Take the raps from the mouths of emcees Blake Knight and Playdough and combine them with a series of stylish beats, well-planned loops, and the occasional insertion of a funky guitar, and you've got the winning combination known as Ill Harmonics. Together the duo has earned a definitive spot in the urban scene with strong potential to cross over into the mainstream. The group's sounds were heard first on their Uprok debut, An Octave Above the Original, Pt. 1, and then on the Extreme Days soundtrack, which led to time on the road with Earthsuit and the Festival Con Dios tour.
During the last two years, Ill Harmonics has won over fans from all walks of life, thanks to their appealing lyrics and superior music quality. Their second album, appropriately titled Take Two, features the same winning sound and will no doubt reach to a wider mainstream audience as well as raise the bar for releases specifically tailored for the Christian industry. The main reason the disc succeeds from start to finish is Knight and Playdough's ability to keep their sounds fresh. (A typical problem with a lot of rap/hip-hop releases is the tendency for many of the loops and samplings to sound the same).
Instead, the guys balance out their onslaught of rhymes with occasional elements of smooth jazz, slick funk, and shimmering soul. Perhaps the reason the transitions are so fluid is because Knight also took over production duties. Right off the bat the guys incorporate jazz into their brisk raps on "Take Two (Call Me in the Morning)." Following that cut, special guest D.J. Maj's scratches appear over a peaceful soul-based groove on "The Crowd is Standing." The track appears again at the end of the record with a different mix (a thicker beat and louder raps), calling to mind acts such as Jurassic 5 and The Roots. (The finale version also appears on Maj's Full Plates project).
The other tune with a special guest is "Hi-Fidelity," which features rap assistance from new Uprok artist Freddie Bruno. It doesn't have quite the same flair as Maj's two contributions, but nonetheless passes the test for competent rapping. "Must Be Crazy" is the disc's best example of straight-out raps over a consistent hip-hop beat. Ill Harmonics changes up the flavor once again a few songs later with "What We Do," their most funky, bass-filled cut. There are hints of Spanish influence on "Destiny," which starts out with brisk acoustic guitar playing that would have fit just fine on a Salvador song.
The words may be fast and furious, but all can be understood with careful listening. Those who take the time to absorb the message will find it very effective, while also extremely tactful in conveying God's truths. "Back Side of the Sun" explains their mission to live under spiritual parameters while having a sound that competes with the best on the market. "Bow-tie Jerks" is a hysterical look at a couple of guys trying to meet those just-right girls when hanging out after church and at other social settings. On a more serious note, "Mister Christian" dissects the attitudes and emotions people of faith go through on a day-to-day basis. According to Knight, it "talks about the struggles, triumphs, and even hypocrisy of the modern-day church-goer, with a challenge to the listener to be a true Christian and act as Christ would toward people who might not be the same as you."
I'm certain "Take Two" will be an instant hit with those who already know about Ill Harmonics, while those unfamiliar with the duo will be turned on by what they hear. Since the release of Mars Ill's project last year, I can't think of a better rap and hip-hop record that's a spiritually sound alternative to acts such as The Roots, Saul Williams, and the Black Eyed Peas. Check out Ill Harmonics' magic for yourself via the CD, or go out and catch the "Live and Direct" tour scheduled to hit selected cities this spring.
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Rings Loud and Clear| Posted January 30, 2008
There\'s just something about white guys who rap. True, there have been a few misses in the past (see Vanilla Ice, Buba Sparks, etc.) but the popularity of Eminem and Kid Rock has paved the way for a whole new wave of rap. tobyMac, KJ-52 and Ill Harmonics make my list as the \"powerhouse whities\" in Christian R&B/Rap. On Ill Harmonics\' second album, Take Two, Blake Knight and Playdough have allowed time and vision to develop into a stable and irresistible sound. On their first album, Another Octave Above, there was a lot of promise, but the smooth harmonies and layered vocals found on Take Two were simply nonexistent. This new album soars where the debut fell flat, and most of the highlights are in post production work that brings this album to form. The musical depth on this record elevate the seriousness of Ill to take their message to all who will listen. The subject matter definitely sets this album apart from their crotch-grabbing, basement emcees that rock the current music world. Make no mistake, Take Two rings loud and clear with the name of Jesus. The album also features guest appearances by DJ Maj, Freddie Bruno, Earthsuit, and Marcos of P.O.D.