“I got you stuck off the realness…”
A quarter of a century ago Mobb Deep made those words famous on “Shook Ones (Part II).” Nearly a decade later The Others released “Past Futuristic.” Both of those things now seem like ancient history in 2021, but emcee Mattic and producer Madwreck brought the former to mind in an appropriately “past futuristic” way with their new album. For the first time in over sixteen years, the duo are back with “Ill Scholars,” which seems to be their new group name as well. I’m listing them as Mattic and Madwreck for this review to more easily tie their old and new personas together, but if they want to be the “Ill-est” going forward that’s just fine. And speaking of “Ill” you can hear another dope sample courtesy of Nas on “Tralfamadore.”
Mattic and Madwreck are clearly versed in the classic, but albums are not made of ‘member berries. It doesn’t matter what The Others did 15+ years ago or what Nasir Jones did 30+ years ago, it matters what this duo is doing in hip-hop RIGHT NOW. Listening to “Ill Scholars” is a rewarding experience though. It makes me ask the question “Where did they go and why did they go away?” They may reference a lot of NY things, but the duo hail from North Carolina and the Little Brother influence is very clear. Madwreck lives in France these days but clearly hasn’t lost that feeling. “Bohemian Groove” implies some hippie shit, but if you like J Dilla or Pete Rock, this is an easy groove for “the people, people, the people” to get into.
Even though last year’s election cycle resulted in one of the most absurd metaphors ever as conspiracy theorist attorneys attempted to “release the Kraken,” the song by the Ill Scholars is enough to permanently erase all memory of that stupidity. Mattic must be short for “automatic” because he has a seemingly effortless flow that betrays how much work he puts into crafting the words, staying on beat and telling a story with the verbals.
“Zapp dream, like a vaccine, Stanley Kubrick thing
+Clockwork Orange+ be the +Ghost in the Machine+
Crease lines like a pair of jeans bumping +Billie Jean+
Lighting up squares when I’m walking past silly things
Lockdown lovers at the ring, this is all I bring
Ping pong balling in my arcade of movie flings
Too tall, blade up in my hand, check the way it swing
Lawnmower styling on you kings at the sound of strings”
A confident swagger is important to success as a rapper and Mattic is certainly not lacking. Even when Madwreck flips things and goes with a super uptempo instrumental on “Magic,” Mattic stays cool as a cucumber and makes the Rakim snippets heard within even more appropriate. At first I was tempted to say the the extended instrumental at the end was a shame given Mattic could have rapped longer, but I was head nodding to the track regardless and Madwreck flipped the script with a Gravediggaz quip.
It’s rare to listen to an entire album and not have anything to complain about, but when “Ill Scholars” closed with the soulful “Cloak and Dagger” I was hard pressed to bitch. “Be the action that you want, be about that change” states Mattic, proving that he’s not just a clever but a thoughtful lyricist, imploring his listeners to make the world better without coming off heavy-handed or preachy. To be honest with all of you I’m a little gob smacked that a team like this could take 15 years off and actually be better than they were the first time around, but just like those aforementioned elections I’m a believer in fact over fiction and these Ill Scholars are undoubtedly the truth.