Illy - Licensed To Ill
Obese Records’ latest signing Illy is frantically putting the final touches on his debut album Long Story Short, due shortly. He takes some time out to give 3D’s Matt Unicomb the rundown.
It’s not often a young MC emerges with a fiercely independent grace, a flow on par with some of the country’s best, and an allegiance with Australia’s most successful production export. Meet Melbourne underground whizz-kid Illy, Obese Records’ latest signing, and one of 2009’s most exciting hip hop prospects. Due to release his debut LP Long Story Short later this year, the young wordsmith has spent much of the last few months in the lab putting the final touches on what will be one of this year’s most anticipated releases.
Though only made official last month, Illy’s signing has, in fact, been in the pipeline for some time. A friendship with label boss Pegz has aided the Victorian native on his musical progression, with the hip hop figurehead being a consistent consult since the album’s conception. With Illy consistently approaching the veteran for feedback, the two quickly built up a unique and valuable relationship during the Long Story Short’s making. “I’ve been on the cards for about a year-and-a-half,” Illy notes of his commitment to the Melbourne-based label. “Obese have had their eye on me for a while, but I was hooked up with some other boys – I wanted to see that through. After a while it became apparent that if I was going to take it [the album] seriously, I needed a bit more of a push, and a bit more muscle behind me. We came to the agreement that [signing] would be the best thing for me.”
The “other boys” Illy refers to are the notorious Crooked Eye family. Made up of and including affiliates of M-Phazes, Phrase, DJ Flagrant and Daniel Meriwether, the clique provided a young Illy with a recording outlet, and has since influenced the growth and development of the MC more than any other Melbourne faction. “I was just doing a small show in front of about 30-40 people in Brunswick,” the MC states, recounting his first encounter with the group. “Of those 30-40 people, Meriwether and Phrase were there. Danny liked what he heard, and said to come down to the studio, and introduced me to Phrase and everyone.”
Though his apparent independence leaves little room for creative input from third parties, along with Crooked Eye’s influence, Illy’s relationship with Pegz will be one of the few exterior factors that have helped shape Long Story Short. As a result of his input, Illy has been able to finetune his forthcoming release under the guidance of one of the most respected and influential men in Australian hip hop. Whether intentional or not, Illy has allowed his craft to be honed by a true master of the art – something that every MC in Australia would find enviable. “He’d tell me what his thoughts were, and if I agreed I’d take shit on board, and if I didn’t I’d go the other way,” he laughs. “We’d meet up through our circle of mates, so he was one the dudes that I would bounce ideas off, and show him how [the album] was going. He had a running tab on how all the tracks were coming along, so he’s always known where I was up to and where I was at. He’s a dude that I respect – along with Phrase and M-Phazes. They’re all well-respected dudes that have established themselves; you can’t ask for much more. They’re at the top of their game.”
Those familiar with Illy’s catalogue – a two-volume mixtape series – would note the significance of personal familiarity in his lyrical endeavours. Long Story Short will be no different. While paying homage to the conceptual finesse that brought him so much underground distinction, Illy brings his repertoire of good natured party raps to light, hopefully resulting in a well-defined, diverse and evocative collection of hip hop. “It’s half-and-half,” he notes of the breakdown of conceptual versus light-hearted content. It’s fourteen tracks. There are a lot of personal tracks on there, a lot of personal experiences. The whole idea behind Long Story Short is that you’re trying to put 23 years of experience onto a 60-minute CD. It’s not too concept-heavy – there’s a lot of fun stuff. It’s just good hip hop.”
Like many local MCs, Illy’s introduction to the scene came through frequenting and participating battles as a youngster. In Illy’s case, his introduction came at a time where battles held credibility far beyond their current state; it was the days of the Battle For Supremacy, Battleacts, Nufunc, and the infamous Lyrical Commission Invitation Only. “My first few times on stage were in battles,” Illy reflects. “I did a tag team battle with Justice, and won. I’d never won a battle before, so I was like ‘Fuck it, I don’t want to battle anymore. I’ve won – I’ll finish on top.’ So my last battle was a win. That was about four or five years ago. I was writing tracks before that, but didn’t have an outlet to perform them live. I didn’t have a name at all, so no one was willing to put me on stage. Through battling I made a few mates, and went from there.
“I’ve got my comfort zone – I like to stay within that,” he says of his rap preferences. “A lot of Jay-Z stuff. Nas’s new album was great. I listen to a lot of the bigger Aussie names. It’s just whatever I hear, really. My mates dig a lot further into hip hop, so if they show me something and it’s great, I’ll listen to it. I don’t really dig that deeply; I’m a busy dude. I went through the whole gangster rap phase, like everyone. It got me to this point, so I’m not that ashamed.”
WHAT: Long Story Short through Obese Records
WHEN: April (TBA)