EP REVIEW/MATT OLIVER

Illman ‘Ugly Days’
(Potent Funk) 18th February 2021

Should any global implosion occur – and right now that’s not a very big should – the mic will remain the sole property of Illaman. Of noted livewires Problem Child and Pengshui, Illaman, troubled and tightly wound before falling back, reaches a crossroads of riding out the apocalypse and wondering where it all went wrong; but where demons are treated like a pen pal and ignorance is a useful defence mechanism, he never lets on as to whether Ugly Days is catharsis, cry for help or just a shrug to deal with the matter. After all, there remain “so many questions, not many answers”.

Right-hand man Norm Oddity plugs into an electrified vista that those with the world on their mind and shoulders can take solace from, simultaneously triggering itchy souls into taking action, unblinking in the eye of the storm. For headphones and hoods under low light, “these emotions run rife when you’ve spent your whole life trying”, the breakbeats of ‘Everything Bless?’ stalking Illaman to scuttle down dark alleys. Unapologetic in its vulnerability and bruised introspection, the title track is aware that situations could slide even further, the guesting DRS providing an even more numb, dead eyed view as electronic shoots of optimism are shushed down.

On the nobility of ‘OK’, promoting a positive hook as doom takes a breather, Illaman boldly puts his backbone into it: a low-key rousing of the troops speaking up for the outsider (“make some noise for yourself fam, go celebrate your weirdness”), even if the message comes through gritted teeth. “I stay strong like ox, stay on course when you flop/cos all them little battles is what you remember at the top” is a lesson crossing the cipher into the real world, ahead of ‘Universe’ re-upping cause for cautious cheer. A lo-fi headswim with a montage of life lessons flashing before Illaman’s ears, it represents the EP causing and curing insomnia, and the orator’s substance intake both blocking the bigger picture and boosting confidence in a bleak midst.

The psychological profiling of eerie closer ‘Way Home’ is another to split itself: this time between self-help insight and unreachable scratch, Norm Oddity peers through the blinds in a sole instance of the producer perhaps losing faith while Illaman dismisses any fairytale ending. Austere and wide open, allowing for time to breathe and explore, Oddity represents the spaced out in both the extra terrestrial and mind-altering sense, offering unspoken yet meaningful encouragement that’s not without its moments of claustrophobia: take Illaman out of the equation and you have a rich half dozen of brain teasers before bedtime. The emcee’s forcefulness, conviction, anger and erudition, standing as the last man of reason out of hiding, makes him both untouchable (as both man and emcee) and as exposed as everyone else. Never proclaiming to be a saviour, it’s this everyman sharing of hopes and fears that moulds Ugly Days into a tome for all modern existence. Matt Oliver

Matt Oliver joined the Monolith Cocktail team over five years ago, contributing the leading Hip-Hop column in the UK. In recent years Matt has selected tracks for the blog’s Monthly Playlist Revue and written one-off reviews. You can see his professional practice as a dab hand at biographies and newsletters, blurbs long and short, liner notes and promotional texts, and putting words to the promotion of singles/EPs, albums/compilations, and upcoming/established artists/DJs/producers/events on his portfolio-style website

Apart from the Monolith Cocktail Matt has written features & reviews in print and online for Seven/DMC Update, Hip-Hop Connection, Breakin Point, Rime Magazine (US), Undercover Magazine, One Week to Live, IDJ, Remix (US), FACT, Clash, BigShot (US), Mrblunt.com (US), Worlddj.com, Datatransmission.co.uk.

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