"Tell me where the fuck I went wrong."
This, the opening lyric of Ill Bill's first solo venture offers no answer to the question posed by the album's title. "What's Wrong With Bill?" doesn't consist of fifteen tracks which will satisfactorily explain Bill's macabre predilections. Instead, its tracks raise further questions; revealing that piece-by-piece, even Bill himself is looking for the answer.
As both an integral part of unsung revolutionaries Non-Phixion and as the sibling of infamous shock/slash-rapper Necro, Ill Bill needs no real introduction. His fierce, unapologetic lyrics frequently stray into the horror-core realm of his twisted brother and yet at the same time maintain an element of sane contemplation. While Necro's gory allegories occur in a removed world of bloody fantasy, Ill Bill's vile stories seem grounded in a world which is very much our own, and are often reflective upon the state of a world which allows such things to happen.
Given that the two brothers always feature heavily on the projects of the other, it's almost impossible to consider either of them in isolation; least of all on "What's Wrong With Bill?", as Necro makes a number of guest appearances and also produces the album in it's entirety. "What's Wrong" – on which Bill implores the previously quoted "Tell me where the fuck I went wrong: took the wrong road, wrong path...," presents unforgiving societal views and claims he's "inspired by songs to kill" – features one of Necro's brilliantly simplistic chord structures, overlaid with echoing key moments that provide the track with atmospheric depth. The production continues, if a little inconsistently, to be of a high standard throughout the album's fifteen-track length. As it sways from the menacing, grim sound of tracks like "Overkill," through the Premier-inspired kicks and fanfare samples of "Anatomy of a School Shooting," to the tuneful (and very Mafiosa-esque) Mediterranean strings of "Peace Sells," Necro's work behind the boards provides a variety of effective landscapes upon which Bill's words can be impressed. Astute listeners will also concede that "Unstoppable" contains what's probably the most-overused sample of the last year: see King Geedorah's "Anti-Matter" and Allah Mathematics' "Gangsta" for further reference.
And what of Bill's presence? Typically, his verses prove at times hard to stomach, but are almost always fascinating to hear. The album's lyrical low moments occur when Bill or the respective guest artists unimaginatively retread what's now overly familiar Uncle Howie Records territory – "Porno Director" being a prevalent example. Conversely the album hits its lyrical peaks when Bill really pushes his interest in the harsh realities of a modern America.
"The Anatomy of a School Killing" is less distasteful than might be expected from its title and, while it might have been an interesting psychological exposition, unfortunately fails to reveal any new truths about the subject it discusses. "American History X," on the other hand, is the most successful example of Bill's explorative, world-weary side coming to light. Tired of a world and an American government which readily allows social atrocities and has poisoned his own being, Bill comes out guns blazing on this track, and no-one is spared his wrath:
"I eat politicians for breakfast, 'til infinity it's endless
Bill and Hilary, George Bush: everybody's gettin' it
Presidents, Supreme Court justices and senators
run up in the White House, erase people, edit them
press delete: hit 'em in the chest with heat
Hail to the chief, bullets everywhere: it's beef
Violence is more American than apple pie and Soul Train
baseball, nickel-plated nines and cocaine
It's Ill Bill, Non Phixion, if I'm offendin' you with my words I meant it
I'm protected by the 1st amendment"
Bill's harsh social commentary provides one possible answer to the riddle of the album's title. A later lyric on "American History X" – "Tell me what's wrong with the world and I'll tell you what's wrong with you" – alludes to the fact that whatever's wrong with Bill is a result of all that's wrong with the world today.
On "Canarsie Artie's Brigade," Bill describes himself as "both positive and negative – like two people," and this may be the closest we ever get to a definitive answer to the question "What's Wrong With Bill?" The persona of Ill Bill the artist is a dichotomy: he realises that it is the ills of society which have made him what he is, and yet he commits those same ills himself, perpetuating the cycle. If there's truth in his claim that he's "inspired by songs to kill," then he can also be found guilty of making songs that will inspire other people similarly.
"What's Wrong With Bill?" is an interesting exploration of a man very much a product of the world he spends half his time trying to deny. Its flitting between contemplation of the gore and the gore itself gives it more depth than a Necro record but fails to make it wholly insightful. Part of the attraction of Ill Bill as an artist is that he's difficult to define, but it also makes listening to his music frustrating at times. By the time the album ends, you may not have an answer to the question in the title, but you should be inspired to keep listening, just in case there's one in there somewhere.
Music Vibes: 7 of 10 Lyric Vibes: 8 of 10 TOTAL Vibes: 7.5 of 10
Originally posted: June 29, 2004