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…