Album Review: Illy - Cinematic (2013 LP)

Australian hip-hop has made it into the mainstream and Illy’s fourth album release, Cinematic, has been highly anticipated, however with Aussie hip-hop making it into the mainstream it’s susceptible to the same problems hip-hop has globally: over-production.

Illy has never been about the nitty-gritty that most of Australian hip-hop and rap prides itself on, but his albums have made up for that with rough production that let his lyrical talent shine through. Unfortunately this is lost in the over-production found on Cinematic.

Opening track "Opening Night" starts with grandiose strings and bass, amping the listener up for a, 'tour de force,' of popular Aussie hip-hop. The album will do exactly what it’s designed to do: make some dollars. Apart from this, it’s formulaic, varying between tracks backed with major string parts, scaling upwards and giving the songs an epic sound, and tracks that show some level of self-reflection and story-telling.

Illy’s lyrics maintain their high standard; he’s a great story-teller and finds rhymes in some strange places, still maintaining his flow, but there’s just too much going on for these lyrics to stand out. Coupled with some of the singers he has doing choruses for him: Thomas Jules, Ahren Stringer, Kira Puru, he’s swung and hit it for six in terms of popular appeal.

The album suffers from the same problem Bliss n Eso’s latest release: there are too many motivational and uplifting tracks, spliced with spoken word. This is the du jour for any kind of hip-hop or rap at the moment, and it appears that these artists are continually aiming for younger demographics and the grittiness that used to appeal to the 18-28 year old crowd is gone, but the fans remain out of loyalty.

Cinematic is organised like a sandwich: all the good stuff in the middle encapsulated by filler. The standout track is definitely "Coming Down," featuring the Hilltop Hoods. Thumpy funk beats backing lyrics like, ‘Through the rooftops, through the hills, we’re running through abandoned buildings, coming down…’ kick arse. The middle of the album, the meat, “No Tomorrow,” “Tightrope,” channeling Seth Sentry’s, “Ten Paces,” and, “Save Me,” featuring Daniel Merriweather is where this album is at it’s strongest. “Save Me,” is refreshing, it breaks up the album with Merriweather’s signature warble, and Drapht’s unique drawl is a welcome relief on, “YoYo,” straight after. The quality fades out with the lamenting, “Am Yours,” then heads down hill quick.

It’s a tough call but Cinematic is a decent listen; an inspected album is one not listened to — take this with a grain of salt. There’s nothing else in it for me — I won’t be going back to listen to it again, but Cinematic is sure to be a hit with Illy fans and a fresh batch of tweens looking for an easy way onto the hip-hop/rap bandwagon.

Review Score: 6.6 out of 10.

Cinematic is available now on iTunes and in stores around Australia.