Wednesday 6 February 2019

The Ill Circus By Specifik - A review and a bit more by Steve Rider

The Ill Circus
A Review and a bit more...
By Steve Rider

It is always an honour to be asked to review an album prior to its release and this review will mark my first of 2019 and 2 years since I took the decision to start this blog.

Any of you familiar with B-Line Recordings and the man who runs tings, Specifik, you will know of his first album release back in 2016. That release was Eighty3 received with rave reviews and became something of an overnight classic. It also featured many of the artists who have returned for The Ill Circus.

The Ill Circus has been hugely anticipated, as are most releases by B-Line these days. But, this release comes on the Britcore Rawmance label out of Germany But, a bit more on that Later?

To give this review a little bit more. I have asked Specifik a few questions about the Album, life and so on, to give the review a bit more depth. Plus, as something a little bit special (That few know about) I have contacted the featured artists and got a little nugget from all of them. So, dotted throughout the review will be those comments.

So, without further ado, let’s visit The Ill Circus with your ringmaster Specifik:

Opening with the Intro, Welcome to the Circus, you could well be reminded of the Phantom from the Horns of Jericho, as I was initially, you could also feel like you were in some B movie Comedy/horror flick or something with its weird dark undertone which gives nothing away about what you are walking into. 

So, you are just wondering what to expect after that into when the beat kicks in for I’m Naked. This is a proper banger of a track, with one of those head nodding beats but, retaining that slightly melancholy undertone to the track. However, with dope verses from Ghettosocks, Nilla and Timbuktu out of Canada and cuts from DJ Tones this is the perfect first performance at the Circus. So, what did the Emcees from across the pond have to say about working with Specifik...?

Ghettosocks: It was cool to work with Specifik. You can tell he's a passionate fellow. He had us over to his home. We met his beautiful family, and checked out some of his art collection and rekkids. Happy times!
Nilla: I rate Specifik 11/10 Sambuca bottles. He’s a true Hip-Hop Head, and it’s a pleasure to build with him - across the pond, no less! Nuthin’ but love for him, and the entire B-Line MASSIVE!!! Honoured to be a part of The ILL CIRCUS...
Timbuktu: Specifik is a magestik beast - huge, muscular props!!

Up next you are treated to Junior Disprol and DJ Krash Slaughta stepping up on Harambe Kwame. One of those tracks that hits with deep bassline and wicked Bass guitar riff, all capped off with proper verbal dexterity from Junior and some eerie cuts from Krash Slaughta. This is one of those track’s that, especially if you’re in the car, makes you wanna crank the volume up a few notches and bounce along. 

Junior Disprol: Having featured on the first Specifik LP and various B-Line releases through the years, it was a no brainer when Si asked me if I’d drop bars on The Ill Circus. He sent this down and dirty bassline driven number that I was instantly feeling. I asked him what direction he wanted me to take it in and his reply was “the ‘80’s”.. Simple as that, a topic right up my street as a fiend for that decade on all levels. So I got busy and shouted out Smiz aka Krashslaughta in the lyrics so as to guarantee a blistering avalanche of cuts, and that was that. Genuinely an all time favourite track I’ve been involved in.

DJ Krash Slaughta: For the second time, Junior Disprol and myself have worked on Simons 2nd L.P...And it’s the same result, a dope combo. Specifiks new album brings people and like minded artists together, and delivers a great product to listen as a whole.

Following on from that is, Straight for the Juggler. A little beat juggling skit and why not, after all, the circus is all about different acts and performances.

More guitar heralds the next performance. Balance which features Bristol native Rola on vocal duties. This is the first track which had me thinking back to the old skool days of Hip Hop when rappers would throw down, Dropping a dope verse off the top of their head just because they could.

Rola: I’ve known specifik since the late 80s and we always had a lot of respect for each other. I don’t emcee so much these days but, Specifik is always askin’ me to colab on a track, it’s only a short one but was a pleasure do. I also mixed and engineered the whole LP so have spent a lot of hours working on this project to the point I almost feel like it’s my baby too. Specifik is a grafter in all aspects of Hip Hop and I wish him much success with the ill circus.
Banging beats drop and you’re pulled in to the next performance with B-Line label mate and long time partner to Specifik, Whirlwind D. Keep on Steppin’ has a slightly darker tone, as the real world often does, as you taken on trip through how main stream media works only to tell you a scripted version of news, How we think of and view ourselves and how social media can be both a positive and negative impact on our lives. Definitely a stand out track for me but, what does Whirlwind D have to say:

As my closest collaborator and a great friend, it is always a pleasure working with Specifik. I love the energy and passion he brings to tracks we do as well as live performances and ‘Ill Circus’ is a masterpiece!

Next up, more drums and bass guitar kick in and herald the arrival of Chrome and Sy Matic (of the Skratchlords) under the spotlight. Incurable keeps that slightly dark vibe on a track that could quite easily describe a dark period in anyone’s life as Chrome drops the lyrics in his trademark style and Sy Matic flips the dope cuts with precision.

Chrome: Specifik is always ultra professional in his approach to his music and collaborations. The day he sent the beat I literally wrote and recorded the track within the next 5 hours. That says a lot about his work.

A heavy beat then drops accompanied by some frantic cuts as Sickness Scripture Pt2 drops. This track features Jabbathacut on tha cuts and Kid Lyrical from Blades. This track is hard and heavy and something you really feel deep in the core of your being with Kids instantly recognisable voice matched with the perfection of Jabba’s Kut’s. To give you a bit more on this track let me bring in Kid Lyrical:

This is actually a remix of a track from my solo album (hence part2). Really dig what he did with the beat, totally different from the original. I love that thing producers do when they flip ya lyrics a half bar forward from the way you wrote it which ends up putting a totally different spin on the verse. Stoked to represent on another banging UK release, shout to Specifik for the juice and to my boy Tibbz for hooking a brother up!

Rounding of the first side one of the circus is Bladerunner, a slightly more upbeat track featuring Cosm dropping the seamless story telling style all supported by Jabbathakut on 1’s and 2’s, word. You couldn’t have picked a better way to round off the first side. It’s been a rollercoaster of vibes; beat’s and rhymes, so far. So, let’s see what the ringmaster brings us for side 2...

Cosm: Always more than happy to contribute to the B-line legacy and anything it’s architect wants me to feature on. Everything thing Si gives me ill knock out the park for cause, standard. Big up Specifik, B-line and BMTH.

JabbathaKut: Always a pleasure working alongside my fellow B-Line camp mate Specifik as I can guarantee the beats he has ready for me to lace are going to be that 'proper' raw hip-hop shit as we all know this boy knows what time it is!!

It’s time to rep the artist’s as we kick off the flipside with Sol Zalez, straight out of Newark New Jersey, drops a track all about the visual element of Hip Hop on Back to Back Burners. DJ Tones is back on the cuts as you vibe along picturing those subway trains covered in Top to Bottoms, whole cars, throw-ups and more.

Sol Zalez: It's really cool working with Specifik and I wish the Ill Circus much success! Stay tuned.... you don’t want to miss what's coming next.
DJ Tones: Specifik has been one of the most hardest working in the game for years; it’s an honour to be part of this monumental release.

Dropping next is a track that was also the first video release for the Album, You Know How I Get Down. This is an instrumental track featuring SyMatic on the cuts. Hey, this is Hip Hop so you just gotta have an instrumental Scratchapella up in there you know what I’m sayin’.

Sy Matic: Me working with specifik just kinda happened. He started doing the Rope-A-Dope events in Bristol, and I played at all of them because he wanted to make sure there was plenty of skratching going on. We are both into collecting uk hip hop wax, and I had originally linked him after buying a bunch of Britcore Rawmance stuff, and eventually he got in touch to ask for some cuts on The Ill Circus. I just layed them down at my place, sent him the files and let him do what he needed to production wise. They ended up making a really dope video for one of the tracks; I'm looking forward to the finished album!

It’s another head nodder dropping now, and the second video release, with Uncle Mic Nitro assaulting your eardrums with that characteristic rap flow. We Come Around is proper dopeness you can’t help but, bounce along to with DJ Tones popping up again to scratch this, the fuck up. Nuff Said...

Uncle Mic Nitro: Without sounding like a sycophant Simon is a hell of a guy who seems to juggle a million plates somewhat effortlessly... He is someone who still embodies the true spirit of the art form, formally known as "Hip Hop"... He runs shit, makes dope music and sticks to his guns... His latest album fully embraces that ethos... The music he makes is an honest reflection of his character... This isn't an album for the trendies or tastemakers... Nor is this is an album targeting the purists... This is a fan of Hip Hop culture making music for the love of it... If you know Specifik then you are probably a fan or a friend... If you don't know Specifik then you should probably get to know him... My world of Hip Hop has most certainly been improved by him being in it... Now go and buy the album muhur fuherz.

The heavy piano hitting for the next track might make you think you’re in for something with a dark feel but, Sposed To Do is anything but that. Doozer and Crystal Carter feature on this funky upbeat track that will have you pleasantly surprised and the video for this will mirror that feeling for sure.  

Doozer and Crystal Carter: Specifik is an unstoppable force in UK hip hop, his dedication and energy is contagious, he gets the best out of the artists he works with because you know that's what he's given.

Escapology is the second track that has me reminded of the old skool throw down style with Iceski dropping the lyrics, with top references to Rope-a-Dope, cold Krush and more, over a banging beat all topped off with some dope cuts. Do I need to say more...?

Iceski: Specifik has incredible energy and passion for the scene, a real force. I am always honoured to be asked to be part of a project & was buzzing to be included on this one. I wrote this verse for Specifik in an old school furified freestyle vibe & he smashed it as always with the right beats, music & above all top most quality. Salute
Next we have Dis-May, which is probably the deepest track on the album. Here Figure of Speech tells it like it is about some of the subjects that are very controversial and relate to how the British Government have failed those who have worked and/or given their lives for the country they call home, sobering indeed.

Figure of Speech: Initially I approached Si with the rough vocal ready and a beat that I started.
I was wondering if he wanted to remix or put his tilt in it but I then thought, man you should just do your thing! So he made the beat fit the lyrics, I usually work the other way around so this was a first! It came together quickly in terms of production. It came together quickly in terms of production. He hit the nail on the head in terms of the vibe.

It’s now time for another classic as Specifik is joined by long-time partner in rhyme, Project Cee, on No Hatchet. Many of you will know these guys have dropped many a classic in the past and here they are back on point delivering exactly what you knew they would...

Project Cee: After collaborating with Specifik for almost 20 years, it’s always good to get called up and slot a verse or two on a project alongside some dope emcees.

Into the last performance of the Ill circus and it’s all about Family. Carpetface and Uncle Mic Nitro spit verses on this one which is a fresh little expression of what the Hip Hop vibe is all about. The comedic little intro is like a pallet cleanser after the rollercoaster ride you have just been on. But, it’s always good to know you have an extended family with which to walk this path through that which Hip Hop is.

Carpetface: Working with the Specifikator is always nice and simple even when the work might not be easy. It’s also always a tonne of fun! With the B-Line crew I feel more like a kid in a sweetshop, less like one in a SWEATshop. Really loved doing the vampire voice over for the album intro, I had a right laugh making it and when he came to me with the idea I was like fuckyes! It's great working for a label who's head honcho is so straight down the line about plans and business while being so open-minded supportive and passionate about Hip Hop and our UK scene, while also remembering how important it is to have as much fun with it as possible. That's why the womens call him El Specifico and the mens call him Specifikus Maximus. Or Simon. Word is born x Carpsichord

It never ceases to amaze me at the level of stunning releases that we are seeing from artists across the globe who are keeping the essence of what pure Hip Hop has always been.

What Specifik has done here is take that essence of Hip Hop and put his own vibe to it and then gather together some top Emcee’s and DJ’s from all over to craft what is arguably something very special. The Ill Circus has everything you could want from a musical journey which encapsulates not just the elements of Hip Hop but, touches on subjects that the listener can associate to regardless of where they are in the world and Hip Hop has always tackled many a subject be it the positive one’s or the Harsh realities of the society we live in.
It takes skill to craft something like this, to take the listener on that rollercoaster journey and keep them focused on the vibe and the ride from one track to the next. That is especially so when you have to orchestrate that across Seventeen tracks. But, The Ill Circus takes you on a ride through a whole host of emotions, making you feel every track to core.

The production just fits perfectly with each of the featured Artists, who each bring their own individual style to the table, be it Rap style, Turntableism or singing. I would contend that there simply isn’t anything to dislike about this album. Yeah, you could say that some of the tracks deserve to be a little bit longer but, hey would that really be necessary?  

Let’s not forget the others that have been involved in putting this release together. There is so much work that goes on behind the scenes that most people don’t think of when they throw on the latest release. But, i always like to shout out as many as I can.  So props go out to:

Mr Tibbz for puttin’ in the work on the Artwork and Design.
Havok for the dope wall that makes up the inner sleeve Graff design.
Jonior Disprol for “Drawing my Mug” for the awesome inner sleeve artwork.
Paul Taylor for capturing mood on the cover Photography.
A huge shout to Toda @ Britcore Rawmance, Nuff Said.

Personally, I loved everything about it. It ticked all the boxes for me and was a true pleasure to review. I felt the vibe and the emotion buried deep within it, right from the get go and it made me really realise that 2019 is gonna be another wicked year for Hip Hop in the UK and probably worldwide.

In fact, I would go so far as to say this about The Ill Circus:

People always talk about setting the bar high when it comes to a release like this. Well, for me, with The Ill Circus, Specifik has taken the bar and stuck it at the end of the some scary ass SAS style assault course and then set the challenge for all comers to step up and claim it if you can.

This is most definitely one for the collection and, I suspect, the vinyl versions will not be around long so keep your eyes peeled for release day, your finger paused over the button and most definitely, Don’t Sleep...

Hip Hop is dead, Ha! Don’t make me laugh...

Anyway, it’s not over. I said that I had put a few questions to Specifik about the album and life in General. So let’s go over to that Q and A with The Ill Circus’ Ringmaster.

Eighty3 has become something of a classic. What's the significance of 83 and how do you feel about that album now?

That’s kind of you to say, big ups man.. Eighty3 was a big step for me as an artist. Without all the years of graft with my music and the label I would have never got to a place where I was able to do it. These things don’t just happen, I’m very lucky to be in touch with a lot of talented people

With such an impressive line-up of artists on Ill Circus how do you decide who you want to feature?

I generally have the Mc's in mind when I’m making the tracks. Whirlwind D is a good example as I tend to try and push his boundaries a bit which often works; Keep on Steppin’ is defiantly a highlight.

I know you have mentioned this on Cold Krush Radio and on the phone but, could you explain the reason for releasing on Britcore?

The decision to release on BR is purely to strengthen the relationship with our friends in Germany. Every time we go we have such a good time and their passion is unparalleled. It’s good to give something back. .

So, with everything you got going on, you know Job, Dad, DJ, Cold Krush etc how do you fit in time to do an album?

I don’t stop, even now as I’m typing this I should be in bed as I’m unwell. Work, Work, Work and stay focused on my goals. I might sound a bit sad but I have an excel sheet to keep me organised and it also keeps me in check as I can see if music stuff starts to outweigh family commitments which of course is my priority..

With the release immanent, how are you feeling personally about the album, how do you think it has turned out?

This is a question that makes me squirm; I find it hard to give an opinion as I’ve heard it so much I’m actually sick of it. To the point you start to question it, then compare etc. It’s not unusual at all for 2nd album paranoia. The good news is lots of people are saying they are loving it so I can relax now.

There is a great mixture of style to the album and something for everyone in Hip Hop, from the DJ's and Emcees to the Graff writers and Breakers. Did you see it this way or was it just a natural progression?

I think that’s just a reflection of me, I’m into and have been a part of all aspects of this culture, I live it every day so it’s no surprise my work reflects that. However in 2019 I guess that might throw some people but if you come from the first generation of UK bboys you will understand.

What was your initial motivation behind doing this release? What brought it all together for you?

I’m just not done yet; I have more to give so whilst I’m motivated I will carry on.

The Ill Circus Tour has recently kicked off. What do you enjoy about live shows be it a gig, Rope-a-Dope, Cold Krush Radio... Do get a real buzz from the live shows and crowd reactions and interaction?

The live aspect of Hip Hop is everything to me. This culture wasn’t designed for hoarding memorabilia and talking it up on social media. I’m a social guy and to me there is nothing better than sharing experiences.

and Lastly.. What is next for you? I guess there is the Ill Circus tour but, what else is in the works, more Rope-a-Dopes? More new Music..cos, you have this new release with Krash Slaghta too..? Could you give us any little insights into the future?

The future is never really mapped as I like to be spontaneous. What I can tell you is I’m not giving up yet on any of it so expect more records and reasons to leave the house. . 2019 it’s on...

OK People, so there you have it. A review and so much more to boot!

But, that’s ya lot now...

I have only one last thing to say,

Get this release and support the independent artist’s out there who bust a gut to drop pure dopeness like The Ill Circus because they love what they do and do what they love for your listening pleasure and they still get out there and work the 9-5. I know because I do it too.

Till next time,

I’m outta here...