Ill Poetic

The World is Ours

(Dove Ink; 2007)

By Chet Betz | 8 November 2007

With a name like "Ill Poetic" you kind of know what you're getting, right? I first heard the Cincinnati-based rapper/producer on Illogic's Write to Death 2 (2005) compilation, his beat bridging the apparently not so insurmountable breach between Midwestern underground hip-hop and grocery store muzak. The rap ideal of being "hard" seems a foreign concept to Ill Poetic, or at least his concept of hardness varies by leaps and bounds that plop it right down into a pool of Yanni juice. "Soft" is the new "hard," maybe? Um, sorry, but no.

While the drums provide some 4/4 crunch, most of Ill's productions seem attempted hip-hop sublimations of soft-rock and AC sounds; first single "The Beautiful" is synth washes, synth sax, probably synthetic Spanish guitar. Ill Poetic waxes on about how all that is beautiful; he claims that this track right here is "beautiful," and that must be what he's trying to do when he lets his music drift like so much fog. But to these ears it's a manifestation of "beautiful" that's rote and pulled from some taxed wells, at its best coming off like the sort of lite-bap propagated by outfits such as the Foreign Exchange. Reverbed guitar licks, synth pads, slow claps, and tussled chimes are the order of the day. Next song "Sugar Shack" is much more effective for its aggression, assertive drums parsing out the bleary horn stabs; Ill Poetic moves his rhymes from vague pontificating to vague nonsense, which is welcome enough. The song marks a turn-around for the album, the following "One More" working as a soulful jam and succeeded by more of the like.

So in the album's second half Ill turns down the gauze and dials up the nod factor. Posse cut "As I See It" might be the album highlight, the central guitar loop's Claptoness mitigated by fore-fronted drums, a harsh two-note whine off the keyboard, and a host of scratches. The rappers drop dour observations by merit of lofty perspective, their "insights" ranging from the ghetto's shittiness to the war in Iraq, of course; one of them even uses a line to bite the hook conceit from Killah Priest's "Whut Part of the Game?", which is just sort of a ridiculous thing to do. But then Illogic closes the track with his trademark mixture of religious imagery and spoken word abstraction in fluid yet baleful cadence, spitting about serpent's tongues and hands turning to alabaster with such conviction that his meaning feels as simple as his conclusion: "I'll stand vigilante until the airwaves are free / And I won't stop until hip-hop's a reflection of me." That's something I think Illogic realizes will never happen; dude sounds about ready to break down on every verse he drops nowadays.

The last two tracks return the album to wishy-washy softness and are really all that stand in the way of me calling The World Is Ours one of the most back-loaded hip-hop albums (at least in terms of its own relative quality) in recent memory. Without an aim at intensity Ill Poetic falls into the trap of making music that tries too hard and too conventionally to sound pretty. Beauty without texture and turmoil, man, that's the road to Kenny G.