Artist: Ill Harmonics
Album: Take Two
Label: Uprok Records
Rating: 8 / 10
Reviewer: A to the L
Uprok Records is steadily building a reputation for putting out dope product. With past releases from the Tunnel Rats, Mars Ill, and Deepspace 5 already setting a very high standard and scoring very highly in altrap.com reviews, it’s now the turn of Dallas duo Ill Harmonics to fly the flag. The duo, Blake Knight and Playdough, made their Uprok debut a couple of years ago with “An Octave Above The Original”, and followed it up with two major tours and an appearance on the “Extreme Days” movie soundtrack.
“Take Two” the album begins with ‘Take Two’ the song – an instantly addictive cut that features a funky jazz guitar, and some well placed samples from James Brown, and De La’s ‘Ego Trip’.A great way to start the album, sucking the listener in and leaving them wanting more. And more, of course, is provided with the next couple of cuts ‘The Crowd Is Standing’ and ‘San Jose’. Both tracks are built around smooth guitar licks, with the latter also injecting the latin flavour that its title deserves, and meshing it with a notable ascending / descending bassline. Very summery indeed.
It’s not ALL about the guitars however – cuts like ‘Bowtie Jerks’, ‘Must Be Crazy’ and ‘Mr. Chris T. Ian’ all leave the guitar loops to the side, in favour of simple, heavy beats. ‘Bowtie Jerks’ is a fun, slow paced head nodder, which owes no small debt to the Pharcyde’s ‘Passin’ Me By’. ‘Must Be Crazy’ and ‘Mr. Chris T. Ian’ however, are two examples where Ill Harmonics show that they’re about more than just displaying sharp punchlines. ‘Must Be Crazy’ features Blake and Playdough speak in simple terms of their feelings on Hiphop, and what sacrifices they have had to make to continue to make this music they love. ‘Mr. Chris T. Ian’ (Mr. Christian – geddit?) is an attack on those who claim to be Christian, but in reality don’t practice a Christian way of life, instead sacrificing their morals and integrity to make a quick buck, or in their attempts to be “down”. As with other members of the Uprok roster, Ill Harmonics are practicing Christians, and like their label mates, they manage to inject their upbringing into their music without making the listener feel like its being forced onto them.
As the album continues, it becomes evident that the with the exception of the three tracks mentioned above, the remainder of the album is dominated by tracks which are built around funky guitar loops. This is no bad thing however, and there’s certainly enough variety in the grooves to ensure that things don’t sound too similar. The acoustic Spanish guitar featured on ‘San Jose’ crops up again on ‘Backside Of The Sun’, ‘Destiny’ and ‘Cats Like These’ – the latter cut in particular stands out, as the upbeat drums mesh with the guitar perfectly to create a extremely bouncy little number.
For me though, the best cuts on the album were ‘What We Do’ and ‘Gypsy Kind’ – two joints that illustrate perfectly what Ill Harmonics are all about. ‘What We Do’ is a lot more “bare bones”, featuring little more than a sparse electric guitar arrangement, and the two emcees in “blaze-the-mic” mode. ‘Gypsy Kind’ is a fantastic story-telling “ode to a woman” joint, which utilises the acoustic guitar again to stunning effect.
(One other thing that is definitely worth checking is the live version of ‘The Crowd Is Standing’, which is tacked on at the end of this album. Its a nice little indicator towards what Ill Harmonics are like “in the flesh”, and actually improves upon the original version, injecting it with a fat dose of energetic zip.)
Throughout this joint, the beats are on point. The emcees are competent – there’s no doubt they have some nice writing skills, although I feel that sometimes their delivery could be a little sharper. Overall though, Ill Harmonics and Uprok Records have to get another thumbs up – this certainly has major replay value.