Album Reviews

Illsamar Asserts on the Lines of Identity on ‘foreign’

Illsamar takes her latest project 'foreign' to a threshold of identity, battling depression, asserting herself, and presenting relatability at all times.

Patience is truly a virtue. LA-based hip-hop artist, Illsamar, takes her latest project to a threshold of identity, battling depression, asserting herself, and presenting relatability at all times. The foreign EP follows a string of singles, redefining while collecting an amount of pressured patience. The 8-track offering is the artist’s most honest version that not only pushed the MC out of her comfort zone lyrically, but production wise as well.

Leading with “Foreign,” the EP’s first single, the track acts on an alienation — which sets up a verse of themes throughout the album — and of an emptiness inside. Constantly asking in a muffled voice, playing with the narrative and direction of words, Illsamar’s tone becomes sullen at sight of the hook: “Open the door /  Give me the key / Tell me what for? / What do you need?” Cleverly acting as an interlude, alongside the second unrelated interlude “Foreign II,” Illsamar continues to paint an isolation — socially, politically, and reflectively. Unlike the first wave of “Foreign,” “Foreign II” springs to “the finish line” which takes the second half of the EP to a more self-aware stance.

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Illsamar (Photo: Amalia Sepulveda)

Bleeding into the second, and possibly strongest track on the EP, “Black Hole” is deeply penned and mirrors as an insight of depression with a slightly hopeful ideal, assisted with the help of Los Angeles vocalist Zzay. Despite the production being that of a slower tempo, the tranquility juxtaposes Illsamar’s intimacy of words into a pool of resolution and comfort, explaining “I wanted you to be able to feel that, this is how we feel.” The first verse touches on substance abuse and the temptation that instills, noting how easy it ease to lose hope. Zzay’s vocals are therapeutic in between as she gently aids with her soft-spoken tone, resurfacing the titular hook “floating into a black hole.”

Illsamar’s tone is less aggressive on the second verse and thick with emotion, looking outwards. Coming from a place both on the inside and out, writing the second verse from the perspective of a loved one battling their own demons, “Black Hole” is filled with lines of contemplation: “How are we bearing this I am not sure / We look for a God but he look so obscure / We look to ourselves but we feel insecure / Depression be mightily making a blur.”

“I feel that people don’t really want to understand mental health and even the people who do are only touching the surface of it because it just goes so deep…I don’t think that people really understand how it is to be depressed or how it is to have anxiety, and they think you’re just making it up in your head,” further explains Illsamar in a recent interview.

 

To balance the vulnerability of Foreign, the EP also contains a different aspect of Illsamar’s disclosure. “Gotham” sees a spirited soundscape of reclamation, creating her own Gotham of declaration on the path she walks. Production swoons in to the likes of an antagonist, paired cleanly with Illsamar’s characterized delivery. As the path is clear, “back around” becomes an anthem of reclaiming self from a past grudge — either internally or from others. Sweeping a slightly angry tone into the pop-fused hook by Seoul, continuous nods of “had to do it my way” bursts its way to one of the more commercially adored track in which Illsamar wistfully flexes: “Had to give them more of me / Had to come back around now / Had to give them everything that I was hiding now / Had to put it in a song, get them hype now / You thought I couldn’t do it? / Bragging rights now.”

Another highlighted track that resonates to a more self-aware version is beautifully heard on “voices.” Once again bringing up the overall theme of alienation — “it’s a foreign place to be but they can’t take me” — “voices” touches on internal and outside dialogue that weighs one down. Featuring Zensoul and Satillite Rok who lend their penmanship and vocals to the slower tempo track, “voices” sums up anger, reliance, and faith.

Foreign also features familiar tracks such as “twenty twenty” featuring Marcus Lee, which was a taste of a new wave of production from the artist earlier this year, and the raw acoustic implementation of “gold in the sky” which closes the EP’s messaging with Germmanii’s soft vocals. Paying attention to the smallest of details and building around an honest theme, foreign becomes a staple in the artist’s discography as a she comfortably owns her newfound skin and sound.


Cover photo:  Art direction and photography by Amalia Sepulveda. Art design by Asaiah Ziv.


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