HOW IS IT THAT I CAN SPEAK THE SAME LANGUAGE AS AN MC LIKE ILLOGIC, BUT IT NEVER SOUNDS HALF AS GOOD? MAYBE IT HAS SOMETHING TO DO WITH THE FACT THAT WHAT HE DOES WITH IT FAR SURPASSES WHAT MOST OF US ARE CAPABLE OF, BE WE COMMON MAN OR AVERAGE MC. READ ON TO SEE WHAT THE COLUMBUS, OHIO-BASED MC/POET HAD TO SAY ABOUT HIS MUSIC, LIFE, AND BRINGING GOOD HIP-HOP BACK TO THE AIRWAVES.
Vinnie: Is the album officially out yet?
Illogic: No. April 13th is the official street date.
V: Have you been reading a lot of the press on it?
I: Nah. Iím trying not to read the press until the record is out. (laughs) I have read a couple of the reviews. It seems to be getting pretty good reviews.
V: Is that something you always look at?
I: Yeah. I like reading my press, and what people have to say about my music. Itís interesting. Especially when people say things about your music, but you didnít mean for it to come across that way. Sometimes it can be more insightful than you even thought you were.
I: I think thatís kind of cool. Even the negative press is good to read.
V: Are there any friends or family members that you go to for opinions after you release an album?
I: My friend, DJ Eyamme, who produced Write To Death, he and I are pretty close. I go to him all the time. He knows the step-by-step process of whatís going on in my music career, and, when Iím kinda stressed out, heís my go-to. (laughs)
V: So, when you made this record, did you notice any substantial differences between it and Unforeseen Shadows?
I: Oh, yeah. All of my records are completely different from one another. I donít necessarily go into it with that purpose. Usually, I just write what Iím feeling at the time. I go through different moods, and I go through different stages of my life, and none of those stages are the same. We grow as people. And one of the things I donít understand is, especially if you consider yourself an artist, how you can recycle the same thing over and over and over again. If you put a new album out that's just like the one you put out five years ago, I donít understand that. Youíre not the same person you were five years ago. Thatís why I appreciate artists like Outkast, Common, and The Roots. People like that, who constantly change according to how they feel, and not according to whatís "hot" at the time. Itís just what theyíre going through at the time, and whatever music fits them.
V: Do you think that has a lot to do with people not being concerned with being very open and honest? I mean, youíre very open about things. Almost to a point where, I get taken aback a bit by how honest and straightforward youíre being. You donít seem to be afraid to tell people exactly whatís going on in your life.
I: I think that has a lot to do with people changing or being the same. As an artist, some people say, "Iím this person on stage," or, "Iím this person on record, so thatís who I have to be when I write this song," instead of just being themselves. Myself, as an artist, I am the person that I am, whether Iím picking up the pen, or changing diapers, you know? Iím still that same person, and I donít know any other way to convey myself in my music.
V: Were you always that way, or did you ever think, at any point, that you had to meet some standard of what you thought hip-hop was?
I: In hip-hop, when I was coming up, the thing was to be original. To be yourself. Thatís what got you signed back then. "They donít sound like anyone. We have to pick up this artist." Nowadays, everybodyís trying to be a carbon copy of Jay-Z, or this person or that person. On the production tip, everyoneís biting, you know? As a child, I was always taught to be yourself, to be an individual. If thatís considered "going against the grain", then so be it.
I: I donít necessarily care what people think about my music. I prefer them to think positively, (laughs) but I do my music for me, and no one else. If people like it, they like it. If they donít, they donít. Thatís how Iíve always lived my life, and how I go about my music.
V: When you record, how do you go about it? What hits you first? Is it a thought or a memory you want to expand on, or do you come up with some sort of concept, then pull from your experiences to make a song about it?
I: Sometimes Iíll go into writing with a concept and write according to it. Other times, Iíll be writing, and a concept will develop as the rhyme develops. I usually donít go in with an idea of exactly what Iím going to write about. I just have an idea or thought or emotion hit me. Or Iíll hear a story that I think might be cool to write about, or one that I think someone can relate to, and Iíll put my own spin on it. But I donít necessarily have a formula I go through every time I write a song.
V: Does it get emotionally draining to perform certain songs? You seem so involved and vulnerable with what you write.
I: It all depends on what songs I do in a particular set, because I have a lot of sides to me as an artist. I can battle with the best of 'em, you know what Iím saying? (laughs) I can get personal, if necessary, when performing certain songs. Like, for example, I donít perform "Hate In A Puddle" too often.
I: The first time I tried to perform that song, I couldnít get through it, because I started crying. I couldnít contain it, you know what Iím saying? Itís a very emotional song. And there are other things, too. When I do a battle rap, thereís a passion that comes across, because you have to believe what youíre saying. So, sometimes it can be draining.
V: So then, does your music serve as a way to help you through things, like internal conflicts and such?
I: Oh, definitely. My music is my therapy, for the most part.
I: If I go through something-- like in "Hate In A Puddle", for example. That was a time in my life when I was really down on myself. I had some major self-esteem issues at the time, thinking that I might not be worth the air I was breathing. I needed to get those emotions out, and I did, and it helped me get past feeling that way. My music is, for me, very therapeutic in that way.
V: I donít know how you deal with things going on in the world, but have you ever thought about creating a separate, solely political album, to deal with all the political views you have?
I: No. Not necessarily all political views you might have. I mean, the world is a real messed up place right now, and that does affect us as human beings. That affects how we feel about ourselves, and our surroundings. But I donít look at it as thinking like, "I have to be political on this song." Politics may find its way into one of my songs if thatís whatís on my mind at the time. Like, on that limited edition Write To Death that I did, I had a song called "War". A friend of mine, who was on the track with me, wrote his verse from the perspective of an American soldier, and I wrote mine from the perspective of an Iraqi child; just trying to put myself into different positions and views of people in the world, and how they perceive certain things. That can change how you live your life. Iím more concerned with that than having something specifically be or seem political.
V: Is it hard for you to get into those different perspectives or characters?
I: Sometimes. The verse that I wrote as the Iraqi child was written right when the war began. So, I had to put myself in the perspective of, "Someone came over and killed 3,000 people in our country." But, meanwhile, weíre over in their country, killing thousands and thousands of people. And these people are civilians, you know? Some believe in Saddam Hussein, or believe in all the terrorists that are doing these things to America, but not all of them think that way. And by doing what weíre doing, weíre affecting lives, whether we want to believe it or not. We are going after these "bad guys", but everyone that weíre killing and involving in this struggle arenít necessarily those "bad guys". We have to learn how to put ourselves in other peopleís shoes if we want to make change, or make this world a better place. I mean, say someone punched your mom. You're not going to think about how their mother would feel if you punched her in the face. Youíre just thinking of revenge at that time. But we, as human beings, need to take a step back and think, "Is there a reason for this? How would I feel if I were in their situation?" Usually, we just act before we think.
V: Well, I had to ask because of "First Trimester". I was listening to the album, and painting while I was doing it. But when that song came in, specifically that last verse, I just kinda stopped what I was doing, and was like, "Oh my God!" That was a really amazing song, man.
V: It totally caught me off-guard, and I was trying to imagine you coming up with the idea, and the perspectives you narrated it from.
I: Well, thatís all based on a true story; something that happened to me. Everything on Celestial Clockwork-- all the stories-- are things that Iíve gone through and situations Iíve been in. Writing that song, it was easy for me to put myself there, because I was there. I was the guy who really cared about this girl. She was pregnant, and had the abortion without telling me, and my reaction to it is what I put on paper. Everything that happens in the song isnít exactly what happened in real life, but itís more or less a true story.
V: So, then, how do you and Blueprint work? Do you bring him rhymes, then work together to build the music around them?
I: With Celestial..., I wrote most of it before we recorded any of it. Iíd tell him the concepts I was working on, when I was working on a concept. I would go over and piece stuff together with him, like, "This concept kind of goes with this beat, and this beat goes with this concept." Thatís how it was for this record. It doesnít always work like that, though. Sometimes heíll just have beats laying around, and theyíll just fit something Iím working on. But, weíve grown to know each other pretty well. Weíve developed a personal friendship outside of music, and I think thatís what gives us the chemistry that we have.
V: What were your influences growing up?
I: Actually, I listened to a lot of gospel music as a child. Coming up, I listened to a lot of R & B and things like that. I was always into music. I played some saxophone when I was younger, so I listened to a lot of Charlie Parker and Coltrane. Even Miles. Thereís a lot of jazz influence on me. Even just the idea of jazz is a huge influence on hip-hop, you know? That sort of free expression. Itís where we get a lot of our freestyling from, and all the improvisation in our music. Thatís how I learned to go about expressing myself-- however I feel at the time I have the pen and paper in front of me.
V: Are there any non-musical influences?
I: Definitely my Christian background. Iím a Christian, and my spirituality definitely is a huge influence on my music. And now that I have a family, and children, youíll hear a lot about that in my future music. A lot of my influence is life influence, too. A lot of what inspires me to write are situations Iíve gone through in my life, and what people go through in their lives.
V: Do you feel at all that thatís lacking from mainstream artists?
I: Oh, definitely. I was saying in an earlier interview that a lot of hip-hop nowadays is just a party. People arenít interested in the person behind whatís coming out on the record. People are more interested in the party scene, you know what Iím saying? Everythingís based on how much money you have, how many girls you got, and so forth. In reality, unless youíre a pimp, thatís not an everyday thing that you go through.
I: People cry. People laugh. They get their hearts broken. Things like that. In our music nowadays, eveythingís happy-go-lucky. Itís a party; just a lot of shit you canít relate to. The only people in the mainstream now, who I can find some sort of relatable point to, are Outkast. Theyíre really, really in the mainstream. Then, of course, you have people like Common and The Roots and Talib Kweli, who stray away from that mainstream. They make videos and get airplay, but arenít in constant rotation like Lil' John and people like that-- the party shit. Hip-hop is definitely lacking that personal substance in the mainstream, but I think itís exactly what we need right now. People are using music to escape that substance, when in reality, they need to be embracing it.
V: Yeah. Diverse was saying pretty much the same thing. It seems like substance in mainstream hip-hop kinda stopped after De La Soul.
I: Oh, yeah. Everything kind of died between 1993 and 1996. Thatís when Busta Rhymes was putting out some of his best music, and you had the Native Tongues always hitting you with something. Something of substance that you could relate to. But now? I mean, I donít have a Bentley, you know what Iím saying?
I: A lot of todayís popular music I canít relate to, so a lot of the music Iím listening to winds up being music from my friends, like Brother Ali, Atmosphere, El-P, Mr. Lif, and all those cats.
V: And it seems like all that music is sort of simmering just beneath the mainstream surface, you know? Like, Def Jux and Rhymesayers and Weightless, people are more aware of those labels and those artists now.
V: Do you envision a day like back when you could hear Tribe on the radio? Only now, itíll be one of your songs on the radio?
I: I think that day is coming. I think weíre still kind of far off, though. But itís coming. I mean, we have Aesop and Slug having videos on MTV 2. We know that day is coming. And I am looking forward to it happening. Music will be a lot better off when this stuff of substance does come back out in the mainstream.
V: Will you be touring for the record?
I: Iím definitely gonna be getting out on the road pretty soon. We donít have any definite things lined up yet. Weíre still planning it. I will be out on the road with Blueprint and Eyedea & Abilities for a week in May. We have some other things in motion right now, but nothing definitely concrete.
V: As far as your career goes, do you feel like youíre at a point that youíre happy with?
I: Oh, Iím definitely happy with what Iím doing. I have no qualms. I get to do music for a living.
V: Word. I donít know if thereís anything else youíd like to say, but the floorís yours to wrap this up.
I: (laughs) I donít think thereís anything else I have to say. Iíd like to thank you guys for doing this interview, and thank all the people who will buy the album when it comes out.
V: Thanks a lot, man.
I: No problem.