Sometimes, it is easiest to judge an artist by those who he's compared to. As easy as it is to label a new rapper as the next "____", it is sometimes most fitting. However, a problem arises when the new rapper can be confused for another rapper, as it throws his entire identity into question.
In Shelah's case, his voice and delivery is a dead ringer for Del (Tha Funkee Homosapien). To make it worse, Shelah is even similar lyrically. Like Del, Shelah is unsatisfied with generic lyrical themes and techniques, constantly stretching his talents in different directions to better his craft. Also like Del, this searching leaves him dangerously inconsistent, as not all of his conceptual innovations actually make for good music. He's even nearly as quirky, many of his concepts metaphorically twist reality a bit.
This isn't to say Shelah isn't his own person. He's much more world-weary than Del has ever been, more grounded in reality. Even at Shelah's lightest moments, there's a sense that his "arms are a little tired from all the people I try to hold down." This pressure weighs on "This is No Illusion," as the dreamy state of the music is periodically penetrated by moments of sober depression. As he states on "In Case This is Misoverstood":
"There is nothing wrong with dreams
Yet it seems dreams don't bring cream
No matter how often I fiend
To whip that phat Beam or Benz
I'm still struggling for ends, to make amends with my gut
But gut instinct is to do what you gotta
But I shouldn't have to rob a brother
Just to be able to live larger"
This seriousness creates an interesting dynamic to the album, as the mood of the lyrics can shift within verses, and sometimes contradict the dreamy production. Usually, this is for the best, because the production is humble at best, mind-numbing at worst. The beats here evoke a hazy sense to the album, which can fatigue the listener over the course of the 15-track album. It's unfortunate, but it does put the focus rightly on Shelah's rhymes, where the album shines brightly.
Technically, Shelah's lyrical landscape is superb. He manipulates the language as well as any of rap's wordsmiths, mixing easy metaphors with a multitude of multi-syllable rhyme schemes. He even tries his hand at alliteration on the excellent "F.R.A.N.T.I.C." with a tongue-twisting verse going through words starting with each letter of "frantic" in order (like a more complex version of Blackalicious' "A to G").
Unfortunately, outside of his technical abilities, Shelah is largely mundane. He does experiment with a number of agile lyrical deliveries (the funky "Outside in the Rain" is an album highlight), they largely fall flat because of his utter lack of emotive variation. He's also fairly weak with concepts – most song concepts are extremely vague, and none of them are particularly noteworthy. This makes the album seem longer than it is, as there is little to attract attention throughout the album.
If the early part of this review seemed to focus on Del as much as Shelah, it's because there is little else that stands out about Shelah, he is similar to the former without the personality or thematic skill. Until he gains a greater sense of direction, and a better beat selection, he will continue to fail to make a name for himself. Because of this, "This is No Illusion" is a rather boring album with a few interesting moments – hinting at a good potential without coming close to realizing it.
Music Vibes: 3 of 10 Lyric Vibes: 7 of 10 TOTAL Vibes: 5 of 10
Originally posted: August 7, 2007