Album Walkthrough: Illy dissects his intimate & versatile new record, The Space Between
The Australian favourite enlists guests such as WAAX, G Flip and Wrabel for a genre-shifting, sound-exploring new record.
Header image by Simon Upton.
As Australia's commercial hip-hop space beckons for an international arrival, the ones that helped get it there are now turning it on its head.
Look no further than someone like trials, for example - the producer who pioneered acts like A.B. Original and Funkoars (alongside his productions with Hilltop Hoods and Drapht), before making a switch into hip-hop-influenced alt-pop with his debut single I'm a fucking wreck earlier in the year - and heavyweights like Hilltop Hoods and Briggs, who themselves have switched between sounds and experimented with new sonic tones throughout their latest releases.
Melbourne rapper Illy, however, has really taken this beyond what's seen so far – and it's something incredible to watch. As someone who has helped shaped commercial homegrown rap music since his entrance over a decade ago, Illy has consistently searched for the future, whether it be in the collaborators he enlists or the broader sounds he tackles with every record. 2016's chart-topping Two Degrees - his last record - provides a good example, with guests including Anne-Marie and Vera Blue soundtracking the rapper's grasp at this kind-of half-rap, half-pop fusion that proved a successful new lane.
Now, with his sixth record The Space Between, we're able to watch Illy encompass this forward-thinking growth we've observed over the last five years with a record that seems to define it exactly, capturing his continued evolution and experimentalism as he reflects on the evolution being held within his own life too. It's a record that veers between genres, shifting up sounds as he explores the niche edges of hip-hop's versatility and range while using a sense of intimate honesty and personality the linking trait between its many flavours.
Wave, for example, rolls out the gate with a punching return to old-fashioned hip-hop that captures a glimpse of Illy's initial skillset, proven earliest in his career. From here, however, the record opens up: Loose Ends enlists G Flip for a searing burst of cathartic pop music; post-release highlight Mirrors captures the talent of Wrabel in a low-slung, heart-wrenching take on a relationship's end. Cheap Seats brings in WAAX's Maz DeVita for a charged return to energy indebted with its alt-aligned rush, while Lonely seemingly welcomes Illy at his darkest yet most hopeful, reflecting on loss and grief and the importance of valuing those around you.
Regardless of what musical avenue he chases, The Space Between is a record indebted to Illy's stories, and his increasingly brilliant prowess in telling these stories with a potency that matches the reflection that fuels them. Its a deeply personal record that grapples with everything in Illy's world, digesting the low valleys just as much as the soaring peaks - all of which shown throughout The Space Between's lyricism, but also in the sounds that mould themselves around his emotions and energies.
"The Space Between is about change. How much there is from one point to the next, and how those trips - not the destinations - define us. My music has always been about real life, and since last time we spoke, mine happened between albums, relationships, parties, therapy, triumphs, breakdowns, celebrations, mourning … all of it," he reflects on the record's purpose. "I learnt a lot. About me and people around me. Who’s there for a good time, who’s there for a long time, and who was never really there at all. I learnt to keep it moving, but also to stop and appreciate where you’re at, because the one constant is change. I’m thankful for all of it. It all made this album."
Take a listen to the album below, alongside a track-by-track walkthrough from Illy that dissects the album's inner themes and collaborations, one song at a time.
I wanted the intro track to the album to come out swinging. I think some people forget in amongst the songs I've put out that live in different lanes, that I'll go bar for bar with anyone. Wanted to remind 'em a bit.
One of my favourite songs I've ever written. Really should’ve been a smash. It's about growing up and letting go of things, and being at peace with the fact that that is just a part of it. The song was special before G Flip got on it, but she made it magic.
This was written in the middle of winter in Helsinki. It was based on a conversation I had with a girl there, and how people put this weird judgement on short relationships, but as long as both people know the deal and go into it with eyes open, there shouldn’t be an issue. Like, if it's fun and no ones getting hurt, fuck it. Carla Wehbe crusheddd the hook, and it's been so sick seeing her go from strength to strength since she recorded it early last year.
About when the shine of everything kind of wears off, and you're still in it. About how fake shit can be, but how if this is what it is, then fuck it why stop. Cheap thrills are still fun.
When relationships fall apart, and before the dust settles, while there's still plenty of hurt and blame to be thrown around. Mirror was written about that. Wrabel adds a subtlety with his vocal that I could only dream of.
I Myself & Me
While relationships end, and friendships can break down, and people can just be shit, the biggest fuckhead out of everyone is usually myself. Wanted to give me some shine for that.
Conversely, also wanted to give myself some shine for persisting when forever there's been people with shit to say. There always will be too. It's always a good time overcoming negativity, and Last Laugh is about that.
[Cheap Seats is] about the good old days. When a park, your mates, cask wine and pack of smokes had you feeling like royalty. I wouldn’t want to go back to those days, but something about the simplicity of it always sticks with you.
[It's] about conversations you have with fake people. You both know the subtext of the conversation, and it's just like, such a drain. Everyone can relate. Wanted it to be fun cause it's not a downer as much as its just a pisstake. Like, why are we doing this mate, we'll both be happier clipping it.
Lean On Me
Written for someone very close to me who was going through a hard time, and far away from their people. Wanted to let them know that even in the low moments people were there.
Race To The Bottom
Too much time alone, being let down by people, pushing myself too much, partying too hard, it all just caught up with me. I felt very isolated and I think it took its toll. I love this song but listening to it now it sucks that it got to this point.
A song for my late gran, and also to my parents. We all grew up and time keeps ticking and you just learn that nothing is permanent, and that everyone is only here for so long. It's about coming to terms with that, and trying to make amends, and the most of the time you have. It's really just about love, and family, and how that’s what all of this has to be about in the end.
The Space Between
The title track. It sums up the last 4 years, but maybe even goes a bit further than that. Basically, for all the highs and the lows of these years, the one thing I'm left with at the end is just an incredibly sense of gratitude that I have the life I do, that I have the people in my life that I do, and that I've been able to have the journey I’ve had. It sounds naff, but it's really true. I'm so thankful, and if you're reading this and playing the album, I'm directly thankful to you, cause yea, even when shit's been hard, I'm still living a life I dreamed of as a kid. How good is that?
I love this song and love that it ends the album. It kind of takes stock of everything that this album deals with, and just ends on a high. One of the big themes of The Space Between is accepting your faults and your mistakes, and knowing you're never going to be perfect, but life isn’t perfect, and neither you nor life is meant to be. So instead of beating yourself up for that, embrace it. Push on, knowing that if you can say you’ve done all you could, and mean it, then that's enough. I don't know, I think it's still something I'm working on, but I've gotten better at it, and I love that being the sentiment to close the album on.
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