I’m getting a very Andre 3000 and Big Boi vibe from the cover art for “ILLClinton Era.” That’s probably not by accident given OutKast hail from Atlanta and so do the members of ILLClinton. The difference here is that while both members of OutKast did their equal share of the rapping, ILLClinton has very defined roles, with younger brother Brennan providing all of the vocals while older brother Blake Belair does all of the production. That doesn’t imply Belair doesn’t have “a voice” in the group though – it just means his is musical while Brennan’s is lyrical. The system works for them and you know what they say about a good system – if it ain’t broke don’t fix it.
I’ve been peeping ILLClinton’s singles on Soundcloud for a while, found the sound promising and occasionally had the chance to feature their music to expose it to a larger audience. I had a feeling they were progressing steadily toward a major label deal and recording with Southern contemporaries like Bun B and T.I., but for now at least the “ILLClinton Era” release is a moment to pause and appreciate where they’re at before they get so large we’re talking about them turning down record deals from Dr. Dre and J Prince. This is that moment before every rap fan is going to know their name, so you can get in on the ground floor here and now.
“Nigga facts only – subtract the whack and the rap phonies
Had potent, you could smell that ‘fore we start smokin
Abstract the track and flip the track acrobatically
Sad to see these little niggaz mad at me
Talkin down to us the worst thing next to blasphemy
Cassius Clay way I beat up the beat – count the casualities” — “Luxury Cotton”
Brennan’s the triple threat when it comes to his flow. He’s got clever bars that showcase his intellect, a nimble tongue to dance over any complex constructs he creates, and a pleasantly raspy flow that sounds like a somewhat higher pitched Young Jeezy. All of that wouldn’t matter without Blake Belair at his side though, and his brother has clearly been doing his homework too when it comes to studying production techniques. You really don’t expect tracks this polished from the majority of unsigned and often overhyped artists, but ILLClinton is quietly good without having to brag about it. You can hear the perfect marriage of beats and rhymes on “Trillfluential” – a haunting female vocal that almost seems to be going in reverse in the background, pounding bass bottom, stuttering drums and ideally EQ’d levels that balance the music and lyrics perfectly. It’s hauntingly good.
The only thing I think could possibly hurt ILLClinton, and it hurts my heart to say this, is that they’re producing high quality hip-hop at a time when it seems like quality has never been less valued. Simple beats, basic topics, and easily imitated AutoTune hooks have taken the place of creative songs with substance. Turning on Shady 45 usually makes me want to switch to Backspin within a few minutes, not because I want to live in the past, but because I want to hear some hip-hop with some substance. If “Alive” came on though I wouldn’t have to change the channel. It’s what Kanye West could and should be if he weren’t so lost in the enormity of his own ego.
You might think I’m exaggerating about how ill ILLClinton is, but check out the samples for yourself and then download “ILLClinton Era.” It’s free right now but it really shouldn’t be. “I’ma do this for the people dog as long as I’m alive, that’s my word.” I’m gonna hold you to that promise Brennan – you and your brother Blake both. Y’all are too good to be amateurs – you’re already big league material.