Performing as ILYAH, Ilyass Hasnaoui is of Moroccan descent and works out of the Boston area. He made his name originally posting performances to YouTube before appearing as a contestant on American network television show The Voice. The exposure resulting from that appearance led to ILYAH connecting with Jeff Timmons, founding member of the Grammy nominated group 98 Degrees, and Timmons snatched up ILYAH to play a key role in his new boy band Overnight. One can be happy for ILYAH that he will be placed in a feature role within this group, but a quick perusal of his solo material shows that this prodigious young vocalist and performer doesn’t need to work under a group’s banner to achieve success. His latest single “Habibi” may provide the most conspicuous piece of evidence for this yet.
The track has enormous style yet never strikes me as facile. ILYAH doesn’t utilize any traditional instruments for the track, relying instead on light synthesizers and pre-programmed percussion, but these electronic elements never rob the song of its warmth. The transitions are fluid throughout the entirety of “Habibi” and the chorus, in particular, delivers a satisfying payoff for me. Others are likely to agree. ILYAH never has to force the issue vocally; he has the natural ability to get under a song’s skin and effortlessly embody every emotion contained within its lyrics.
While the music may have a fully modern slant, ILYAH’s voice is pure old school R&B and he handles the bilingual aspects of the performance capably and without a single stumble. I have no idea who his influences are, but it is clear from even a single listen that ILYAH is well versed in the genre and can invoke its classic sound with little to no effort. The video released for this single has an exotic flavor that hits the right spot and never feels overwrought and the lush color composition of the location and costuming alike makes for eye-catching visuals.
His earlier singles show the same immense promise. “The Only One” has the same sort of strong chorus that makes “Habibi” so indelible and an electronic arrangement that shares many similarities to “Habibi”. It is a little less groove-centric than the current single but nonetheless entertaining and musically rich. It has a video as well and, once again, ILYAH’s eye for arresting visuals serves him well when conceptualizing and creating promotional footage for the track.
The single “Miscommunication” breaks with the approach taken in these songs. ILYAH jettisons the electronic instruments present in both “Habibi” and “The Only One” in favor of electric guitar, albeit swimming in effects, and unassuming percussion that doesn’t materialize until we’re quite a ways into the song. He has a clear propensity for keeping musical arrangements minimal, likely so we focus more on his voice, and this approach works just as well with traditional instruments as it does those electronic in nature. The video for this track differs from other promotional clips in the way it depicts a visual narrative that compliments the track’s lyrical content. These are first class examples of what talented modern young performers are capable of and I expect ILYAH will be with us for some time to come.
by Bethany Page