So it has been 6 weeks since the release of this album. And I was waiting for months. Ill Bill was at the top of his game on "Hour of Reprisal". The variety of music and lyrical Influences were a relief in this disgusting quagmire of present pop music that passes for hip hop. On the other coast, Muggs has cranked out 3 dope albums under his "Vs" moniker. So this East to left collabo of two top performers had me stoked.The other aspect of this that had me drooling was the talk from the two men regarding "the Album". Well, that and the proven track record from the two artists ( "Vs." x 3 from Muggs; LCN and "HOR" from Bill). my biggest complaint in hip hop - that we trace through the prior decade - is the lack of "the album". It can be seen that I do not decry in solitude by this past summer's Rock the Bells tour focusing on just that. But I would say in whole, the rap album where you can listen front to back without skipping a track is now an anomaly. Remember Cube, PE, Too Short, EPMD, Geto Boys? My analysis would render that these magical concoctions were due to producers and rappers being together. Physically and mentally. Seeing the album as an artistic product. GangStarr, Hill/House/Doobie, Wu, Beastie Boys, Tribe and certain others were products of this distinction: in-House producers that were part of the group, and hence, the creative process. Like these days, Ed O.G. & Pete Rock, JMT, Gza & Muggs, 7L & ES, M Polo & Torae - these cd's stand out. Think Primo and Guru, Sir Jinx and Cube, Kool G and Marley (or Jinx, for that matter), Ice-T & The Syndicate, PE with Bomb Squad, EPMD with Scratch, Dilated, rap-a-lot.
But these days, it is about the "single". Which has rappers paying producers to provide beats that they made alone; not specifically for a particular mc. Don't get me wrong, there are exceptions through out history. Anyway, Muggs agrees and sat in a room, in a lab, with Ill Bill and they made an album. One that was a culmination of effort, energy, work, communication, compromise, and collaboration. *(damn, the "u-Massacre" lp had Meth, Ghost, and Rae record separately. And we wonder why there is a lack of chemistry?) So how did this end up....
Fuckin dope. What we get handed is classic Muggs, with a slight twist and Bill at his peak. A snare roll that opens up "Cult Assasins" morons into that marching beat that we heard on the
Muggs - Asia lp. We get a simple beat with a fuzzy bass and chants that keep that ethereal feel Muggs loves. Some space age funk twirls in and out to add atmosphere. Bill, as most of this album will be adorned with, lays lyrics obsessed with conspiracies and Illuminati and bible codes and such.
"Trouble Shooters" gives us an elaborate weaving of the same apocalyptic scenarios from Bill. Sick Jacken murders his piece. Sean Price Comes up and kicks a great verse of thug Vs brain type options. While OC rounds it out with a strong verse. Love that guy. Muggs gives a Rza type beat with that repeating stringplay enhanced by a Muggs drone and hum. Wraps it all up nicely.
"we got a black president, the aliens will be here soon" starts off "Illuminati 666". So with those "end of days" intro - you get the vibe. I'd say this is average Muggs beat, which makes it better than most still. This rocker has that synth stomp. and with introspection like "...meanwhile the mass-population consumes / i'm in a catch 22, too smart for my own good / intergalactical, too smart for my own hood / my x-ray vision sees through..." relays the scale of his thoughts and the grand weight of the mental burden this truth-seeker lays upon himself.
These songs are great, but the lp really kicks in with "Amputated Saint" with B-Real. This tune just lifts the energy level. Muggs beat is haunting with his chants and dusty drums. Crackles enter our ear to add to the ancient secrets Bill and B are discovering and enlightening us with words of wisdom. B-Real spits "they got hell to pay and i got hell to raise..." as i smile. Drugs and violence lace the entire album, and B-Rizzy sums it up: "We got the greenery and heavy machinery / life don't mean a thing to me - bitch, enjoy the scenery". The is the message encompassed. Life is a hard trek, get high and enjoy what you got. live for today.
Bill knows how to write a hook. And these paranoid warnings provide the fertile fodder for Bill to strengthen that skill. The entire cd keeps your head noddin' with provocative flows repeating.
The next jam has LCN brothers Slaine and Everlast join Bill on an Indian sitar loop and a catchy snare clap. Chanting weaves in and out to add that spark. Bill kicks "use computers To rob commodities/ abuse technology / Produce monopolies/ google and YouTube robbery" to school the listener in a verse that is spoken to teach. Slaine slams a stellar spit and i am high just listening to the hypnotic beat. Ev kicks a simpler phrasing, but kicks it with a punch.
That next song ( is centered around an electro-synth loop that i expect Lil Wayne to jump on...i get a little apprehensive, but as soon as Bill spits i cannot deny that it bangs. i quickly adjust. Muggs still whoops out his Marching head banger feel on the beat. And some audio tweaks to some speech part helps. I also hear some metal sword clanging in the background. Ill Bill calling "Sarah Palin is a Wu-Tang fan" makes me chuckle. But the defining moment for me is Q-Unique..."in the constellation of rappers, i am the top star / superbad, mclovin', shootin the cops' cars /yeah we all loadin the clip and feelin the heat / but y'all aint' killin' the street / like Ill and Unique". Boom! and when he spits - "Fox News Room, where my sanity dies, cause i get more truth out of Family Guy". whooooo!
the slow crawl of drums and a whistle lead us into "The Owl" with a creepy guy talking some mob shit for a quick rest
The following 4 songs are absolutely incredible. Best beats one the album, bringing this shit to the next echelon.
"Millenniums of Murder" is a killer Horn march with crackles and gun shots that boost it to an epic feel. a disjointing Psycho type prickly horn carries in verse 2.
"Chase Manhattan" is a classic beat - total 70's soul tune. deep horns, wakka guitars, and layers of drums help us klisten to a bank heist story from Chef and Bill. Smoking. *( best line, "listening to Lamb of God, while i pack the Bong")
"Ill Bill TV" opens with a scream into a cloudy, dark hammond organ loop. crisp metal like pipes banging supply the head knock beat. Horns come in a little later. But the organ is so dope, it carries the whole thing.
"Secrets Worth Dying For" is another organ riff with a punch of drums. it is slower, but sick. I love organs (....hold the joke) and this is the shit. Chace Infinite guests.
This is by far the best beat on the whole thing. a somber piano with some of beat bass drums lay a foundation for a raw boom bap song. less is more. Add Vinnie Paz and B-Real on the track and you cannot lose. i feel like a bad-ass thug just listening. Intellect and bravado stomping. "The symbolism is just like a prison / i am trying to free you from your condition" - B-Real. A Gritty beat for the grittiest, Paz; with two other soldiers of the war.
We go out on a somber note, "Narco Corridos" has an eerie synth beat with pummeling drums and a haunting chant in the back. Uncle Howie often comes up with Bill and you see how the sorrow and reflection resonates with the wounded Bill. Sick Jacken comes up and tells and equally morose tale. a good song to end on.
Ill Bill is the master of multisyllabic rhymes a la Too $hort, Rakim and Kool G; or contemporaries Slaine, Eso or Apathy. This album has Bill never slowing his message or sound. His subject matter sticks with the conspiracy theory that takes up maybe half of his last album. This paranoia fuels the desire to fight the powers that be, hence the drug and gun talk; which is never brought up simply for novel effect or needless violent tales.
This album is a banger. no doubt. This album is New York. Dark, hustling, gritty, reality. And the samples, lyrics and names reflect the NY vibe and attitude. But Bill is never fettered by this, he still peers at the whole world and how he and NY fit into it. He examines the Big Picture with a fine toothed comb. Smart, articulate, and skilled rhymes are the solid pith of Ill Bill, and with a consistent producer, especially one of the tenure, talent and vibe of Muggs, is the perfect pairing. Get this now.
And then go read a book. Bill and Muggs will suggest both, i think.
This review was taken with permission from the excellent Empty Hands PVD blog.