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Ill Bill - What's Wrong With Bill?

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Artist: Ill Bill

Album: What's Wrong With Bill?

Label: Psycho+Logical

Review date: Jun. 30, 2004

"They call me ill because I'm sicker than the germs in AIDS," explains Ill Bill midway through his solo debut, What's Wong With Bill?. However, it becomes clear pretty quickly that what's wrong with Bill is not that he's ill, but rather that he's really, really angry.

And what is he angry about? Is it that his good name is rapidly losing cultural cache to Tarantino's four-hour valentine to kung fu and self-indulgence? No such luck. Bill's angry because society's fucked up, and instead of hands-on community involvement or grassroots political action, he's chosen to make us aware of the fact by yelling about it for just under an hour.

The effect of all this is not so much tiresome as it is underwhelming and disappointing. The latter particularly in light of the brief-but-impressive track record of Bill's standby crew, Non Phixion, whose infectiously paranoid debut The Future Is Now revolved around a similar political angst and far outshines anything offered here. To be fair, much of what was great about that album was its near-flawless production by Necro (Bill's little brother, as well as critically reviled rapper), DJ Premier, et al, but Bill himself sounded far fresher and, frankly, far less irritating back then (all of two years ago) than he does now.

It's more tempting to blame Bill's delivery ā€“ really just a lot of shouting, most of it rhythmic ā€“ than his lyrics for the failures of What's Wrong With Bill?, since even with Non Phixion he didn't spin words with anything more than a workmanlike combination of rhyme and pace. Indeed, the first thing that comes to mind after listening to one or two songs is that he's just yelling almost all of the time, as though he's gotten carried away with his indignation and wouldn't calm down even if he could.

Even so, you get used to the yelling soon enough, but what's left in his lyrics fails to impress just as much. Instead of making any meaningful statements about the evils of modern society like, say, Nas did even during those years when he sucked, Bill tends to keep his rhymes paranoid and personal. He does get it right sometimes, like on "American History X," but even in that song his somewhat generic tableau of urban squalor only comes after a weird rant about killing Bush and his cabinet. Some lines are memorable ("Fuck who's on top, I'm hungrier than them") and others embarrassing (that jab at Clay Aiken is just plain not necessary), but most are more forgettable than anything else.

What's worse, Necro's production throughout the album is adequate at best. If ever there were an appropriate arena for the El-Pā€™s sonic abrasion, it's an album like this, but the beats are too calm and smooth for such angry, conspiratorial rants. They're consistently solid on their own, but they fail to match the hyperbolic alarm of Bill's delivery, and end up making it seem all the more heavy-handed. A song like "Anatomy of a School Shooting" should be affecting by virtue of its very topic alone, but instead its clumsy attempt at first-person narration and Premier-lite beat strip it of emotional resonance.

Ultimately, what's wrong with What's Wrong With Bill? is not its social conscience or even its anger. To some extent it's the looming shadow of Non Phixion, but it falls flat even appreciating the notorious treachery of the sophomore album/solo project. The biggest problem is the utter lack of subtlety; awkwardly stuck between fervent conviction and dull shock value, Bill's case is unconvincing both politically and musically.

By Daniel Levin Becker

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