All emcees should know how to curate an album. In our last podcast, the BITM squad talked about the Black Panther soundtrack. Kendrick Lamar is the perfect example of an emcee that knows how to piece an album together: beginning, middle, and end. And of course it all starts with the first track. The intro track is just that, the first shot you have to introduce (or reintroduce) yourself to the public. The Marshtini produced track "Capital Investments" sounds like an early Wu joint (especially the last 15 secs), with cuts from DJ Grazzhoppa. ILL hits you with an array of clever metaphors and a sophisticated flow. While the tropes of a "hood/street" track are present, ILL is able to elevate the subject matter with his approach. I said in my review of "The Narrative" track that ILL has an AZ heir about him, mostly in his cadence and a bit in his flow. But the way ILL attacks this track reminds me of a Raekwon, with his seasoned vet-like vocabulary. You are going to hear word play that you've NEVER heard before. Doing that in a track like this shows not just true talent, but knowledge of self and the culture. ILL Conscious knocked this one out the park. Enough said. Next.
I try to stay away from reviewing featured artists. If you clicked on an artist's name, I assume you are here for said artist's review. But ILL gave me no choice. More on that later. The second track "Foreign Relations" is produced by Hi Cee and features DJ Dacel (on the cuts?) and Papitas Freestyle. The jazz infused track sets the stage for ILL to hit you with conscious and braggadocio bars that solidify his place among the bonafide spitters. Next up is Papitas Freestyle. I've NEVER heard of this dude before. The Chilean emcee contributes the hook and the second verse. ALL. IN. SPANISH (and this is why I had to talk about this featured artist). Papitas Freestyle has a Joey Bada$$ flow to him that compliments the track well. Both emcees have verses that are DOPE, but I got to give ILL a tip of the hat. It's a BOLD move to have your hook and half of your track in another language. The first thing an ILL Conscious fan (the dude that put me on) said to me was, "I have NO idea what this guy was saying". As someone who understood what Papitas Freestyle was saying, I gotta say this is one of the best Spanish verses I've ever heard. And just verse-wise, both these emcees created one of the best tracks on this album.
Speaking of Joey Bada$$, I had to get into this track. "Vibe Vibrations" is produced by Wisdom Beats and samples "Summer Nights" by Lonnie Liston Smith and The Cosmic Echoes. Joey sampled this song for his intro track to 1999, "Summer Knights". This is another jazz/blues instrumental that fits so well with the overall sound of the album. Yung Miss provides smooth vocals that accompany the mellow track. ILL Conscious is able find these pockets where he hits these melodic patterns that make your face ugly. This is going to be one of those tracks that you bump in the whip on a perfect spring day. Windows down. Bangin'. Well, that is if we ever get actual normal seasons anymore in the DMV.
I'm not going to get into "The Narrative" joint again. But trust, that is a stand out track. Peep review for it here, and the video below. When I link up with the BITM squad we always discuss the current state of Hip Hop. From the outside looking in, it appears that rappers today need a gimmick. You need them likes, or you need to be trending. You need to Kool-Aid your hair and teeth, tattoo dumb shit on your face, and mumble your way through a strip club beat that your IG followers can turn into memes. It's almost rare to expect a rapper born in the 90s or oughts to not be a product of this hyper social media world. But there is one segment of the Hip Hip community that still gives me hope. Whether you call them underground, independent, or local artists, it is this group that might help repopulate the emcee pool. Before Cole or Kendrick dominated the mainstream landscape, they were independent. They didn't have to go through the marketing team of these conglomerate machines to decide what their image should be. Or what they should say and how they should say it. Hip Hop weeds out the pseudo gangstas and fraudulent personas. ILL Conscious is who he says he is. How do we know this? Listen to the music. He is a clear product of the Golden Era. Specifically that mid 90s New York sound. You don't get compared to AZ, Raekwon, Pun, or L unless you show and prove (the Chef and Big L comparisons are mine, but I've seen others make the AZ and Pun one). The Golden Era had many defining traits, but one that gets overlooked was its intellectualism. These emcees were SMART. They were philosophers. Many were self taught. You can't fake that. To carry on that tradition you have to come correct all the time, or don't come at all. If you hear ILL Conscious, he sounds like he was bred in that environment. But if you listen to him, you see that connection is much deeper. Many people can mimic a cadence, but many can't structure and string words together to create that authentic track. And we ain't even talk about the instrumentals. ILL Conscious hand picked the perfect beats to create a cohesive body of work. The features also compliment his style well and add to the atmosphere created by great production. By this point in the review I try to see where this artists/project fits in the current climate. I can see ILL Conscious going the way of a Joey Bada$$. There might be a "hit" or two, but most of the music will be for the culture. True Hip Hop heads will support all his movements and ILL will continue to produce authentic timeless music. If ILL continues to pay homage to the great emcees before him, we might be looking at a gang of tracks where he actually teams up with said greats. I'll let y'all daydream what would be your perfect pairing. But til then, go COP The Prerequisite and support the emcee ILL Conscious.