Ichu – ‘Ini Kisah Benar’ review: Third time’s the charm for Malaysian rapper-producer

Assisted by the likes of Shelhiel and Lurkgurl, Ichu shows growth and flashes of brilliance on his third album

The past few years have been good for Malaysian rapper-producer Ichu. Whether it’s his work on Clumsygang’s ‘Volume 2’ mixtape (especially on highlight ‘7AM di KL’) or the numerous guest spots and collaborations with the likes of Emir Hermono and rising crew FORCEPARKBOIS, Ichu has put in the work and made himself a player to watch in Malaysia’s modern hip-hop landscape.

But Ichu reserves his idiosyncrasies for his own releases, the latest being his third album ‘Ini Kisah Benar’. It takes the experimental and abstract leanings he briefly explored on 2020 album ‘Museum’ and runs with them, making for what’s arguably his most impressive and enjoyable album yet.

Ichu had already mostly moved on from standard mumble rap idioms on ‘Museum’, but on ‘Ini Kisah Benar’, he shows there’s far more to him now than the trap beats and Auto-Tuned rap-crooning he first became known for. That’s most evident on penultimate track ‘I’, the highlight of the record. Moving from mutated jazz-hop to an apocalyptic instrumental complete with air raid sirens, it’s a hell of a trip, evoking Gonjasufi and experimental hip-hop icons Dälek more than any of Ichu’s supposed mumble rap contemporaries. The song is a perfect follow-up to his remix of Senyawa’s ‘Istana’, which felt like something of a one-off when it dropped earlier this year.

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If ‘Museum’ felt slightly one-note, ‘Ini Kisah Benar’ cuts an admirable path through multiple styles and moods. It journeys from the trap beats of opener ‘N+H(N)’ to the semi-acoustic closer ‘Cari Kawan’ (a collaboration with lo-fi singer-songwriter Lurkgurl) via the nasheed-inspired chanted vocals of ‘Andai Kata’ and abstract emoting of interlude ‘Selingan’. Ichu never stays in one place for too long, and he makes you want to come along for the ride.

‘Ini Kisah Benar’s biggest issue is that it sounds uneven because of how strong the highlights are. ‘I’ and the Shelhiel collaboration ‘Delusi’, in particular, cast a long shadow over the rest of the project. But even the relatively weaker tracks – such as solo efforts ‘P+L’ and ‘M+M’ – have many fine details that put them a cut above his previous work. There’s the subtly psychedelic bridge on ‘P+L’ that again owes an audible debt to Gonjasufi’s heady productions, while ‘M+M’ chops and manipulates vocal samples and spirals out with a barely-coherent coda. Those touches sound more interesting than Ichu’s vocals, which are competent but generally unspectacular throughout.

Lyrically, ‘Ini Kisah Benar’ charts the past few years of Ichu’s life: falling in and out of love while grappling with anxiety, paranoia, and the slow journey of self-discovery. These are relatable themes, but there aren’t really any standout moments. It’s entirely possible to enjoy the album without paying heed to what Ichu sings about. ‘Ini Kisah Benar’ could work just as well as a set of instrumentals, which is testament to the strength of its production.

Take Ichu and Shelhiel’s vocal parts on the aforementioned ‘Delusi’: the vocals are almost textural, subsumed by the production that aims to overload the senses. While Shelhiel doesn’t hide his pop stylings, Ichu isn’t content with playing it straight. He takes a dancefloor-ready electro-pop bounce and piles on chopped up samples, distorted percussion, and obnoxiously loud bass swells that build up into a frantic coda. It’s quite a rush.

There’s a lot to enjoy over ‘Ini Kisah Benar’s brief 26-minute runtime. It falls short of greatness, but it’s still an excellent demonstration of how much Ichu has grown as a producer since his 2019 debut. ‘Ini Kisah Benar’ feels like both the culmination of the past couple of years for Ichu and a statement of intent for the next few. It’ll be interesting to see where he goes from here.

Details

Malaysia rapper producer Ichu album review Ini Kisah Benar
  • Release date: October 16
  • Record label: Independent
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