“First name Ill/last name Mitch/I don’t cheat/I don’t snitch/I don’t rap about the gun/some are mad/I am fun”. It’s not that ILL Mitch is soft, he’s just more approachable than your average rapper. Hailing from Russia, ILL Mitch is great at skateboarding, boxing, and rapping – perhaps even the best? A lot of stuff that gets the “novelty rap” tag is just about juxtaposition; this guy is delusional, y’know, he thinks he’s this but he’s really that. I loved it all when I was a teenager, I’ll admit it. Hip-hop was really ripe for parody back then, especially if you’re a small-town white kid whose every acquaintance owned a copy of The Chronic 2001. But I don’t think ILL Mitch is trying to make fun of anything; there is lots of “In Russia…” humor but this isn’t exactly a hip-hop Yakov Smirnoff. Instead, he makes Russia sound like the most absurd place on Earth, where the homeless tickle passerbys, the ferrets eat the dust in your home, laser tag involves throwing flour in each other’s faces, and the popular dances include the “Cosmonaut Squat” and the “Nuclear Shakedown”. Also he seems to be really into American TV shows and video games from the 80’s and 90’s; though mostly confused as to what they’re all about (“Yes, the Smurfs…they were little blue mice that live underground…oh, they were ground weasels? I see”).
My brother had the Punch While Rap CD and when I first heard it I thought it was just about the funniest thing ever. I remember describing it to people and feeling like an idiot – “no, but it’s like, really funny”. Not the concept, but just the way the dude rambled and kept losing his train of thought. But with no CD burner nor internet access I couldn’t get a copy for myself. Eventually I borrowed (stole) the disc from my brother’s room, brought it to a friend’s house, made a copy, and played it for my friends and co-workers who worked at BK with me. My friends dug it, but I knew their sense of humor, and plus I only really played one track – “Fast and Danger”, probably the best one here. At the Burger King it had more of a mixed reaction. The manager I partied with loved it, others thought it was really dumb. I got the “Do you really like this?” question once. Sheesh, guess I’ll just leave my MC Hawking CD in the car. Best part of all this was getting ILL Mitch lyrics quoted back to you, but not quite right, since all of Mitch’s lyrics sound a little off. I liked the whole disc, though it’s really bare bones. There’s an upright bass, some sampled drums, and not a whole lot more – either one-finger piano or some looped sample. The music is pretty understated to the point where you don’t really notice it’s there sometimes. “Fast and Danger” is notable for being an actual tune, and “Rap to World” swings pretty hard. Otherwise most of the tunes blend together, and there’s not a whole lot of them – 11 tracks in less than half an hour, four of which are interludes. But you’re exactly not listening for the music.
ILL Mitch’s next CD was called Still Mitch and it came out in 2005. By that time I was in college and far away from all my ILL Mitch-lovin’ friends, plus I was starting to take my music listening habits a bit more seriously. My CD collection probably increased in size tenfold in that period. I hadn’t listened to Punch While Rap in a while and I wasn’t sure how well he was gonna hold up; indeed, my first thoughts on hearing the new CD was “he’s trying too hard” and “his voice is different”. He’s from an era where Internet content was like a book, people put ’em out there and it was what it was, and often time the original creator wouldn’t be identified or heard from again. ILL Mitch was just ILL Mitch, not some kid who created ILL Mitch, giving interviews “in character” or whatever. Internet years are like dog years that way. And it kinda sucks for Mitch, because this was around the time when web celebrities were starting to become real celebrities, when everyday people you’d see in the hall would randomly start quoting memes in lieu of actual conversation. ILL Mitch is a bit stuck in that time – check his website, whose Bravenet hit counter has rolled past 2 million.
In retrospect, Still Mitch is a better album than Punch While Rap was, in pretty much every way. It’s funnier, the beats are better, and there are more melodies (some tunes even have more than one!). Also, it’s twice as long, normally not a good thing for hip-hop albums, but I am firmly in a camp that believes “More Mitch = Better”. I feel bad for judging it so early; God forbid someone actually give some effort. It’s more fun, too, with lots of melodies that I would call “squacky” (check “Party With ILL Mitch” or “Chernobyl Poem From Old Russia”) and some real laugh-out-loud lyrics (“No Job for Mitch”, “Fantastic Rap Battler”). Though his broken English produces some real odd phrases, his lines do scan well (“My Russian lovin’/is hotter than a muffin oven”). Some real solid tunes here; “Get a Good Deal”, “Party With ILL Mitch” and “Exercise My Love” are my favorites, but I dig the whole thing from front to back.
A few years later, he did a webseries that was fairly entertaining, but after that he pretty much disappeared into the ether. Though I did find out recently that he did return – sort of. In 2013 he released an album called Kblack, which flew under my radar, and probably everyone else’s, too. It’s not a hip-hop album; instead there’s something like an ambient techno atmosphere, all dubbed out and full of garbled samples. In fact you could tell me that this is the new Orb album and I’d probably believe you – the first track has the Fehlmann/Kompakt sound all over it. I would imagine that the album’s all samples, most manipulated or treated in some way, with elements drifting in and out as though you’re listening to a radio stuck between two frequencies. Very floaty and trippy, kind of a late-late-night record that even puts you to sleep at the end (“Syrian Rue”). Best tracks are “Bennyfunk”, not coincidentally the longest, and “Orange Coach”, which features a bunch of vocals chopped and layered. “Bonus Beat 2 (Swon)” is also very good, and unexpectedly pretty to boot. Of course you’d never know this was actually ILL Mitch, though listen closely during “Interlude 1” for a little surprise.
There’s one more ILL Mitch album called TAKEOUTS 2002-2005, consisting of talking bits that didn’t make the first two albums. Even though the title suggests this was all done a decade ago, I suspect there’s a bit of anachronism going on there, as the musical approach is way closer to Kblack than it is anything on his rap albums. I recommend going to his Bandcamp page, downloading everything, and throwing it into a big random playlist for best effect.