On “It’s Nice Outside” Anti-Lilly’s lyricism is a perfect match for Phoniks’s jazzy beats.
Okay so this album does not have live, new jazz on it, but I’m sure Guru would approve of young hip-hop artists keeping jazz alive in the art form.
According to his Facebook page, Phoniks is a 23-year-old producer from Portland, Maine. Previously he and Anti-Lilly collaborated on the 2014 album “Stories From The Brass Section.” On “It’s Nice Outside” Phoniks returns with more of his signature jazzy beats.
I scoured the internet for a listing of the samples that Phoniks used, but I came up empty. I wanted the samples for this review but I also wanted to listen to them. That’s a testament to Phoniks’s production. The tracks are so good that you want to hear the originals.
I was able to decipher a couple samples, but they were strictly from hip-hop. On “Grow” Phoniks uses the immortal Pharcyde classic “Passin’ Me By” for a piece of the hook. Hip-hop heads will remember that that Pharcyde tune also utilized a jazz sample. On “Brick Buildings” Phoniks borrows vocals from two more heavyweights: Nas and Common.
Those pieces of hip-hop history on the album suggest influence and appreciation but the production shines because of jazz. “Nobody’s Perfect”, for example, features a melancholy trumpet that underscores the various personal struggles Anti-Lilly raps about. Much of the jazz on the album sounds like somber Cool Jazz (to this layman) but not all of it. Phoniks proves that he can sample melodic jazz and still create songs that hit like “Every Season” & “No Games.”
The duo’s Bandcamp page states that Anti-Lilly had gone through a number of tribulations over the past few years. There, as well as on “Company Cigarettes”, Anti-Lilly describes his creative process as therapy. Whenever outside pressures got too great he took to the booth and worked on his art.
“It’s Nice Outside” does not, however, sound like self-indulgent, woe-is-me shoegazing. To be certain, there are introspective tracks on which Anti-Lilly laments the problems he has faced. “I Found Me” and “Grow” cover problems with friends, family and formative years. Fortunately, Anti-Lilly balances discussion of his problems with practical solutions. He doesn’t like his job but he still goes to work and then takes solace in music. He wants to pay off his mother’s house so he keeps working hard. He wants to raise his (future) children responsibly so he keeps himself in check. There is a problem-solution dichotomy on most every song.
But Anti-Lilly, like Phoniks, is not a one-trick pony. He doesn’t just talk about himself. He can also tell stories. “Company Cigarettes” is mostly about a coworker who is also struggling.
Individual songs aside, the album is a story sewn together by voicemails left by friends of Anti-Lilly which help marry the narrative and introspective aspects of “It’s Nice Outside.”
And there are songs with bop to them (as mentioned above) as well as songs about larger, societal problems. “Better Days” takes the focus off of Anti-Lilly specifically and takes a look at problems facing America.
“It’s Nice Outside”
This album isn’t a good jazz rap album. It’s a good album. Period. It touches at the personal, widens to a macro view and never loses its tone or themes. The production is excellent. It’s so integral to the album that Phoniks received top billing along with Anti-Lilly, a much-deserved distinction.
One could say that the tracks on “It’s Nice Outside” sound like 90s jazz rap. In this case, however, that doesn’t mean the music sounds stale or old. Anti-Lilly and Phoniks have managed to create fresh hip-hop with classic, old-school production. The result is a soulful album that gets better with each listen.
Support the artists here!