I guess there is no surprises that I totally dig the new album from Wellington “indie rapper” Tommy Ill, ‘cos, you know, I am a total hipster right? Cos, y’know, Tommy Ill isn’t a real rapper anyway – so y’know white middle class indie kids like me don’t need to feel threatened by his rhymes. Y’know, cos he raps about his stories, his realities and doens’t try and pretend to be a gangster. Yeah, ‘cos hip hop is all about gangsters aye? Um, yeah, right.” A nice big plate of fish; which is my favorite dish” – Rakim really was a scary muthafucker aye.
Of course, I’m not saying that Tommy Ill is as good as Rakim. I mean, yeah I love Tommy; but I’m pretty sure that he’d be okay with me saying he’s not as good as one of the best rappers of all time. But, my clumsy point is that rapping is not, actually, by definition, about being a gangster. Tupac is actually dead. Move on, there really is nothing to see there. Rapping is story telling. And these are this guy from Wellington’s stories.
Opening with Birdbath – a celebration of under-achievement – “We work hard and we do it again; We don’t win so we do it again; Just a few of my friends” goes the refrain – turning the tradition of rapping boasting over on it’s head – it’s about the real adversity of an artist who needs to pay rent – “I’m writing songs at my desk / tying to break out (of) the office” – a theme referenced previously on his Annah Mac sampling Coldest Summer on the Nostalgia, Zebra mixtape “…plus I go to work to help them publish all the bad news / Critics say “Tom, don’t quit your day-job” / Didnt, dickhead – where do you think I get my pay from?”.
“I don’t really need to do this / This ain’t how I’m getting paid / I don’t really need to do this / But fuck it I’ll do it anyway” – the theme continues in 5th Beatle.
But, in the hip-hop tradition of reaching up and off the street – a desire to find a way out, is not lost – he want’s that “New Car Money” (he doesn’t even drive, he tells us – he just wants to get rich with you, oh baby) with a instrumented beat that even sounds a bit like a Lotto ad campaign; is this actually a social commentary that, in this country, the only way off the poverty line is not to be a rapper or even a sports star but by gambling? Hmmmm, yeah, Tommy Ill is a joke-rapper right? Yeah “Good luck with that” as he says in Cask Full Of Hope.
The point is that Tommy Ill doesn’t take himself too seriously; “Calm down, I got no beef with you / Just trying to do -dee- do-dee-do…” sounding a bit like Betty Boo’s Doin’ The Do – but it’s his ability to deliver salient one-liner observations with a deadpan; a wry smile and a cheeky wink; that if you really listen really satisfies. “I’m not sure if this rapping or just a cry for help” he observes in the Pikachunes guest vocalled Home. Princess Chelsea also makes an appearance with backing vocals on Tarmac – and Alphabethead’s amazing scratches appear on No Magnets and closing track River Tam.
I’m afraid that “Rap nerds will still act like (I’m) he’s a parody” because they don’t want to actually listen – and rap can’t be fun. That’s why those ‘skits’ on rap albums are so tiresome and just not funny. - review by Andrew Tidball