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Specs One - Return of the Artist

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Artist: Specs One

Album: Return of the Artist

Label: Abduction

Review date: Apr. 12, 2005

As a painter and graffiti artist, Specs One can be forgiven for the overblown title of his first full-length, Return of the Artist: regardless of his rap status, the title is technically true. And in the hip-hop backwater that is Seattle, a small scene best known for producing Sir Mix-A-Lot and Kid Sensational (himself remembered for launching the better-forgotten rhyme career of Ken Griffey Jr.), Specs One could easily be considered a giant, since there are hardly any other emcees in his region to measure against.

Understandably, the man dubbed “Seattle’s Baudelaire” may not measure against the real one, but what ultimately makes Return of the Artist an inessential listen is that Specs sounds like a lost Rawkus artist or Gang Starr on an off-day: a spin of this may inspire listeners to dig Daily Operation out of the crates, but they are just as likely to leave Return of the Artist somewhere in the bottom of those bins than ever listen to it again.

Though never forced or flat, Specs’ raps are understated in tone, which would be more of a positive if… a) he had much to offer in the way of unique wit, or b) his voice were at all audible over big beats like “Attack of the Clones,” which may as well be an instrumental for all that can be heard of Specs. This flaw in his flow may explain why Specs chose to leave some of his most interesting beats as instrumentals, and although the lively popping and interlocking “Travel Addict” is an album highlight, these orphaned beats aren’t especially well-integrated into the record and seem awkward and incomplete. The odd, spacey loops of “Wide World,” a strange but gentle backing track, are particularly wasted on its composer’s refusal to spit a few bars over it.

Specs’ production style tends towards an early-’90s East Coast aesthetic of dusty, sporadically jazzy loops, resulting in a mix of nondescript (“Who Is He?,” which doesn’t exactly beg the question) and mildly hot tracks (“Rap Stuff,” full of melancholy strings and the sound of a warped piece of vinyl played a speed too slow), throwbacks only likely to appeal to the short of memory or of hip hop knowledge. Lukewarm to the core, the Return of the Artist just isn’t much of an event.

By Josh Drimmer

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