- Christianity Today Copyright Christianity Today International
- 2009 4 Mar
Mars ILL's music echoes the notion of rap as revolution. This Atlanta-based duo embodies a thriving hip-hop underground that bends not to commercial compromise but rather embraces artistic expression as the foil to the streamlined establishment. The group's first Gotee Records release, Backbreakanomics, voices a purist dissent that propels the hip-hop ideals of substance, style, and skill in a way that would make the Cold Crush proud.
In their five years, Mars ILL—featuring manCHILD on the mic and deejay/producer Dust on the ones and twos—appeared on mixtapes, dropped exclusive vinyl, and nearly cracked the Top 10 on CMJ's Hip-Hop chart. Taking their case to the people, the duo became a club circuit staple that shared stages with the X-ecutioners and the Living Legends, among others. The press likewise took notice landing Mars ILL the cover of Southeast Performer Magazine along with ink in publications like URB, Mixer, Insomniac, and Happy. Of course, Elemental Magazine delivered the clearest wake-up call, stating, "Don't sleep on Mars ILL"!
Though street cats know Mars ILL from singles, 12" vinyl, and independent discs like the Blue Collar Sessions EP and Raw Material, the group's Gotee bow, Backbreakanomics, represents this emcee-deejay duo at their inspired best. Dust drops beats that pay homage to hip-hop's b-boy roots while slicing in sounds as diverse as manipulated horn samples and traces of late sixties acid rock. The style is organic but hard hitting in a way that amplifies an aggressive flow that manCHILD honed as a battle rapper in the (404) underground. Their combined talents forge a blue-collar mentality with transparent, honest lyrics that contrast the puffed-up, blown-out, guns 'n' girls world of wannabe rapper-pimps.
"Our songs honestly reflect what our lives are like, and people respond to our vulnerability," says manCHILD. "People forget the power that art has, and by being forthright in our lives, we've seen our music touch a broader audience than we ever expected."
Drawing on personal experiences, the group addresses the need for proper perspective in "Breathe Slow" and putting words into action with "Sideline Speech." Likewise, manCHILD skillfully executes rap narratives tackling purpose in tragedy with "Inside Out" and abuse caused by twisted views of societal roles in "Alpha Male." Helping communicate these ideas, Mars ILL recruited slam-dunk assists from Pigeon John (LA Symphony), Bigg Juss (Company Flow), Blueprint, and Playdough.
In 1990, the establishment reaped rap radio rewards with Hammer, the Young MC, and the Ice man, but it was a then-underground group called Public Enemy whose 1990 track "Fight the Power" had the most lasting effect on today's urban culture. Recalling just such a time, Mars ILL rises up with a progressive sound to revolutionize rap, not with gimmicky beats or R&B choruses, but with a style and substance that makes Backbreakanomics a defining underground anthem.