It’s one thing to say a lot on an album; it’s quite another to actually have something to say. Drawing from artists who are equal parts entertainer and activist, Ill Bill uses his new solo album, The Grimy Awards, as a platform to both tell his story of growing up around drugs and violence in Brooklyn and sound the alarm against blind acquiescence to authority.
The former Non Phixion MC, coming off recent collaborations with La Coka Nostra and Vinnie Paz, teams with a host of collaborators and producers — including Large Professor, Pete Rock, El-P, HR of Bad Brains, and more — to showcase both the scars and the life lessons that come from being a hip-hop heavyweight with nearly three decades in the ring.
[audio:http://alarm-magazine.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/05/03-And-Stars-Ringed.mp3|titles=Blue Sky Black Death: “And Stars Ringed”]
When one thinks of West Coast hip-hop production, the mind likely won’t rush to the kind of music made by San Francisco’s Blue Sky Black Death. And yet the duo of Young God (Ian Taggart) and Kingston (Kingston McGuire) has become a sought commodity for its production skills, having worked with members of Hieroglyphics, Non Phixion, Jedi Mind Tricks, and Wu-Tang Clan affiliates Hell Razah and Holocaust.
Though its most controversial release is likely The Evil Jeanius, which reportedly featured vocals from rapper Jean Grae without her knowledge or monetary compensation, the duo’s instrumental records have received tremendous critical accolades. BSBD returned in late April with Noir, an album of hazy instrumental beats that skirt the boundary between hip hop and electronica.
Nearly 80 percent of the record is composed of non-sampled instrumentation that’s largely influenced by shoegaze — an unusual muse for a DJ, to say the least. The tracks certainly show it. Many instrumental hip-hop records, even ones lauded by critics and beloved by fans, feature songs that repeat themselves over and over. This pattern provides a useful verse-chorus-verse structure when a rapper is involved, but when beats are allowed to break free, they can be so much more. BSBD understands this and presents tracks that evolve, build, and change as they go, with intensity rising and falling throughout, keeping the listener on his or her toes.