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Name: Adam Bernard
Home: Fairfield, Connecticut, United States
About Me: Veteran music journalist with 20+ years of experience. Supporter of indie artists. Lover of day baseball, & B-movies. Part time ninja. Kicked cancer’s ass. My memoir, ChemBro, is out now!
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Artist of The Week - Illus
Monday, August 16, 2010

Born in Bridgeport, CT, raised in Stratford, educated throughout NYC, and now residing in New Haven, Illus is known for a variety of artistic endeavors. A veteran when it comes the pen and the pad in more ways than just one, in addition to penning his lyrics, Illus is also an accomplished comic book artist, and has led panel discussions on the topic at CMJ, NYU, and various Comic-Cons. His latest album, Feel Good Music, is a collaboration with producer J.J. Brown, and it’s already drawing rave reviews from the likes of Chuck D, who Illus notes “said it was one of the best albums of the year on his radio show.” He adds “hearing him say that was pretty amazing.” This week I caught up with Illus to find out more about his dual loves, in what ways they crossover, and the song he felt he had to make.

Adam Bernard: How did you get the name Illus? Is there an especially interesting story behind it?
Illus: The name Illus is short for illustrator. You can also flip it to mean I am the illest on the mic, which, when I was younger, I was determined to be. I would battle anyone and everyone and eventually I gained a rep for being “the crazy kid” and a bit “sick in the head,” or “ill,” so to speak. My ego isn’t so large anymore, or maybe I just grew up, but I’m still confident in my talents and skills. Illus is more than just an emcee name, it’s a way of life, how I eat and survive, and who I am.
Adam Bernard: What got you started in both hip-hop and art?
Illus: I’ve been an artist and storyteller all my life. I still have drawings from when I was five years old. I guess I was just born with a need to create. Luckily, I had parents and family that encouraged me to draw and write, so I kept doing it, practicing and experimenting and learning from everything around me, which included hip-hop, graffiti, and, of course, comic books. What really captivated my about hip-hop was that it was a real culture. It wasn’t just rap, it was art and graffiti, dancing, language, and tradition. When I was a kid it was also rebellious and anti-establishment, and what kid isn’t attracted to that? It was an art form that spoke out against the ills of society as well as uplifted those who it touched, empowering us with a sense of responsibility as well as pride. I found my voice through hip-hop. I connected with it both visually and rhythmically and was able to use it as an art form to express myself. Once you get a taste of that power to connect with others across the globe it’s very addictive and becomes a part of you.

Adam Bernard: Even though the art you do isn’t graffiti, do you feel there’s any crossover between your music and your art?
Illus: While I don’t practice illegal graffiti anymore, I used to as a kid/young adult. My problem was I had this unwavering desire to avoid jail at all costs. I had absolutely no interest in ever being incarcerated for any reason other than my survival. So the entrepreneur in me usually found a way to do murals and commissioned pieces legally. I guess I wasn’t hardcore enough, but the graphic element and style of graffiti was a huge influence on me as an illustrator and painter. There is definitely a crossover between my music and art. Whether it’s illustrating the official Public Enemy comic book series for Chuck D, or an album cover, or the influence of hip-hop and graffiti in my fine art and paintings, my music and art go hand in hand. I also tend to think visually, so when I put my words together in my music I do so in a very graphic way to illustrate what I am feeling or the story I am telling.

Adam Bernard: How well do you think hip-hop and comic books get along?
Illus: Growing up, hip-hoppers were like superheroes to me. They were strong and powerful, they had a positive message and fought against the evils of society, and they even had secret identities and code names. DMC said that he was inspired to become the Devastating Mic Controller because of his love for comic books. Chuck D also stated that the formation of Public Enemy was heavily influenced by his love for comics. Heroes like Spiderman and the X-Men were actually outlaws, hunted by the police and feared by the mainstream. They were underground heroes who did battle against evil forces despite the fact that society didn’t appreciate or respect them. So the two art forms really go hand in hand for me and I love both passionately.
Adam Bernard: You recently released an album titled Feel Good Music that was produced entirely by J.J. Brown. How did you two link up?
Illus: I was a big fan of J.J.’s work with Louis Logic and I heard he was working on some new material so I got his contact info and shot him an email to see if he needed any artwork for the album. We ended up building and I found out he was a fan of comics and a lot of the same 80’s pop culture shows and movies. He heard I was going to be at a CMJ panel at NYU talking about hip-hop and comic books and said he was interested in going, so I hooked him up with a pass and surprised him with an original drawing as a thank you for all of his inspiration. We stayed in touch and he actually asked me to do the illustrations and design work for his solo project. While I was working on that we started to vibe together on some songs and it eventually turned into an album.
Adam Bernard: Tell everyone a little bit about the album.
Illus: The album is the result of overcoming many struggles and hardships and finding peace and happiness and learning to appreciate the small things as well as taking all of my life’s past lessons and applying them to each song. I believe it is an album that everyone can relate to on some level. It’s a positive album that celebrates life, love, friends, family and the ability to find the inner-strength to overcome any challenge or doubt and succeed. It’s a hardcore album you can listen to with a smile rather than a frown, and I don’t mean to toot my own horn, but it really is a feel good experience from beginning to end.
Adam Bernard: The last track on the album is one that certainly hits hard. Why did you want to put so much of your life into that song?
Illus: Ahhh, “Super Secret Identity” was incredibly difficult to write but incredibly important. It really does pretty much embody who I am. I wanted to write that song as a release. I needed to write it for myself more than anything. I wanted this album to take me to a new level and I wanted it to be something I was proud of. In order for me to do that I had to be completely comfortable with who I am as an artist and person. This was basically my way of saying this is who I am, take it or leave it.

Adam Bernard: Finally, what about your career are you most proud of?
Illus: Overall I am very proud that I have persevered over the years and continued to pursue this dream and have maintained my passion and integrity. It is very important to me that I continue to learn, grow, and evolve, and the fact that I have survived all of the ups and downs of a professional artist and musician feels like a real blessing. Most people never get a chance to pursue any of their dreams, and few get to see any success, I’ve been lucky to do both.

Related Links

Blog: adamwallenta.com
Bandcamp: illus.bandcamp.com
Feel Good Music CD (Limited): americanmule.com/shop
Comic Books: americanmule.com
YouTube: youtube.com/user/ILLUSMedia
Music Press Kit: illusmedia.com


posted by Adam Bernard @ 7:40 AM  
  • At 9:18 AM, Blogger Jakey Jake said…

    Adam is most def one of the ILLEST lyricists out there. His skill in rhyme is surpassed only by his amazing artistic ability. This is a guy who can paint a masterpiece with a brush or a mic. keep staying true to yourself and your message bro.

    Smoke Trees.

  • At 4:55 PM, Blogger Unknown said…

    Illus has been dope forever!!!! I remember getting a CD from him in like 2000 or close to it. The cover art had this nasty ear on it with some lesions and tumors... Dope CD. Lost it in the fire at my house. Was bummed about that.

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