The underground, Christian, hip-hop scene is a fast-growing one, and Mars ILL seems to be a part of it. Mars ILL is a group consisting of Soulheir the Manchild (emcee), and Dust (producer). And though they’re Christian, the focus of "Raw Material" seems to be beats and rhymes, rather than preaching with their content. From a Christian’s point of view, I’d like to see them be a lot more ‘preachy’, but from the average secular-head point of view, the less ‘preachy’ you get, the better. And, regardless of content, the music is (for the most part) excellent.
The album kicks off with the self-titled track "Mars ILL" which acts as a great introduction to the group. Dust laces a tight beat for Manchild to spit to, and Manchild gives a performance that serves as an indicator of the quality to come up in the rest of the album.
Directly after this track comes "Sphere of Hip-hop", where Dust drops a really raw, hard-hitting, ill beat. Manchild spends this track defining what hip-hop is to him, starting all his bars with "it’s". The execution is tremendous, as Manchild flows flawlessly. A line that stood out to me was when Manchild states "it’s what I love and what I loathe". Word. And the scratching by Dust on the hook is also ill.
Manchild gets conceptual on the track "Love’s not". He defines what love is in a roundabout way: by explaining what it ISN’T. The beat is nice, the concept is dope, and the execution (by Manchild, anyway) is great as he explains "in a club peepin dancers, in a jacked up type of manner, stuffin g-strings with dollars that should buy your babies pampers". He goes on to say "display respect for yourself, or you can’t love nobody else, the hand you’re dealt requires action, not just something you felt". However, the track falls apart for guest emcee Rahlo’s verse, which is very poorly executed compared to Manchild’s.
"Under the Sun" has one of the dopest beats I’ve heard in along time, as Dust laces an ill drum loop with some crazy-tight horns. The track also features one of Manchild’s better performances, where, in the first verse he struggles with being vain. Vanity is something that is nearly a built-in part of being an emcee, but, as a Christian, Manchild realizes he can’t follow this trend, and expounds on the subject profoundly. This track features a verse from Listener, which isn’t bad, but I’d have much rather heard a third verse from Manchild.
"the END" had the potential to be another great track, seeing as Manchild gives one of his best lyrical shows, but Dust doesn’t come through. The initial sample on the track is dope, but the experimental drum programming doesn’t quite work. Dust also brings in an all too familiar Star Wars sample later in the song, which may have worked with a different choice of drums.
The main flaws of the album begin and end with guest appearances. The guest rhymers appear too often, unnecessarily, and sometimes keep a song from classic status ("Love’s Not"). And the guest production is lackluster as well. Aside from one or two weak beats by Dust, Mars ILL holds it down for the entire album. Also, I knew that Manchild sounded like some other emcee, and I couldn’t place it at first, but now I realize it’s Ryu from Styles of Beyond. He especially sounds like him on tracks like "Black Market". This may bring down the originality factor in some people’s books, but it didn’t hinder my enjoyment of the album.
Overall, "Raw Material" is a great album. Manchild is a dope emcee. He’s got lyrics, a nice delivery, and a really dope voice. Dust has produced some of the years best beats for this album, only slipping slightly now and again. While I would have liked to see them represent their faith more bluntly, I’m just excited to hear ANY quality Christian hip-hop. And this is indeed quality.