The funky cartoonist and rapper drops some science about what he's released, what he's planning on releasing, production, influences, politics and touring.
Illus is a name I've been hearing all over the internet. Sometimes I see posts by him on the official Public Enemy website's message board. Other times I'll be browsing through mp3.com and will come across some of his tracks. I've also heard of him via Chuck D's revolutionary online record label Slam Jamz, and through all of this I've developed the opinion that the music is intelligent, insightful, that the artist is extremely creative and worth the listeners time, so I reached out to him on e-mail, dropped him a hell of a lot of questions and he came through with some interesting, in-depth answers. Check it out.
For those that don't know, what music have you released so far?
In 1991 I released a really bad single called You Need Protection. It was my first "professional? recording and I had no idea what I was doing, it was awful. I released that on my first label S.E.P. Records. It was released only on tape. I sold it locally in high school and throughout Connecticut. In 1992 I went to school in Brooklyn, New York and I helped put together a crew called the NeighborHood Associates. We were a collection of emcees from all over the country that came together to rock shows and record. We had gotten a production deal and recorded a bunch of tracks that never saw the light of day. Our deal was real shady and before we invested too much time in it we were lucky enough to get out. This was the time Who Got The Heart was recorded. In 1993 I released the original version of Meaning My…and Skills. This single was issued on tape only as well. I hit the streets of NYC pretty hard and sold out. The single did very well but at this point I was getting a little jaded with the business end of Hip-Hop and decided to focus on school and my art career. I just didn't have the energy to hustle full-time and go to school. Throughout the years friends and pros that I knew had wanted me to get back in the studio. They new I continued to write for myself as well as others and thought it was time I get back in the game. But I continued to resist. Then a very good friend of mine who was one of the main people encouraging me had passed away. Her death filled me with a lot of rage and anger and it was either record or go out and do something stupid that would probably end me up in jail. So I came out of self-imposed exile and got together with some of my old crew (Lyrical Beast and K the Scrybe) and recorded Visions of Apocalypse. This was recorded days before 9/11 just blocks away from it. Two days after 9/11 I was back in the studio. I was supposed to record a battle track but just wasn't in the mood so I laid down Free and then Christ Killa. Two very personal tracks that I poured my heart and soul into. I then re-mastered Who Got The Heart? And Meaning My…and put together the Sacrifice EP. This caught the attention of my man C-Doc from the Impossebulls who put me down with Chuck D's SlamJamz. I recorded two tracks with the Impossebulls (eMpTyV and R.I.A.A.) and went on tour with them opening up for Public Enemy, Dilated Peoples and Blackalicious. The lyrics I performed for the tour were actually written specifically for the tour and I only recently recorded them.
After the tour I came home and recorded the Damaged Goods EP. It did pretty well in the streets but never really got the press it should have. Packaging was expensive so I collected the Sacrifice and Damaged Goods at the beginning of the summer and hit the streets again with the Unemployed Slave Mix tape CD. I traveled from coast to coast selling this CD alongside my comic books and it did pretty well considering I am a nobody. And finally a month ago I released the Ear Pollution bootleg CD. This was an experiment in sound and styles. This is the Hip-Hop I loved to listen to as a kid. The type of music that wasn't purposely offensive but your parents feared because of its pure raw honesty and the fact that they just didn't understand what the fuck it was. Simple and raw with heart and soul.
The new release, a mix tape titled Ear Pollution has just been released, what can fans expect from it and how does it differ from previous works?
As I said this album is RAW! It comes from the heart and soul and I think it will take you back to a time in Hip-Hop when you could feel good and think at the same time. It's a combination of new school and old school. There are several remixes on there from myself as well as C.O.D. and my man Phon-X from Regenerated Headpiece. Production from this great new cat named Ill-Factor out of Canada, Knonsense from Okayplayer.com and C-Doc from the Impossebulls. I had my hand in everything of course and my man Lyrical Beast is spitting all over it as well. I even have a special remix with the man Chuck D. This is the Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? remix that includes my verse from the Revolverlution tour. The main difference is that other people are doing production. This created a new sound and a new vibe for me that I really enjoyed. I think it helped me to have a little more fun and be a little less serious. However it is still very much me and very raw. It may not be as focused as Sacrifice or Damaged Goods in theme but it is actually one of my favorite collections and is like a snapshot of my past present and future.
Who handles your production? What sort of studio set up do you work with?
I do almost all of my own production. I produced everything of mine up until Ear Pollution with the exception of the original eMpTyV and R.I.A.A. tracks that were produced by C-Doc. Now on Ear Pollution I collaborated with a lot of talented producers as I mentioned above including Phon-X, C.O.D, Knonsense and Ill-factor. Did I forget anyone? Uh oh…
Also…so far I have produced all of my vocals. The cats mentioned laid down tracks but I put everything together vocally and in most cases mixed it all with the exception of Feel Good which was mixed by C-Doc, Mic Villains mixed by Knonsense and F.A.C which as mixed by Ill-Factor. Lyrical Beast has to get props for helping me mix Hellaspaztic. I used to go to a professional studio here in NYC but after the Sacrifice EP I decided I just needed to have my own equipment and be free to work at my leisure. So I bought a Pro-Tools Digi001 system with an MPC2000XL. This is pretty much what I build my tracks with. It's kind of simple and I have a lot to learn but with each track I get a little more experience. I hope to get more equipment someday soon but we'll see. This works for me now.
Which hip-hop artist has single handedly influenced you the most and why?
KRS-One. When I first heard South Bronx and the Bridge is Over my jaw just dropped. Those records give me chills. Then I heard Criminal Minded in its entirety and I just couldn't believe my ears. I was a Kool Moe Dee and Treacherous Three fan and I loved RunDmc but what KRS did just reached my heart. The man combined the streets with intelligence and pure raw attitude. 9mm is scary as hell. When cats do gun songs I just think of this one and nothing else compares. Each album just got better in my opinion. I've watched the man grow as an artist and I've grown alongside him. As an artist he makes me feel ok with growing up and maturing as a man. He spits love and hate at the exact same time with balance and creativity. He is very outspoken and promotes self-awareness and positive vibes. His voice exudes confidence and whenever he performs he is always smiling even if he is spitting rage. That just shows me he does this music with love. He has created movements and institutions. KRS has helped turn Hip-Hop into an official culture recognized by states and the United Nations. The man is incredible. People say he contradicts himself but so what? Lyrically he may be a god but he is still human and has flaws. I'd have to follow him with Chuck D and Masta Ace.
A fair amount of your subject matter reminds me of the issues dealt with by the likes of Chuck D and Zack De La Rocha. What socially/politically conscious rappers are you digging around now?
I appreciate that comment. There aren't too many rappers I am aware of that are doing anything socially or politically conscious. I still follow Chuck and Public Enemy's work as well as Professor Griff and the 7th Octave. I think KRS is still active and he continues to make important music. There are some rappers most don't consider political that are saying important things about our society including Masta Ace (check Disposable Arts, a great album) and Pharoahe Monch. Also…Common, Talib Kweli and Mos-Def, De La Soul, K-Os, Poor Righteous Teachers, Regenerated Headpiece, the Impossebulls, Freddie Foxxx, Canibus. Got any recommendations? I'd love to check some new guys out?
As stated on your website, you've worked with graphics and producing comics. What album covers do you recall being visually excited about?
As far as Hip Hop records go. BDP's Criminal Minded and By Any Means Necessary. Woah! Two of the original Hip-Hop gun album covers and that shit was convincing. BDP just looked like a crew you didn't want to fuck with. And then to top it all off with having a positive message behind the guns…that was great. All of the Public Enemy records especially It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold us Back and Fear of a Black Planet. Lately album covers and CD art are really unimaginative and lacking creativity. Some of the best artwork is coming out of the Def Jux camp. I like the GZA's Beneath the Surface and the latest De La Soul covers. I hate all that bling bling shiny Photoshop montage shit. That grosses me out.
I'm a big fan of my own covers. I like what I did with Damaged Goods and Regenerated Headpiece's Dog Fight. And of course the art for Ear Pollution is just a perfect sick representation of the music on that album. Is it conceited to get turned on by your own work? Fuck it. When I create art it is like I am a different person. If I do something I like it's as if it comes from somewhere else completely. It's more like God is just using my hands to create art. I'm just a tool and whatever he creates using me as his vessel I am a fan of.
What are you plans for the next year? Any tour dates planned, if so where and when?
I have a lot of art to create. I am illustrating a children's book as well as the official Public Enemy comic book. I am also preparing an underground tour to promote my previous albums and I will be crossing the country rocking shows for all very soon. The dates aren't set up yet but I am in the process of working out the details. As soon as I have them I will let you know. Lyrical Beast and I are also throwing a huge party in Brooklyn around the holidays and we will be shooting a series of five videos that will make up a short film to be included on our DVD release next year. I'm hoping my fam, Regenerated Headpiece and the Scallions will join us for that as well as the tour. I'm going to keep recording whenever I have something to comment on, bitch or cry about or whenever I just feel downright silly. I have two albums in the works…one is based on pain and the other is based on the humor of it all. Stay tuned for the tour…it's going to be sick! Did I mention I also work full-time?
A last comment for all the readers?
Yeah…a couple of things…Life can be beautiful but it also sucks. Be careful who you give your heart to. Fellas…women are fucked up…and ladies…men are stupid but women are fucked up and make them stupid. Watch out for feces when walking to a job interview and try and be a decent human being whenever you can. Don't lie to people you say are your friends that give you their heart and don't stab them in the back. Only the lowest of human scum do shit like that. Straight vermin! And you will suffer for it in the end. Make sure to come out to the shows and rock with me and my man Lyrical Beast. If you like to have fun you won't be disappointed. Buy my fucking albums! www.americanmule.com and www.mp3.com/neighborhood And fuck all sell-outs!