Earlier in the year, when Illbliss hinted that he could be leaving the rap game for good, I went back to listen to his previous albums for old time’s sake. I was disappointed by the news but at the same time, I wasn’t very surprised by it. Da Thorobred’s debut EP Street Hop was released 12 years ago. Look around, how many of your favorite MC’s who came in the game with Illy are a.) still rapping and b.) still doing it at an elite level?
For his longevity alone, Illbliss deserves tiri gbosa. For his ability to keep reinventing himself, he deserves at least one more. Over time Illbliss has gone from a backpack rapper, to a maverick adept at changing his music to whatever suits the times, all the while remaing true to the laid back, nearly conversational style of MC’ing he’s made us get used to.
His last album, #Powerful, is arguably Illy’s best work, the shift to rap more in his mother tongue was an inspired move. Topping such a masterpiece was never going to be easy. The first order of business on the follow up Illygati: 7057 however, is to address those retirement rumors head on. The album is intro’d by “Nkali” where Illbliss is uncharacteristically hasty. He rubbishes the rumors that ironically he started and boasts about his recent career wins.
We don blow whether na lamba or real rap
New vibe in the club when we jawon laya
Do I sound like a nigga way go soon retire?
No you don’t sir, as a matter of fact on the aforementioned “Jawon Laya”, you tapped right into the fountain of youth and didn’t look out of place, sir. Raves of the moment Reekado Banks and Mr. Eazi propelled “Jawon Laya” to become the #3 song in the country. They’ve helped to get the record going in the clubs, in a similar way that Terry G and Phyno did with “Aiye Po Gan” and “Anam Achi Kwanu” in the streets. Songs such as “Pere” and “Pamper You” are done in the same party spirit but not with the same quality.
Illbliss is one of the best at putting complete bodies of work together, hit songs just serve to sell them. With a strong catalogue containing 3 solid LP’s, it’s no surprise that he’d look back for inspiration on his newest one. “Hustler’s Footsteps” was carried forward from the Oga Boss album and served as “Hustler’s Feet” for the Illygatti project. On the new version, Naeto C is replaced by Vector but Phyno is retained. V.E.C hasn’t sounded this sharp all year – even though he came in with a brand new verse, Illbliss still got floored.
Criticism of my lyricism is just views to me
Forget English, na money we dey find
That said, whether Illbliss was out-rapped or not “Hustler’s Feet” is still a win. “Baba Oo”, on the other hand, isn’t and leaves a lot to be desired creatively. In a case of self-plagiarism, verses from “Jamo” (off #Powerful) were lifted verbatim and delivered over a different, jazzier beat from Reinhard. This kind of regurgitation makes you question how much thought was put into Illygati: 7057. After all, it is a digital-only release, so save for a bit of Alaba magic, you’re not going to see any CD’s pressed up and released. Is Illbliss really giving us his best work or just handing out digital leftovers?
The experimentation with digital in itself shows that even though he comes from a different era, Illbliss isn’t scared to maneuver in today’s space. On the heavenly “Illy Chappo”, he raps about listening to J Cole and De La Soul, rather than choosing to remain stuck in 90’s rap. This appreciation for the new is reflected in his own music – Illbliss isn’t scared to embrace younger artists, Jimmy Jatt is the only other elder statesman on this project. Sometimes, those younger artists drag Illbliss into an uncomfortable position where he sounds inauthentic, like with Falz on “Ayakata”, but most of the time, Illy does exactly what Illy does. He talks about lucrative business ventures (Nku), bridging cultural divides (East and West) and his belief in God to deliver us from our current hardships on (Dear Lord). Also, Illbliss never hides the adoration he has for his wife – we’ve heard songs like “Without You” from him before but in a misogynistic genre where women are rarely placed on a pedestal, when a rapper allows you see him as a husband and family man, you’re just grateful.
This is how you want the music from rappers of a different era to age – like fine wine rather than sour milk. These are the kind of transitions you hope they’d make while remaining true to themselves. That way if retirement, ever comes for Illbliss, you’re confident that it is something that was planned for not something that was forced on him by a combination of dwindling influence, cultural irrelevance and the passage of time.