Word is Born son.
And on that note, let’s get back to the programme.
Every album that has featured on Flashback Fridays until now has been a 90s album, and rightly so. The 90s, for many, was such a rich time for Panjabi music. But when the tides changed course, it was difficult to see if that would ever return. But one album, released in December 2004, left a mark on the scene whose aftershocks can very much be felt today. A masterpiece body of work, from start to finish. An album that changed the course of the Panjabi scene forever. Given that the album released in 2004, it bleeded the 90s sound.
Bhangra Tape Deck sat down with Specialist ‘n’ Tru-Skool for a very special insight into their history as friends/ producers and the process of making THAT album, ‘Word is Born’. This was the first time they have had an interview together since 2009!
In this day and age, we hear of artists working on albums for a couple of years and releasing their product to the market. Very rare have we heard of producers spending years perfecting their art prior to even considering starting an album.
Specialist: Sukh (Tru-Skool) and I met each other in 1998, 6 years before Word is Born even dropped. Being the same age meant we already had a lot in common by default. What made our friendship more special was the fact that we both played the drums, were both into the same type of music, even to the extent of liking the same types of drum patterns! All these similarities helped to form our common direction in the way our music together would sound.
Tru-Skool: Way before Word is Born was started, or even an idea, we used to regularly meet up at each other’s houses in Derby and Coventry, in car parks (Fosse Park in Leicester being one of them), and play our beats to one another. Sometimes, it would seem as if we were competing against each other, but that wasn’t the case. It was more about impressing each other with our work. We always used to critique each other’s beats, inspire and help each other where needed. We were already a team as soon as we became friends. We always knew we would be doing stuff together and trying to make a change in the game.
Both: Our conversations were on another level, so much so that we also became anti-social with our family and friends. We just wanted to talk about music, full stop. From the engineering side, to the production and arrangement elements. We weren’t bothered about the small talk, e.g. asking people about their work was how their day was going etc . All we cared about was compressors and noise gates!
When ‘Word is Born’ dropped, it dropped hard! This album was the closest you were going to get to the Weapons of Mass Destruction! Initially, the idea of ‘Word is Born’ never even existed because they were busy making their solo albums.
Specialist: The original plan was for us to both produce solo albums and release them via my brother-in-law’s (Bally Rai) record label, Easy Life Records. Sukh was originally meant to release his solo album on Panjabi MC’s label, but we managed to persuade him to produce an additional album for us prior to releasing his album on PMC’s label.
Tru-Skool: I was working through my solo album when all of a sudden, my best friend, Kully Bains, who was very much a big part of our journey, passed away. Kully was a musician who played a variety of instruments, and was also a Hip Hop/ Bhangra/ Desi head. He was always the first person I played anything I ever made, to. This really put me off producing music for a while. I just didn’t feel like making music. It was only until after a few months that I mentioned to Mani (Specialist) that we put the tracks we had been working on for our own solo releases in to one album and release it as a Specialist ‘n’ Tru-Skool album.
Who thought of the name ‘Word is Born’?
Tru-Skool: Mani and I spent a number of months trying to come with a name for the album. We were never really pleased with any of the suggestions that came to the table. Then one morning, it randomly popped into my head. I ran the name past Mani and we both agreed!
Why did you choose to make this style of music?
Both: ‘Word is Born’ was a true expression of who we were as people. We liked producing that type of music. We were both into Hip Hop as well as Desi and UK Bhangra. The music we made satisfied our ears and we made it for ourselves and our close friends. The fact that the public embraced it in the way they did was a massive bonus, because at the time this album was released, the scene and style of music being produced was in a totally different place to what we were making.
Why use relatively unknown vocalists, when you yourselves were newcomers to the scene? Surely that was a risk?
Specialist: The answer is quite simple. They were all unbelievable vocalists. Those particular vocalists were chosen because they were in line with what we wanted to do musically. Kaka Bhainiavaala had released music in the past but wasn’t known to the UK market at the time. Only two of his songs were well known, ‘Nachna Onda Nei‘ by Tigerstyle, and ‘Chad Te Aashiqui’, and even then, his name was virtually unknown. He was usually credited as just Kaka on his releases, but we wanted the public to know that this guy’s name was Kaka Bhainiavaala. Kulvinder Johal was the biggest surprise because he never recorded anything in his life before, so this made him a total newcomer. It was a massive surprise that he was from Derby, UK, and not a current Panjab singer. We were happy that we didn’t have to go overseas to record him, as he was right on our doorstep. We were very big fans of Labh Janjua and we were very proud to have him on the album. We couldn’t refuse Ranjit Mani’s track when we met him to record. It was brilliant.
Tru-Skool: I had met Johal Uncle back in 2000 with Panjabi MC. PMC told me about a vocalist from Derby. I didn’t believe him, because I had searched Derby high and low for years for vocalists, with no success, so I was reluctant to meet him. I waited in the car with the windows up when PMC went to meet him. Then it hit me. The sheer power of his voice could be heard through the house and car windows! Incredible! From then on, we started working together. Mani hadn’t actually heard his vocals until I recorded Johal Uncle’s vocals and showed them to him!
Specialist: The minute I heard his vocals, I though that people needed to know about him. The album definitely got people talking about Johal and even Kaka for that matter. No one had heard Kaka properly until ‘Word is Born’ dropped.
Tru-Skool: There was no way Johal Uncle was not going to be on the album. Johal was a UK singer, and we were proud to have him featured on our album. We could have easily gone to Panjab and bought vocals from there, but we collectively made a conscious decision to showcase Johal to the world with our debut release. It was very surprising to have discovered a vocalist like Johal, not only in Derby, but in the UK for that matter. We liked to sit and compose, and record the vocalists personally rather than have them sent over the internet, as that is not how music is supposed to be made.
How did you both feel when producing the album?
Specialist: This album was an amazing journey for both of us. We had a goal in hand, and we were going to accomplish that, no matter what. We had our own studios, engineered our own sounds. We didn’t go to any external studios. We didn’t have the internet to help us either. We literally had to search through our vinyls, video films and tv programmes, to add that element to our production and compositions.
Tru-Skool: Not to sound cheesy, but making this album was a magical experience for the pair of us. The whole process of producing this album from start to finish, meeting up with one another, designing the cover, shooting the video and spending countless hours on the phone etc. This was a long process, but there was a very special energy throughout the making of this album.
Both: We want to thank everyone for buying this album, because they are the reason this album lived on and changed the scene.
Will Specialist ‘n’ Tru-Skool ever make a return to the scene?
Both: When we were making our third album, one track was completed. This track was sang by Labh Janjua, and we composed and recorded it with him. It is ready for release and we would like to release the track very soon. This song is not commercial at all, and is not made for the dance floor. It truly represents who we and our sound.
We may as well break the news too, as an EXCLUSIVE to Bhangra Tape Deck, that we are going to be returning with an EP after JK’s and Daljit’s albums are released. This EP will be a full collaboration between us both, made together from start to finish. What people are not aware of is that most of the songs on ‘Word is Born’ and ‘Repazent’ were not actually collaborations, but were made separately. So, watch out for the new EP!
Amo Hayer (@KaosProductions)
“Word is Born is an undisputed game-changing album. At the time of its release, I was not producing music myself, so actually heard it as a consumer. I remember being blown away by the quality of the vocalists and particularly, the intricate arrangements of the songs. I used to blare it in my car all day like most people. This album has never left my car since.
Word is Born dropped like a bomb and shook the industry up; and it’s my personal opinion that many, many new songs you hear today, have either directly or indirectly been influenced by the vibes that The Specialist ‘n’ Tru-skool unleashed to the world, back in 2004!”
“Panjabi MC, Death Jamm & ourselves all had an authentic Desi Hip Hop sound, because we were fans of both scenes & ingrained in the cultures of both. In the interim period from the last Skillz Inc album, many had jumped on that bandwagon, and all produced bang average albums, if that.
To then hear Word is Born in the midst of all that clutter was refreshing. It was fresh & very professionally executed. The drops, loops and breaks all fused with the added intelligence of natural born musicians like Specialist ‘n’ Tru-Skool, made me want to stick it on repeat all day knowing that the future of the Desi Hip Hop music scene was in good hands.”
Gee Grewal (@GeeGrewal)
“Let’s be honest. The early noughties was the worst era for UK Bhangra. The mainstreams fascination with all things “Desi” and the dire BhanGarage sub-genre meant that UK Bhangra was fully commercialised, watered down, and with the exception of a few albums/ songs, a bit crap.
Specialist ‘n’ Tru-Skool with ‘Word Is Born’ broke this trend and basically said to industry and listeners: This is music we are in to and will be making, whether you like it or not. Quite a bold move, but thanks to positive word of mouth and the fact it was a phenomenal product, ‘Word Is Born’, for me and true Bhangra-heads, is now considered one of the greatest UK Bhangra albums of all time, and deservingly now has cult status.
Even after 11 years, each time I listen to the album, I detect a new sound or something I didn’t hear before. ‘Word Is Born’ is one of 3 CDs that has remained in my car since release! Says it all really.“
Album Purchase Links
‘Word is Born’ can be purchased both physically and digitally via the following links:
Bhangra Tape Deck would like to thank Specialist ‘n’ Tru-Skool for taking the time out to talk about their history and debut release.
Special mention to Amo Hayer, J-Skillz and Gee Grewal for their input into this week’s Flashback Fridays post.