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Overlooked: Ill Bill’s “The Grimy Awards” (Album Stream & Review)

Posted by Dharmic X on 03/04/13 | Filed under Opinion, Album Reviews, Overlooked, Ill Bill
These last three weeks have been a Godsend for fans of hardcore, underground hip-hop. Two weeks ago, the world received the incredibly cohesive and detail-oriented "CZARFACE" album from Inspectah Deck, 7L, and Esoteric. This week, Esoteric teamed with Apathy, Celph Titled, Blacastan, Ryu, and Motive to put out a new Demigodz album, titled "KILLmatic". In between these two releases, Brooklyn’s Ill Bill has put out his latest solo album, "The Grimy Awards".

This has been an album that I have been eagerly anticipating for a long time now. It is already an album that has impacted my life through the release of a video.

"The Grimy Awards" is a very dense album in terms of subject matter. Not to say it is entirely melancholy and depressing, but it is not necessarily something that one could just vibe to or throw on in the background. For example, one of the album’s more upbeat tracks is “Acceptance Speech,” where Bill thanks everyone who has made him what he is today, from his parents to his influences to places like Ace London Studios, where he honed his craft early on. While Bill is appreciative of the good in his life, he still remarks on how he “had to cut ties with any of the very many snakes in the grass that left me for dead, dumped in the river swept in the ocean, heavy emotion, stand firm though the end is approaching, I’m open.” Needless to say, the road to success for an independent hip-hop artist is arduous.

These concept-driven songs are what make Ill Bill’s solo work so captivating. “Exploding Octopus” is a perfect testament to that. Over a sinister composition from Bill himself, the Brooklyn MC tackles the life story of the Unabomber, Ted Kaczynski. However, it’s not just a trite and boring recitation of what Kaczynski did. Using a powerful hook that brings the listener into the scenario (“What would you do, how far would you go?” and posits Kaczynski’s struggle for attention in society’s current technologically oversaturated state. “Canarsie High” explains the struggle of impoverished families across the country, using the neighborhood he grew up in as the main example. “How to Survive the Apocalypse” finds Bill using the recent Mayan-generated hysteria to point out how society would adapt in the event of an actual apocalypse. Having previously crafted the “Unauthorized Biography of Slayer,” Bill pens a tribute to “Paul Baloff” on this album, connecting the heavy metal influence to his hip-hop roots.

When it comes to production, the album is hard-hitting, gritty boom-bap that lives up to its name. An all-star cast of beat-smiths lace Bill proper, with the legendary Large Professor and Pete Rock each doing two joints. Other producers include Psycho Les (“How to Survive the Apocalypse”), DJ Muggs on the high-tempo “Power,” and El-P on the frenetic “Severed Heads of State.

DJ Premier’s contribution to The Grimy Awards, “World Premier,” sticks out as more upbeat sonically compared to the rest of the album, surprising due to how grimy Premo’s catalog has been throughout the years. However, the beat is far from formulaic, and it does its job at allowing Bill to pay homage while locking in that boom-bap flavor.

The features are diverse yet appropriate. OGs such as O.C., Cormega, and Lil Fame appear alongside underground legends such as Jedi Mind Tricks, Q-Unique, and El-P. Even A-Trak, the founder of Fool’s Gold, gets in on the action, going back to his turntablist roots to do some scratches on “Acceptance Speech.” Scratches are a forte on this album, with DJ Eclipse (“Acid Reflux”) and Premo also contributing to bringing the album back to hip-hop’s grimy origins.

The phrase “this album is not for everyone” is the most overused phrase for hip-hop album reviews, especially in the last decade. It is obvious that someone who listens to hip-hop in the club probably would not gravitate towards the late Guru from Gang Starr, especially in this era of “turning up.” Kendrick Lamar’s funny voices and unorthodox sounds are not for more purist listeners. I will never be able to listen to Le1f. At this point, it is understood by everyone.

However, if one album were to epitomize the phrase, it would be "The Grimy Awards". Sure, songs like “Truth” and “Vio-Lence” are automatic head-bangers. A song like “When I Die” is universally stirring. And Bill is so encapsulated within his own bubble the way his brother, Necro, often is. But at the end of the day, the album is mature, thinking man’s hip-hop. No, not the esoteric style of backpack hip-hop that “makes you think.” The Grimy Awards is an intense grappling with modern society’s decay in comparison to the gritty days of yesteryear that are reminisced upon with an ironic fondness, expressed through the views of a cagey elder statesman within hip-hop, an artist who has gone through obstacles and heartache to finally cement his status and lane within the culture.

Fans of that style of music wouldn’t have it any other way.

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See Also:  Overlooked: Inspectah Deck, 7L & Esoteric’s “CZARFACE” (Album Review)

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