The Return of the Return
The 10th Anniversary of Specs One's Classic
Before the big year of 2005-a big year for local hiphop, that is-four albums made it clear that something was in the air, something was about to really happen. Though no one knew exactly what shape this something would take, everyone was certain that it would somehow be related to one or all of these albums: Gift of Gab's 2004 4th Dimensional Rocketships Going Up (yes, Gift of Gab is from the Bay Area, but the album was recorded in Seattle and produced by Jake One and Vitamin D), Blue Scholars' 2004 debut Blue Scholars, Onry Ozzborn's 2003 The Grey Area (which was released by Portland's One Drop), and finally, Specs One's 2004 Return of the Artist. Specs One's album was recently rereleased to celebrate the 10th anniversary of its creation.
Specs One is a much-admired local rapper, producer, artist, and activist who fell in love with hiphop in 1979 and began making music in the mid-1980s. As there are writers for writers and filmmakers for filmmakers, Specs One is a rapper for rappers. It's not that he doesn't want to rap for everyone (he does), and he has nothing against fame and making money, it's just that he can only make hiphop that he wants to hear, hiphop that he loves. You can separate, say, Jay-Z's music from Jay-Z (indeed, he says as much—"If skills sold, truth be told/I'd probably be, lyrically, Talib Kweli"), but you can't separate Specs One from his music. And the more you are your music, the less likely it will speak to or connect with a large audience.
Return of the Artist was released by Abduction, a label founded in 1993 by the experimental trio Sun City Girls. The Sun City Girls were big fans of the "insane number of limited-edition cassettes and CD-Rs" Specs One made, and describe him on their website as the "Holy Ghost of Northwest underground." The album, which has 15 tracks (the reissue has two bonus tracks), is a timeless work because Specs One never followed a trend or a specific school. You can't describe the beats and rhymes on this album as Northwest (as a rapper, he almost never mentions the rain, nor is he preoccupied with his city or a neighborhood in the city), or West Coast, or East Coast. Specs One's raps mostly refer to an almost pure and placeless hiphop realm. Recorded over a period of three months at Bean One's studio, Return of the Artist is Specs One's most fully produced work and his highest achievement. Yes, he is still active and still releasing great stuff, but he has yet to surpass the unity and clarity of Return of the Artist.