Ill Bill: Positive Mental Attitude
Ill Bill jokes that he can make 20 songs about "robbing your mother" in two hours. But at this point in his career, the husband and father has taken his defiantly street messages and twisted them a bit differently than he was a decade - or two ago. Bill explains the hope he has for his uncle overcoming his addiction, or the jewels he acquired from Bad Brains first as a fan, then serenading his daughter. Society may be brainwashed, but albums like this are offering some rap fans the truth serum.
On tour with longtime partner DJ Eclipse, Ill Bill spoke to HipHopDX from a Motel 6 parking lot, with a busted van and could-be classic album he's hand-delivering to fans. One of the greatest Hip Hop stories of 2008 opens the book and shares knowledge.
HipHopDX: Of all the lines Ive heard in rap records this year and theres been some really great ones, your line Bombing for peace is like fucking for virginity really sticks out as memorable. Where or how did you come up with that?
Ill Bill: Im kind of embarrassed to say it, but I dont know where I heard that, but I didnt create that line. I heard it somewhere. I acclimated it I dont even know if thats the right word [laughing] I augmented it into my own world. Yeah, it just fits. Its fitting. I think we should probably Google that and find out who really said it originally.
Editors note: the quote first appeared on a famous photograph from a war protestor sign.
It hits the nail on the head of whats going on right now. Its not something new. Its always been a thing where people [believe] the only way to achieve true peace is through war. Thats the ultimate bullshit. Unfortunately, it perpetuates whats going on with the world. Its the war machine. Politicians and dictators and oppressive leaders the world over rely on war to keep people in the dark, to keep control over shit. Thats what its about. Thats what Im talking about: the contradiction. Unfortunately, I know better, you know better, but theres a lot of people who are just sheep who move with the herd. I put that out there, or ideas like that, whether its something I created myself or something I heard somewhere else, and absorbed it spit it right back at you I do those things to wake up people and keep the people that are listening that much more informed.
DX: This appears to be your dream project. Tell me about the effort and the painstaking strides you took to make this one of the more complete albums weve heard in Hip Hop in some time
Ill Bill: Its really my first time executive producing my own album, overseeing the album from A to Z. I think it comes through in that, in the sense of a lot of people comparing it to [Non-Phixions] The Future is Now. I did the same thing with that record. This record is even more personal, and hits that much more home cause its a solo record. [Whats Wrong With Ill Bill?] [click to read] was more of a collaborative effort between me and Necro [click to read]. Beats-wise, he did all the beats; conceptually, we worked together a lot on stuff. With this record, this is 100% me. I have that much more pride in it, being that I did it myself. As far as it being my best work, shit, I hope it is. Thats what any artist strives for when they create something new. Im always trying to challenge myself and top myself, and I feel like I did. At the same time, Im already thinking about the next record and how Im gonna top this one. For better or worse, if you hate it or if you love it, its me, 100%.
DX: In one of your YouTube promo spots, you talked about Rick Rubin. Besides Rick, the one person Ive been intrigued with as far as juggling Hip Hop and Rock production is T-Ray. As youre putting this album together, its been a long time since T-Ray produced a Hip Hop record. What was it like for you to go to the dude who did Lord Finesses Yes You May remix and Santanas Supernatural and say, I want to do another rap record
Ill Bill: It definitely didnt go down like that. Hes definitely the go-to guy for what I do. People might not even realize his history and where he comes from, as far as working on Cypress Hills Black Sunday, Artifacts, Double XX Posse, Kool G Rap [click to read] but yeah, he hasnt done Hip Hop in a long time, but thats my boy. I been trying to get him to do Hip Hop for a minute. He was trying to bring Non-Phixion over to Warner Brothers. He had a label situation, like in 2000, with Warner Brothers. He was gonna bring [us] to Warner and executive produce the album. He was gonna do what we did on Babylon, on a an entire Non-Phixion album. It just didnt happen, and I think we both got disheartened with the industry at that time, I think him more-so than me. He went hard into Rock production, and ended up doing stuff with a lot of groups. I think he ended up winning a Latin Grammy with Ozomatli. Hes really submerged himself in Rock production. He kinda was unhappy with the direction Hip Hop was going at that point, and I think he still feels that way.
As far as this track [Babylon], its something that me and him were going back and forth for a while. I had to start the album off with it cause its just so epic. It really is that intro; Ive been starting my shows off with it. Ive been touring for a month now, and thats the perfect song to start shows off with. T-Rays really just a huge talent, super-underrated; he goes way back with Lord Finesse and the D.I.T.C. crew. I just wanted to bring him back to the forefront and give him some light in the Hip Hop world. Its working; the response has been crazy.
DX: T-Ray, DJ Muggs, Everlast, a lot of the personnel on this album is California-based. As a Brooklyn emcee, how did California play a role in Hour of Reprisal?
Ill Bill: Theres definitely a more purist Hip Hop feel out in L.A. and on the west coast in general. Theres a deep appreciation for the forefathers, the architects, and the origins of where it came from. I think New York is just a little more jaded. Just from talking to fellow producers and emcees right now out of New York, its really claustrophobic right now. Everybodys on some shit right now; it aint like that on the west coast. I dont know if its the palm trees, but the energy is just different. It really rubbed off on this album. The La Coka [Nostra], I was doing that at the same time as this record as well. I cant put my finger on it, but its more upbeat right now. Thats not to say thatNew York is my foundation, thats where Im from, and I couldnt live anywhere else.
DX: The track dedicated to your daughter, Riya, features Bad Brains. Tell me how you conveyed to the Punk legends that you wanted to serenade and pay tribute to your family?
Ill Bill: Overall, Im really proud of that song for a lot of reasons, the most important being its about my daughter. Past that, just getting Bad Brains on a track; Im a huge Bad Brains fan. For those that arent educated about Bad Brains, I dont know if theyre gonna get it 100%; I think you kinda gotta do the knowledge on them and understand where theyre coming from, and understand H.R.s style. Understand, hes not a very orthodox singer. Its a huge thing to have Bad Brains on a record. It definitely wasnt easy to make it happen. H.R.s like the most reclusive dude in the music business.
To answer your question, the thing about Bad Brains is their foundation is built on something called P.M.A. positive mental attitude. To me, when I had the opportunity to work with these guys, I couldnt just talk about anything. I thought to myself, Whats the most positive thing in my life? What shines the most? My daughter, of course. It was obvious.
Those guys, theyre all about it. Thats one things that always separated Bad Brains from the Metal community, I think, and mayve also limited their success: the fact that they were never about that negative, dark shit and that rah-rah. Their shows were insane. The shows were super aggressive and super-live. But their content and their spirit was always about positivity. A lot of people were surprised by me when they heard the song Riya. They were surprised that I went there. But thats part of the deal, thats part of me challenging myself and growing as a person.
DX: With the song My Uncle, how do you set the tone so people can understand how much this person, struggling with an addiction a lot of the Hip Hop community laughs at, means to you?
Ill Bill: I can only do that by doing interviews or putting it into the music the way that I did. Im trying to really illustrate what my thoughts are and where Im coming from with my uncle with this song. Thats a big part of why I did that record in the first place.
Its hard to really do that. Unless Im having a one-on-one conversation with somebody, its hard to do that. Part of the reason I put the skits on the record is really to just give my uncle some P.M.A. Dude is going through it. Hes relapsed numerous times since he was living with me. Hes really just not doing the right thing. The back-story on that song was that I did it for him. My intention beyond that was open-ended; I didnt know if I was gonna put it on the record or not. I didnt want to embarrass him. Ive never really went that far; I never got that personal, as far as my uncle goes. He loved it. He told me hed be upset with me if I didnt put it on the record. Its hard to really talk about, but dude walks around if he knock on wood, man, hes still here, but he walks around as if hes gonna be dead tomorrow. Thats just his attitude, and it kinda fucks my head up to even think about it. He appreciates his life less than I do.
DX: Hes always been credited as your manager. Regardless if theres utility in that role, does that mean a lot to him?
Ill Bill: You know what? [Laughs] Just to clear the air on that one, hes the furthest thing from managing anyone, let alone his own life, but I mean, hes like our spiritual manager. Beyond that, hes been my conscience through my life. When I get to that fork in the road, I always tend to make the right decision. I give a lot of credit to my uncle for that.
DX: The track White Nigger [click to read] is largely about marginalization as much as race. To people feeling marginalized, as time carries on, how do you think a song like that will be an anthem?
Ill Bill: I dont know that it will. I hope it has some kind of resonance or relevance in the future. I know that for me it has relevance right now. Youre talking about 20 years from now; the majority of that song happened 20 years ago. Im having my own experience with it now, throwing it out there, and the vibrations of the response coming back to me. Its hard for me to judge 20 years from now. I just think people need to be a little more conscious of other people. Its tougher in certain parts of the country than it is for maybe kids in New York or L.A. or major cities where theres more of a melting pot going on where youre able to experience other peoples cultures going on. I would for like this song to open other peoples minds to cultures and be more tolerant and less judgmental, less combative. Really, the idea of the song overall is just to smash out racism and smash out prejudice in general. Im trying to break down walls with this record. The same way Public Enemy made me want to read certain books that a Metallica aint, I would like for this song to do this for kids.
DX: Youve been patient your whole career, from three years makin this album, countless label setbacks, working at Fat Beats, to you and Necro waiting to be acknowledged by your peers. All that being said, how do you look at the please listen to my MySpace demo culture that were presently in? How do you look at those that expect to win but dont hustle?
Ill Bill: I dont relate to anybody who doesnt understand the hustle. Right now Im talking to you from a Motel 6 parking lot in Eugene, Oregon a market that Hip Hop groups dont even come to. I have a Punk Rock mentality. I dont know anything else. I never had the million-dollar deal handed to me on a silver platter. As much as I wanted that deal, and I watched other people get it, but it never stopped me, and it never killed the love I have for making music.
The van broke down yesterday, but well get it fixed tomorrow. Were driving a fucked up van right now because it makes more sense to drive the fucked up van than leave it in Humbolt County California and miss two shows. Were taking a risk doing that, and that pretty much describes my entire fucking career. Im not a gambler like going to a casino. Im past that. Im taking a much greater gamble, just being an artist, being a musician, and making my living this way. Im putting my life on the line everyday doing this. Theres no 401K for a rapper. You gotta make that shit happen yourself. If anybodys built for this, its me.