Album Review: Illogic & Blockhead – Preparing for Capture

Posted: June 6, 2012 in Album Review, Best of 2nd Q 2012, Hip Hop
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“Matter of Minutes” Illogic & Blockhead

Illogic and Blockhead seem like a natural pairing for those who have followed the independent rap scenes of New York and Columbus closely for the last fifteen years.  On the Eastern cusp of the Mid-West, Columbus rappers often made the 9 hour trek to NYC to bring their unique flavor to the larger NYC independent scene.  The likes of the late Camu Tao and his MHZ crew (Copywrite, Tage Proto, Jakki, RJD2) made a seemless transition into the NYC-based Def Jux/Eastern Conference fold in the early 00’s, and while Blueprint maintained a local presence with his Weightless imprint and gained more national attention through his work with Minnesota’s Rhymesayers.  As one of the more prominent and talented independent artists to come out of Ohio in recent memory, it is Illogic’s more intellectual, artistic, and perhaps avant-garde slant in his music that makes him such a perfect match for a producer like Blockhead, who of course cut his teeth as the primary producer behind Aesop Rock’s most hailed projects.  Blockhead, known for melodic, quietly snared, minimalism, perfect for more introspective and contemplative lyricism, had a pretty full-plate until relatively recently between his work with Aesop Rock, Chase Phoenix, a solo instrumental hip hop career, and producing for other Def Jukies and affiliates as well as artists on small NYC imprints like johnny23, Embedded, and Nature Sounds among others.  As has been alluded to often, and occasionally discussed, Aesop Rock’s move out to the Bay Area a few years back has physically and perhaps creatively put some space between himself and former NYC collaborators, including long-time friend and primary collaborator Blockhead.  While Aesop and Blockhead still work together and remain close, Aesop has stated his need to go to entirely self-producing Skelethon in order to get in the proper creative groove for the record (despite the ease of collaboration over the internet, Aesop, like El-P and Ka for example, is among the few rappers and producers  who still strongly prefer to work in close physical proximity to collaboratively develop the proper cohesion for an album).  The absence of Aesop as a primary collaborator and the dead ball era of modern nerd rap (2008-2010) left Blockhead predominantly focused on instrumental work and only occasionally collaborating with emcees who spark his interest.

As for Illogic, 1999’s Unforeseen Shadows was by most accounts an underground classic, despite being a little rough around the edges it showed a depth of artistry (“Hate In a Puddle,” “Angel,” “Tale of a Griot,” “Me Vs. Myself,” “Cinderella Complex” “Favorite Things“) almost unimaginable for an 18-19 year old rapper and introduced both Illogic and Blueprint, who did all the beats and appeared on two tracks, who would both become the mainstays on the independent rap scene that they’ve been now for the past 14 years.  The collaboration of Illogic and ‘Print  became a staple of Illogic’s work through his first three albums, but as Illogic was working in Columbus and rapping on the side, Blueprint was travelling and developing his own solo career touring with Rhymesayers, working with fellow Columbus native RJD2 on Soul Position albums, and later on instrumental albums and self-produced solos, as well as doing work with his group Greenhouse Effect and other artists.  As the extroverted Blueprint built his reputation across the US independent scene, the introverted Illogic worked tirelessly on Celestial Clockwork, which was to be the proper follow-up to the artistic brilliance of Unforeseen Shadows, but in the 5 years between Unforeseen and Celestial Clockwork Illogic’s fanbase had become increasingly disjointed and the art/nerd rap backlash (referenced in the Billy Woods review) was coming on strong by ’04 and the album, while appreciated by fans and critics, wasn’t met with the fanfare it would have been if it had come out in ’01, when Illogic dropped the more “fun” punchline oriented Got Lyrics? EP.  None of this deterred Illogic from continuing to create quality music, but between timing and a lack of nation-wide and international touring, Illogic never really developed the buzz that his music was worthy of creating.

Now in an era where once again rap for art’s sake is regaining appreciation with the likes of Ka, Billy Woods, Open Mike Eagle, El-P all dropping acclaimed projects within a relatively short window, Illogic has rededicated himself to his craft with Blockhead, as they’ve both worked for two years to record a lot of material working to define exactly what their sound will be, independent from their reputation defining collaborations with Blueprint and Aesop Rock respectively.  Collaboration between Illogic and Blockhead is also not without precedent, having worked together on “Killing Time” featuring Aesop Rock off the vinyl version of Got Lyrics?, and “An Ocean” off Illogic’s Write to Death II EP.  So while few might have predicted the collaboration, it makes a lot of sense for both artists who clearly have complementary skill sets and can combine like-minded fanbases to create a records that satisfy themselves artistically and will likely be lauded both critically and among fans of more poetically/artistically slanted rap music.

Preparing for Capture is a brief 8 song FreEP (10 tracks if you pony up the 8 bucks to buy the CD version), a prelude to their forthcoming full-length collaboration Capture the Sun and it’s everything a fan of either artist’s work could have hoped for from an introductory EP.  Blockhead stays within his comfort zone, creating laid back melodic minimalism with a nice selection of sampled keys, harmonicas, strings, and wind instruments, all tailored a bit more towards Illogic’s slightly nasal register as opposed to the booming baritone of Aesop Rock.  In places, the album is a bit more uptempo than much of Illogic’s music has been historically, which leads to some slightly uncharacteristically upbeat moments from Illogic (“Weigh You Down,” “Teach Me to Learn,” “Poster Boy“) but that doesn’t mean Illogic jettisons his classic introspection (“Ego’s Orbit“), conceptual brilliance (“HERstory,” “Matter of Minutes“), or impressive wordplay (“Caffeine Budget,” “Nails“).  As is generally the case for Illogic albums, there is a scarcity of features, as only fellow wordplay marksman Rob Sonic shows up for a great feature on “Nails.”  In addition to creating a bit more cohesion and focus on Illogic as the emcee, the lack of guest appearances also gives the listener a good opportunity to test-drive the chemistry between Blockhead and Illogic, which seems to be great for this initial release.

What the album may lack in terms of an overall cohesive theme (which is understandable given that these are collaborations Blockhead and Illogic have made over the course of their two year collaborative period that did not make the final cut on Capture the Sun), it makes up in quality, well-produced, well-written and conceptualized rap music with depth and character.  There is a good mix of fun and thought, light and weighty, and over the course of just over 20 minutes the EP leaves the listener intrigued to hear where Illogic and Blockhead will take them over the course of a fully realized album.  While Preparing for Capture is not likely to be among the rap album of the year candidates at the end of the year, the strength of their collaboration shows that kind of potential for Capture the Sun and this EP can be neatly placed alongside the work of Billy Woods, Ka, and Open Mike Eagle as some of the most artistically and poetically crafted rap music being created these days.  What sets it apart from those releases a bit, is that the production comes from a generally more melodic and upbeat point of view, which serves as a nice contrast to what in the past has been the sometimes soberingly introspective Illogic.  And not to beat a dead horse, but Preparing for Capture is yet another album that follows in the trend of albums this year that have come out with excellent results from the work of one producer paired with one emcee (previously noted in the Paraphernalia review).  Through five months and a few days 2012 is clearly the year of the one-on-one rapper/producer collaboration album.

Preparing for Capture can be downloaded for free from Illogic’s bandcamp page, where you can also check out some of his other recent work.  Blockhead also has a recent excellent instrumental hip hop album out on Ninjatune, entitled Interludes After Midnight.

  1. […] music of Preparing for Capture 2 has a sense of urgency that wasn’t present on the first EP,  perhaps Blockhead and Illogic decided to turn the heat up a bit in their quest to land a […]

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