Illy, typing that name, fuck the mere fact we chatted with one of Australia’s biggest emcees will get an instant reaction from many, be it pre-conceived conceptions or the fact it’s cool to hate guys in charts, or even that people honestly don’t like some of the music he makes, whatever the case opinions will be formed. When you dig a little deeper, chat to the Melbourne artist continually crushing tours and charts in Australia, you quickly find out he is just a guy who loves to rap, he likes rap music and he believes in everything he has and will do. This interview probably wont change your mind on him as an artist, but read on and find out a little bit more about a name that’s here to stay.
Another year another album, you definitely get your grind on, when did you start working on Cinematic? Was it a natural flow where you were out touring Bring It Back and just started writing? Or was it a more conscious decision that I’ve started my label, I need to get a product done and out? From your album and track output, as well as stuff like Friday Flips I’m guessing you are someone who writes a lot?
Yeah, I write quite a bit. Not as much as I used to but I still don’t like to leave it too long. It’s something I’ve been doing for the last 15 years, so it’s just a part of my routine. Cinematic was actually started before I started work on Bring It Back. I had demos of a few tracks On & On, Youngbloods, Tightrope, More Than Gold before any of the tracks that were on BIB were written. BIB wasn’t initially meant to be a separate album, I was writing stuff all for the one release. It hit a stage where it was clear there were two very different styles coming through, being on one hand the more hook heavy, polished shit I guess I’m better known for, and on the other, a rawer vibe, which even with a handful of tracks was pretty collaboration heavy. I liked both, but really wanted to make more of the heavier stuff. I was working with Trials a lot, and he’s got that hype sound so locked that once you get on a roll, you just want to keep at it. Crazy talented human. So pretty much that’s what ended up happening. It was really cool to go all out on guests as well. It’s not something I like doing much, I prefer to keep the guests tight and steer it mostly myself, but the whole feel of BIB kind of leant itself to that more collaborative style. So yeah, the real grind to make Cinematic started after BIB, but the first stages took place over 2 years ago now. As far as the label, that never even came into the thinking. Cinematic is coming out about 6 months behind schedule anyway, so if it was to do with the label I have fucked myself over!
All the interviews I’ve read with yourself, and the comments I’ve seen from Phazes online describe this as a “big” sounding album, as well as your best work to date to you what makes this a “big” release are we talking big thumping production and stuff that you know will kill live? Is it a refining of sound? What makes you reflect on this as your best work and is that something you think each time you finish a new release?
I guess as far as the “big” comments, it’s all of that. I went into this album with that sound in mind – really large sounding production, strong hooks etc. There was a really clear idea we were working with and the direction we were going to take it. And it was definitely made possible by the fact that Phizzle and I have both refined our sound. Phizzle has improved a lot in the last few years as a producer, and you know, that step up from Brother, or Generation Y, to the stuff we’re doing on Cinematic, is really noticeable. I’m no different. I think lyrically there is some of my best stuff on here. As far as song writing I think without doubt my best stuff is on Cinematic. These really feel like songs, not raps separated by a hook. Zooming out even further, I wanted the album to sound and feel like an album, not a collection of songs, and I think we managed to pull that off too, which is pretty cool. That’s not shitting on anything I’ve put out before, the three albums I’ve released are honestly the three most important achievements in my life to me, above my degree, and even above my FIFA ranking. This one will be the fourth time, and I think playing the album from start to finish, and knowing how much went into it, and having the experience of the last three, means that I was always coming into it as a more developed artist. So you’re starting from a point where you should feel you’re capable of bettering your last stuff. That’s nothing to do with the personal preference of someone else who listens, they can make a call one way or another, but personally, you should always feel that as long as you’re inspired and don’t half ass it, you’re in a better position as an artist than you were last time around. And given the crazy people I was working with, it wasn’t hard to find inspiration and motivation to step my shit up.
I actually don’t think a lot of this album is strictly live stuff. It was definitely not written with the live show in mind as much as either The Chase or BIB. There’s a lot of shit that I can see working live, but much of it in a different way to that real knock you over the head banger live shit, you know? And that’s cool, means there can be a bit more texture in the live set. We’ve had a live set that hasn’t had a drastic change for a couple of years now, so I’m really looking forward to sinking my teeth into a new set next time we hit the road.
Incidentally while reading recent interviews you’ve done I came across a 10 things you might not know about Illy piece, is having that written the modern day definition of making it? Are you prepared to throw open the declaration you can’t be beaten on Fifa to the good readers of ozhiphop.com to bring it? Finally did you leave any facts out of that piece I can use as a scoop?
Having that written isn’t the modern day definition of shit! And no, the new version of FIFA is awful and I’m shit at it, so I’d probably get flogged. And pretty much every interesting fact about me was in there, actually most of those things were just made up to pad it out! [as articles like that should be – ed]
Do you view the success of The Chase as a gift and a curse? By that I mean, at least from an outsider looking in perspective, that album made your name nationally, but it seems to bring constant flack from some of the content and has many “heads” writing you off without listening to anything else you produce? If you had your time over would you have done anything different with the release? To me it seems Bring It Back was your statement on it, a far more – and I fucking hate this term – pure hip hop album, how was the response to that release as a whole? From what I could gather it had the opposite effect to some of your fans of The Chase?
No way. The Chase changed my life. It’s cliche, but it allowed me to live and breathe what I’ve wanted to do since 13 years old. And it’s a great album. When it came out, there wasn’t many albums that sounded like it. And off the top of my head as far as “hip hop” tracks, there was Put Em In The Air, We Dont Care, Without A Doubt, Same Number Same Hood, Numbers Game, Go, Guess I Could.. That’s half the album! If anything I would probably cut one or two of those tracks, I think The Chase would have been stronger if I trimmed a bit more of the fat. Content wise, it dealt with a lot of stuff you see on a LOT of other albums. Only difference was I had a song with Owl Eyes and a ballad that got a lot of radio play. Take those two tracks off and I don’t think people who disliked it would feel so strongly, which says a lot about where their opinions are coming from. BIB was a bit of a statement on that. It wasn’t the intention behind writing it, but it was a natural, and unavoidable, outcome. I went from an album with big singles with pop singers to an album with none of that. I know that wasn’t the motivation behind it, but I get why that’s said. And yeah, it did alienate some fans, and it didn’t convert people who had made up their minds on me, and that’s reflected in the way it sold. But again, it was the album I wanted to make, and I’m happy about that. I’m not a glutton for punishment, if people don’t like my music I don’t get hung up on it. Plenty of people love what I do, and support it. But more than that, I’m not a dude who just rocked up on the scene, I grew up with the local Melbourne scene, I was unknown for a long time, but I was there, at gigs, playing open mics, promoting my own shit, supporting others, I know I worked long and hard for anything I’ve got, so I’m cool if others don’t.
Do you find it at times ridiculous that you work with a producer who is internationally respected in M-Phazes, you have heads like the Funkoars in your corner yet people still question both your dedication to hip hop and your place within it?
Well, it’s easy to call someone a faggot on the internet, not so easy to play 250 shows across a decade. It’s also not easy to work with that calibre of artist, check Phazes and T’s track records, the 3 guest verses on Cinematic are from Suffa, Pressure, and Drapht.. People can question all they like.
Talk us through the new album a bit, who is on the beats, who’s guesting on the tracks, what can we expect listening to Cinematic front to back?
Well its executive produced by M-Phazes, so he oversaw the whole thing. There’s 13 tracks, and the production is split between Phizzle (10), Way Of The Eagle (1), Styalz Fuego (1) and Cam Bluff (1). Guest verses from Hilltop Hoods and Drapht. Guest vocals from Daniel Merriweather, Ahren Stringer (Amity Affliction), Kira Puru and a few others. I think Cinematic will give you a pretty good idea of where I’m at with my own music. I really went out and made exactly the album that I wanted to, and that’s reflected throughout. I’ve even had a crack at singing, which is something I’ve been really hesitant about. But I write most of my own hooks so it wasn’t a completely unnatural thing. Mainly I hope people can dig it. The early feedback has been great so I’m feeling good.
What’s going on with your label ONETWO, I see it as a logical step to take control of your of your own destiny once you have been around for a minute, what saw you set it up and how has the process of making music been different with you steering the project in its entirety? Do you have plans of signing other acts and releasing music from a variety of artists as it evolves?
At the moment ONETWO is just getting the foundation set up. Obviously Cinematic is the first release on the label, which is a huge thing for me. We have distribution through Warner, so there is a great framework behind it, and I have their help, as well as the people involved in ONETWO itself, to help me get my bearings. It’s a new thing for me, and now that I’m not in album writing mode, I’m looking forward to really being more hands on involved in the label and the business that goes along with that. I signed Allday around two months ago now, and he will be the first artist other than myself to release music through ONETWO. I’m a big fan of his music, but even more so of his work ethic. Allday is a kid who has already made a really big impression on the young Australian hip hop listeners, and I think he has the most exciting future ahead of him. He’s working on an album at the moment. We have also signed Elemont, from Wollongong. I rate Elemont as the best teenage MC I’d ever heard when I first met him a couple of years ago now, and we are currently working on a debut EP for him, which will drop next year. It’s a very exciting time, they’re two very different artists but they are both young and have huge potential so I’m really psyched to have them on the team.
I saw you at the Clipsal in Adelaide this year and you put on a super tight live show, you are about to hit the road again, including I believe a couple of dates in Europe, what can fans expect from the tour this time around? Do you make a conscious decision to make each tour different and each incarnation of the live show tighter?
I actually got back from Europe at the end of August. The shows were cool, Berlin was tough but expected, Prague was sick and unexpected, and London sold out, which was nuts. I’m taking a little break from touring over summer as I just finished a capital city run last month, and want to recharge after a fairly creatively intense year, before hitting the road again. Like I’ve said, this will be a set built around Cinematic, not a set that acts as a Greatest Hits of sorts, which has kinda been the modus operandi for the last couple of years. That always goes down well, but yeah it’s time to shake that shit up. Also have a new drummer and DJ for the next tour so it will be good to start with a clean slate, rather than have the new dudes feeling like they’ve stepped into someone else’s shoes.
Finally in your eyes what makes Cinematic a success? For an artist with a fan-base as large as yours are we talking about Arias? Chart placing? Respect from your fans? What will make you sit back with a beer and a satisfied grin after this release?
Cinematic is a success – before its released – because I know I couldn’t have made a better album. Its 13 tracks from about 30 demos, that have been obsessed over and then obsessed over again. ARIA I could care less about, chart I could care less about. I had the option of rushing the album out (as I said earlier, its 6 months late), but instead chose to do it right, even though it means it will drop in the same week as Eminem and on the same day as Lady Gaga. Going off where pre orders are at now, a week before release, Cinematic will sell enough that if it dropped in September or earlier, it would be a number 1 album. So yeah, charts, whatever. The fans response will mean a lot to me. Always does. I’ve had this thing all to myself for long enough I really am looking forward to seeing that. One of the coolest parts of making music is having your songs mean something special to other people. I’m hoping that I get that privilege again.