Illa Styles demonstrates his emotional range as well as details the hard road he has taken throughout his musical journey in this album.
A few common themes can be found throughout the project by upcoming Illa Styles; from growing up fast to the lack of options he had in the environment he was raised in, he empowers the listener to overcome all obstacles.
Kicking off the project with Plan B the track opens with a skit of a young kid sneaking out to hang out with older troublemakers from his neighborhood, and they even pour him a drink for their own amusement. This skit attests to the “crabs in a bucket” mentality that many have grievances about. The mentality that allows putting another who is just like you through pain for no reason. After the skit the song has a head-bopping beat inspiring flashbacks of the past as Illa reminisces about his hedonistic pursuits in high school, chasing after females and popularity. The line “we grew up fast we didn’t have a choice, my plan B was plan A, gotta make it shake,” spells out the fact that this is Illa’s only hope at making himself into something, and he’s well aware of it. He spits, “used to make plays in the civic the A/C was busted, had to rock a NorthFace in the winter” describes the familiar tale of a big city winter, having to make a living surviving in a car with no heat.
Egyptian Cotton features some shimmering production and rolling vocals from Illa. Soothing runs from Zhe Aqueen on the chorus compliments Illa’s lyrical self-portrait on picking up girls in his younger days. Trying to show those girls the life they could lead if they would just commit to being with him. “Splash the puddle when I blew by you,” makes it clear that his endeavours weren’t always successful. The sometimes comedic wordplay helps show what life was like growing up for the artist, and presents it in a palatable way.
The next track opens with a verse of someone saying to a crowd they’re not holding back the truth anymore, and that’s what Illa does on Gold Oil & Drugz. “G-O-D, Gold Oil and Drugs.” Illa lets the listener know what the most valued commodities are from rough project neighborhoods to global economies, comparing them to God. His lyrics span people stuck in a tunnel vision on their own troubles, and fail to see the issues causing impact worldwide. Illa discusses the nonsensical laws surrounding the legalization of marijuana, people continuing to be incarcerated for marijuana possession despite its push for decriminalization. This as well as the idea that the FDA knowingly and potentially purposefully allows harmful contaminants into legal marijuana to poison the smokers whilst Big Pharma reaps the benefits. Radio B covers the chorus bringing an R&B style without skipping a beat. The track features a sample of the late XXXTENTACION describing the law of attraction and the New World Order coming in the form of technology. A guest feature from ArtLove wraps up the verses, pondering why people drone on throughout the day. An energetic outro featuring hand-drummed percussion brings the track home.
Heart Of The City has a guitar based sample growing in layers leading up to the verse. The verse contains a focused flow surrounding Illa’s ability to rise above his circumstances, and human beings doing whatever it takes to make life better. “Where ya heart at? Been laying bricks for the foundation, a n**** need a hard hat” Illa shows that he possesses the level of commitment someone needs to be able to see a life beyond their current position.
The most emotional track comes with Unconditional. Few tracks display how much an artist can mature from the beginning to end like this one. Illa gets a call letting him know he will soon be a father. “She couldn’t have been fucking around just with me, a cold way of thinking, thought of this shit got me shaking,” His ability to see this logic as being wrong, demonstrates how he knows he has to man up and be a father. No doubt a stressful time for a young man with no form of steady income, and if steady, not enough to feed a whole family. After meeting his daughter, he can’t help but be emotional seeing his daughter struggling to live in the hospital. It’s at this point that his perspective is altered, with the responsibility of another life in his hands. He sees this as his calling and what he needs money for, to provide everything his child deserves.
The reminiscent Where Would I Be is an almost frightening track, at the thought of what could’ve been if things turned out different. The old-school and elevating production comforts the listener as Illa details all the bumps in the road and obstacles that could’ve stopped him from being a rapper. He ponders what life would be had he not taken chances and risked it all. What life would be had he not been able to come back from a two year stint in prison that came as a record deal was being negotiated. Illa returns to teach those around him to focus on legal pursuits and to follow their dreams.
Sadly, the project is a track too long with the addition of Higher LVL. A run of the mill beat for the romantic subject matter mixed with the lackluster soft-singing from Illa makes the track feel longer than its already too long three minutes. The highlight of the track comes from the feature singer Francoise. Besides that, the song falls flat and can be easily missed in the project.
Even though the project does have a slight blemish at the end, it doesn’t detract from Illa’s ability to deliver an album that paints an accurate, honest picture of having an unbridled upbringing and the tough decisions these youth have to make when they find themselves in a similar place.
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