Illy has long been one of Australia’s most successful MCs; his second studio album The Chase was nominated for an ARIA, his third album Bring It Back won one, and his last album Cinematic was certified gold among other accolades. There is no denying his commercial success. Even the lead single from his latest album Two Degrees, Papercuts featuring Vera Blue, has been nominated for no less than six ARIA awards this year.
Throughout the album Illy refers to either finding himself, or moving on from who he used to be. The theme of the album is very much moving forward; the album title Two Degrees is inspired by forward mover, President Obama. “President Obama was asked whether he viewed his presidency as a success, having faced such fierce opposition throughout his two terms,” he told Triple J in an interview. “His answer likened society to a ship, where you can’t steer 50 degrees at once, but if you move two degrees, then another two degrees, and continue like this, years later you end up in a very different place from where you began. And as long as you’re steering in the right direction, and progressing, your impact is made over time. This album is a celebration of moving forward, two degrees at a time.”
Recently we’ve seen a progressive musical wave on both a local and global level with hip-hop. Hip-hop isn’t just sampling other genres anymore, the lines are simply blurring. Of particular note is the amount of rappers who are singing too, to varying degrees of centrality to the record. Many artists we typically consider to be hip-hop are producing tracks, both with and without rapping, that sound like R&B, soul, blues, EDM, etc., and in this since Illy’s album often feels more like a pop record (pop’s not a dirty word, by the way). Hip-hop in 2016 is becoming increasingly limitless, like what happened with electronic music some years back (although I think it’s more because of curiosity and the increasing triviality of genre boundaries than just technological advancements). It’s exciting to see how many directions artists are heading, regardless of where they end up.
The album kicks off with a heartbeat on opening track Forget It. The fast-paced beat immediately gets the good feelings flowing, while also acting as a brief catch-up, explaining who Illy is today, and where he’s been for the last three years.
There’s a lot of hype to live up to, but the album doesn’t always get there. It’s the middle of the album that we find him in his prime, delivering rhymes atop pop hooks sung by guest vocalists with lighter lilts. This is familiar territory for Illy, his smash hit Tightrope featured Scarlett Stevens on the hook. Two Degrees features Vera Blue on the SIX-time ARIA nominated Papercuts, Anne-Marie on second single Catch 22, and Jenna McDougall on Oh My – all excellent, if unchallenging.
Extra Extra backs off from the poppy electronic sounds. The track features Melbourne’s Mike Waters, who brings a beautiful acoustic atmosphere to the fore. Combining Waters’ guitar and singing voice with Illy’s lyrical dexterity makes for one of the best tracks on the album.
As a whole, Two Degrees is solid, and certainly radio friendly. It’s enjoyable, and it’s clear that a lot of hard work into it. However, it’s hard to see it up there among the particularly strong, memorable hip-hop releases we have been gifted in 2016. It’s a good album, one that I’m sure will do really well commercially. I think Illy created this album with the intention of making himself more accessible for the masses. Evolution and experimentation is a beautiful thing to see in an artist, and while it is undoubtedly an impressive product in many ways, I personally can’t really connect with it like I could his others. But perhaps that’s not the point right now; every morning I’ve still been waking up, looking in the mirror, saying “if looks could kill” and have a dance as I get ready.
Two Degrees is definitely worth a spin; it’ll no doubt be heard on the radio for months to come, and you can grab a copy here.
Illy has just wrapped his sold-out album launch tour, but you can still catch him at a few festival dates:
Thursday 29 December – Falls Festival, Lorne, VIC – SOLD OUT
Friday 30 December – Falls Festival, Marion Bay, TAS TICKETS
Saturday 31 December – NYE Street Party, Newcastle, NSW TICKETS
Sunday 1 January – Falls Festival, Byron Bay, NSW – SOLD OUT
Saturday 7 January – Falls Festival, Fremantle, WA TICKETS