Exclusive: Brooklyn-bred Ill Bill does some reflecting on his career and speaks on the importance his family has on his life and music.
Ill Bill has been through a lot in a music career that has spanned the better part of 20 years. The main voice of famed New York underground collective Non Phixion for over 10 years, Bill started on the solo grind only a decade ago.
Now, about to release his latest album, The Grimy Awards later this month, Ill Bill reflects on his musical career not only through the words but also, by those involved with the project’s creation.
“This is what I grew up on.” Ill Bill said. “They’re producers that I've been working with for a long time but also a fan of for even longer, guys like [DJ] Premier, Pete Rock, Large Professor, these guys are legends. Even if they weren't legends to the rest of the world, they're legends to me and they inspired me to be creative and that's a large part of what this album is about, it's paying tribute.”
Eclipsing the age of 40 last year, Bill says that he has never been more satisfied with his life than right now. His family has also been a big influence of the sort of decisions he’s made since the birth of his daughter, and says that it’s all for the better.
“It makes you realize that life ain't all about you anymore. There's bigger things…more important things in life,” he said. “That's why I do this music shit; that's what inspired me to do this music shit.”
Ill Bill Talks Touring And The Concept Behind The Grimy Awards
HipHopDX: Man what’s been up with Ill Bill recently maybe even non-musically?
Ill Bill: Ah man, music is so much a part of my life that there is definitely a lot of music involved. But outside of music, obviously I have a family. So I’m spending time with them now, because I’ve been on tour a lot even up until the holidays. So I’ve just been decompressing with them since Christmas, because I was in Europe up until a few days before Christmas, and I’m heading out next week to go back on tour. I just did like a month on tour, a week home, back on tour for a month, a week home and then I’ll be back on tour for like five weeks. It’s just been constant. I tour a lot.
DX: But speaking of music, The Grimy Awards is coming up. How did that one come together, and what can fans kind of be listening for on that one?
Ill Bill: Well I’ve been working on the record for about a year—for the past year or so. We wrapped up the La Coka Nostra [Masters Of The Dark Arts] album a little bit into when we started this record, so we got that done. This record is definitely different than the La Coka record. This one has a little more of a concept to it. It’s a little different when you make a solo album as opposed to being in a group. Being in a group, you have your concept songs here and there, but it’s a lot more cypher-like. It takes me back to Bobbito & Stretch [Armstrong] from back in the day. You say some fly shit, seeing those crazy visuals, sometimes some real life shit…sometimes some extra James Bond-type shit, and you’ll have a couple of concept songs. But when I put together a solo record, especially as I get a little older, I try to concentrate a little more on writing songs and making records that tell a complete story. That’s what this album is in a lot of ways. It’s conceptual, but it’s not a concept album with actors playing different characters or anything like that. It’s not like Pink Floyd or anything conceptual, but there’s a thread that runs through the entire album. [It’s] based on the title of the album, which is The Grimy Awards, and it’s a collection of songs that are about ideas of people that have had a really strong impact on me, a lasting impact. It’s kind of like my own personal award show delivered through the rhymes and the beats, and it’s like a tribute to the most important influences and experiences that I’ve went through during my time on the planet Earth.
Ill Bill's Friendships, Influences And How He Incorporates Them In His Music
DX: You’ve got some great features on this album, and it’s not all the same sort of clique either. You have appearances from El-P and Jedi Mind Tricks on here, but then you have guys like O.C., Cormega and Lil Fame, which is so dope. It’s really an East Coast album and mostly a New York album too. You do that with the production too, which is loaded: Premo, Pete Rock, need I go on. This is a monster and something that’s flying under the radar. Why did you choose to go with this kind of feature selection, and how did it all come together?
Ill Bill: Well everybody you mentioned are homies. New York is a small world. I’ve known all these dudes going on 10-15 years; everybody you named whether it’s people who associate with me or not so much. Everybody in New York knows each other, and we’ve all toured together. I just did a tour with O.C. and A.G. and Pharoahe Monch. Me and Vinnie Paz just did 20 shows in Europe, so I’ve known those dudes forever. They’re just the homies. I didn’t really go too far out of my comfort zone at all. A-Trak also, a good friend of mine for 20 years, 15-20 years on all these dudes. The most outside the box feature on the record is probably HR from Bad Brains but not even so much out the box, because he was on my last album but he’s somebody I didn’t grow up with. Bad Brains was one of my favorite groups, so I couldn’t resist putting him on the new record as well just developing that relationship. It’s a dream come true for me being a big fan. I got Mayhem Lauren and Q-Unique on an Ayatollah joint. It’s a beat that Ayatollah gave me that's that quintessential New York City goon shit. I just don't really see New York artists putting out albums like this in a big way. I see a lot of newer New York dudes that are repping New York very well, and they are on the come up. But a lot of old school dudes that have a current and have a 2013 fan base are rare right now—there aren't that many of us, you know what I mean?
I just like to make music that I like to make, and this is what I grew up on. They’re producers that I've been working with for a long time but people that I’ve also a fan of for even longer. Guys like [DJ] Premier, Pete Rock, Large Professor, these guys are legends. Even if they weren't legends to the rest of the world, they're legends to me, and they inspired me to be creative. That's a large part of what this album is about; it's paying tribute. As I get older, I realized you can say fly shit on a record all day, but what's going to stand the test of time and be timeless? For me, a record like “They Reminisce Over You” by Pete Rock, that record is like 20 years old, and it gives you that feeling that it came out yesterday. It's timeless. I went into this record honestly trying to raise the bar on myself. I want to make something that's timeless, especially nowadays the way people kind of just gloss over music. They just listen to a couple songs, but they not really hearing that. I feel weird releasing singles and stuff like that, ‘cause I would prefer for people to just listen to the whole album as a whole. But I understand that's part of the process of promoting the record, so it is what it is. But, like all my records— but especially with this one though—I'm really proud of this one. I really hope that people would listen to the album as a whole instead of just the [record] itself.
DX: You mention the younger crop of New York artists. You’re from Flushing, Queens, another rapper who is getting some major recognition these days is also from Flushing, Action Bronson. Have you ever talked with him and in general how has Queens Hip Hop changed since you started to now?
Ill Bill: Well I'm from Brooklyn. I was raised in Brooklyn, I was born in Flushing, that's crazy that you even know about that ‘cause…it's just whatever [laughs]. But I was born in Post Mortem like five blocks away from Shea Stadium. I don't think that hospital is even open anymore, but like after a month after I was born, my parents moved to Brooklyn. I'm a Brooklyn dude. But at the same time Brooklyn and Queens are connected. I used to spend a lot of time in Corona and Jackson Heights hanging out and whatnot. There's also a rivalry between Brooklyn and Queens at the same time too, so it's kind of crazy to compare who's the best emcees from Brooklyn and from Queens. It's great, but yeah, there's a lot of dope emcees from Queens. I'm feeling Action Bronson, Mayhem [Lauren] and that whole clique is dope. I've never met Action. I did a track with him for Slaine's last mixtape [State Of Grace], the Statik Selektah joint. We have a lot of mutual friends but we've actually never met.
DX: Are you going to be releasing the second Heavy Metal Kings this year? How is that coming along with Vinnie Paz?
Ill Bill: We're just starting to work on it right now. I just handed in The Grimy Awards album, so now I'm just looking through beats and starting to work on it. We're looking at putting it out later this year—like towards September/October probably.
The Importance Of Family In Ill Bill's Life
DX: You have a daughter, and you’ve incorporated her into your music at times. I remember talking to Chino XL, and he’s done that same thing. How important is she to your life, your music and how you represent yourself?
Ill Bill: She's the most important thing in my life. How I represent myself is how I represent her, and everything else is minuscule…minute. She is the most important thing in the world. I make mentions of my family all the time in my music, so I mean, it's in there. That's just some grown man shit. It's going to be part of the music because it's a part of me. It's not something I really think about, and beyond that I really don't know what else to say.
Fuck music. As far as my family goes, fuck music, my family is first. That's why I do this music shit. That's what inspired me to do this music shit. I've got a joint on the album called "Acceptance Speech" that talks about exactly what we're talking about. That song is like me standing at a podium, accepting an award explaining why I do this.
DX: How did your life change when she came into your life?
Ill Bill: It changed a lot, and it changed for the better. It definitely made me look at things a lot differently and appreciate things in a different way. It makes you grow up. It makes you realize that life ain't all about you anymore. There's bigger, more important things in life. It teaches you not to be selfish.
DX: It also probably makes you change the decisions you make knowing that you represent two people and not just one.
Ill Bill: Oh, absolutely. That's what I'm saying. You make decisions that are more about your family than about you, so you'll just be totally less selfish, more selfless and more aware. My partying days—everyone likes to have a beer here and there whatever—on tour or whatnot, but I really don't go berserk anymore because of my family. We used to do a lot of crazy shit on tour even before music. My ways and actions are definitely more on some grown up shit nowadays, especially now that I have a family. I can't take the risks that I would have taken in the past. It turns to just acting a fool, because it will affect more than just me. I can't have that.
DX: Just an open and honest question: where are you at this point in your life as an artist and as a person?
Ill Bill: I'm in the best place I've been in my life. I'm in a zone right now. I'm just super excited about everything I've got coming up. I've had some dark periods in my life and, knock on wood that they're behind me. At least right now, in this moment, I can say that this is the happiest I've ever been in my life. It's great right now, creatively, personally, across the board I have no complaints.
DX: Sure, what's next for you maybe in the immediate future?
Ill Bill: This record drops February 26th. I'm actually going to be on tour—me and Vinnie Paz are doing like 20 shows in Canada. So I'll be out of town when the album drops, and then come back for a few weeks. Then we head back out and do a bunch more shows. [It’s] just a bunch of touring…a lot of touring over the next few months. I'm promoting this record, setting up the next record, the Heavy Metal Kings, just more of the same just auto pilot pretty much.
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