Seattle hip-hop is currently separated into two camps: Seattle-centric positivity and dark, pill-propelled haziness. The best of the former is pop catchy; the best of the latter an intriguing case for nihilism. Sonically, though, neither is aggressive, let alone raw.
From its sounds to its structures, ILLFIGHTYOU’s self-titled debut album succeeds in being raw rather than merely evoking ghosts of rap’s raw past. The beats are traditional, not traditionalist, current but not trendy. The raps speak today’s dominant lingo without bowing to boilerplate rap cadences.
More often than not, the star here is rapper Ugly Frank. Beats suspend themselves as he mines their margins, and his complicated rhyme patterns resurface and resolve at unexpected times. Though decidedly amoral, Frank exudes a certain lightheartedness—even when sneering about “iron spraying” or “sticking ‘caine in his booger trap.” He brims with joy at each new detail, absurdity or turn of phrase. Whereas counterpart EvergreenOne’s raps hint at self-seriousness, even earnestness, Frank’s levity propels him through the group’s more outlandish concepts. On “Massacre,” his homicidal narrative is gleeful, borderline pleasant.
While Frank uses dark templates for exciting aesthetics, EvergreenOne’s demons are more tangible, present. His verse on “Midnight” is especially jarring as he recounts his suicidal thoughts after losing his father and his troubled family: “My mom never quit them bad habits, she just passed them down.” These references anchor his aloof and disaffected verses in which he aims his vitriol at anonymous rappers with measured disinterest. These brief moments of vulnerability are some of the tape’s most enthralling, and they complicate the group’s otherwise constant state of moral oblivion.
Frank and Evergreen take center stage, but producer (and rapper) Khris P glues the whole thing together. Khris stacks trap synths and pulsing pianos on traditional drum breaks and sample chops to create a sound that smacks of a lot of things but ultimately sounds new. The resulting cohesion provides the backdrop for the crew’s wending verses and dismissal of traditional rap structures—only half the songs have hooks, and verses are often twice the normal 16-bar length. From Frank’s effortless 40 bars on “Batcave” to Evergreen’s razor-sharp 30 on “92,” the group’s carefree play with arrangement magnifies their raw aesthetic. That said, tape highlights “Threats,” “DDT,” and “Renegade” display a knack for songwriting that’s the project’s most auspicious aspect.
ILLFIGHTYOU’s insistence that they do not give a fuck borders on overbearing at times. But their debut is complete and whip-ready—the most exciting NW rap project of 2013.
Download ILLFIGHTYOU at www.illfightyou.com.