By Dylan Reynolds
Artist name: iLLism
Release Date: January 31, 2019
iLLism is a Twin Cities based hip hop and R&B husband/wife duo comprised of members Envy and Fancy. Their first full length studio album Love and Loyalty released August 2017. In October 2017, it debuted at #13 on the NACC (North American College and Community Radio) Top 30 Hip Hop chart and peaked at #5 in November 2017.
I expect the groups latest album, Illuminate, to surpass even that on the charts! The album is filled with smooth R&B type singing, lyrical bars, & “drunk” moving drumbeats, reminiscent of J Dilla’s style, that combine to create the most contagious grooves.
The group has an interesting name that I personally interpret as a combination of Nas and Erykah Badu. I say this because it also seems as if the duo was influenced by those artists. The “ill” potentially coming from Nas’s Illmatic, and “-ism”, potentially coming from Erykah Badu’s Baduizm. Whatever the case, the R&B vocals are not only high in melodic quality, but have a nice rhythm that drives the beat similar to Badu’s style. The rapping definitely has an old-school quality to it at times, but mixes it up with modern intricate flows that are full of both inspiring and clever bars.
The first song “Life” starts off with a silky smooth synth that sounds almost like an electric guitar. After a melodic intro, the synth lets out a scream and the rest of the beat comes in along with lyrics. Throughout the rap there are female backing vocals that come in and out perfectly with the groove of the track, sometimes doubling with the male vocal. Fancy and Envy trade verses often repeating “welcome to life”, which is fitting as there is tons of life within this track because of the group’s ability to interweave vocal and instrumental parts and create seamless transitions between sections. The lyrical message of the song and album as a whole is generally positive and introspective.
The second song “Insecure” has an amazing drum pattern which starts and stops, creating another strong groove. Lyrically the song seems to be questioning whether one’s own insecurities are valid or not, but acknowledges they are there regardless due the artists’ current perspectives with a lover. In this track the flows by iLLism ride the beat creating an amazing R&B groove while simultaneously painting the picture of feeling insecure in a relationship.
I hear a strong Erykah Badu influence over the fourth track “Who you lovin’” in the way the song is sang. The lyric to the intro/chorus is probably my favorite in the album— “If I ask you who you lovin’— how long would it take for you to say yourself?”. The horns in the background along with the way the bass hits the pocket make this track feel extremely neo-soul in the best of ways.
The eighth track “New Money” is an interesting combination of trap influenced high hats and snare, but with R&B backing vocals and lyrical verses that hit the downbeat perfectly making the kick feel even stronger. There are several flows in this song that demonstrate the rap skills of the duo. The chorus to this song is both instrumentally and lyrically wavy and catchy—definitely one of the top tracks in the album.
Track 12 “High key” has a similar waviness along with quickly rapped verses and super relaxed choruses. The delicately strummed guitar chords leave a lot of room for vocals and the beat to just carry you and combine to give you this floating trance-like feeling. I’m feeling like “High key” is low key one of the best tracks on the album.
Overall the album seems to be influenced by everything from R&b and hip hop to funk, soul, and even trap at times. It’s full of very smooth rhythmic instrumentals, intricately layered singing and raps that display a high level of lyricism that has the ability to paint vivid/relatable scenarios. The use of synths in this album was amazing to me as they added a certain level of funkiness to the tracks. In addition to that, the smoothness of horns (when used) add a really soulful character such as in track 10 “Mnsota Nice”. This is definitely a group worth following and I look forward to future releases from them.
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