In the fashion of self-referential album titles, Illy Bomaye, Ill Bliss’s fifth studio album sticks to tradition. Cutting a new facet of realities in the life of the self-styled Coal City’s finest rapper, at 26 minutes and 9 tracks, this album is a tad short but fresh.
Between this project and his last, a lot has happened to Ill Bliss. Amongst other torturous industry matters (including an early retirement) he recently became a father. Trust a street poet to articulate his latest experience in verse, because this is exactly what Ill Bliss does.
The album starts with a baby’s cries. On the ultra-short DaddyLuvsYou, Bliss appears vulnerable – and lovingly so, pouring adulation on the memories of cyesis and sonogram, watching his baby grow by way of his wife’s uterine bump and the overwhelming reality of holding his daughter in his hands.
With Suspect credited for most of the production, Clarence Peters handling visual precepts and Ill Bliss spewing rhymes, an entrepreneurial trinity is formed as per usual. Illy Bomaye is just another new product from ‘the usual suspects’. Ill Bliss hardly varies his rap aesthetics or rhyme schemes on this album. He retains his wooden repetitive hooks and heavy-handed percussion. Even if this album is a bit more reflective, an Ill Bliss non-fan may not be persuaded.
He recruits the mellifluous Praiz to assist with the hook on God of Wonders where he laments about the difficulties of being rich and famous, especially what it means to relinquish privacy. If a listener imagines that this album is a paradigm shift in terms of poetic concerns, tracks like Iteriba, Fireworks, and Illy Bomaye soon set you back into familiar territory. The good old brag is not lost on this album. On Buba, Ill Bliss acknowledges his new ‘Trillionaire’ status while the music courses on with assertive piano keys, unperturbed. Even if Cynthia Morgan’s staccato hook on Iteriba lacks clarity, the essence is not lost on Ill Bliss’s verse: he insists that his fellow rap comrades should take a bow.
We may agree that Ill Bliss has earned his bragging rights even if making his counterparts bow is another kettle of fish. We may also agree that cutting an Extended Play album is a rather apt business decision – a fitting compromise for the Long Play album in the light of our short attention span. This album is perhaps enjoyable because it can be experienced in less than half an hour.
On Be Yourself, Ill Bliss goes motivational on young rappers while stylishly addressing the drug sub-culture. Be sure that he finds use for Igbo at every moment that presents itself on this album. The code-switching is a bit extreme for the (non-Igbo) listener, especially at how easily an American and B.I.G-sounding rapper becomes an Igbo dibia in the next breath.
Over and Over is a love song or, more fittingly, a promenade. Perhaps Ill Bliss’s best in recent times, he rhymes lucidly about taking a woman out of her clueless lover’s hand over a candle-lit dinner. It may appear contradictory for this song to end an album that starts with prayers for one’s puerperal wife but Ill Bliss slips into and out of character as often as he gives himself license to. One moment he is a loving father and a doting husband, the next he is a hippy braggart before he assumes the role of self-appointed counselor and then, a Lothario.
Perhaps these are the phases (and faces) of the hip-hop persona and if Ill Bliss is able to take us through the motions so quickly and effectively within an album, then Illy Bomaye is a triumph.
But what do we then say for radio rotation, cultural relevance and ground-breaking acoustic innovations? Does your favourite Coal City rapper bring new insights into his new realities as a father and man in his latest album? Is he becoming a trend or signing into a trend?
These questions are best answered after an umpteenth listen to the album.