Illab Proves Life Is Good

Illab has been low key building a brand.  His focus and clenched jaw grind stems from a battle tested past, but also from his experiences keeping pace in our rat race world.  It’s been a trip listening to a rapper hone his craft song by song, project to project in the nearly two years since social media introduced me to the Minneapolis MC.  In just a few short years he’s sharpened his quill and it’s pressed against your neck; best protect it.

Between the release of Good Life, Life’s Good, Worth Living and a mini-tour that landed him in NYC, Illab spoke with us during packed bus rides about his craft, what’s on the horizon, and how he’s just not content to settle for less.

Shiny Glass Houses: Explain the process of putting the new record together?  It feels like a complete album from end to end.

Illab: This was definitely the most hands on, and meticulous I’ve been with an album.  That’s where the bar is set from now on.   Surprisingly, the recording process just fell together.  We recorded a good amount of songs.  I just kept cutting them.  At one point I had a two part song about being a scientist in post-apocalyptic America…I might save that for something different.  I think I really hit my groove when I recorded Reason For Blood.  All the other stuff that came with putting out the record was pretty tough though.  A headache, but a learning experience.  I was humbled by the amount of work this shit took to even release it on a small level.

SGH: How did you pick the beats?  There’s a cohesive, boom bap feel throughout without it feeling gimmicky.

Illab: Man, there are 6 producers on this album and all of them are my friends.  I didn’t put much thought into it.  I write to whatever.  Originally, this album was half produced by Ecid before I scrapped it because the rapping wasn’t where it should be. But those Ecid beats are dope!  I will be using them in the future.  What’s great about MPLS is the amount of talented people making music.  It makes it easy to pick quality beats that flow well.

SGH: How much of the blue collar ethic do you channel into your music?  I can’t help but sense reality in your rhymes.

Illab: To be real…not much in the beginning. That’s what changed with this project.  I’m not gonna front, I could have tried harder through the years.  Mentally, I wasn’t there.  Not making excuses, I just wasn’t motivated.  I’ve always worked hard at my job, and I take pride in that shit.  I came to a lot of realizations with this album.  You want it…work for that shit.  End of the day I want the success of my music to be on me.  No matter how small or large that is, I’d rather work harder than depend on others to push what I love.  I could have been bitter or I could get better.  I chose better.

SGH: You clearly love hip-hop.  Were you into it as a kid?  I grew up on a steady diet of the gritty east coast chaos of Mobb Deep and Wu, but also went west with Dre and Snoop.  I made time for some noise like Rage Against The Machine, and The Bouncing Souls too.

Illab: I’ve been listening to hip hop since 5th or 6th grade.  The kids I skateboarded with put me on to hip-hop.  Growing up I was mainly listening to East Coast, lots of Wu-Tang, Redman, some Tribe.  It was great to skate to.  I listened to Rage, System of Down, and some Red Hot Chili Peppers, and also the blues. But nowadays I listen to everything from anywhere.

SGH: Battling is a part of your pedigree.  Do you think it helps an MC moving from the battle to the booth?

Illab: It depends on how motivated you are musically.  To me, winning battles was never as dope as playing a great show or making a great song.   Some people hang their hat on battling; I always liked the music aspect a little more.  Battling taught me a lot about being comfortable with my craft.  If you go in in a battle timid you will lose.  To this day I’m a huge fan of the battle culture.  At the peak I was watching 6+ battles a night.

SGH: Tough question…name your top 3 MC’s of all time.

Illab: Redman, Andre 3000, Kendrick Lamar or Blu.  If we’re talking all time, I feel I should put one in there from the current music scene.  Those 3 will change on any given day.

SGH: What’s next for Illab?  Plans to do some shows, maybe more records?

Illab: We already have a decent start on a follow-up EP.  So I will spend my summer recording, and taking every show possible.  I don’t give a fuck if there’s going be two people there, I’m preforming. That’s the mind state I plan on keeping.

SGH: Last but not certainly not least, what’s your drink of choice?

Illab: Jameson and ginger. I’m a whiskey drinker to the fullest.  Drink good, tip good.

You can grab Good Life, Life’s Good, Worth living by naming your price at http://illab1.bandcamp.com/album/good-life-lifes-good-worth-living.  Thanks to Illab for making time, and for staying true to himself and his city by making art that matters.   Give 9 Month’s Rent a spin, it’s an absolute banger…

Schoolboy Q- Studio

2dopeboyz.com

Visuals for Schoolboy Q’s raunchy love letter, “Studio” featuring BJ The Chicago Kid, hit the web a few days ago and is just another reason to love Oxymoron.  Q seems undaunted by the hype and the chatter surrounding his rise to fame, and appears comfortable keeping it creepy while asking his lady to see some skin before lighting up and ripping the mic.  Well played…

 

 

The Graduate

Asher Roth- RetroHash

Asher Roth buried himself alive with his 2009 beer-ponging ode to Miller Lite, “I Love College”.  Since then Asher the rapper has worked hard to distance himself from the meteoric rise and eventual fizzling out of that one-off anthem.  His Greenhouse Effect Vol 2 and Pabst & Jazz projects aimed to keep the focus on the art rather than the gimmicky portrait his debut painted.

RetroHash, Roth’s sophomore release, is a record with no looming cloud of expectation hanging over its weird fucking head.  Asher and production team Blended Babies have cooked up a veritable stew of laid back gems where no two moments sound the same; ranging from the corny-chic “Tangerine Girl”, to “Dude”, a trademark bar for bar battle with Curren$y.  Hats off to newcomer Vic Mensa (been talking about him ’round these parts for a year) for smashing his feature on the sunny “Fast Life”.

Talk shit and he just might out rap you; criticize and he’ll flip the script and croon his way through the room like a pale-faced Kid Cudi.  This is the album Asher Roth fans were hoping for three years ago.  Los Angeles, good weed, and nothing left to prove serve him well…as we might have finally gotten a glimpse of the artist and the man on RetroHash. 

Wrap your head around this one…

Mac Goes Easy

Mac Demarco: Salad Days

Mac DeMarco is a quintessential hipster hero; an unemployed visual artist who turned to paving roads for cash whilst struggling to get his music career off the ground.  His sophomore album, Salad Days, is a polished tale of growing old (sort of), as the midday traffic blows by from the vantage point of your all too familiar bar stool.

DeMarco’s poignant slack is a clever guise for a young man with a Stephen Malkmus flair for tongue-in-cheek songwriting.  Salad Days is meant for summer sun; those moments in late July where everything seems to blend into one continuous cycle of heated highs and lows.  “Brother” and “Goodbye Weekend” are made for stooping with brown bags, while “Passing Out Pieces” sounds like a study in St. Pepper-era haze.

Salad Days plays like a collective, much needed deep breath.  DeMarco has masterfully managed to capture the sound of rambling on, while never really letting us in.

 

Pharoahe Monch: PTSD

okayplayer.com

Pharoahe Monch had been on a career long mission to keep his music independent and still reach the masses.  On 2011’s WAR the wordy Queens MC battled the “business” while tackling themes like the shady recording industry, politics, and our every day struggle.  PTSD is the aftershock; the man with the rattled cage battling the demons of dissatisfaction and depression.  Should he fill that prescription, or is the noise behind his eyes a necessary piece of the puzzle?

The record has a concept feel, but more importantly it’s a testament to his craft.  Monch never slacks on the mic, loading up his verses with detailed metaphors, verbose internal rhymes, and vivid imagery.  This scholar has got skills.  The production throughout hovers above the land of boom-bap, a homage to the sound that Monch helped define nearly twenty years ago.

“Time2”, “Losing My Mind”,  “D.R.E.A.M.” featuring an energized Talib Kweli,  and “Rapid Eye Movement” with Black Thought are the true heavyweights in this 16 song setA few tough years at war served Pharoahe Monch well; as PTSD is the unnerving sound of settling back in.

 

 

Illmatic Celebrates 20 Years Strong

rapbasement.com

As Nas readies the deluxe re-issue of his masterpiece Illmatic, he touched down in the desert to rock the Coachella main stage a few nights ago.  Keeping a young, fickle crowd interested in a 20 year old record might be a task for some, but Nas brought his New York state of mind to the hipster masses and delivered one of the finest sets of his career.  Joined by Jay Z for a duet on “Dead Presidents”, and Diddy for “Hate Me Now”, Nas barreled through his catalog with the venom and passion of a rapper half his age.

Never put him in your box if that shit eats tapes.  Old heads continue to rejoice.  Nas is the God MC, bottom line.

 

Legendary Vocabulary

anchorshoppresents.com

As I sit back and patiently wait for Wu mastermind Raekwon’s upcoming Fly International Luxurious Art (F.I.L.A) album, I bring you a clever little freestyle called “The Living Room”, produced by Illness of Smokestack.  The track finds Rae bringing it as only Rae can; spitting boasts and metaphors in his trademark raspy snarl, while riding a beat that does a 180 degree flip mid-way through.  It’s soulful.  It’s gutter.  It’s luxurious.  It’s most definitely art.

Wu can do no wrong, even twenty years after the fact.  Name a crew with members this solid from top to bottom?  Go on…I’ll wait.

https://soundcloud.com/iceh2orecords/raekwon-the-living-room