Iller than who? Iller Than Theirs. As the newest additions to independent label Embedded Records, the double act of Brooklyn emcees Krayo and Tone Tank together make up the entirety of Iller Than Theirs. With their skewed perception of commercialized hip hop and the revelation of lyricism in its purest form, Iller Than Theirs proceeds to develop hip hop far removed from hip hop known to most individuals. Their conceptualization of the music progresses through their own independent talents as well as through the efforts being involved in the musical collective called the Nuclear Family. With production from J. Howells Werthman, Iller Than Theirs flaunts their ill aptitude and flair in their self-titled debut album.
The opening track on Iller Than Theirs’ self-titled debut album features “Razor Bumps,” complemented by screeching electric guitars in the intro, faintly audible tambourines, and intense snares throughout. The variation in beats all through the track is an element of surprise and keeps it appealing to the listener with its sudden sounds of organs and horns. In continuing the theme of being ill, Iller Than Theirs manipulate their lyrical talents with a word to the wise about staying genuine in the hip hop game regardless of all the feigned lyricists that still exist as Krayo and Tone Tank declares:
“I ain’t nobody’s hero and nobody’s fool
No one’s that fresh and nobody’s cool
Don’t try to front, so we can all play the trumpet
You’re coming out your neck like some razor bumps”
With its synchornized flutes and classic piano keys, “Girl Song” is yet another poignant, light humored track about what else…girls. However, Iller Than Theirs neglects to solely glorify the beauty of girls by showing the alternative, unconventional side of females. Whether it’s “trying to make sense of the female gender” or uncovering “the mysteries uncoded in the beauty of the feminine,” Krayo and Tone Tank has it all covered. At times, their witty, yet comical views on girls can only make you express amusement over their clever lyricism as the chorus entails that “don’t need no picket fences/ don’t need your daddy’s blessings/ rather picture you undressin’.”
With their supplemental “instruction guide to being ill,” “To Be Ill” breaks down the fundamentals of illness for all of us common folk. Funky strings and guitar mixed with faint horns in the background saturate the track with its hard hitting bass. A break in the chorus with cuts and scratches brings us back to a familiar sampled “Back Like That” with Ghostface’s recognizable lyrics “I thought we was iller than that.” At the end of the track, Iller Than Theirs makes it clear that in fact, “just so nobody out there get this misinterpreted, alright, the title of this thing. We’re not saying that we’re better than anybody. We’re not better than anybody, not at all. We’re just iller…and there’s a difference.” Get it straight.
In order to complete an ill album, a few guest appearances have to accompany the already existing brainchild. With a funky flute and drum introduction in “The Same,” dialogue between Tone and Krayo ensues as they discuss “another day, another dollar in debt.” Focusing on the idea of negative transformation throughout the years with the mass reconstruction of Brooklyn, they make it clear to never forget where you come from. In a clever twist of fate, Tone begins to speak of Masta Ace and how he would be perfect for the track since his boy knows someone who knows someone who knows him. Without warning, Masta Ace surprisingly begins rhyming and once he is done Tone and Krayo ponder over Ace’s appearance, not knowing if his existence was real or imagined. Surprisingly enough, Tone and Krayo made the point to have Masta Ace turn up on a whim on the track as if it happened by accident. Continuing with the disbelief, you would have never known that Ace recorded in his own studio and e-mailed the recording and ultimately never actually meeting with Tone and Krayo. That’s what I call innovative.
“It ain’t never going to be the same as when you was young
So we going to have to change some of your ways if you’re going to make it
You might not have the patience,
But it ain’t never going to be the same as when you was young
So we going to have to change some of the things you used to do
We’ll make â€˜em change into something new…
They’re trying to turn Brooklyn into a shopping mall
BK ain’t the same not hardly at all
They got a Chuck E. Cheese and an Applebee’s
Making luxury apartments out of factories
And then they turn around and not like that’s for me
But I ain’t there for that you can have it please
They say that change with change is a change to stay
But why they want to move here and change the state?
Man, this place is great we made it that way
This is the borough where my family was raised”
The funk permeated “It Is What It Is” features Queens emcee Cool Calm Pete as the track illustrates through concise lyricism to accept your current situation. Krayo describes it as a “catch 22 and I just can’t win…because I’m damned if I don’t, but I’m damned if I do to.” “It is what it is/It’s not what I want/If I had a choice it would be different than this.” Also, in the track “Good People,” Jahâ€“C from The Project makes an appearance on the track which gives praise to those around Iller Than Theirs, especially to the individuals that help during the most troublesome times. They bring light to that fact that their people are unappreciated and unrecognized, particularly in the hip hop scene where most individuals have no emotion at all.
Iller Than Theirs has reached new heights in maintaining classic hip hop, imaginative lyricism, innovative sounds, and most importantly remaining faithful to non-commercialized music. Their unsurpassed talents and imagination have come together to make this album, well, ill of course, as it is set to release on September 25, 2007. I can’t describe Iller Than Theirs’ album better than they can as they profess, “It is a bar room-brawl of a record, honestly eccentric, wildly colored and just a little bit ILLER than the rest of y’all.”