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TAKE TWO (2002)
Take Two - Click to view! Back in 2000, the hip-hop duo of Playdough and Blake Knight, also known as Ill Harmonics, were just being recognized. They had made the top ten of MTV's "The Cut" and their first album was just being released on the new label, Uprok Records. An Octave Above the Original surprised an industry that was desperate for some new sounds. The duo made no bones about the fact that they were white, guitar playing emcees with no intention of dressing as thugged-out rappers. Their production was clever and their lyricism was very original, making the overall product enjoyable. This year, the group takes another leap forward with Take Two, their second installment. This time, the effort is even fresher, a healthy dose of life for all those sick of the negative, sterile mainstream sound.

Of their many improvements, the one most noticeable is the diversity of sound. Ill H shies away from excessive keyboard use (a big fault of Octave's) and focuses more on the guitar. Even after 15 tracks, this sound does not get old or repetitive. Also, the pace is far more upbeat than Octave. Producer Blake Knight provides a Latin influenced dance track called "San Jose" that sticks out as one of the album's best. "The Crowd Is Standing" is a summer cruising song that made an appearance on DJ Maj's Full Plates. There is also a live version of this song at the end of Take Two, showcasing the live band that appears regularly on tour. Knight even taps into the oldies sound with "Cats Like These." From a newer up-tempo to a classic head-nodding sound, Ill Harmonics take the listener on a ride all over the musical map.

The new sound of the Ill would not be quite as impressive without the vast improvement in its emcees, Playdough and BK. With only one guest emcee on the album, (Uprok's Freddie Bruno) the pair send a message that they are lyrically ready to hang with the big boys. Playdough (a.k.a. Harry Krum), whose solo album releases later this year, does not show himself to be complacent. Since Octave, Krum has been heard on Sackcloth Fashion's Fashion Expo and Mars Ill's Raw Material, as well as being a part of the Deepspace5 crew. He has been slowly gaining respect as one of the best and most diverse emcees in the Christian industry right now. With his work on Take Two, Krum takes his game up a few more notches. You've never heard an emcee anywhere brag about rocking a show in a "tan double X cardigan," because Playdough comes correct. "It's the one and only / Lonely / Superstar / filling up my stupid car with some petrol." The opening line from "What We Do" gets feet tapping as Playdough attempts to connect with his audience displaying skills that unjustly draw little respect (or money). From "The Crowd Is Standing": "Hey I ain't got mine / I'm still rocking for fun / while my checks get returned from insufficinal funds."

Producer/Emcee Blake Knight has greatly improved as well. His laid-back style is an excellent compliment to Playdough's energy. BK is pushed on this album to provide blessing on some faster tracks and he definitely holds his own. While his flow might be too choppy for some, he brings a lot of fun to the album and fills in the gaps admirably. Knight's work on "Take Two (Call Me In The Morning)" is very strong. The album's first single is a fantastic light-hearted ditty that gets the album going with some excellent word play and creative use of a James Brown sample. "There's 2 many emcees / not enough mics to talk 2 / be and not 2 be / it's 3 minus 1 for the definition..." BK's verses in the lonely love tune "Bowtie Jerks" are funny and thoughtful as well.

Content wise, the album couldn't be better. Take this record to your neighbour, the one whose kids can't stop listening to Eminem and play this for them. No topic is safe from the Ill and nothing is too cheesy. The duo manage to gripe about being poor, lacking success while less talented rappers get paid, and being rejected by girls without coming off as whiners. Many of the songs are about the group's vision and desire to move the crowd. They do dip into the love zone with "Bowtie Jerks" and "Gypsy Kind" and then poke fun at Christians who criticize in "Mr. Chris T. Ian." "I did a song about a girl / I guess I'm living like the world / I must be straddling the fence / Cause the world says I represent while you dissed me." PD and BK also display their deep spiritual side with the intimate song "Must Be Crazy."

Take Two is an octave above An Octave Above. The album does suffer from some weak hooks that will have you skipping over songs like "Cats Like These" and "Destiny." However, on the whole, the project is almost stunning when you realize that you've been nodding your head for an hour to the beat of two middle class white guys that are simply having fun. Featuring Marcos from P.O.D., Earthsuit, DJ Maj and Freddie Bruno, Take Two is prescribed as summertime fun for any hip-hop fan.
- Jon Corbin
July 2002
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