While the Griselda wave put a larger spotlight on Hip Hop’s underground, some more casual listeners aren’t fully abreast of the timelines that have run concurrently with the group’s success. One such timeline is that of Rochester, New York MC .38 Spesh — whose has been building a bubbling brand and formidably robust catalog over the past 15 years.
But his journey started long before that. The son of a local DJ, he got started relatively young — though he didn’t begin to take things seriously until his twenties when he befriended an acclaimed New York City DJ through a mutual acquaintance.
“I got attention as a producer first,” Spesh says, “but I wanted to be recognized as a rhymer, so I didn’t focus on the production as I should have in my earlier years. That’s why it was a surprise when people started to see that I knew how to produce.”
“He used to just put me at the end of his mixtapes as a rapper,” he notes.
Time Served, released in 2012, was his first project since his newfound buzz that he was entirely free to promote actively. Out on Bail saw him feverishly stockpiling music, which was used to create In Custody.
Since fully locking in, Spesh — who was turning heads early on connecting with legends like DJ Premier and Pete Rock — has amassed a formidable catalog consisting of solo bodies of work and collaborative LPs with names who have ballooned in parallel to his, like Benny The Butcher.
His relationship with Benny dates back to 2005-2006. To put that in context with Griselda’s timeline, Westside Gunn crafted his debut mixtape Flyest Nig@@ in Charge, Vol. 1 in 2005 — and Conway hadn’t been shot yet (that happened in late 2006).
The two had a shared connection, the late DJ Shay.
“God bless DJ Shay … I recorded my first mixtapes in [Shay’s] studio. Rochester and Buffalo are 45 minutes away, so I used to travel out there cause I liked the vibe. That’s how I met Benny. He was working out of there as well.
“We immediately clicked and just started making music together. This was about 15 years ago.”
Coming into his own in tandem with the Griselda wave in Buffalo, with a lot of crossover, is significant in a way — because Spesh himself has a lot in common with the imprint’s mastermind Westside Gunn. Namely, his bigger vision while building his movement: TRUST Comes First Music Group.
“TRUST Gang started in Rochester, New York, where I’m originally from,” he says. “It was me connecting with the local talent … giving them somewhere to record. Through my journey, I met many different people from different places who all had the same common goal. So we started connecting all the pieces, and now the movement is a lot bigger.”
The diverse crew includes numerous affiliates like Planet Asia and Musalini, and signees, like most-recent team mate Ransom, whose made a resurgence in 2020 (most prominently with the trio of Directors Cut EPs he’s released with producer Nicholas Craven). It also includes critically-acclaimed Buffalo MC Che Noir, who is having an incredible 2020, having dropped Juno, produced by Spesh, …As God Intended with Apollo Brown and most recently, her self-produced After 12 LP.
Spesh first came across Che on Facebook, he explains.
“She inboxed me a record,” he says. “Usually, I don’t check out people’s stuff because I’m so busy, tied up, focusing on my own. I was like, ‘Let me just give it a shot.’ When I heard her, it was mind-blowing.”
Another artist who had joined the fold was Bronx MC and 2011 XXL Freshman, Fred the Godson.
“Fred and I heard about each other about 15 years ago,” he says. “Some of our shared friends were going to college upstate. They were plugged into what was going on up there. So he was aware of my music, and you know, he always showed love.
“He was one of the first rappers from New York City to embrace me. We started making music together … I told him I think it would make sense if he came and joined the TRUST movement, and he agreed.”
His first release on the imprint was God Level, which included the Spesh and Benny collaboration “Nokia Phone.” Unfortunately, Fred passed away on April 23, 2020, from complications related to COVID-19 — leaving behind a wife and two daughters.
“We worked on an album right before he passed,” Spesh reveals. “He finished it the last time I saw him. It’s called Down With A Gun … it’s coming next year.
As a rising tide in Hip Hop continues to lift the underground to ever-increasing audiences, Spesh enthusiastically sees the wave continuing to push boundaries.
“I see it becoming more dominant,” he says. “I see it influencing a newer generation of people to be more creative and have more substance and lyrical ability. I see it making heads want to rap again. Do you know what I’m saying? I see things progressing and moving in a better direction, lyric-wise.
“I think things will come to the point where talent will matter again, people will want to hear skills and those who have skills will shine.”
His upcoming LP Interstate 38 drops on Christmas Day and features production from Streetrunner, Buckwild and Heatmakerz — and features from affiliates like Benny on the first single, “Stash Box.”
As he explains, “It’s a big sound … the production [on Interstate 38] is full and real orchestrated.”
He also has a mixtape titled 1995 with DJ Green Lantern,’ dropping on December 11 — something he was working on moments before we began our conversation. As well, he notes the third Army Of TRUST comp is in the works.
This doesn’t even include his production efforts. This year alone he’s produced full-length projects by Flee Lord, Chase Fetti, Elcamino, and more.
Spesh’s legacy will be that of a nucleus — not unlike Shay was in his early days. Even more specifically, his work both on and off the mic and the depth of TRUST gang and immediate affiliates makes him akin to someone like RZA. And the scary thing is, he’s just heating up.