Spectre – ‘Ruff Kutz’ LP [PAN]

This is what reissue’s should be all about, exposing lost gems still relevant and inspiring. PAN have stepped up to the plate big time, reissuing and remastering a rare cassette mixtape from 1998 Brooklyn.

Spectre is alias of the wonderfully named Skiz Fernando Jr. (begging the question why have an artist name at all?), originally a Brooklyn journalist who was instrumental in pushing the experimental side of hip-hop in the ’90s. In ’94 Skiz formed the seminal WordSound label on a borrowed grand from Bill Laswell, and the rest is history. 

And while we’ve all got WordSound in our collection, I’d be lying if I said I’d been paying much attention to Spectre’s own solo releases, or even pulled out anything recently from their ’96-’04 years that were so influential. More full me.

Ruff Kutz was originally in released in ’98 as a super-limited cassette, a mixtape from Spectre of unreleased, alternative mixes and incomplete beat journeys from the WordSound vaults. The end result is an inspiring 90-minute journey of dark and hazy beat production and sideways lyricism.

Most of us will associate these tapes with the likes of DJ Krush and Shadow, with trip-hop and the Bristol sound or just experimental hip-hop. But back in the day Ruff Kutz was classified as ‘illbient’, a forgotten term oft-applied to a specific period and group of artists in Brooklyn. It’s nice that the remaster and rerelease of this mixtape also cements that small part of music history.

The Jungle Brothers, Sensational, Kevin Martin aka The Bug and even Skiz repeatedly under different alias’ all appear as unreleased pieces from the mid-’90s, blended beautifully together and bizarrely narrated by a pitched-down electronic voice. Very cool stuff.

You don’t see many mixtapes pressed to wax in full. Edan’s Echo Party set a new benchmark, with him replaying instrumentals and effects, and while Spectre doesn’t go that far we can happily agree that this is up there right behind it.

PAN have done the proper job on the release too, remastering from the original DAT and pressing up on heavyweight vinyl, presented in a 2×12″ pack with decent sleeve notes. The only thing better would be to get one of the original 100 cassettes, but even then you’d probably want the remastered version as well.On that note, you can check out the unmastered a-side below, an upload of the cassette version that’s been on youtube for about two years.