Being an indie rapper is a wheat/chaff proposition, especially when you sidestep most of the tropes that would escalate your visibility at the cost of your natural identity or preferred artistic presentation. Underground rappers, and fans, for the most part treasure realness – an everyman persona to identify with – and pure skill. On his fifth release, and second official full-length LP overall, the Portland native and battle rap legend provides all that and more.
Never a slouch on the mic, Illmaculate has been revered for his remarkably clean rapping since his days as a teenage freestyle prodigy, but this anticipated release is a high-water mark, showing all the growth and refinement that four solo joints, an Andre/Big Boi-style duo double album and two group albums with indie group Sandpeople should. You can tell when an artist has their mind right when their skill, aesthetics, and tastes all align on a release; a clear sign that they’ve figured out what they’re doing, who they are, and how to do it. The rapping was always there, assured to the point that it borders on cocky, it was just a matter of seeing what Illmaculate would do musically and lyrically (a test that a huge amount of musicians, not to mention rappers, fall short on). Instrumentals are properly served and you won’t hear him regurgitate out-of-place double and triple-times just because Yelawolf, Tech N9ne and Kendrick Lamar have made them cool again.
Lyrically, Illmac comes from the Shawn Carter school of talking-about-something-without-really-talking-about-it. Allusions, euphemisms, and obtuse references dominate the writing on most tracks, minus the ones about girls, that, though more streamlined than it might’ve been on past releases, lends itself to the LP’s replay power. Musically, the production follows the trend started on The Green Tape and The Skrill Walton EP of clean beats that knock with often intricate arrangements, and if there’s anything that represents the majority of the record’s approach to a T, it’s the LP’s first single and video “Under their Radar and over their Heads” and it’s spare string plucks in lock-step with a mesmerizing fingersnap and drum groove. Even when the synths and busier drum programming shows up, like on “Go Study” it seems like it’s more to do with the guest feature than Illmac himself; for the most part the album feels mellow, soulful and triumphant, seeming more like someone realizing the plateau they’re reaching rather than your standard “I’m Da Besssssssst” rapper gas.
Speaking of guests, Skrill Talk is lousy with quality ones, including Ness Lee, Chase Moore, Strange Music’s Krizz Kaliko and Tech N9ne, and Wu-Tang’s Inspectah Deck.
Need some A/V proof? Check below for album stream via Bandcamp, the video for “Under Their Radar and over their Heads”, and links to Illmaculate news, info, and albums.