ILYAH “Habibi”

Atop one of the smoothest string-born harmonies pop has heard in a long time, the smoldering lead vocal of Ilyah begins to fill the air in his single “The Only One,” his voice echoing the emotion within his lyrics while adding another layer of passion to the pot. In this track, as well as its surreal music video, the up and coming popstar delivers a stylish harmony that tells us a story even without taking the verses it surrounds into context (which, up until recently, is something I had only experienced among ambient artists). Following-up on the release of “The Only One” a little less than a year later in 2019, Ilyah’s “Girls Like You” is similarly R&B-influenced in its cosmetic construction, but beyond that, it’s a compositional counterpart to its predecessor in almost every way. If you go back and look at the overall ascent through the indie hierarchy that this songwriter has been experiencing, it’s not difficult to grasp why audiences have taken to his cocktail of textures as quickly as they have. This is a musician who doesn’t want to take the same road twice, and yet he’s found a fascinating way of retaining the same colorful compass on every new adventure he embarks on.


One of my favorite songs from Ilyah’s current discography is the tension-releasing “Miscommunication,” a romantic slow-song that leans on alternative rock stylistics while bearing a strong resemblance to the soulful, harmony-powered sound of classic acapella crews like Boyz II Men. The music video certainly doesn’t look like the work of a purely independent artist – if anything, it has the flash and flair of something that would be produced by a major label talent (with a major label bankroll to boot). There aren’t many tempos that Ilyah appears incapable of mastering and transforming for his own aesthetical purposes, but if it were up to me, he would record an entire album of ballads in the vein of this one. He’s got an old world crooner energy to his performance here, and it’s something I would love to hear him experiment with later on in his career – perhaps in collaboration with an equally skilled vocalist.

Ilyah’s latest release, the bumping “Habibi,” feels and sounds like a sneak preview of his future successes; blended with melodic hip-hop and hints of a psychedelic melodicism that could open up a whole new world of possibilities to his sound, it’s the most intricate piece of music he’s recorded so far. He shows no hesitation, nor any sense of surrender, in this anti-cathartic groove number, and if he can bring even a fraction of the magic he stirs up in its video to the stage, he’ll enjoy an incredible touring schedule the next time he hits the road. I’ve been keeping up with the underground pop scene quite a bit in the last year, but I don’t believe anyone is causing the sort of swell this young man is at the moment. I’m happy to hear the rest of his story unfold, and I doubt I’m the only critic saying so this May.

Michael Rand

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