Illwilliam. is a 33 year old half-Vietnamese artist and rapper from Richmond, Virginia. This week I will be reviewing his latest rap album titled DARKER SIDE OF THINGS, which dropped last month in early April. The project consists of ten songs and is approximately a 24 minute listen. The album and cover art is inspired by Billy Joel's The Stranger, and sound wise the project utilizes dusty hip hop sounds that are 90s reminiscent.
DSOT is a musical journey portrayed through the lens of the darker side of things. It was executively produced by Chris Forte, with some help from RVA Boombox and Vision.Exe as well. Vocal features include ATRAINWRAPS and CPDAPRINCE, who are individuals that have been working with Illwilliam. for almost five years now!
The album started off with lead single JOHN WICK, which was released last year in November, along with a music video that demonstrated the cinematic aspect to the album. The project itself paints an even larger picture as to who Illwilliam. is as a person -- someone dealing with social pressure, family trauma, and the all around depressive state of life. Illwilliam. uses his artistry to create an uptempo energy that is clean cut with both witty and serious lyrics!
Keep reading to hear more about my analysis and opinion of each song as well as some words from Illwilliam. himself!
Vy: What was the inspiration behind this project, and what message did you want to give to listeners?
Illwilliam: With this we project, we wanted to tell people that it’s okay to have a darker side to you, or to have a side that you don’t want people to see.
MELODY starts off the album with an eerie yet beautifully elegant piano intro. This is a great first song that draws listeners in, almost like he's with-holding is full potential until later on. Illwilliam really knows how to set the scene through music because I can vividly paint a picture with every sound and line. He has a clean flow in this one that is confident yet lazy, literally just going with the melody. I loved the mixing on this one -- the effects made a simple song turn refined!
The second track, titled PERCISE, is a slow paced beat with hard hitting drums. The beat itself is something that you can slowly bop your head to. William's flow however? He's just so confident! I admire the way his voice is so smooth yet filled with personality. It contrasts the beat and adds so much vibrance and energy to the song. His flow is fast yet clean cut, hitting each line with precision just as the name suggests.
'Don’t worry 'bout my shit 'cause it’s still gon' hit / Motherfucker you can see that I’m still precise.”
NEW BLOOD is when Illwilliam starts showing what he's capable of. He comes in hot on this one, and the beat is fire because of the simple yet groovy bass line. The delivery consists of a playful yet matter of fact tone, and I really enjoyed the parts where he breaks his flow and his personality shows through for a split second.
"Daddy didn’t raise no bitch, matter fact he raised a beast.”
Vy: If the audience could only listen to one song off the album, which would it be and why?
Illwilliam: If I were to pick one song off the album, it would be NEW BLOOD just because I’m saying some real stuff on it.
The intro to OUTLANDISH transitions from the last song perfectly, and it really transformed the album into an intense listening experience rather than just a simple play through. The beat mixes mellow piano keys with a reminiscent hip-hop sound. William’s flow is more upbeat in this one, and as the song suggests he’s just rapping about outlandish bars that will definitely make you rewind and do a double take. Lyrically, this is probably my favorite song off the album!
The mixing on this one is so complex too. The dialogue break midway that went right back into the outro was seamless, and it was refreshing being able to see his personality shine through the most in this one through the delivery and storytelling.
BE MAD is definitely a song that will creep up in your playlist. There's a slow eerie build up that leads up to the drums that shine in this beat, and the slight touch of bass adds that finishing touch. The song is slow both beat and flow wise, which allows for listeners to hear every single bar he’s dropping (and there’s a lot in this one!)
If he was confident in the other songs, then he’s turned arrogant in this one -- and I love it! It adds this amazing energy that serves for easy listening on the ears. I also enjoyed the mixing on this song because of all the little effects, so don't forget to use your headphones!
"Came with the boom, and I stay with the bang, and I got that flame, recognize my name.”
The INTERLUDE was really just a simple 30 second beat that set the scene again by creating that eerie ambiance. The strings take the lead and all of the sounds and effects will help transport you to another place -- a darker place.
I couldn’t figure out why I enjoyed Illwilliam’s flow so much until FABLE. This song has the catchiest hook hands down, and the way the keys clashed to cause dissonance immediately gave this song a minor feel. His talent is being able to switch between riding the beat lazily and dropping fast aggressive bars. The beat isn't the thing maintaining the energy, William is!
JOHN WICK is the lead single that started off the whole dark and mature concept around this album! This is a simple beat that is carried by an alluring loop. The beat itself lacks any type of hard hitting drums. They're more muted, and even the bass takes the backseat in this song. Due to the track being so open, Illwilliam was able to switch up the flow and show his personality in multiple instances. Definitely title song worthy!
"Started as an opener, but then I took the show.”
The intro to FIGHTING DIRTY actually sounded a bit scary to me at first, but then that same scary part actually loops, takes the backend of the beat, and provides a great contrast over Illwilliam’s smooth and witty bars. This song has such clean breaks that are so subtle and quick, but they are definitely noticeable. The outro was perfect with the crowd chanting "fight" at the end, and I really loved the message portrayed in this song.
Finally we're nearing the end of our listening experience. I thought every song was a viable candidate for being my favorite -- until I heard the last track.
The initial feeling that I got from hearing TEN STEPS was indescribable. The electric guitar in the background is literally insane. It gives it such a soulful, sultry, and slightly evil vibe. The mixing then elevates it even more with the echoes and delays. The ending of the song with the footsteps and whistling is so nostalgic and wraps up the listening experience in a way that makes you feel like you just finished watching a movie.
This is hands down my favorite song off the album because there are so many layers, and the way it came together was unreal! I've honestly been listening to it on repeat just to hear that intro again!
"From night to the morning, I never do slack.”
It’s clear to see that the marketing and overall concept of this project was something that took a lot of time and planning. The overall execution and listening experience was stellar. His lyrics are clean and hard hitting, and his smooth flow and multifaceted delivery compliments each beat perfectly. There's this one “uh” ad-lib where he sighs after every bar or so that is so addicting!
I really enjoyed seeing his little touches of personality throughout this project. The concept of this project may seem sad and a bit uncomfortable to some, but I assure you that Illwilliam’s vocals and energy brought everything to the table, and you will definitely get hype (and sad) to this.
Vy: Lastly, describe your album in one word!
"In one word, this project is dark." - Illwilliam.
The ribbon on top of this whole project has to be the ambient dark beats produced by Chris Forte, who talks more about his experience working on the backend as executive producer on my Producer of the Week segment! Be sure to read that article if you haven't already. ALso, don't forget to stream DARKER SIDE OF THINGS and stay tuned for my next album review and Producer of the Week!
OVERALL, THE ALBUM HAS A ROLLER COASTER OF EMOTIONS THAT NOT EVERYONE EXPOSES THEMSELVES TO DAILY. ILLWILLIAM. IS SOMEONE WHO DRAWS THE LINE BETWEEN DARK AND LIGHT, AND I ENCOURAGE YOU TO GIVE IT A LISTEN AND DETERMINE WHAT LIES ON THE DARKER SIDE OF YOU…
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Written by Vy Truong, @avocavy on IG