(All photos by Tony Hoang)
We’ve featured budding Canadian rapper Emay a few times now. You can see what we’ve said about “Who Am I,” “Israfil…,” and “Bakkah…,” but the context of his new album Ilah adds clarity and further understanding to tracks that are already deeply meaningful as stand-alones.
The album is decidedly personal for Emay. Not only is the concept one from childhood to grown man, he’s the principal writer and produced all of the work you hear. What comes out of this hands-on approach to llah feels like therapy, reflection, and maturity. There’s no denying he utilized this outlet and his ability for something bigger.
Beats dash through as the warm up of “Idea” takes place. Your head is left spinning a little bit, but backing harmonies act as the voice you’re walking towards. Emay’s style throughout is a mix of deliberate and hurried, sometimes both on the same track. What path will you take? Everything is such a fine line of how you’ll fall, and he sees this as his younger, observant self.
“7th” acts as a lucid dream with bars that dice themselves up over a floating feeling. Yet it’s a floating feeling you can’t jump up and soar with because harsh realities are holding you down. If hard work really paid off, why are so many people left in the lurches? You start noticing the fluidity of the story as the character grows on “Silently Ill.” You can see where the tracks bleed into each other, and you begin to see the picture unfolding right in front of your eyes.
You’re then jarred a little bit by “Ibn (son),” which opens with a blink, and it traverses out of a state of slumber into a hazy atmosphere. The next phase of life is entered, and he’s faced with the pressures of falling into line and doing what someone tells him to do, lest his superior lose pride in him. Raw, visceral imagery burns deep into your brain about the role of a father in one’s life. In being autobiographical, Emay seems to have held nothing back.
Before the bottom falls out on “Ilah ‘sendGod’,” his production flirts with an alt-rock, neon pop sprint. Belief, speculation, spirituality, and the torture of coming to terms with faith at a formative time in life is handled here. There’s the isolation from doubt while he contemplates how to proceed with his new understandings. This anger is turned into a more focused, lyric driven activism towards his ideals on “Yesu.” His development begins to look at politicians, what’s glossed over in history texts, the prison system, working to unify, and striving to understand each other better.
Further into his journey, Emay strikes at the heart of those who say, “Look at how things have changed recently, quit complaining.” What kind of argument is that? One that he is having none of. No one should give into that logic. Things then start to twitch and go a little extraterrestrial on “Lilac.” Doubt comes creeping back in, but maybe he should be doing this for those who don’t have a chance to tell a story. If you think he’s going to gloss over what’s going on or spin it positively, you’re looking in the wrong place though.
A slowed down, melodic experiment with various alternative sounds and style that are still attached to a beat-driven system wraps up the album. “Setsuko II” is a fitting closing track, an instrumental that pauses for where he is now without closing the book on what he’s written so far.
Ilah is available on the Jet Jam Bandcamp, or you can stream it on Spotify. It’s an album worth experiencing as many times as you can.