Smack in the middle of the Covid-19 pandemic, Illbliss, one of Nigeria’s most consistent and gifted rappers, drops his new body of work.
One only needs to look at his discography to see a steady supply of hits and what makes his music worthwhile is not just his staggering output but the quality of his sound and effectiveness of his lyrics and rap techniques.
He shuns the reigning 10-track to put out a 17 track album.
6 minutes short of one hour, this may be his best work yet.
Leaning on features—he garners assists from Johnny Drille, Yemi Alade, Niniola, Phyno—but heavy on production rollcall, Illy Chapo X’s cover art features a swagged-up Illy leaning on a vintage Peugeot 504 car pimped up, X-hibit style.
The trendiness does not stop with the cover, it extends into the album that makes a resounding entrance with the atmospheric, Kezyklef-produced ‘God Made You King’. Illy lends his voice to his choruses in a way reminiscent of Olamide and he is competent at it. Like most rap songs, topical and biographical, the personal touch of delivering hooks does not affect his verses.
At a time when topical albums are being released with urgent deadlines, Illy Chapo X seems measured and thoroughly contemplated, if one dismisses the hurriedly penned ‘Heal’, a prayer crusade for the Covid-19 pandemic.
This album works the Igbo Boy creed and delivers a manifesto. It is a toga of realness for rappers to rep their locations. Illy has become a Lagos boy but like many Igbo men, the East is still the base.
This affectation shows up differently on this album and brightly sparks up the way of life of the Igbos. An ethnic group originating from South-eastern Nigerian from where the sun rises, the Igbo philosophy that every man is king in his own right holds sway. This, of course, puts extra pressure on that Igbo male child who must be doubly enterprising in the aftermath of the genocide called Nigeria Civil war. This Igbo chap is celebrated in a stream of songs: the Phyno-featured ‘Upper Iweka’, ‘Bizness’, ‘Die There’ and ’40 FT Containers’.
He borrows Burna Boy’s recent viral commentary in ‘Country’ to rev up Nigerian youth’s discontent with the polity. The best parts of this album is when Illy praise-sings. By default, his praises are navel-gazing and his obsession is gifting himself sobriquets. His favourite prefix is Illy and we have coursed through an assortment of names to rest on Chapo. He has added X, for pep, mystic or resilience. On the cypher siren ‘Kiss The Ring’, he situates himself somewhere between “Fela, Nas and Black Thought”.
He serenades on the Toye-produced ‘Goddess’ with English and a sprinkle of Igbo. Illy is that Igbo man giving a proposition all over. The Igbos fancy the gift of the gab, from the baranda boys loitering around Tejuosho market to entrepreneurs swaggering down the gilded lobbies of corporate Nigeria, there is always a proposition; sweeter if a damsel is involved.
If ‘Goddess’ does not quite catch, there is an even more elaborate proposition on the Yemi-Alade assisted ‘Fever’ with a detail-specific luxury wedding. Every marriage must be consummated but the proposition continues into the bedroom. Niniola’s sultry vocal assist comes handy on ‘Superman’.
At 40, Illy is hitting middle-age and Chapo X is part about praising his Igbo-ness, part auditing his experience. Nostalgia is a currency he spends quite freely, while still speaking the truth to current realities.
He drops his brawn for some tenderness when he speaks about his family on the tribute to his father ‘Remember’ but quickly updates the swag with ‘Rest’. That sweet hook about stunning with his daughter on his chest is the kind of vulnerability Hip-Hop requires.
Illy Chapo X already feels like Illy’s best album in recent times—and just like he sings on ‘Die There’, he keeps winning.