“I’m the type to open up once you let me into your heart” explains a vulnerable Ilyah in one of the more memorable verses of his new single and music video “Habibi.” Poetic in style and pure in tone, his words are essential to the fluidity of this track, but they’re far from the only sonic lubricant making the grooves swing as sensuously as they do. In “Habibi,” Ilyah whips out the big guns for a decidedly more controlled jam session than any he’s produced in the past couple of years, and while I’ve come to expect a lot from his output, this is a level above what I anticipated hearing here.
When I first listened to “Habibi” without taking a look at the music video, I felt like the bassline was lacking the punch that it needed to feel as texturally proportionate to the vocals as the drums do. After giving it sometime and a few repeat listens however, I realized that by creating a little bit of room between the bass and the percussion in the mix, Ilyah’s serenade is given the space it needs to get intense when we need it to the most (the chorus).
There isn’t an inch of unutilized space on the back half of this track, and though it might seem peculiar that the bassline and the synths run together so closely in the chorus, I think it makes more sense to exhaust the tightness of the harmony than it does to stretch Ilyah’s lyrical wits thinner than they should be. When you’ve got a voice like his, you don’t have to rely on a lot of showmanship in the instrumentation, but he still goes after balance before bravado in “Habibi” like he’s putting on a clinic. I can’t believe he hasn’t been in this game longer – frankly, he’s acting like a seasoned studio vet in this single.
It would be pretty interesting to hear an acoustic take on “Habibi” sometime, and I think the song was recorded with the intention of divvying out a few remixes at some point. Again, Ilyah’s got everything he needs here to make his own performance in the song transcendent regardless of the stylization. Now it’s just a matter of experimenting with the fine lines, the rough edges, and most of all, the constructional elements that make the music in this single lean more towards pop over rock, ambient or any other genre.
If you ask me, “Habibi” essentially proves beyond a reasonable doubt that Boston’s own Ilyah isn’t generating a flavor of the month identity for himself with his original pop music – he’s in this thing for the long haul. His passion, the emotion that he affords his lyrics and the eruptive catharsis which seeps through his most provocative of hooks demonstrate a capacity to be in this business for a decades still to come, but it isn’t going to be an easy road. Ilyah has to keep up with a fast-paced pop gen that is growing faster than most of us realize, but with his talents un-holstered in songs like this one, he shows he definitely has what it takes to move up the ladder to stardom.