Over at the hip-hop production discussion boards at cratekings.com/forum, one of the best recent tracks is “hhkeys1” by Illstylus (MP3, zshare.net). It was introduced with the header “A touch o soul…,” and that’s a fair if understated estimation of its qualities. While the old-school flavor of the track is very much at home in the Crate Kings forums — a place where musicians regularly plumb 1970s blaxploitation soundtracks and otherwise creaky old vinyl for beats — Illstylus is the rare producer there to let the soulful material speak for itself. There are no hard rhythms bolted on, no unnecessary frills like backing vocals or canned, atmospheric synths.
It opens with a bit of piano (hence the “keys” in the utilitarian, production-draft title), a reminder of all the recent Nina Simone samples on FM radio, but enjoyable on its own, for a certain boxy, clanky quality. Illstylus then drops in some well-orchestrated horns, a little riff with a dubby echo and some more plaintive slow passages that give the track a chamber-jazz elegance. At two and a half minutes, “hhkeys1” is a solid song, and deserves additional kudos for achieving what few Crate Kings demos do: a proper, well-constructed ending.