Ill-iteracy are unhappy with the state of modern Hip Hop. They are unhappy with the extravagance of stars who don’t remember what it’s like to be poor, they are unhappy that the the genre has given up challenging mainstream ideals and conventions and they are unhappy that it is no longer used to spread ideas, only to spread the desirability of a shallow and vapid lifestyle. They are unhappy, but they intend to change that.
From the outset of “The Ensembly Line” it is clear that Ill-iteracy are a different kind of Hip Hop group. The slower pace, the strangely distorted guitar string, the discussion of authenticity within culture and spoken with a wider vocabulary than most rappers can muster. They have approached the creation of a Hip Hop album with that one thing that is both absent and sorely needed in the mainstream scene: maturity.
Ill-iteracy’s aims in this album are made abundantly clear. They wish to create an album with genuinely thought provoking ideas and opinionated, educational lyrics. They want to express, through the medium of Hip Hop, why Hip Hop has lost its way, and what can be done to put it right.
The biggest problem as they see it it the use of persona. Hip Hop is about “Keeping it real”. Sticking to the issues and the problems of the average Hip Hop listener, rapping about poverty and discrimination and life from the perspective of the people struggling through it. Not about hiding behind the guise of a man whose sexual prowess could split the earth in two or whose financial resources could glue it back together. Not about making up stories of a gangland war you had no part in or a career that reached the heights of 2-Pac, Biggie and Eminem all roled into one.
Not only does this harm the legitimacy of a genre once famed for it’s unflinching realism, but it encourages those who listen to it to be as their idols are: false, fake and phoney. It makes them want to lead lives dedicated to material wealth, the objectification of women and falsifying a reputation that hasn’t been earned.
“The Ensembly Line” is the antidote to all of those tiresome clichés. The album is grown up, down to earth, thoughtful and philosophical. Love and care have been poured into this album. While others have been manufactured, this has been nurtured. Like an idea that has grown in the mind and evolved into a fully functioning spirit, full of the kind of heart and soul unheard of in the realm of the Billboard Chart.
The first track, “Intro-Spective” is like their Declaration of Independence. It denounces all of the negative elements of Hip Hop that have been blown up by the record companies, all the parasites leeching profit from the dignity of the music. It involves their own stories of succumbing to the indulgences of the industry and their fights with there own inner demons. It commits their full and complete honesty to the record. It tells the listener that they will leave nothing out and hold nothing back.
This is continued in the fantastic “Falling” one of the most bittersweet and melancholy raps since 2-Pac found peace. A mournful song lamenting the loss of not just what Hip Hop was but what it could have been. Its bright and relevant future hijacked by corporate sponsorship and out of control egos. It also is a showcase of one of the albums most interesting features. Three minutes in, the track completely changes direction and becomes something else completely. The morning turns to bitter, sarcastic anger. It’s a reflection of the collaborative nature of the album. When one song expresses a certain idea its sound is flexible to change to accommodate a different point of view on the opinion.
Perhaps most impressive in this album isn’t the honesty. It’s the humility. At one point it’s even mentioned that most people listening to the album probably won’t even know who Ill-iteracy are. For a Hip Hop group that’s almost unprecedented. The admission of their own anonymity as well as their human flaws is a million miles away from the usual “Braggadocio” we get from their contemporaries.
As well as that there is also the most refreshing thing on the album, perhaps the most refreshing thing to happen to the genre in years. A realistic portrayal of women. No bitches, no hoes, no women of cartoon proportions or pornographic libidos. “Non-Fiction Love Story” tells of that thing that is endangered to the point of extinction in Hip Hop records. The long term relationship. Not only talking about the women they love (not lecherously desire; real, actual love), but the commitment they’ve made, the financial stress that comes with it as well as the work that has to go into a relationship that makes it last.
“The Ensembly Line” is the most honest record I’ve heard in a long time. The most thought provoking sin The Roots “Things Fall Apart” and street level political since Cannibal Ox’s “The Cold Vein”. It’s as inspirational as it is invigorating. It’s a breath of fresh air that wakes you up to the bullshit going on around you. Makes you realise that you’ve only been enjoying the mainstream scene because you’ve allowed your standards to slip. But all that will change when you allow Ill-iteracy to remind you of what the standard really is.
Find it here http://ill-it.com/