalog next to MF DOOM, Danger Mouse, etc., and all the fantastic LP artwork they’ve produced was a dream come true.

BSM: Dream/fantasy artist to work with?

SD: It’s probably cliche at this point but I’d still say DOOM, he’s kind of a mythical artist, and anything you’d be able to create with him would be once in a lifetime. Everything would have to fall into place perfectly to record an LP with him…and see it get released.

BSM: Favorite artist or artist you admire or one that influenced you?

SD: Maybe another cliche for a producer, but Madlib. He’s got an uncompromising career that’s dedicated to beat digging and staying true to his own sound. I’ve been a fan since Lootpack, and can still visit his older production on The Unseen, Soundpieces, and find inspiration. I don’t think those LPs have aged at all in their technique and listenability. 

BSM: Favorite music to listen to when relaxing or chilling or driving, other than your own?

SD: It changes with the weather, but I’ve been feeling incredibly nostalgic for the hip hop that dropped in 2000. People Under the Stairs, Quasimoto The Unseen, Slum Village, Jurassic 5, Dilated Peoples…it was a special time for me as I was getting more serious about making beats. All the records by those artists inspired me a lot. I can always revisit 90’s hip hop too, Wu-Tang, Hiero, Gangstarr, too many to mention. I’m at a point in my life that I’m comfortable being an old head and reminiscing a bit.

BSM: You live in a city with a rich musical history. Has Chicago influenced your sound? How?

SD: Chicago has always had great record stores, so I think the abundance of music available has influenced me, it IS a musical city. Chicago is also known for house music more than hip hop so that music infiltrated even the mainstream. FM radio had house music shows and I had friends that DJ’d at a younger age, so maybe that introduction to music being created without being in a band was there early on.

BSM: When you make an album like RAW Unknown, how do you initially put it together? Do you consult the 21st Century edition of the Rolodex, pick some friends and call them? How did you assemble the artists for that record?

SD: I always keep an ear open for new artists that are dropping. So, it’s a combination of trying to feature new artists that I haven’t worked with and some more established artists that’ll give the album more weight, that helps level-up the artists with a smaller following and give them a greater audience. I’ve always liked the idea of MC compilations because I act as more of a curator than an artist. Yes, people hopefully like my individual beats, but I’m hoping they like the full listen of the album and how the MCs play off of each other. 

BSM: You have a disparate group on RAW Unknown. How does that work, creatively? Do you think to yourself, today I need a billy woods kind of beat, and then tomorrow I need a beat for LORD JAH-MONTE OGBON? They’re different kinds of artists, I think. Rap/hip hop is pretty diverse, stylistically. Does this affect the way you create music

SD: I’m picking artists that maybe are different stylistically, but I’m trying to group them in an ecosystem that works together. I definitely need to create specific tracks for specific artists, and that’s the fun and challenge to get it all to be cohesive. So more than saying, “I need a billy woods kind of beat”, it’s how can I make one of “my” beats a track billy would sound dope on.

BSM: Does the music come first or do you collaborate with a vocalist about how the track should sound? Is the process for making your solo work different from the one you use when collaborating with others?

SD: For solo work it’s about 50/50, sometimes I have a track that I know would work for a certain MC, and sometimes I make a beat for the collab. For collab records, like the Kid Acne record, I made all those beats with our album in mind, and exclusively for the project.

BSM: Upcoming project(s)? Plugs for new stuff? Shout outs? I know you have a new beat tape out now, thebeautifulmusic. Anything else on the horizon you can tell us about?

SD: Man, lots of stuff coming up. thebeautifulmusic [is out now], I have another beat EP on VinDig ( https://www.vinyl-digital.com) dropping in the beginning of September. A new MC compilation, “DIVINE EXHIBITION” dropping this fall on Exquisite Dope Records. A tape on Group Bracil  (https://groupbracil.bandcamp.com) dropping in December, and who knows what loosies will drop in-between. Might be other surprise release LP in the mix too, the aforementioned releases are the ones set in stone. Big up to you for requesting an interview! And everyone out there reading! Stay safe!

You heard it here first!

Connect with Spectacular Diagnostics on Bandcamp:https://spectacular-diagnostics.bandcamp.com/merch

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