No matter where you live, from the narrow concrete streets of New York City to the palm tree boulevards of Los Angeles, it always happens the same way: It’s a Saturday afternoon, you’re hanging out at your friend’s house, perhaps imbibing a beverage or two, when your friend reaches for a CD and says, “Yo, you gotta hear this s**t.” The volume on the stereo gets turned up, there’s a moment of suspense, and then the music hits you. “Goddamn,” you say, “who’s this rapper? He’s dope.” Illogic is that rapper. Haling from Columbus, Ohio …
DJBooth Album Review
Haling from Columbus, Ohio (which is also the birthplace of yours truly, shout out to Columbus), Illlogic has been an underground phenomenon since he dropped his acclaimed Unforeseen Shadows in ‘99. Far from the glamorous trajectory most picture, the life of a rising rap star is a lonely and difficult one. In fact, Illogic decided the toll his constant work was taking on his family was too much and he stepped out of the spotlight, keeping his music simmering on the back burner. Now, more than four years after his last full album, Illogic is back for his fifth album, Diabolical Fun (I would argue the best fun is always diabolical). Constructed in combination with his production partner Ill Poetic, Diabolical Fun is a reminder that behind the often overly manufactured world of mainstream hip-hop runs a current of creativity striving to be heard.
Make no mistake, Illogic is one of the best word-for-word rappers alive. Capable of constructing intricately crafted rhymes, Illogic’s tracks often operate under the five times principle: you have to listen to his tracks five times before they really sink in. Just take the sharply paced What’s Happening? Over production that tempers its celebratory core with hard-edged percussion, Illogic drops lines like “What does it profit a man to gain the world and lose his soul when even the masters don’t believe in it?” with the same ease R. Kelly sings about threesomes. The hardcore hip-hop heads will get an even stronger lyrical fix from the verbally dense title track Diabolical Fun, an aggressively intentioned song that has Illogic laying waste to the rap landscape. There may be some MCs willing to go mic-to-mic with Illogic, but it’s a very short list.
Hip-hop’s a culture, an art form, a business, but make no mistake, it’s also entertainment. Despite what the backpackers like to claim, entertainment and art don’t have to be mutually exclusive (as Common’s currently trying to prove), but unfortunately at times Diabolical Fun is neither diabolical nor fun. Instead, Illogic sometimes sounds more intent on flexing his artistic muscle than making great music, even if he does make the occasional effort to move the crowd. The lead single Let’s Go is easily the album’s most up-tempo track, a head-nodding cut that Ill Poetic fills with joyous vocal samples and blasting horns. Vocally, Illogic is his typically verbose self, but in combination with the complex production it’s almost overwhelming. If he were ever going to go with a more stripped down approach, Let’s Go would have been the time. The same goes for Now’s The Time, a track with a celebratory vibe that Illogic attempts to make inspiring, but it’s hard to get excited when you have to pay such close attention to every word. Hip-hop completely about partying is missing a crucial component, but so is hip-hop devoid of good times.
Honestly, I don’t think Illogic gives a f**k about that last paragraph. He knows that he can live a good life without hip-hop’s spotlight and that makes him willing pursue his vision with abandon, ignoring any potential commercial implications in favor of doing his music his way. There’s no better example than Walk Into The Sunset, an epic track that’s a testament to Illogic’s extraordinary penmanship: “I used to watch the sky bleed, rush to bandage the lashes, now I laugh at the lacerations and add a few gashes.” I don’t know what that means, but it’s unquestionably dope, and Walk Into The Sunset is a must hear for anyone who loves hip-hop as an art form. Ultimately, Diabolical Fun is a testament to what happens when a man with a lot on his mind had to wait for years to unleash his considerable talent. Let’s hope we don’t have to wait so long for our next dose of Illogical behavior.
DJBooth Rating - 3.5 Spins
Written by Nathan S. on 03/3/09
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