God Knows You're Lonely Souls

Exploring Spectacular Diagnostics' heady new album +reviews of OneShotOnce & DRIVEBY, Jynx716 & Che' Noir.

God Knows You're Lonely Souls

Since his days as Earmint, that innovative period in the 2000s when he hobnobbed with indie rappers like Diverse, Illogic, and Verbal Kent, Chicago-area producer Robert Krums has maintained a quiet credibility. One need only look at his return to music later in the 2010s under the Spectacular Diagnostics moniker to realize he's operating on a different frequency than the loudmouthed braggarts and lonely mopes masquerading as mockneck geniuses behind the boards in hip-hop.

Yes, the list of names he's worked with may cause haters and hangers-on in certain circles to foam at the mouth. After all, he secured both Conway The Machine and Westside Gunn for his RAW GAME album back in 2015, two years before Shady Records made its Griselda move. By 2020, he'd landed features for his beats by a diverse range of rappers, including billy woods, Rome Streetz, and Quelle Chris, while building an ever-growing catalog with UK veteran Kid Acne. An ear as curatorial and prescient as Krums' would already be coveted as-is were it not for his absolutely engrossing instrumental works, an expansive series of releases that opens up worlds in ways that mirror some of hip-hop's finest emcee-free full-lengths.

Seemingly more appreciated overseas than stateside, the bulk of the Spectacular Diagnostics catalog that isn't self-released comes from European labels like Group BraCil, Lex, Rucksack, and, now, Blah Records. Not dissimilar to his sci-fi indebted 2021 outing ANCIENT METHODS, the nine-song If You Feel Like A Lost Soul is truly a sampler's delight that envisions matters of life and death by mixing intellectual yet intrusive thoughts with the yellowing and grit of an old dimestore paperback. Periodically playful yet often psychologically serious, this cleverly executed medley separates itself from the hastily assembled beat tapes and hard drive dumps that make Bandcamp Fridays such a chore to sift through.

At times, the project recalls the cavernous dub-hop of Spectre or Techno Animal, examining the absolute state of the concept hall on "THEORY" as sole guest Marcus Pinn deftly scratches a pathway forward. Somewhat more intimate, "HOLLAIFU" upsets its brief groove to envelop listeners in relative, icy isolation. Pinn's participation helps to keep things grounded in genre, offering a sense of the familiar on "1000 HEARTBEATS" and "HAD2" that nearly distracts from Krums' underlying Schrödinger's cat-killing curiosity. It is, then, a paradox of mixed metaphors and sonic similes, but it sings like a siren, calling us helplessly, uneasily deeper into the realm of the odd. Maybe there's a God or god at the end, to boot.

A personal favorite, "RECYCLED" borrows from Heaven's Gate's surviving archive of conspiratorial tapes while flipping through G-funk routines and outerplanetary warbles. It's not new for the likes of Marshall Applewhite to get the plunderphonic treatment by an eager producer, but Krums' relatively undoctored usage of the source material here almost seems romantic about escaping a dying Planet Earth in pursuit of bliss. (Contrast that with Boards Of Canada, whose minor masterpiece In a Beautiful Place Out in the Country scavenged the Branch Davidian ruins but masked it in blurs.) This has less to do with gimmickry than the underlying hope that comes from sci-fi and fantasy as it warns of dystopia while seeking brave new worlds. Artistically and thematically, then, Spectacular Diagnostics has more in common with Ray Bradbury than, say, Hit-Boy–and that's a very good thing.

If You Feel Like a Lost Soul, by Spectacular Diagnostics
9 track album

Jynx716 & Che' Noir, ANDY (buy it / stream it)

Niagara Falls, NY may not be on hip-hop heads' collective radar, but Jynx716 and his just-released ANDY should compel listeners to take a closer look. With the exception of "Stay Underground," all of the beats come via Che' Noir, the talented Buffalo artist whose production prowess is keeping apace with her mic skills. Even if you haven't heard the pair's preceding Careful What You Wish For, it's clear that they've done this before off the strength of the cinematic bap of "Time" and "Second Impression." His streetwise lessons can feel like tough love over beats like these, the hard facts of "No Voicemail" punctuated with each kick. Though she largely lets Jynx cook, Che' steps up to spit on "Hope" as part of an ad hoc trio with Philly legend Freeway. That said, the best guest showing here comes from Vic Spencer, as the Chicago emcee adds his unique charms to "Intent."

OneShotOnce & DRIVEBY, 6WD (buy it / stream it)

When we last heard from OneShotOnce, the Hoboken rapper had teamed with Roper Williams for the curious and compelling Hatched Caviar. Some nine months later, another Williams cohort gives it a go, his Armored Mewtwo Has No Friends partner DRIVEBY. The New Jersey duo definitely do things their way, kicking off 6WD with the Tropic Thunder trippiness of "Crying Monkey Award" and the soon-to-degrade retro release of "Chariot Rims." One can't help but get delightfully disoriented during "Owe Me One," its abandoned amusement park beat as wild ride for its rapper as much as it is for the rest of us. On the guest list for this mini-freakout, you'll find Fatboi Sharif, who amplifies the ring modulated eeriness of "Gravel Prescription," and kindred spirit Lungs/Lonesword, who rapidly raps over the temperamental orchestrations of "Runs With Ice."

Three new tracks for you to snack on...

Lawrence Matthews, "Limelight Honey"

RiTchie, "Dizzy (feat. Aminé)"

Lord Apex, "Back Outside (feat. Mavi)"

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