Back in the day it was fairly simple to tell which side of the fence a rap group stood on. If the name was “Public Enemy” or “Poor Righteous Teachers,” it was more than likely you’d hear jewels of knowledge and culture being dropped. If the name was “The Juice Crew” or “Flavor Unit,” politics were likely to take a backseat to slinging fat rhymes. These days? Well if you’re Ilvyris, better hope that album comes with a press kit. Few people are going to guess the name is actually short for “Ill Lyrics Vocalize Youth Rage In Society,” or know their stated goal is “to revitalize the hip-hop culture by taking rap back to its roots.” That’s a pretty ambitious goal.
Ilvyris’ membership consists of Drama (hailing from Los Angeles), Majid (from New Jersey), Nappy Head Guerilla (from Baltimore), Ninja (from D.C.) and Mickey Numbers (from Temple Hills). Drama and Nappy together form the Off-Trak Production team, which provide the beats for the crew. That’s as good a place as any to start when dissecting their “Ilepidemic” album. Off-Trak achieves mixed results. The opening “2003” intro is nice, using a fast piano riff and a simple drum loop whose taps emphasize the chords being played; and the entire instrumental is mixed well with the rhymes – providing effective boom bap without overpowering the rap. Things get a lot muddier on “Acapulco Gold,” a track whose intro sounds promising but then devolves into a plodding beat and a repeating “duh, duh, duh-duh-duh” synth loop hitting every off key note on the board. “Legal Lynchin” swings 180 the other way again – it’s melodious and smooth, and has a nice subtle tapping sound that adds emphasis. “Phat to Def” is clearly their club song, and while non-offensive it’s also non-interesting and worth skipping. “Don’t Talk!” tries overly hard to be clever with extra sound effects and gun-shots that echo from ear to ear, but it goes nowhere. “Do Life” is just as busy but somehow blends together much more nicely – it has a nice Talib Kweli/Hi-Tek feel. “Tonite” is their attempt to add a little Jamaican riddim to the mix, but it’s no “P.I.M.P.” and their singer Ko-Ko is no Mary J. Blige. “Zigga” is aching to be a RZA track, with a buzzing bee zooming in and out of the background, but works in the context of this track’s finger snaps and hand claps. “See You No Mo'” is dark and grimy, but would be better suited to Killah Priest. “Fuckz Wit Dat” busts out the claves for the mix, but isn’t quite “Player’s Anthem.” Bringing things to a close is “I.L.V.Y.R.I.S.,” with a sound that’s probably more familiar to Lil’ Jon and Three 6 Mafia fans, and is more or less effective. In summary, Off-Trak lives up to their name, seemingly coming correct every other cut on the CD. They certainly handle beats for Ilvyris far better than most indie groups do.
Lyrically, the members of Ilvyris do drop nice verses now and again, but it’s hard to say who is who in this large of a crew of rappers who (at least nationally speaking) are all brand new. Epidemic Entertainment will probably drop an e-mail after the fact saying who busted this verse in “2003,” but take our word for it that this slightly high-pitched kid is nice with his:
“I’m fire with my rhymes like that burn when you pee-pee
Nigga peep me, vicious, I bomb on you bitches
Hit you with the nine, write it down, paint it in a picture
Little nij-ja, gone, believe I’m armed
Hit you twice with the hammer, this ain’t only a song
This is real life, nigga, real life, cuz
People talkin that shit I’ma show you my gun”
The group member who follows compliments him perfectly with a deeper, more raspy flow – slightly reminiscent of Celph Titled:
“I got the world on my mind
And my baby girl’s eyes in time
Catchin up to the bus I just don’t run that fast
But I still gotta hustle just to make my mash
Still automatic shiftin gears as I breeze through years
Is it fear of my death, or my very last breath
If this death is my destiny, no longer breath in me
I’m still gon’ be spittin out this murder recipe”
Hmm. Well, this doesn’t seem to be “revitalizing the hip-hop culture by taking rap back to its roots” per se, but then who cares as long as he spits hard and writes good. I think their press kit exaggerated a little bit though. Ilvyris is not going to save hip-hop music and culture. They are not The Roots, Dead Prez, or Black Star. They’re just a group of brothers with a love for rap, some decent mic skills, and a mix of tracks from slightly below to slightly above average. They do get a little political on “Legal Lynchin,” but that’s about as revolutionary as it gets. If you’re interested in hearing an up-and-coming rap group with potential though, you could do a lot worse than Ilvyris. Forget about what their name stands for, and if you want to hear some revolutionary rap go cop whatever Chuck D’s latest project is. These brothers just want to be heard, and if Off-Trak improves they’ll be doing bigger and better thangs in the future.