‘As much as this vibe is not your usual UK hip hop fare – if you get it, you get it.’
By David Weir
One of the more avant-garde albums this year in UK hip-hop, Brighton based Illiterate’s first solo EP Whatifthenwhat is a melancholy mix of downtempo beats and poetic imagery that revels in the beauty of an otherwise mundane day to day existence.
In a bit of a departure from the more traditional hip-hop tracks put out by his label mates on Yogocop Records, there’s a real spoken word influence running behind the wobbly synths here.
This is especially evident on tracks like the guitar-led Milk, where the backing drums play second fiddle to introspective poetry and heavily reverbed instrumentation.
The features too fit nicely into the slower, more personal vibe that flows through this record. Lofi mainstay Looms made a real impression, with his blissed-out metaphors floating nicely over the haunting piano on album opener 4am. On Catching Moths, SoundCloud favourite Lausse the Cat also spits a memorable verse, which fits with the storytelling theme, as he laments ‘Jezza come sort me out, please… oh wait, I’m foreign can’t vote.’
Long-time collaborator NuphZed also comes through with the albums hypiest verse, making sure we know that he and his team definitely stay dreeby. It seems a real effort was made to find rappers who would fit well with his style, so props to Illiterate for gathering some sick underground MCs to work with.
Of course, this laid-back style may not be for everyone. Milk is a very slow track with an almost confessional feel, even for fans of lo-fi hip-hop like this reviewer. From a stylistic view, the boom bap production on Time, while a poignantly intense track in itself, also jars a little with the rest of the album. But, capturing the essence of everyday living and turning it into something that holds the listeners’ interest is a skill many MCs aspire too – but few fully achieve. And at its best, Whaifthenwhat is exactly that – a captivatingly mellow exploration of one man’s life in 21st century Britain.
With a host of catchy refrains and quotable bars, (‘prosecco sips echo rich ripples in my inner mood’), standout track Apricity is a wavey jam that bounces along an infectious hook – ‘nature’s single I can tell, I should swipe right, the skylines ringing my bells, slim chance of pain, mysterious swells…’.
With his ever so slightly stoned drawl matching the emotional pace of the sonic landscapes he and his fellow producers (among them Yogocop stalwart, Mr Slipz and Harvey Gunn) have created, in Whatifthenwhat Illiterate has produced a truly unique album.
As much as this vibe is not your usual UK hip hop fare – if you get it, you get it. And that’s why it sits proudly as one of our top UK hip hop releases of 2017.