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Ill - Bruised But Not Beaten
Wednesday, June 02, 2010

After going through emcee after emcee at New York City’s legendary Fight Klub, taking on some of the finest the area had to offer and disposing of them routinely, Ill decided he’d had enough of the battle scene. “It’s good exposure,” Ill explains, “but it only gets you so far.”

In battling, Ill, who is originally from Bridgeport, but now resides in West Haven, saw a cycle that was going to repeat itself over and over with no end in sight. “There’s always going to be a younger crowd of rappers that want to be on the up and coming, trying to get a name, so they’re gonna see who the hot battle rappers are and they’re gonna wanna be battling them.” While thinking about that issue an even bigger reason to move in another direction came up, “I saw that the music was taking me further than the battling was.”

Ill says the transition from being a battle rapper to a fully formed artist “wasn’t really too hard,” since it had always been a part of his repertoire, but “it was more difficult to make people accept me being more than a battle rapper.” Part of convincing people that he’s a well-rounded artist has involved opening for a number of big name acts. Recently, Ill has been performing at Toad’s Place, rocking crowds right before the likes of Canibus and Jedi Mind Tricks. Ill also performed at Amateur Night at The Apollo and was invited back for a second performance that will come later this year.

Listeners who know Ill from his battling days may recognize one major aspect of his work now that comes from his battles. “What I take from (battling) is the force of... the rawness.” It’s a rawness that, just like when he utilized it in his battles, can sometimes get very dark. Ill says that darkness comes from a combination of a childhood that “wasn’t really that great” and the lack of support he’s felt while working his way up in the music world. “The darkness,” he explains, “comes from that drive of those that didn’t believe and it comes out in pretty raw form.” He adds that “it fuels, and going by Ill, I always try to have the shock value of ‘damn, that’s sickening, he shouldn’t even say that.’”

There’s an issue that comes with performing rhymes that get that dark, however, and Ill knows the potential negative consequences. “It does scare some people,” he admits, “but most people on the underground level, it’s what they want to hear. They want to get the raw lyricism back in hip-hop. The radio is washed up with whatever it’s playing, the same old thing over and over and over, and I’m just trying to really show lyricism can be accepted.”

In addition to performing, Ill is also building his audience through the mixtape scene, releasing albums and making guest appearances at a blistering pace, most notably on datpiff.com on mixtapes by DJ What It Iz. “We drop one to two mixtapes a week,” Ill says of the collaborative efforts, some of which include The Best of New England, Street’s Best, and the Ill Filez series of mixtapes, as well as the Ill vs. Drake mixtape. Ill is also featured on the FTI Records mixtape Robocop on a Unicorn (yes, that’s one of the best names for a mixtape ever), and FTI Records will be releasing Ill’s upcoming official full length album, Mental ILLness.

Mentall ILLness was produced entirely by Swedish beatsmith Full-Aim. Ill will be touring regionally in support of the album, but is also planning on going overseas. He jokes that Full-Aim continually reminds him about the ladies he’ll meet in Sweden. “He always tells me, ‘you’re gonna meet your Ms. Right when you come out to Sweden.’ He tells me that every time I’m on the phone with him.”

According to Ill, what listeners can expect, whether they’re attending one of those shows, or picking up one of his CDs, is 100% pure, unadulterated Ill. “I always gave 100% as far as the projects I was working on,” he explains, “but when you work with certain management, I was working with the Ruff Ryders, they always want to steer you in certain directions, and I feel like I’ve done that. If you hear past CDs you’ll hear I have club songs, I have life songs, so they can’t say that Ill just raps about this, because I have a variety, so now it’s more like me in its rawest form, without anyone saying you should tone this down a little, or maybe you should do a song about this. Now it’s me to the fullest.”

After years of going head to head against other emcees, the only battle Ill has left is to continue moving forward with his music, and if the past is any indicator, anyone who gets in his way is in for some major trouble.

Story originally ran in the FairfieldWeekly.


posted by Adam Bernard @ 8:00 AM  
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