Bar Exam: Illtalian “Makana” (Album)
A One Listen Review
Illtalian has been featured on our Bar Exam before. Last month I reviewed his single “Prose and Cons” and gave it an Above The Bar rating. One thing I was skeptical about with that track was that it had a battle rap theme to it, and in the scheme of CHH I couldn’t speak to the overall content of his art. Ill was great with punchlines on that track though, and the beat and mixing was appealing, so I was interested to go ahead and review his entire project. “Makana” was released on January 1, 2018. It’s a 9 track offering in honor of Illtalian’s brother, Lucas’ memory.
The first track took me a bit off guard. In an age of concept albums, we’re usually greeted with a throwaway tune at the top to wet our appetite for the main course the album will deliver. But here, the music goes full boar right away, because who cares about intros? Illtalian has stuff to say. It’s a decent club beat that gets tiring after about two and a half minutes. Once all the layers of the beat are introduced, they kinda just hang there. Is Illtalian excited to feature Je’kob on this track? He name drops “jake” a couple times in the first verse, so context clues would say “yes.” All jokes aside it’s appropriate to be stoked about this feature, Je’kob not only brings a solid hook, but spits a verse. Content on this track is alright, the hook keeps my attention too. Solid opener.
“I don’t want to be nothing I ain’t supposed to be/And you can hate but you ain’t even close to me.”
Moving on to Track 2, “Pride” we hear some emo lyrics. Not sure where he’s going with this. “How did I end up alone, I wanna leave these emcees as empty as me…” There’s a good acoustic singer/songwriter vibe on this. Musicality is decent but again, once these textures are introduced they just stay there. “My heart is so ugly, how could God love me?” Oh okay, I see where he’s going now. Ill was losing me on this concept until the back half of this track. Illtalian has an interesting delivery. He’s got a raspy voice and especially on this track you can hear his every breath. I’m feeling the content of this tune. Christ died for us so that we wouldn’t have to be alone. Above the Bar
On track 3, “Fade Away,” we finally get some layers that peel back from the beat a few times. The instrumental here is intense and driving. However, I don’t feel like Illtalian’s performance matched the intensity brought by the music. He was pretty nonchalant with it, and where he ends up is just fine… I just want to feel like I was brought along on the journey. Similar to how the beats didn’t change much for the first two tracks, his performance fell flat for me here.
Following The Features
“R.A.N.” is featuring 1k Phew and Gemstones. The music on this track is not my favorite. It’s got like an island/club vibe to it. The acronym R.A.N. stands for “Right About Now,” and Illtalian decides to be up first. He seems comfortable and confident on this track.
“Call me Ill Smith I’m Fresh Prince/and I leave these tracks like fresh prints”
From the end of that first verse though, we don’t hear Ill again, and honestly forget that he was on the song. 1K Phew makes a musical hook out of an okay instrumental, and then Gemstones doesn’t care what he’s on and blows it up as usual. I am intrigued by the idea that maybe Illtalian could have done something to close up this track. Maybe Gemstones elevated the track too high to reach, but I’d love to hear Ill’s thoughts about why he didn’t leadoff as well as bat cleanup? I also understand that people have short attention spans, and so maybe a third verse wasn’t in the cards.. it’s just a thought.
Track 5 was reviewed here.
“Speakers Bang” has a spooky intro with pianos, and then a thick bass line drops. This feels really good. Yonos is the feature here, and he has a really nice verse with some twisting in double time and good wordplay. “In the club/speakers bang” – this hook is a bit shaggy and needs cutting especially with Ill repeating that line once more to get into his verse. I dig Ill’s humor throughout this project. It shows his personality and it’s much appreciated here. Something weird happens in his flow at the end of this verse. “Otherwise Lord knows the kinda flows I might write, right?” — After this line his flow loses its tightness. It’s like he’s chasing the beat. The obamacare punchline was real nice but I was distracted by the switch in flow.
“Thoughts Out Loud” features Swift, and the music bed has some great layers and textures to it. The “ahhhhs” in the background are a nice touch. Swift kills this tune. This track is a very strong song with no hook. It’s got an original sound with succinct deliveries and tight flows. Above the Bar all the way.
*It is now that I would like to note that Illtalian and I are not only both Italian, but we both drive a car that was made in ’03.*
Track 8 is a deeply emotional track in memory of Ill’s brother. The vocal performance on the hook here is very well done, and the mixing here much like the rest of the project is great. There are musical elements to this particular track that I wasn’t vibing with, and Ill again doesn’t seem comfortable with a slower paced flow.
We conclude “Makana” with an interestingly named number, “Make America Hate Again.” This is a very well conceived poem, with a bed of political speeches, static and orchestration behind. Illtalian truly has a knack for punchlines and I really dig what he’s doing here. He may have been trying to go for the shock factor with the naming of the track, but the content here is strong.
My final thoughts on this project are a bit scattered. Illtalian man… he put in some work on this project. The tone of his voice and his flows are a bit unorthodox, but for what they are, they’re solid. His content for the most part is braggadocious, but still had some thoughtful Gospel lyrics sprinkled in. His beats were all for the most part above the bar, and his crafting of punchlines and lyrics was very solid as well. “Makana” was a feature laden work (4 of 9 tracks with guest verses, 4 of 9 tracks with guest hooks), so needless to say he was outshined by almost all of the features. (Who wouldn’t have been?) On the other hand, with a name like “Illtalian” he probably knew he needed some way to get the average listener to want to press play on this project, so I respect that choice. There is a lot to like about this project. Even a few tracks I’d return to – the Je’kob track, the Swift track, that Gemstones verse, and the “Make America Hate Again” poem. I feel like with Illtalian we’re dealing with someone who is quite self aware, and plays to his strengths for the most part. I didn’t feel a slump on this album at all, just some minor hiccups when it came to him trying to show versatility with a slower pace. Something that sticks out to me though is the most appealing things about this album are the features I recalled. I’d love to hear Ill carry an entire track on his own like we heard on track 9. I really had no clue what to think when I dove into this album, but there’s not much bad to say about it. It’s well done. Props.
Overall Rating – At The Bar