So let's give him more well-deserved props.
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Welcome to Micro-Chop, a newsletter dissecting beatmaking, DJing, music production, rapping, and sampling — written by me, Gino Sorcinelli.
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One June 18th, 2019, producer Jansport J tweeted out six simple words that gave me pause for reflection.
I see this happen all the time in the genres of music that I focus on most heavily.
Artists who show up every day, do the work, and continue to release impressive music at a pace that feels superhuman are often given a causal shrug of indifference for their efforts. “Hey, you made another great song/album—who gives a shit?” people seem to say.
It’s almost like modern listeners don’t have the attention span or mental energy to appreciate musicians who constantly release really good music but don’t have a crazy social media presence or boring, sanitized marketing campaigns. This isn’t always the case, but there are so many instances where it is.
I sometimes worry that this might be the case for Detroit rapper/producer Illingsworth.
So, why am I writing about him today while throwing journalistic ethics out the window and showing an incredible amount of (positive) bias towards his work? Partially because I’m a huge fan, but also because his music has also been very therapeutic during a challenging past few months.
Without going into all the details, it has been a draining summer. People I know have died far to young, good friends have family members enduring difficult health situations, I lost my car and lots of money in the process—the list goes on.
There are of course good things happening too, but I’ve needed a bit of help navigating some of the stress. I often find myself reaching for Illingsworth’s music to help me do this—I even hit him up on Twitter recently to tell him so.
One particular beat that I’ve had on repeat in recent weeks as a form of musical therapy is “Oh Hell Yeah” off of his 2009 release ILLINGSWORTH Beat CD #1. I can happily listen to this song on repeat for a considerable amount of time, whatever my mood. Throughout the beat a delicate piano sample blends perfectly with some rich, warm synth work. I imagine the smooth balance of sound he achieved likely took considerable time and energy.
Interestingly, Illingsworth wrote in the album’s liner notes “All of these beats are rough versions,” though they certainly don’t sound like it. “Oh Hell Yeah” is a personal favorite, but I highly recommend checking out the rest of the album to get some insight into Illingsworth’s early sound.
I was also floored by technical mastery demonstrated on Illingsworth’s 2015 project Worth The Wait. I listen to a LOT of beats to keep up with all of the Micro-Chop articles and playlists, we’re talking 1000s upon 1000s of beats over the past few years. Without question, hands down, “Kings” is one of the most creative sample flips I’ve ever heard in my entire life. How he turned the original sample source into a head-nodding beat is beyond my comprehension.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t give 2017’s Dood a brief a nod here as well. Opening the album with an extended sample of The Big Lebowski, Illingsworth continues to show his deft touch and an ear for unusual sample sources on must-hear cuts like “JONK,” “STINGY BASTARD,” and “godsspell.”
And with 2016’s I Didn’t Ask For This, Illingsworth put out what might well be the most personal album of his career. I had a chance to speak to him about the project a little while back and he spoke candidly about opening up to his audience while giving some great insight about the album. “Living in a box that you think is safe is more painful,” he told me in a 2018 Micro-Chop interview. “Speaking your truths allows you to release pain and gain catharsis through honest expression. So I’m working to make that truer and truer, and refining my own voice as an emcee.”
Speaking the truth means Illingsworth raps about difficult topics like police brutality, gentrification, and the banality that sometimes comes with being an adult. The production is nuanced and perfect for the deep and thoughtful vocals throughout, with beats like “Caskets,” “Anxiety Rap,” and “As an Adult” serving as some of the highlights.
“Anxiety Rap” might well be the lyrical highlight of the album, as Illingsworth delivers line after line of hilarious bars that perfectly capture the social stress of awkward adult parties. Then at the end (I don’t want to give it away, you gotta listen) there’s a surprising and interesting reveal that brings the song to a close on a serious note.
I could go on and on, but whether it’s these songs and albums or something of your own choosing, I just want you to check out some of Illingsworth’s music.
If you decide to give it a listen, I’d love to hear what you think.
Thanks for reading, see you on Monday!