[RETURN OF THE BOOM BAP] You'd expect a new release from a veteran Northwest MC to sound a little old school. And Ill.ustrated—the new disc from longtime Portland MC Destro, a founding member of Oldominion and the Boom Bap Project—houses reminders of an era when hip-hop was embattled, pissed off and ready to defend its honor at every turn.
Destro shows his gritty side right off the bat. "I maneuver through the streets with a chip on my shoulder," he rhymes over a boxing-match bounce beat on the album's introductory track. "With an arctic attitude like nobody colder." The disc's first seven songs are focused on defining Destro as a never-say-die MC who is focused on both self-improvement and—as his name would imply—on destroying every obstacle in his path. That theme begins to tire, but the album's pacing is saved by some truly infectious beats (eclectic producers Arkitek, Mr. Hill and PeGee 13 are a huge help in that arena) and Destro's impressive range as an MC: The MC slips into a groove reminiscent of Latyrx on "Back on the Flow," then spends the entirety of "Never Know"—its Arkitek beat a reboot of Peggy Lee's "Fever"—navigating words with double meanings.
The disc's first half closes out with "Together," a touching open letter to the MC's family, but it's the second half of Ill.ustrated on which things get really interesting. From the exotic ("Rest When I'm Dead" finds Destro hustling over haunting Middle Eastern melodies) to the bombastic ("Eat 'Em Up" and "Oldominion Coming Thru," both featuring Portland's Sleep, are full of fighting words), Destro thoroughly mixes his attack and his lyrical themes. "Mr. Brown," which melds sonic futurism (it samples the Wailers' song of the same title, but tricks it out with creepy piano and dubbed-out percussion) with crisp, descriptive biographical-style storytelling, is especially striking. Destro's heart may be old school, but his mind is all over the place—he'll take a great song wherever he can find it.
SEE IT: Destro plays Saturday, April 30, at Slabtown, with Sleep and JFK. 9 pm. Cover. 21+.