I consider myself open to most musical genres, but I haven’t really listened to a lot of rap since the 90s. I had fun with acts like Salt-N-Pepa and The Fugees, but then the genre evolved, as most do, and I felt left behind. It seemed rap was either about the struggle of people from the “wrong side of the tracks” or about the excess of those living it large. Neither type of rap resonated with me, so I found myself listening to the genre less and less. And then came Illy.

It’s hard to believe, considering how Illy seems to have burst onto the scene a relatively short time ago, but his newie Two Degrees is actually his fifth studio album. It’s a highly anticipated release considering the way Australia’s responded to singles like “Papercuts” and “Catch 22.” It’s the strength of those singles that have taken it to number one on debut. But it’s the strength of the other songs that’s going to get people talking and keep it on the charts for many weeks to come.

My favourite songs are the ones where Illy collaborates with other artists. I think he does some of his best work when he has someone to bounce off. The chemistry he has with the artists he’s handpicked here elevates these tracks. “Hazard to Myself,” a collaboration with Sir the Baptist, is so playful and irreverent. “Oh My,” with Jenna McDougall, feels like a summer anthem. “Extra Extra,” featuring Mike Waters, is pure feelgood joy.

While these songs make me smile, some of the album’s most poignant moments come when Illy’s working alone. “Truce” feels very personal, with powerful lyrics that pack a serious emotional punch. The closing track “Highway” is such a perfect way to finish the album. This song closes this chapter in the Illy story by looking forward to the future.

Illy is a rapper, but his music is so much more than that. He effortlessly fuses his rhymes with pop, dance, and electronic sounds to broaden its appeal and make it accessible to people like myself who don’t spend a lot of time listening to rap. If like me you’ve moved away from rap music, Two Degrees encourages you to dip your toe back in to the genre. You won’t be disappointed.

Image used with permission from Warner Music Australia