For every artist that successfully embraces experimentation (Andre 3000), another must return to a more hip-hop sound with a failed record to hide in his closet (Lil Wayne). Some artists build impressive legacies without changing their styles (Raekwon) while others keep spitting the same things ad nausea until we all stop listening (50 Cent). These career options are important to consider when listening to Kill Devil Hills, the collaborative effort between emcee Ill Bill and producer DJ Muggs.
Ill Bill should be a familiar name to most. He was arguably the most valuable member of widely respected Non-Phixion during backpack rap’s golden age. The Brooklyn emcee then released two solo albums, multiple mixtapes and teamed up with Everlast, Slaine, DJ Lethal and Danny Boy to form La Coka Nostra. While he may have gone on world-wide tours, performed with legends and sold hundreds of thousands of records, little has changed in Ill Bill’s rapping since he showed up on the NY scene. He still spits rhymes describing paranoia, violence, conspiracies, street-scenes and drug use.
The biggest problem with Ill Bill on this record is that he has said it all before. From mentions of spying governments, violent intentions, drug kingship and even his uncle’s struggles with drugs, Bill doesn’t delve into subjects he hasn’t already explored at length on past records. Ill Bill says it best on “2013” when he raps, “I talked about this ten years ago on non-phixion songs.” Those who argue one can’t have too much of a good thing may be content with this, as Bill describes these grim realities with greater intensity than most. But while Bill may touch on a slightly wider range of subjects than most gangster-leaning rapper, he doesn’t achieve much depth. And sadly the less he changes, the more obvious his flaws become. Ill Bill is largely unable to craft an interesting chorus or unique song structure. Choruses blast forward with the same cadence and delivery as the verses they disrupt. Rather than provided an interesting break, or assisting perspective on the songs, they are simply repetitive chants.
Through his years of hard work, Bill has befriended many talented musicians. Raekwon, B-Real, Q-Unique, Everlast and Vinnie Paz all show up with nice assists. Similarly, DJ Muggs (of Cypress Hill fame) produces an appropriate selection of beats. The gritty boom-bap matches the aggressive lyrical content and harkens back to the late 90’s NY scene Bill established himself in. The project certainly benefits from a single producer crafting it in its entirety. At times haunting, at others smash-grill violent, but always traditional, the beats fit Bill’s mantra of if it aint broke, don’t fix it.
At the end of the listen, one’s opinion of Kill Devil Hills may come down to what one expects from a veteran’s album. Those who think that artists should strive for consistency while avoiding monotony may have difficulty determining what Bill and Muggs achieve with Kill Devil Hills.