ILLClinton – “Beautiful”

In popular music at large, we become so used to certain sounds and arrangements that we can forget how extreme, measured editing can completely alter the listening experience (and, in turn, those songs that sound so intelligently considered hit us far harder, even if we can’t always pinpoint why). On “Beautiful,” Atlanta duo ILLClinton eschews typical hip-hop percussion and structure for the arresting, simple combination of piano and vocals.

ILLClinton’s Brennan rides the evocative arrangement, finding pockets of rhythm, bouncing off percussive notes and swirling swells, filling silent moments in ways that a typical beat might not allow. The presence of piano as the sole instrument makes Brennan’s autobiographical rhymes feel all the more personal, the embodiment Kanye’s “Can’t Tell Me Nothing” line: “I’m on TV talking like it’s just you and me.” It’s a journey through individual history that invites close listening, focusing attention on lyrics without losing musicality, a lesson in keeping things straightforward that allows “Beautiful” to cut through the usual fluff.