Good ol’ Wikipedia. I’ve been known to update a page or two before, hell, I remember creating the Apollo Brown one five years ago. Because despite being open to sabotage and relentlessly being asked for donations (while sitting on piles of money) – you can’t deny how useful the successor to Encarta has been over the years. It’s ruined many a movie or TV show, as I scroll through an actor’s filmography, learning all sorts of random facts while trying to work out where I recognize them from. For research purposes, it’s a useful starting point, although it’s clear it shouldn’t be used exclusively. Case in point is Baltimore emcee Ill Conscious, whose Wikipedia page holds little outside of brave claims attempting to summarize his style: “a mix between a later-in-his-career AZ, a Capital Punishment Big Pun, with the ‘consciousness’ of Talib Kweli and the passion/word choice of Tupac“. I went into this project expecting to hear the greatest rapper of all time.
Rappers are entitled to have a high opinion of themselves, but it can set unrealistic expectations. Ill Conscious is a dope emcee, but he sounds like none of them, instead possessing a style more in line with syllable distributors Hex-One and Teknition, of underground hip-hop duo Epidemic. I liked their work, and while much of the lyrical substance was dialed back in favor of flow, it harked back to the 1990s without feeling too heavy-handed in its nostalgic aesthetic. “Acres of Diamonds” does something similar, with Mute Won following the likes of 5th Element and Esco with their take on modern boom-bap.
“Luminary” is memorable for its combination of hard drums, scratches, and a laid-back sample. It’s a common technique, but Mute Won manages to keep it interesting with DJ Grazzhoppa and DJ TMB providing cuts on numerous tracks. “Acres of Diamonds” certainly has gems on it – “Bloodsuckaz” plays right to my weakness – scratched hooks and morbid piano loops. “Stones” is a haunting report from the drug-addled sidewalks of Baltimore, from the perspective of an addict trying to survive. There are also some impressive guests involved, namely Planet Asia and Rome Streetz on “Black Czars”, and there’s even a minute of instrumental at the end to add your own verse.
It’s not all diamonds, with some songs sounding uncharacteristically rough: “Bolivian Cocaine” is tough but the beat and Dirt Platoon’s Snook Da Crook lend it an amateurish scruffiness. The sample on “Vespucio Norte” has been done a million times before, while the strings on “Paradox of Value” scream DJ Premier mimicry. “I’m Good” is a bolder concept, with a particularly bitter King Magnetic sharing examples of why single mothers shouldn’t automatically be admired for their efforts if they aren’t showing any effort themselves. That’s something that Ill Conscious demonstrates more than I perhaps expected, a willingness to sprinkle in some conceptual tests for his tongue-twisting approach.
With a rapper this tidy, listeners may grow numb to some of the verses, particularly given Ill Conscious has a higher-pitched delivery – I see why an AZ comparison was made in that regard. But you may as well hand in your hip-hop card if you can’t rock out to “Mutiny”, a Mute Won production that’s so satisfying, playing it saved me a weekend of dusting.
This album went largely under the radar in 2022, but it’s difficult not to enjoy. Sure, some of the syllables being slung around are surface-level trickery, but the bars behind them have far more merit than they let on. Mute Won, aside from a couple of scruffy moments, impresses with the beats, and Ill Conscious should be proudly broadcasting this, particularly on Wikipedia. I would update the page myself, maybe after I throw on that “Mutiny” track just one more time.