Over the course of his last few releases, the Chicago-based producer Spectacular Diagnostics has been steadily inching towards the goal of creating something like a trademark “moon-bap” sound. (“I like the idea of floating hip-hop production that still bangs, but it has that ethereal element,” he told Bandcamp Daily in 2020.) His latest, RAW LESSONS adheres to what have become his core beatmaking tenets; its 16 tracks are full of celestial synths and gossamer keys that waft elegantly through the atmosphere, while crackling, sci-fi-inspired vocal samples stitch the project together. But instead of gazing up at the cosmos, RAW LESSONS puts a greater emphasis on grounding the songs with heftier drums and ominous low-end tones—a combination that convincingly anchors an expansive cross-pond guest vocal cabal of 18 UK and U.S. MCs.
“I’m just a beatnik in search of a guitar to strum,” confesses Ohio’s Illogic on “Class,” the album’s first full track. Backed by bluesy sonics that fuse redemptive boom bap with dusty Spaghetti Western swagger, the MC’s words serve as a persuasive prompt for the album’s cast of nomadic rap souls to unite around while wandering Spectacular Diagnostics’s immersive world. Over a nostalgic piano refrain on “The Played List,” frequent Spectacular Diagnostics collaborator Kid Acne promises, “off-key psychedelic rhymes on the beat” while recalling youthful summer holidays spent chasing OutRun high scores at a local arcade. (The MC’s upcoming sixth album will be fully produced by Spectacular Diagnostics, just like 2019’s HAVE A WORD and 2021’s NULL AND VOID.) On “Whispers In The Dark,” King Kashmere twists literary and sci-fi references around the pained guitar lines that hover above the track: “Memoirs of an invisible man/ Who never strayed too far away from his original plan/ My heart is in a dark place/ Marching in the art space/ Out of phase/ Captain Sam Carter in the Stargate.”
Rounding out the album are Fatboi Sharif, Philadelphia livewire Curly Castro, and the Bruiser Brigade’s Bruiser Wolf, but the various verses always fit snugly inside Spectacular Diagnostics’ beats, never distant or disjointed. This album peaks with closer “How I Feel,” a showcase for the mic skills of Juice Aleem. “When I land, grab some space and we all could jam/ Triple dark, moving time by the slightest of hands,” raps the MC, capturing the album’s push-and-pull between heaven and earth. “Cloud hopper never limited by physical man/ Higher realms of every thoughts, energetical plan.”