Album Review: Ill Bill – The Hour of Reprisal

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Ill Bill is scared shitless. And why not? Have you watched the news lately?

Bill lays all this terror on the line right out of the box with “Babylon”. Set against a beat centered around “By The Waters of Babylon”, he draws listeners in by painting a descriptive picture of just how many things out there might kill us.

The opening track’s use of the 137th Psalm is just the beginning of the biblical imagery in The Hour of Reprisal. Bill blends current events with apocalyptic fervor that hearkens back to the mid-90s when mainstream rap acts such as Busta Rhymes and Outkast got caught up in the Behold a Pale Horse trend. While Ill Bill is far from the commercial success that these artists enjoyed, the paranoia is more timely and you wonder if we will see the mainstream swing back towards a darker hip hop in the coming months.

Ill Bill counters his political material with more personal work, most notably about his Uncle Howie, for whom Bill’s record label is named. Howie has a number of short interludes throughout the album where he talks about drugs, jail, and other negative choices he has made throughout his life, and “My Uncle” is Bill’s loving reprimand of his uncle’s lifestyle.

Like many in his subgenre, Ill Bill can occasionally get a little too caught up in setting definitions of what he believes to be “real” and “fake” rap. “My Uncle” includes the chorus, “Conscious rap is bullshit / Gangsta rap is a fraud / This is real rap / Bang your fucking head on a wall.” I’m not sure why exactly “real” rap is defined by a desire to bang my head against a wall but Bill isn’t exactly breaking any new ground in the area of insulting his own genre. I’m still waiting for a rapper to come out talking about how awesome all of his peers are.

Where Ill Bill does break ground is by going where few white rappers would dare on “White Nigger”. While the song’s message is very obviously anti-racist, the inflammatory title alone should be enough to spark controversy in a society that nearly crucified a politician for using the completely unrelated word “niggardly.” Still, Bill does not appear to be going for shock factor alone on the song. It’s a stirring autobiography of a rapper with a very interesting story and it’s all set against a WICKED Dragonforce-driven beat.

Bill’s beats revel in rock and roll throughout The Hour of Reprisal. Guitars wail away, prompting head banging better than most of the bands dominating modern rock radio these days. His ability to blend the best aspects of rap with the best aspects of hard rock may be Bill’s greatest attribute. His list of guests range from Wu-Tang’s Raekwon to Bad Brains’ Darryl Jennifer.

Ill Bill brings his worlds together on “U.B.S. (Unauthorized Biography of Slayer)”. On the surface it is a tribute to the legendary heavy metal band. Underneath that, it is also an homage to Nas as it follows the blueprint set by the Queens rapper’s track “U.B.R. (Unauthorized Biography of Rakim)”. A tribute to Slayer may be the last thing you would expect to hear on a hip hop album, but Ill Bill is a talented rapper with an interest in breaking down musical barriers.

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